Introduction: Nautilus Bookshelf

Picture of Nautilus Bookshelf

Children's books are all drastically different sizes. Putting them into a bookshelf seems almost futile because they're either too big and don't fit or are too small and waste space (plus they're only moments away from being pulled out onto the floor anyway). Rather then worry about this, I decided to embrace it and build a bookshelf where every shelf was different. This nautilus-inspired bookshelf isn't meant to be efficient or to pack books neatly, it's about willingly, enthusiastically accepting the chaos that is kids books.

The bookshelf is made of 15 sheets of maple plywood, jet machined, laminated together, stained, and finished.

Step 1: Inspiration

Picture of Inspiration

I broadly knew I wanted a bookshelf with variably-sized shelves. However, I was stuck on stuff that looked like off-kilter or crooked rectilinear shelves. I asked my 5-year-old daughter to draw the bookshelf she wanted, and she drew a spiral. Perfect!

Step 2: Draw Nautilus Outline

Picture of Draw Nautilus Outline

I used AutoCAD LT to draw the profile of the shelf.

First, I drew a logarithmic spiral and then cut it into regular sections while consulting pictures of nautilus shells to get the proportions approximately correct. Near the center of the spiral, the sections sweep out twice the angle because I didn't want the center shelves to become too small. I then offset the spiral 0.75'' as a thickness of shelves that seemed right.

The overall scale of the shelves is such that two profiles can be cut from a single 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. This makes the dimensions approximately 46'' x 36''.

Both the AutoCAD LT drawing and a .DXF are attached.

Step 3: Jet Machine Layers

Picture of Jet Machine Layers

I used 0.75'' thick maple shop-grade plywood and cut the profiles on the Pier 9Omax Jet Machining Center. I cut the the plywood above water so it didn't get fully soaked.

I cut 15 profiles from 8 pieces of plywood. The 16th profile was a solid outline of the bookshelf intended to be a back that I ultimately decided not to use. Each profile took almost 30 minutes to cut, so I monopolized the jet for 8 hours with this project.

Step 4: Scrap Wood

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The very nature of my process generated lots of scrap wood. With so many other projects happening at the Pier, fortunately much of it was repurposed.

Step 5: 15 Layers Stacked

Picture of 15 Layers Stacked

Here are all 15 layers stacked together.

The discoloration along the cut surfaces is garnet from the jet that has been forced into wood, probably as the jet passes over its steel slats. Moderate sanding did not remove the marks, so I chose to ignore them.

Step 6: First Layer

Picture of First Layer

I wanted the exposed face to be free of marks, including nail holes. To achieve this, I glued it to the second layer and held the two pieces together with almost every clamp in the shop.

Step 7: Internal Layers

Picture of Internal Layers

The internal layers are held together with glue and brad nails. Since each layer is the same shape, I aligned them by feel along the edges.

Step 8: Final Layer

Picture of Final Layer

Similar to the first layer, I wanted the final layer to be free of marks, so both sides were unblemished. I glued the final layer and, again, used every clamp in the shop that was big enough.

Step 9: Roughly Sand

Picture of Roughly Sand

Using 80-grit sandpaper, I roughly sanded the shelf until the individual layers were even. Where I could, I used a belt sander, and in the internal areas, a random orbital sander or sanding block. I only sanded the largest cavities -- the smallest ones were too difficult to access and are not easily visible.

Step 10: Fill Voids

Picture of Fill Voids

Many voids in the plywood were exposed curing cutting. I filled them with wood putty and kept sanding.

Step 11: Sand Until Smooth

Picture of Sand Until Smooth

After filling the voids, I sanded with 100, 200, and 400-grit sandpaper. This step literally took weeks, since I would carve out 30 minutes a couple times a week to sand.

Step 12: Stain

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We tested a few stains, and chose Miniwax classic gray. I was initially thinking I would not stain the shelf, but the gray stain looked good and did a great job covering the garnet marks.

Step 13: Finish

Picture of Finish

With so much surface area and the potential for lots of drips, I sought professional help finishing the shelf. My friends at Because We Can spray coated the shelf with a water-based acrylic lacquer. Pictured here is their HVLP gun in their spray booth.

