Introduction: Industrial Pipe Shelving Built-In

Picture of Industrial Pipe Shelving Built-In

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  A recent necessity of mine was to make a shelving unit that could support (literally) and organize my growing book addiction.  After spending a few weeks looking at various shelving ideas online, I found that I kept getting drawn back to the pipe and wood shelves that have become popular and decided to put my own spin on the genre.  The finished product turned out better than I could have expected.  Not only does this shelf provide a place to put my books, it is so expansive and robust that it has also become the organizational center for just about everything else in our living room including books, pictures, antiques and collectibles, video games, tv remotes and game controllers, art, as well as providing an attractive place to hang items like stockings and other seasonal decor.

Project Description
Make a built-in, wall-mounted shelving unit with an industrial chic aesthetic.  Designed on site to mount directly to wall studs, the finished shelving unit will perfectly fit the formerly barren space on your wall, and will be capable of effortlessly supporting hundreds of pounds in high style.

Required Tools
-Stud Finder
-Level (several lengths ideal - 12", 24", 48")
-Layout Tools (pencil, ruler, t-square/combo square, chalk line (optional))
-Hand Drill
-Table Saw
-Miter Saw
-7/8" Spade or Forstner Bit
-Random Orbit Sander & Sand Paper (120, 150, 180, and 220 grit typically required)
-Disposable Gloves for staining and finishing wood
-Brushes and/or Rags for staining and finishing wood
-Drop Cloth
-Painters Pyramids (to help speed up wood finishing process)

Required Materials

1/2" Pipe and Pipe Fittings (Can be found at any local hardware store)

*Note: The specific lengths, fittings, and quantity of pipe used will vary depending on the specifics of the built-in.  The best way to avoid multiple trips to the hardware store is to buy more than you need of a good variety of pipe and fittings, and then return unused items once the project is completed.  See Step 2 for details on creating the pipe framework.  The fittings and quantities I used to complete my project are as follows:

Flanges: qty 10
Elbows (90s): qty 21
3-Way Tees: qty 16
Round Caps: qty 7
Square Caps: qty 2
Couplers: qty 3
1-1/2" long sections: qty 15
2" long sections: qty 2
3" long sections: qty 2
3-1/2" long sections: qty 3
4" long sections: qty 1
4-1/2" long sections: qty 3
5" long sections: qty 2
6" long sections: qty 11
9" long sections: qty 3
10" long sections: qty 3
12" long sections: qty 1
18" long sections: qty 1
24" long sections: qty 1

Hardwood or High Grade Plywood

*30 linear feet of 3/4" to 1" thick x 10-1/2" wide hardwood or high grade plywood (Pine, Maple, Poplar, Walnut, etc).  Avoid construction grade lumber which has not been dried and therefore will likely warp after installation.

*Note: The specific quantity of wood required will vary depending on the specifics of the built-in.  The easiest way to accurately estimate the amount of wood required is to wait until the initial layout has been completed in Step 2.  Otherwise, apply a 15-20% scrap factor to the amount determined after completing the design in Step 1. 

Primer & Spray Paint for pipes
Wood Stain
Clear Coat such as oil, varnish, or lacquer
Wood Screws (I used #8 x 2" to get a good bite into the wall studs)
Drywall Anchors (optional; required if flanges are not anchored to studs)

Step 1: Conceptualizing the Design

Picture of Conceptualizing the Design

To get my conceptual design off the ground I created a basic file in Visio that helped me to visualize the proportions and see how the shelves might layout within the bounds of the wall space that I had to work with.  The attached picture is as finished as the "plans" ever got which was perfectly adequate for this project.  Since the robustness of the shelf hinges upon the pipe flanges being attached to the wall studs, which never seem to consistently be 16" like they're suppose to be, it's important to maintain flexibility in the design.

Step 2: Initial Pipe Framing Layout

Picture of Initial Pipe Framing Layout

I started the pipe layout by using a stud sensor to locate and mark the stud locations in my wall.  Then I used a chalk line to snap vertical indications of the studs on my wall so that I wouldn't have to keep reaching for the stud sensor.  Chalk is much easier to wash off the wall than pencil FYI.

