when I submitted the ‘how to’ to Better Homes and Gardens to be featured on the last page of their magazine “I Did It!” where everyday people build something amazing. Yet here they are, the stand alone most popular posting on my blog. I’ve gotten some questions about how to build these useful faux built – ins and I wanted to answer them in as detailed a manner as possible in case anyone out there decides to attempt it on this cold winter Saturday. I am also linking this posting to my original posting in case you would like to see both.
I have to say, these faux built – ins are such simple things to build they can literally be done in less than a day. I did them entirely by myself and have tried to work out kinks to make it easy to do. For this posting, I am going to feature two different styles so you can see how versatile these pieces can be. I used similar procedures for my living room faux built – ins and my free – standing closet shelving, the only differences being the finishes and the moulding. First, decide how deep you would like for your piece to be. In my living room, to hold books and collectibles, I used 12″ pine boards (That comes to about 11 3/4 in actuality) and for my closet, to hold clothing, I peg joined 8″ boards together to make the piece 16″ deep to accommodate large baskets I found at Michael’s for my sweaters, jeans, scarves, purses, and belts. Whatever size you decide, these are the materials you need for your job:
– Length of board cut for the number of shelves you are expecting to have, including length for the top
– Length of board cut (times two) for the sides of your bookcase
– Router with straight bit (about 3/4″ to accommodate the thickness of your boards, if you use standard pine boards, the standard straight bit should work) (See picture of router bits below)
– length of scrap wood to accommodate the width of your side pieces, lined up side by side, to use as a router guide (this is very important – I tried to think I could work without it, but it really is a necessity) with nails to stabilize the wood being routed
– Wood glue
– Nail Gun, with finishing nails and longer nails
– Palm Sander, sandpaper with 100 and 220 sandpaper
– Moulding, if you decide to use it
– Backer board (better quality or paintable plywood or beadboard sheets), if you decide to use it
– Hammer and rubber mallet
– Caulk or woodfiller
Home Depot is fantastic about cutting boards for you provided you have accurate measurements. Two guys, who were saints, helped me through my closet project and I had to capture their smiles for all eternity for being so super helpful. Thanks to Charlie and Mike for working with me to plan my dream closet. I planned what I needed, made a decent sketch with measurements, and they helped me select good boards and make straight cuts.
Once you have your materials assembled and you have a good open space to work, start by lining up your side boards. For my living room, since I was making two faux built in units, I had four boards to line up. The single unit in my closet required two boards (that were actually the four 8″ boards pegged and glued together to make their wider). They were lined up evenly using a T – square for accuracy. Before making my first router run where I wanted the shelves to slide in, I used the scrap wood to nail into the wood being routed to stabilize them and create a jig for myself to slide the router against. I don’t know how strong you are, but when I am using a router, it’s like driving a sports car at full speed and trying to hold on to my own coat tails. If you’ve never done it, I highly advise using scrap wood to get the feel for it before working on your project because you will have a lot of patching to do that won’t look pretty unless you plan to paint your finished product. Also, a router is a very dangerous tool – read the book, understand how to securely anchor the bit and check it after each run to ensure it stays tightly screwed in. Here is a picture of my jig:
I measure 3 1/4 inches from where I set my jig to run the edge of the router faceplate against to where the router bit cuts the shelf path. The top shelf gets a path routed along the very edge so it will sit right on top. I run my jig 3 1/4 inches down from the top to make the first cut. Then, depending on where my shelves are being positioned, I calculate the 3 1/4 inches down, nail my scrap wood jig into each piece of wood, and run the router across the boards, being careful to go over each board evenly. Keep your hands on the router’s ‘little ears’ on either side (That’s how I think of them) and don’t get your hands anywhere underneath near the cutting unit and always keep two hands on the tool at all times. This will create a whole lot of sawdust and shavings. Be prepared. My router is not a high quality router – I may have spent $50 on it; it is make by Ryobi, but for my purposes it works fantastically.
Once you have moved your jig and cut the desired number of shelves, you are ready to sand. Take care not to sand inside the cuts since you want these to stay sharp angled to slide the shelves in. Use your palm sander to sand the fronts and backs of the side panels to prep them for finishing. You can start with 100 grit sandpaper, and work your way down to 220. Go ahead and prep the shelves too. Make sure they are nice and smooth to accommodate collectibles or fabrics without being snagged by rough spots.
After you feel the piece is sufficiently sanded, you can begin the assembly process. As I mentioned before, you can do this part yourself, but if your husband is kind enough to help out, that is an added bonus. Start with one shelf, apply wood glue to the edge of the shelf and along the track of the side panel, anchor the shelf into the path, use your rubber mallet to secure and turn it to the side to nail it together on the outside. I use a ruler to lightly mark a line to follow to be certain that I nail into the middle of a shelf and the nail doesn’t go in just above or below the shelf line. Proceed with each shelf until you have all of them set in place. Treat the piece gently as it will be cumbersome at this point, but you don’t want to bend any of the nails or loosen shelves…trust me, I speak from experience here.
Once you have all of the shelves in on one side panel, it is time for the tricky assembly of the second side panel. Position the piece so the side panel is on the floor with the shelves running toward the ceiling vertically. Apply glue to each edge and the paths of each of the second side panel’s shelf tracks. Work by adjusting and hammering until all of the shelves are in the tracks of the second side panel. Make sure it is just how you want it and nail the shelves in from the outer side.
Congratulations – by this point you’ve got something pretty big on your hands that you have made yourself. It is up to you how you decide to finish it from here on out. The more formal the space, the more woodworking details add to the quality of your work. Crown moulding, moulding run down either sides of the front, and a back panel make the piece fancier, but it depends on the look you are going for. Here is a you tube link where you can find ideas on how to calculate angles for adding moulding:
On my living room built – ins, I added crown moulding around the top edge that started at the top shelf and went toward the ceiling, and started about one centimeter from the top of the bottom shelf and ran into the floor (I measured my moulding in advance and that is how I calculated how high to make my bottom shelf – see the picture below). I also ran moulding down the sides of the books case to give it that built – in polished look and then used “Patch and Paint” (quick wall filler) to sculpt a fake joint that would ease the transition from the side moulding into the crown. This is certainly not a master craftsman move, but I never professed to be a master craftsman – just a girl whose best friend is caulk during the finishing stage – it rights all wrongs (almost…as long as they are 1/2″ mistakes or less).
In my closet, I wanted the shelving to be more rustic, so there is no moulding, trim, or even a backer board. This piece was so easy to build – I did it in a couple of hours. The sanding is the most time consuming part. I also like to lightly sand after I apply one layer of finish (either primer or stain) because little buggers in the wood like to creep out once the wood has had one layer of liquid applied – and this final sanding just smooths it out).
The process is a piece of cake and you will feel so rewarded when you use something everyday that you have made yourself. I hope this psoting clarifies the process and makes you feel like you are in more of a position to tackle it. If you try it, let me know and I would love to see pictures and post links to finished projects.