Step 14: It's Also a Slide

Picture of It's Also a Slide

I packed in the children's books, and they quickly discovered the bookshelf was also a slide!


Fathomlis (author)2016-10-02

This is amazing! Wow. looks really cool!

cargorilla (author)2015-06-30

I find this kind of project disappointing and contrary to the spirit of Instructables. I mean what normal, everyday DIYer has access to such equipment? I mean, I can make just about anything with that kind of sophisticated equipment. Cheater!

ewilhelm (author)cargorilla2015-07-02

I'm amused by the cheater accusation!

Instructables is about inspiration. While you might lack the tools for this particular project -- jet, router, jigsaw -- hopefully it still might inspire you to do your own project with your available tools. I love getting ideas and inspiration even from projects I can't do for lack of resources, be it time, tools, materials, etc...

Yonatan24 (author)ewilhelm2016-01-28

With that said, Not all DIY projects are for everyone

Well, Duhh...

JoeI2 (author)cargorilla2015-06-30

Eric J. Wilhelm (ewilhelm) is the founder of Instructables. So I suppose he knows the spirit of the site, That being said I dislike DIY's that average people CAN'T do too.

studleylee (author)JoeI22015-07-01

I sorta agree: It's beautiful but would have been much less material
inefficient and in better taste if it had been done with bending forms and
laminating relatively thin( ~.25" or less ) layers of ply. My god Jim,
I'm sounding like a troll and not an engineer..

ewilhelm (author)studleylee2015-07-02

Looking forward to your Instructable on laminating plywood!

studleylee (author)ewilhelm2015-07-14

@ewilhelm My apologies! After being
inundated in my own instructable by armchair know-it-alls, I will
refrain from any judgmental commenting in the future( accept after the above sentence of course ).

The items
that were cut-out of this design could be used to make nice spiral
staircases for cats or other pets. Or even spiral curio shelving for
small items:-) Best Regards!

studleylee (author)ewilhelm2015-07-02

I am honored to be chastised by the site creator with one of my own often used comebacks :-) I will. Once I copied some curved baffle speakers doing just that: I made forms and glued 2 sheets of 1/4" in plywood while clamping to the forms. It worked perfectly.

I have a work chair design that I want to make using this. I'll try to get to that soon. Best Regards, -Lee

antioch (author)cargorilla2015-07-02

Yeah, sometimes I find it frustrating to watch people create all those wonderful things with 3D printers and what not.
But this design is a little different. I enjoyed shape and form so much that it got my mind racing how to make one of these without access to any hitech equipment.
Either way, it's easily the most beautiful bookshelf I have ever seen!

MikB (author)antioch2015-07-04

... and on the flip side, think how frustrating it is to know that some of the wonderful woodworking/craft projects on here were made with JUST HAND TOOLS.

For some people, even being able to afford/have access to those hand tools couldn't get the project done to those standards due to lack of skill. Me included!

It's a case of use what you've got. If what you've got is a lack of skills, find ways to work smarter to bury that. Or learn the skill ... :)

cargorilla (author)cargorilla2015-07-03

sorry, this may have sounded more serious than was intended. I was really only half serious. It WOULD be nice though to see how someone might create this piece in a more "low tech" way, like using the normal power tools one might find for less than $300. :-)

studleylee (author)2016-01-26

bravoechonovember1 (author)2015-10-14

instead of using so much wood couldn't you just glue together some 4x4s then cut it?

Yonatan24 (author)2015-09-19

"The 2in1 Bookshelf" That looks really nice!

One80Bits (author)2015-09-14

I enjoyed being surprised at the way you had actually manufactured it; thanks for the perspective & inspiration!

GlutenFreeMama (author)2015-08-20

Eric, this is the most beautiful bookshelf I've ever seen!!! Amazing...

studleylee (author)2015-08-04

This would be an interesting alternative way using the waterjet to kerf panels and after, bend to the nautilus shapes. Some glue or thick resin( transparent or not?) might be needed to 'lock' the bends curvature.

