Introduction: Stolmen and Ekby Compression Bookshelf System

Picture of Stolmen and Ekby Compression Bookshelf System
[Better project-complete photos added.]

An absurd set of requirements leads to a hacked compression shelving system for easy maneuverability and expansion.

Recently I 'earned' some upgraded bookshelves.  Having casually shopped shelving for a while, I knew I had some rather absurd requirements:
*  easy to break down and transport 
*  useful as a free-standing divider or against a wall
*  adjustable to varying ceiling heights
A few years ago I chanced across Julie Scheu's "pogo" free-standing bookshelves.  I wanted them immediately.  Since they were a commissioned piece for a gallery in New York, I opted to build my own version.  In metal.  From ikea parts.
While researching compression shelving (the official vocab, it seems), I found sites devoted to pre-built systems.  Most were for commercial use—boring and expensive at the same time.  Thankfully, a site comparing compression shelving referenced ikeahacker and Lucien's stolmen/jarpen shelves.  Hack-tastic!
I integrated the two ideas using Ikea's Ekby shelves, Stolmen poles & brackets and some alternate parts.  Identifying the alternate parts was a chore, due to Ikea's habit of not providing schematics.  However I'm happy to share the results of my trial-and-error process that will hopefully make things smoother for any other ikeahackers using Stolmen parts.

Let's begin the short 'n sweet tour.

Step 1: Stolmen Poles

Picture of Stolmen Poles
Be sure to test the telescoping in-store if you can—I had to return two of the four poles I bought for broken telescoping mechanisms within the poles.
Stolmen poles: $30 each

Shelf finish selection
Ekby's Mossby edition isn't as flexible as the Jarpen edition that Lucien used, which can be cut and stained as needed.  But I preferred the metal look.  To achieve two poles and the suspended-shelf effect, I needed to pinion an individual shelf on its centerline.   To do so, I drilled through the metal covering and pressed wood core. 
The metal is very thin and punches through quickly if you're not careful, so take your time.  It also gets hot due to friction, so mind your fingers.  I drilled from the bottom of the shelves toward the metal top, to make sure I wasn't introducing alignment problems.
Ekby Mossby shelves, 31 1/8" x 7 1/2": $30 each
Stolmen brackets
They package a lot of spare crap with these.  Between 4 poles and 16 brackets, I have a whole shoebox of duplicate stuff I never intend to use.
Stolmen brackets:  $15 for a six-pack

I used 32 brackets, half double-tongued for future expansion and half single-tongued for the exposed side.

Step 2: Threaded Tube Ends

Picture of Threaded Tube Ends
I jettisoned the stock Stolmen feet because they look cheap.  I kept the built-in threaded tube ends however.  So I only needed new tube ends for half the project.  Due to Ikea's lack of schematics, it was a challenge to determine the exact interior diameter of the pole with the tools I had on-hand.  I decided to use DrillSpot's selection of S&W TE1-1B Tube Ends at 1-1/2" diameter and 1/2"-13 thread size.  They are actually a hair too small but using double-folded paper rings as a washer kept them in place securely.  I wrapped the paper just below the exposed top and stuffed them in.
1-1/2" tube end:  $8.16 each

Step 3: Threaded Leveling Mounts

Picture of Threaded Leveling Mounts
Ikea's built-in Stolmen tube ends use a metric(?) size bolt described as an M12 x 1.75.  (Vocab tip:  the second number in these thread descriptions is the 'pitch' or frequency of the ridges on the bolt and is essential to the project.)  With the option to pick new tube ends, I decided to use a more standard 1/2" - 13 thread.  However, that meant I needed complementary feet at different thread sizes.
I chose S&W's "Glide Rite" series.  They come in both thread sizes and can easily handle the load requirements.  They look perfectly decent, too.  Mine came with hard, white plastic pads which work just fine and don't scuff the floor or ceiling.

Step 4: "Sandwich" Bolts

Picture of "Sandwich" Bolts
1/4" x 20 x 2 round-top bolts
This is the bolt that runs through the two brackets sandwiching the shelf, which tighten the brackets to hold the shelf in place.  The bottom screw is exposed at 2"—I was tempted to try acorn nuts like Lucien's solution but the effect is negligible.
Bolts:  $2.30 for a pack of three
Last bit about  they offer Google Checkout which means you get significantly cheaper shipping than any competitor.  Other resellers charge as much to ship as the damn parts cost and take a percentage on returned product, too.  Boo.

Step 5: Total Costs

Picture of Total Costs

Poles:  4 x $30 = $120
Brackets:  7 x 5-pack (with safety spares) at $15  = $105 
Shelves:  8 x $30 = $240
Drill bit: $5
Bolts:  8 x 3-packs at $2.30:  $19
Tube ends:  4 x $8.16:  $32.64
Threaded feet:  4 x $4.75 and 4 x $2.38

Total:  $550 and change for two substantial shelves

Shipping added about $50 for the leveling mounts and tube ends, not including trial and error orders.    


oaskul (author)2012-04-05

I made sure to make the bottom feet flush, and my shelves have been standing and stacked full of books for over 6 months without problems. Thanks!