The basic building block of the framing system can be seen in picture #3.  It comprises of a flange, a 3 way tee, an elbow, a 1-1/2" pipe section, and a 6" pipe section.  The vertical pipes and couplings can be added in areas as desired, but are not required since the 3 way tee and elbow provide a level surface for the shelves to rest on.

Start by attaching the lowest section to the wall first.  Drill and screw the flange to the wall, making sure to hit a stud.  Depending on the flange screw hole pattern and width of your studs you may only be able to put 2 of the 4 screws into the studs, but that is sufficient.  If a stud is not available then you'll want to use some type of drywall anchoring system.  If you go that route be careful to note the manufacturer's weight recommendations and compare them against the estimated amount of weight you'll be putting on your finished shelf.

Once the first support is attached to the wall a level can be used to determine the location of the next support.  You'll want a pair of helping hands during this step (one person holds the level while the other moves the shelf support).  Note that it is important to be as precise as possible to avoid compounding inaccuracies as you work up the wall, but one huge benefit to these pipe systems is that everything is threaded and can therefore be adjusted to remove small measurement inaccuracies.

Continue in this manner, working your way up the wall and referring to your original design as necessary.  This is the most fun part of the build.  Be creative and don't be scared to deviate from your original plan if something looks better than what you had on paper.  Hit studs, make sure the pipe support on one section is level with the corresponding pipe support of other sections, and experiment with all the pipe fittings to see what looks good and works best in the space.

Once the full support system has been built up on the wall, the final step before removing it from the wall for painting is to take measurements for the wood shelves.  First, visualize where the wood shelves will sit on the supports and how long the boards should be.  Take shelf length measurements using the pipe framework as a guideline.  Next, measure distances between the vertical pipe locations that will pass through the shelves for future reference on where to drill holes in the boards.  Be sure to measure from pipe center to pipe center.  Another set of hands is convenient for this step.

After all shelf lengths and hole locations have been recorded, the pipe support system can be removed from the wall for painting.

Step 3: Mill Shelves

Picture of Mill Shelves

Rip cut the boards to 10-1/2" wide.  This width will provide a sturdy, deep shelf that won't quite touch the wall after being installed on the pipe supports.  After cutting all boards to 10-1/2" wide, crosscut the separate shelf pieces according to the measurements recorded in Step 2.  

Once the boards are milled, mark the hole center locations according to the measurements taken in Step 2.  Locate hole centers 1-1/2" from the front of the boards.  Center punch the drill locations to prevent your bit from walking while drilling the holes.  Drill the holes using a 7/8" diameter spade or forstner bit.  Use a scrap piece for support on the backside to avoid tear out when the bit punches through the shelf.  The outside diameter of 1/2" pipe is 13/16" so the 7/8" hole allows for a tiny bit of wiggle room while still providing a firm fit.

I used the top notch woodworking equipment at TechShop to mill the lumber for this project.

When the boards are done being milled prepare them for finishing by sanding them.  120, 150, 180, 220 is a typical grit progression, but the lower grits may be unnecessary depending how smooth your boards started out.  Make a final pass with 220 grit by hand in the same direction as the grain to remove any undesired marks left by the random orbit sander.

Step 4: Spray Paint Pipes

Picture of Spray Paint Pipes

I spray painted the pipe using a primer and black enamel top coat.  I sprayed the pipe sections as fully assembled as possible in order to avoid paint build up on threads that may have been problematic during later assembly.  This method of painting worked well.  It took several sessions in order to fully coat all sides of the pipe with good layer of paint.

Step 5: Stain & Clear Coat Shelves

Picture of Stain & Clear Coat Shelves

As a final step before applying stain to the boards I used a microfiber cloth to remove any wood dust or debris.  I applied the stain using a white cotton cloth (old cut up t-shirt) and used painter's pyramids to allow me to coat both sides of the boards in one session.  It took 3-4 passes with the wood stain, allowing a few minutes of "soak" time in between, before I got the depth of color I was looking for on top of the Poplar wood.

