Introduction: Copper and Torched Wood Bookshelf

Picture of Copper and Torched Wood Bookshelf

I'd been seeing a lot of DIY articles about building furniture with wood and pipes, and then also started seeing stuff about torched wood. The two just fit together brilliantly, because it gives the piece a bit of a modern look while retaining an aged feel.

Since we've rearranged the house a bit and I've moved my office into a hallway, I've been working on building my own furniture to suit the space and this bookshelf is the first one in the series. I plan on adding a desk in the same style, and perhaps a second (but smaller) bookshelf.

The project borrows a lot from other projects that involve pipes, wood, torching and staining, and there are plenty of excellent video references for all of those online so I won't go into a terrible amount of detail on them; I'll be covering mostly the design and assembly aspects.

One of the highlights of the bookshelf is that it does not have large diagonal supports in the back. These are usually used to add lateral support (to ensure no sideways movement), but I really wanted a clean look where you could just see the wall behind the piece. To get around this, the metal support structure has horizontal supports that stretch sideways under the large shelves, and the structure is also attached to the wall.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

Materials:

There are two main materials: wood and pipes. The former is easy, comes in tons of types and sizes, and can be cheap if you go for construction lumber (which is what I did). The latter? Not so much.

The pipes were a royal pain to deal with. I researched this quite a bit, and found that there were basically three options:

1. PVC. Pros: Quite cheap, infinitely customizable, and very easy to work with. Con: There's no way it will hold up the weight of a bookshelf this size. It might be OK for something smaller, but that's about it. It just occurred to me, though, that if the assembled PVC pipe were filled with concrete it might do a better job. Future project maybe?

2. Galvanized steel pipes. Pros: Still affordable (but more expensive than PVC), very sturdy, and will hold the weight just fine. Con: not customizable at all. The pipes come pre-cut in several lengths and have threaded ends. If you need a non standard length, you need to start threading the ends yourself with some kind of drill attachment or something. Not sure about this.

3. Copper. Pros: Extremely customizable, very easy to work with (saudering is very simple). Cons: The 0.5" diameter pipes and attachment are very common, so relatively cheap. Since this was going to bear some weight, I went for the 0.75" diameter stuff, and the price does jump up. Don't even bother looking at the 1" stuff unless you're ready for another mortgage.

The only metallic part of the frame not made of copper (other than the wall fasteners and screws) were the footings, which are galvanized steel. They did not come in copper, but there are threaded copper attachments that you can screw these onto, and they make very useful adjustable legs.

Besides the wood and copper, there's also some mat black spray paint for the pipes, some wood stain for the shelves, water based varnish, 1" screws, rubber tubing (in case you can't get rubber washers, and this is way cheaper) and wall mounting brackets. In my case, I ended up with the shelves being 3.25" inches away from the wall, so I custom made the brackets out of perforated steel strips.

Tools:

Besides the usual stuff like a hammer, screw drivers, paint brushes, etc, you'll also need a circular or mitre saw, a belt and orbital sander, a propane torch, and if you're making extra wide shelves you'll also need a pocket hole screw jig or biscuit joiner. For the copper supports, you'll need a pipe cutter (or metal saw) and the torch, as well as flux, sauder and sandpaper for metal.

Step 2: Shelf Preparation

Picture of Shelf Preparation

Building the shelves

I wanted to keep the curves on the corners of the lumber, so I adjusted my shelf widths to what was already commercially available. My narrow shelves ended up being made out of 12'x8"x2" lumber, although in real life the lumber is actually 7.25" wide and 1.5" thick. The large shelves are made out of 12'x12"x2" lumber, but again the actual width is 11.25" and thickness is 1.5". In both cases, the lumber was cut in half to make two shelves approximately 6' long. I then used 2"x3" lumber for the bread boards on the ends.