I think it would reduce the total consumed sheet count and look really cool too.

This could become a cool contest: How to reproduce your "Nautilus Bookshelf" design in alternate ways. It is a beautiful design and end product for sure.


KevinA5 (author)2015-07-08

Love It!. I am fortunate to have a decent sized laser cutter, so I plan to make a smaller version of this.

Nice Work

kes (author)2015-07-05

Kinda like showing how a Boeing Dreamliner is produced on a hobbyist experimental aircraft site.

But damn, it really is inspiring and awesome. And it does make me want to find lower tech ways to simulate the results.

Just staggering execution. A masterful job, and even if it is beyond my means, it isn't beyond my dreams.

Thanks you!

AikkuL (author)2015-07-02


robolimbo (author)2015-07-01

Awesome bookshelf! I have collected nautiloid fossils for years and this item would go great in my home! Thanks for the idea!!

Random_Canadian (author)2015-06-30

EJW... You have outdone yourself... Form. Function. And the Golden Ratio!

steve.fenster.5 (author)2015-06-30

I really like the idea of this shelf. True we are not likely to have access to the machining instrument, however an interesting challenge would be how one might approximate this with more mundane techniques. Any ideas? I have one.

flyingpuppy (author)2015-06-30

So not fair to have this on Instructables. Aside from that, this is absolutely GORgeous!

jeanniel1 (author)2015-06-30

It's a beautiful design, but not readily produce-able for the common man / woman, alas. Great idea, though!

michael.archibald (author)2015-06-30

My god. that is a nightmare and a horror for any book. why not, in german fashion throw them in a fire and be done with them instead of the spine bending and the general abuse

True. When I saw it, I thought gloves, purses, caps and whatever else tends to hang around with no specific, dedicated place, but no books (other than maybe yellow pages or such).

OTOH, quite wasteful build. I would have thought two faces were cut out, and the rest of the pieces laminated from thin plywood.

But it looks great.

alcurb (author)2015-06-30

Brilliant. Beautiful work.

I think that for those that don't have access to a wood-cutting CNC equipment, or the funds to pay for the use of one, would need to resort to using the ole jigsaw or scroll saw. It would be a lot of work, but a labor of love nevertheless.

Kudos to you.

ShamWerks (author)alcurb2015-06-30

I guess there could be a way to do without the CNC part. Making just the first one the hard way, then use it as a template using a router with a trim bit, to make the others. Might give you rounded corners instead of sharp ones, though.

ewilhelm (author)alcurb2015-06-30

I used the jet because I'm very familiar with it and know all of its quirks. A CNC router could have done the job and they tend to be more accessible. There's also

alanemartin (author)2015-06-30

Nice work.

sonic broom (author)2015-06-30

Very cool!

billipo (author)2015-06-30

This is the first project I've seen out of hundreds of instructables where my mouth hung agape and saliva almost ran onto my keyboard. If I can find a water jet cutter I need to make one of these! Well done. Great dream to reality project.

kbbaktha (author)2015-06-30

wow1 I love it. Thanks for sharing

syevtushenko (author)2015-06-30

It just great! You definitely should start producing it in quantities.

chewy87100 (author)2015-06-30

This is an awesome book shelf! Do they charge to operate the waterjet at Pier 9? I know it can be very expensive to operate.

David Catriel (author)2015-06-29

very cool! thx for sharing :)

NathanSellers (author)2015-06-29

This is beautiful! what a lovely design, shape and purpose.

makendo (author)2015-06-29

Very cool. My favorite builds with modern manufacturing methods are the ones where you look at them and think "how the $#%&@ did they make that!", and this was pretty much my reaction with this

bdubsrocks (author)2015-06-29

ALL HAIL Lord Helix

HollyMann (author)2015-06-29

It looks amazing - definitely one of a kind. I love it!

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2015-06-29

I love it, I want one!

tomatoskins (author)2015-06-29

This is so awesome! I love finding inspiration anywhere I can!

About This Instructable




Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
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