After letting the stain dry for 24 hours, I applied the clear coat (spar varnish) using a natural bristle brush.  The durability of the spar varnish is overkill for these shelves, and the finish was very temperamental to apply.  I would probably use an oil finish that I could have applied more simply with a cloth, would have given me better results, and would be easier to touch up in the future if I did it again.  The clear coat took several sessions to apply.

Step 6: Final Installation

Picture of Final Installation

Finally, you're ready to assemble the finished project on the wall now!  It's much easier getting the pipes back up there the second time since you already know where they all go and all the screw holes for the flanges are already in the wall.  The first potential difficulty in this step is that the holes for your board don't match up with the location of the pipe.  Hopefully you made good measurements and transferred them to your shelves properly.

The second trick in the final installation is that, depending on your design, some of the boards will need to be attached to the pipes before being installed on the wall.  This is because the wall or another shelf section may interfere with attaching certain sections of pipe after an adjoining flange has already been placed on the wall.  Take a moment to think about what needs to be assembled before being placed on the wall.

The last trick is to think about pipes that may interfere with screw locations on the flange.  It may be necessary to screw the flange to the wall and then twist the pipe into it's final location after the flange has been attached.  On that note, it's better to tighten the pipe after screwing the flange than to loosen it.

When you're ready, another set of hands (or two) helps to support sections on the wall while you screw the flanges in place.  Screw the flanges to the wall and install the shelves as your design calls for.  Be sure to really tighten any pipe sections that won't need to be adjusted in the future.  I even found that I could usually get another full rotation on support members that screw into the flanges if I used a temporary 6" piece for extra torque.  Adjust any leveling mechanisms (square caps, and couplings) as necessary, constantly referring to your level as your guide.  Remember that adjusting one shelf may impact the level of another shelf somewhere else in the system.

The last step is to screw the round caps onto the top side of the shelves.  After that, you're ready to stand back to admire your work!

Step 7: Showcase!

Picture of Showcase!

Project complete!  Load your new shelving system up with whatever you had in mind when you started this project, and prepare for the compliments and awe this particular wall in your house is going to inspire when family and friends see what you've built.


njreyn made it! (author)2017-02-25

Finally finished! I didn't quite reach your level of Rube Goldberg intricacy/goodness, but I'm happy with the result. Thanks for the inspiration!

MonolithFab (author)njreyn2017-02-25

What a fun email to get out of the blue on a Sat afternoon. Nice work! I like the way used two to frame the bar. That looks like a solid place to pour a proper drink and make some memories. Thanks for the shout!

nickf56 (author)2016-07-18

Do you have the dimensions on where you places all the flanges/pipes?

a13jo (author)2015-03-26

Great work man, I definitely will do this project.

JeanetteClark (author)2015-03-06

Did you create your own Visio stencils - or are these available for download somewhere?

swaxman (author)2015-01-04

You Da man ! wicked . back in the old days in particular Bathrooms and laundrys plumbers would run hot water exposed copper pipework along the walls, , creating radiant heating and warm towl rails, they were Sustainable installations, anyway very cool

pallc (author)2015-01-04

Way awesome! My downstairs railing was made like this as well as the sink in the basement. Thanks for sharing!

pallc (author)pallc2015-01-04

Oh yeah... so I went German style pipe engineering (same idea screw versus welded with 2" galvanized piped piled and framed along the shore and going back under the first terrace) on the seawall when I restored along with using rebar stepped footing going up the hill to restore the retaining walls. I also used a few pipes sticking up for railing... though never finished the railing. Was armed robbed and shot so moved away and have to sell the house now. Still, you have a way cool design and looks aesthetically appealing and inspiring.

YarivA (author)2015-01-04


papagood (author)2015-01-04

Very nice work...I've been drawing up plans with something similar but using the same idea to expand across an entire room for a home office. I've thought of the pipe coming down from the ceiling to the floor...give give the office kind of like an upscale hardware feel. Keep up with the post if you do add of the best builds I've seen of this idea, keep it up!!!

joshbranch (author)2014-12-16

Great project and nice detail! I'm in the process of building an exact replica of your design and am having a hard time finding exactly which pipe lengths go where. Could you tell me what length is used between the "T" and elbow on rear-pointing shelf supports (the ones without flanges)? Thanks for the great plans!

joshbranch (author)2014-12-09

Great project and nice detail! I'm in the process of building an exact replica of your design and am having a hard time finding exactly which pipe lengths go where. Could you tell me what length is used between the "T" and elbow on rear-pointing shelf supports (the ones without flanges)? Thanks for the great plans!