In both cases, the only cuts I had to make were for the lengths so that the unit would fit between two doorways. I also had to take into account the breadboard ends that would help keep the wide shelves straight, and added breadboard ends to the top shelves as well (although these were purely ornamental and were there for the sake of a consistent look).

The wide bottom shelves were joined together using pocket hole screws and glue, and then clamped together for 24 hours. My jig kit also came with a few sample plugs which I used on the bottom shelf, but after running out I realized I was OK with the look of unfinished holes on the undersides so just didn't bother filling the others.

Next, for the wide shelves, was to cut them to an even length and then repeat the pocket hole process to attach the breadboards. In this case, it was important to ensure the cut side was perfectly flat (for the glue to do a good job), so I used a belt sander. One of the issues I'd had in the past with the sander, though, was that it was very easy to start tipping it one way up or down without noticing, and this would not end up in a perfectly vertical edge. To counter this, I strapped a level to the side of the sander and just watched the bubble the whole time. As long as the bubble was centred, the sander was level and my edge was coming out nice and vertical.

Once everything was glued and dry, I used a metal ruler and an exacto knife to recreate the bevels on the edges where the breadboards joined the shelves. This way I would have consistent bevels that match those running down the center of the shelves.

After this, all that was left was plenty of sanding with an orbital sander. I started with an 80 grit and moved on to 120, and that was it. Just plenty of time and patience on this step.

Torching

This is where the real fun began. I've never tried this before, so it was a good idea to mess around with a sample piece of lumber that had been sanded the same way as the boards to see what the final effect would be. Torching is pretty straight forward and there are tons of videos about it onlline, but the idea is very simple: light a propane torch, put it a couple of inches away from the wood, and move slowly. Depending on the speed and distance from the wood, you'll get different effects so it's worth trying this on a scrap piece of wood first.

Staining and varnishing

This was the last step. As with the previous one, its worth trying to stain a sample piece that had been torched so you'll see how it turns out. In general, the stain has the effect of darkening and further highlighting the burned areas, so you might also consider taking that torched sample into the hardware store and see if they could apply a couple of stain samples to see which one comes out best.

When the stain is all done, apply the varnish as you usually would (I applied three coats with a light sanding in between).

Step 3: Building the Metal Stands

Picture of Building the Metal Stands

Assembly and saudering

I had to construct three stands in total: two opposing ones for the sides, and one for the middle. The side supports were identical except for the horizontal sections jutting out of them, which had to be opposing each other. The middle support reached up until the top wide shelf and stopped there. The upper shelves are narrower and will only hold some books, so they don't need extra support in the middle. If they every do, I will probably just add a vertical section with a footing on the top and bottom and just screw it in.

Putting the stands together involves cutting the copper pipes to length, fitting them with the angle/"T" connectors or the threaded connectors, and then saudering all the parts. Since there are a lot of parts it's tricky to get the whole thing to be perfectly straight, so I found that doing it in sections helped a lot. I first saudered all four of the horizontal supports that would go under the shelves, followed by the vertical sections (the "legs", if you will). Finally, I lay them out on 2x4 beams to keep them flat while avoiding hitting the floor with the torch, added the horizontal bars and support sections, and saudered everything together. To keep the support sections at a 90 degree angle to the frame, I clamped them in place against a rough vertical jig.

The 2x4 supports came in handy for more than just keeping things straight, though. When everything was saudered, the structure was still a little crooked so all I had to do was lay it down on a beam, reheat the joints around the crooked sections and gently tap them until they straightened out.

Once all the support were saudered and complete, it was time to drill the holes for the screws. I planned to have a screw every 4" or so. Since they would be under-mounted I needed to ensure their heads could fit into the pipe on one side but would catch on the other. To do this, I drilled through the pipe with a 9/64 drill bit, and then enlarged the bottom hole with a 19/64. This way I could slide a crew into the pipe from underneath, have it catch on the inside of the pipe, and then attach itself to the shelf above.