JimW3 (author)2014-11-25

This looks fantastic! You've inspired me to build a similar one. Question, tho:

How did you assemble the bottom right corner, where you have the bottom two shelves connected? It seems it's not possible, given there's no junction to assist with a necessary "opposite" turn somewhere in the sequence.

WayneEarl (author)2014-03-12

one other thing. my workout routine has been revolutionized by the inclusion of thread cutting sets using manual 3/4" pipe dies. It's like a new pair of shoulders! i could buy the threaded nipples or pay and have the big box store cut the threads, but whats the fun in that?

WayneEarl (author)2014-03-12

im building a version of this using a mix of 1/2" and 3/4" pipe, but with the pipe conceiling wiring. im creating pipe styled light fixtures as part of this as well. will post pics once ive got something im happy with.

MonolithFab (author)WayneEarl2014-03-12

Very nice. There's definitely a strong case to be made for integrated wiring and lighting since the conduit is already there. Can't wait to see how it turns out.

WayneEarl (author)MonolithFab2014-03-12

yes, exactly. and its possible to keep low voltage and 120v wiring seperate from each other, simply by hiding the use of the piping as conduit withen a shelving/lighting installation - looks cool, and complies with electrical codes. bonus! ;-)

Team1036 (author)2014-02-19

This is amazing! Do you have rough overall dimensions of the entire unit?

MonolithFab (author)Team10362014-02-23

Thanks! The overall bounds are roughly 74" wide by 54" tall.

astrorrey (author)2014-02-12

Very nice shelving! How did you protect the pipes for not to marr them with the stillson?

MonolithFab (author)astrorrey2014-02-14

No pipe wrench necessary, ideally. Any mates that needed to be torqued tightly seemed to have an elbow somewhere in the assembly which provides a nice place to attach a 6-10" temporary pipe and use the leverage to multiply my hand strength. There was one or two instances where I inadvertently over-tightened a mate before the final assembly and had to use a pair of vice grips with a kitchen towel wrapped around the pipe to loosen the fittings. The towel never protects the pipe perfectly so there were a few marks that I filed down a bit, but definitely nothing major. I would probably invest in a pair of soft jaw pliers if I were going to do many more of these pipe projects.

wc444 (author)2014-02-11

These look awesome! I saw an online ad for a company selling a shelving unit like this with only ONE shelf for $250.00. I'm guessing this entire project costs just a fraction of that.

MonolithFab (author)wc4442014-02-11

The total came in around $300 as I recall. The cost of all those pipe fittings adds up.

wdexter (author)MonolithFab2014-02-12

I was just thinking this must have been pretty expensive - and wondered if you found a cheap source for some of those parts.

If I remember right, my local orange-signed big box Home improvement store is getting $10+ for bigger flanges. Sounds like you didn't.

Sure looks nice. Good job!

MonolithFab (author)wdexter2014-02-14

I really don't remember the exact price, but recall tallying the final price at a little over $300. I did buy all the pipe fittings at the Home Despot you've made reference to, but could not have gotten away with it at $10 a flange so that sounds a little steep. I'm always looking for ways to buy in bulk or find a back door for wholesale prices so I get where you're coming from, but personally didn't think it was worth spending the time to contact local plumbing supply specialists to potentially save a few dollars. I can't remember if the big boxes offer any carton discounts, but that may have helped at the quantities I ended up using for a few of the fittings.

thoselaings (author)2014-02-12

Thanks for your detailed reply - makes sense.
I neglected to mention how beautiful I think this project is. I really enjoy using industrial-grade materials in innovative ways, and repurposing discarded stuff. I mounted my chop saw on an old B-B-Q stand, and it works great - I can wheel it to wherever I need it.

carolmac55 (author)2014-02-12

Absolute Lunacy in a SteamPunk style, Though the scrap yards my only viable source for this kitchen project. thanks for your insight

primosanch (author)2014-02-12

Very nice.

thoselaings (author)2014-02-11

Some of the shelves do not have support along the back edge. Where does their strength come from?

MonolithFab (author)thoselaings2014-02-11

Good eye. You'll notice that I was sure to locate a support in each of the 4 "corners" on the larger shelves with lots of height clearance that I knew would be supporting large loads. There are a few shelves only supported in 3 corners and one shelf only supported by 2 pipes toward the front corners. For these shelves the round caps help by providing a downward force on top of the boards that keeps the shelves from sagging or tilting if they are loaded at the back where there is no support directly underneath. The fact that the holes in the boards have a relatively tight clearance around the pipes going through the shelves also helps in this regard. Most importantly, the rigidity of the 7/8" thick solid hardwood is where most of the strength comes from. The flex of a 7/8" x 10-1/2" x 36" piece of hardwood is so minimal that it's not even a factor as long as the shelves are receiving good support in a few locations. I'm still amazed at the strength of wood every time I build a new project. So few consumer products are made out of solid wood or a high grade plywood that it's easy to forget the inherent strength and robustness of high quality materials. Initially I thought that the shelves with fewer supports would be for lighter weight items, but the end result is that there is no practical difference between the strength of any given board. I don't hesitate to put any item on any given shelf without thinking twice about it.

luckylulujoe13 (author)2014-02-11

Howdy, My friend and I made a 1/4 inch water pipe skateboard rack where we used 1/4 turn shutoff valves to retain the boards against the wall! Your shelves look great!

Nice! You have reminded me that I played around with the aesthetic of a few water valve fittings when designing this shelf, but ultimately opted out because they made the framework look too much like a sprinkler system. I like your idea of the 1/4 turn shutoffs though. Sounds like a killer skateboard rack.

woodNfish (author)2014-02-11

Your shelves have a bice steam punk lok. Very nice!

t0mm0t (author)2014-02-11

oh what a great job you did there!! :O

this is not only a shelf, this is art dude. *thumbsup*

humood77 (author)2014-02-11

great job

bitsy113 (author)2014-02-11

I absolutely LOVE the way this looks! You did such a great job!

Mad inventor (author)2014-02-11

I love it!

jarthur6 (author)2014-02-11

this is crazy cool I have been looking for a cool built in idea and this is by far the coolest! GREAT WORK!

MonolithFab (author)2014-02-10

Thank you all for the positive feedback! It's very gratifying to see others enjoying the Instructable. While it is true that this project requires some handy work with a tape measure and level due to self-inflicted complexity, the finished product is great proof that the details are not the details. They really do make the design.

Verga (author)2014-02-10

What a great steampunk design. Excellent instructions and great pictures. I have got to talk my wife in doing this in at least one room of our house.

dimtick (author)2014-02-10

Nice Job!!!!
I've seen pipe shelves before but they always tried to disguise the fact that they were made of pipes. I love this because instead of trying to hide anything you really celebrate the fact that it's made from pipes.

Great Job!!!!!!!!

amjohnny (author)2014-02-10

Very good design! I like it.

action pig (author)2014-02-10

Very cool shelving! I love this look and your particular take on it is wonderful.

jjdebenedictis (author)2014-02-10

Looks fantastic! Very steampunk. :)

Mielameri (author)2014-02-10

Cool concept. I live in an old house, and there was actually a blank wall where I was planning on installing pretty standard shelving, but after seeing this, I've completely changed my mind! Thanks!

andrea biffi (author)2014-02-10

That's awesome!!

Raitis (author)2014-02-10

Love how the arrangement of shelves is something completely custom and could be made custom by anyone doing this for themselves!

ctx1985 (author)2014-02-09

This is such a beautiful shelving unit! I'm thinking of making something similar for my record collection. Thanks for the great instructions!

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2014-02-09

The setup looks so complicated, but you have such wonderful directions! Awesome job :D

About This Instructable




Bio: An electrical engineer by trade and a creator by DNA, Monolith Fab is my outlet for a creative addiction a long time in the making ... More »
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