Painting

When the stands were ready, all that was left was to paint them. I chose mat black because it would complement the wood well, and used a spray can to apply it. I ended up using two whole cans for this.

Step 4: Putting Everything Together

Picture of Putting Everything Together

Once the shelves and support structures are complete, it's time for assembly. I laid it all down and started attaching the shelves from the top one down (since the screws are bottom mounted and would be easier to install if I didn't have another shelf in the way).

When I bought the screws I specifically looked for ones that were 1" long, and the only ones I found were ACQ treated. These are used when dealing with pressure treated wood (as regular screws will rust because of the chemicals in the wood), but since I had regular wood they wouldn't be a problem from that point of view. What I was concerned about, though, was the copper pipes themselves. I was unsure if the ACQ treatment would be a problem with the copper pipes, so sought to prevent the two from touching as much as possible. From what I can recall, though, copper is one of the ingredients in the pressure treatment chemicals, so this should be just fine.

In any case, I looked around for some kind of rubber washer I could use, but found nothing "bendy" enough that I would be able to fit through the 19/64 holes in the pipes. I ended up taking an old bicycle's inner tube, slicing it into squares, cutting circles out of them, and then punching a screw though each one. This washer was more than flexible enough to make it through the hold and into the pipe.

As well, I wanted to put something between the pipes and the wood. The problem here was that the "T" and corner attachments were slightly thicker than the pipes themselves, so attaching the shelves to the pipe as-is would have left a small gap and would have produced a weaker joint. To correct this, I again looked for some kind of washer I could use, but the closest thing I saw to being useful was a rubber "O" ring. However, they sold for almost $1 each, and since I needed close to 100 of them there was no way this would happen. In walking down the aisles I saw a 0.5" rubber tube on liquidation (for a very reasonable $0.03/foot), and bought 10 feet of it. I then used the exacto knife to slice off sections that were about 1/8" thick and used those as washers; it worked perfectly!

I now had everything ready to assemble. The side frames were laid down on the floor, and I started attaching the shelves from the top down, since this would make access to the bottom-mounted screws easier. Once the shelves were all attached, I added sticky felt padding to the bottom so the floor wouldn't get scratched, lifted the unit and moved it into place. The only thing left to do at this point was attach it to the wall, and that was done by cutting off a length of perforated steel, bending it and attaching it to both the upper shelf and the wall studs. All done!

I love how the unit turned out, and will now start working on designs for a matching desk and maybe a second (but smaller) bookshelf.

As always, any comments questions and suggestions are welcome. Hope you enjoyed the read!

Comments

jmartin94 (author)2015-12-30

Awesome may try this at some point.
did you consider heating the copper pipes with a propane torch?
you can get some really cool colouration that way.

David Catriel (author)jmartin942015-12-30

Hi. Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, saw the rainbow effects on the metal when I was saudering all the joints, but it didn't really play into the look I was going for. Seemed more suitable for something smaller; maybe jewlery ?

StormC6 (author)David Catriel2017-04-04

I would have considered leaving the pipes copper colored. They would need to be clear coated if you didn't want them to oxidize to a dark color.

You might correct sauder to solder, but I understood what you meant. :-)

Shadicats (author)2016-01-02

I love this! Looks stylish and old worldly at the same time.

I may skip the drill through pipe step and use pipe straps instead.

Is there a specific use for the rubber washers? I think you had it for gap filler?

David Catriel (author)Shadicats2016-01-02

I'd say you've got pretty good taste in furniture :)

Straps would probably do just as well, I suppose. And you might be able to skip the rubber washer (which, yes, were used to account for the gap) since the straps will be what attaches the pipes to the shelves and there should be no gaps between the strap and the wood. Pls post a photo if you make this one day !

Pookie12 (author)2015-12-31

yes it's is Awesome to make. I will make one, I am not feeling to good but every thing look so Easy. Thank you.

David Catriel (author)Pookie122015-12-31

It really isn't very hard to do. Give it a shot and post a picture when you're done!

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