Clayfig (author)2010-06-16

looks like the poles that your whole project is based on are no longer available i think, you link is dead for sure

_diyMATT (author)Clayfig2012-03-30

Different color, but looks like the same pole.

beyonddc (author)Clayfig2010-07-20

Yea, looks like the poles from Ikea is no longer available. Is there any alternative? I am having difficulty to find alternative tension pole from the Internet.

tiffehr (author)beyonddc2010-08-03

I had trouble finding the Stolmen ones. We all may be out of luck, then. Perhaps Craigslist would have someone selling a used Stolmen line.

Berkana (author)2010-03-18

 You see that gap between the floor and the bottom of the pole? That's what I'm talking about. Close that gap; the pole should be resting directly on the feet. If you don't, that plastic end piece where the bolt is threaded through will fatigue and fail within a year. It can't take the sustained weight of a load of books.

tiffehr (author)Berkana2010-03-22

 Ah!  Good call.  I do need to reinforce them.  Now that I have my books up, it gives me a better idea of the weight involved.  I'm going to get replacement tube-ends for the bottom, I think.  It's hard to tell from my mobile phone photos but there's a 'locking' nut between the bottom foot and the tube-end.  So that would be the weight-bearing part, which is still not wide enough should the plastic fail. 

Thanks for adding your concerns!  Very, very helpful.

Berkana (author)tiffehr2010-03-22

 My suggestion is to not rely on the locking nut; let the foot rest entirely on the end cap, and extend the tube upwards to lock it in place, rather than extending that bolt downwards to push the rest of the tube up.

tiffehr (author)Berkana2010-04-20

So now I have a 1/4"-thick metal washer standing in for a new tube end, in the meantime.   Before I added the washers, there didn't seem to be any ill effects on the plastic tube end (yet) but it was a mere month.  

I also have at least one more entire shelf of books that need a home.  May turn that into a supplemental project on here, depending on how ambitious I get.

scorby (author)Berkana2010-03-23

I would like to second (and 3rd and 4th) what Berkana said, for exactly the same reason.  I learned the hard way, LFMF.

bordenkecher (author)2010-03-19

 are the polls then tension mounted b/w the floor and the ceiling? so that you're not actually drilling a whole in the floor or ceiling to install the shelving system?

L-A (author)bordenkecher2010-04-18

 Exactly, the pressure simply keeps the feet in place. That's the big advantage of compression poles :)

icerabbit (author)2010-03-22

Love the project.

However, without additional fastening - like a hidden attachment arm / bracket somewhere higher up, securing it to the wall behind it  - I don't think this is a safe setup.

I have sincere doubts this will not tip over at some point, unless it were secured with flanges / feet with screw holes at the floor & ceiling. You can't set much tension so as to not damage the ceiling, ...

Just my cautious 2c.

56dustbunny (author)2010-03-18

I really wanna do this but it comes out to be pretty pricey, awesome hack. I'm gonna keep this bookmarked for future project. Great choice of beer to work with :)

tiffehr (author)56dustbunny2010-03-22

 Turns out this little project got picked up by a few home-improvement/gadget blogs.  The commentors (not all of which are as cool as y'all—some assume I'm a dude) offer some alternatives, some of which are indeed less expensive. There are a few I wish I'd found when I was in my research phase.

Unpluggd/Apartment Therapy

My favorite thus far is  Elizabeth and Dave's DIY Pipe Shelving

56dustbunny (author)tiffehr2010-03-22

OMG I was so pissed at the comment on the Unpluggd/Apartment Therapy post that I had to comment back in your defense !

freakshow17 (author)2010-03-20

In regards to oyur DOGFISH HEAD BARLEY STOUT - I believe that is an official Irish Unit of Measure

urwatuis (author)2010-03-19

seems to me the inexpensive alternative is to use 1.5" PVC pipe, 12" wide pine shelving, and hose clamps. It may not have spring loaded tension poles but I think it would be possible to have adjustable poles using threaded pipe fittings and threaded rod. I would try 5/16ths or 3/4 threaded rod for adjusting the feet with strong support. A can of silver spray paint would give a nice metal look if thats what you like. I bet you could do the same project for $50 or less per shelf unit.

chello2k9 (author)2010-03-18

I would like to see alternatives material used, the price of this shelf is a little much, but the shelf itself looks nice. 

Berkana (author)2010-03-18

 This is the part of my Solmen set that failed when my shelves collapsed. Make sure this is entirely resting on the feet; the bolt and plastic cap should not be load bearing, because they will eventually fail and collapse into the tube.

Berkana (author)2010-03-18

 I've done this before using the Stolmen poles, however, I have an important warning for those who try this.

My shelf collapsed after several months; the plastic caps at the bottom failed, and fell into the poles. There is a very important trick you need to do to prevent this from happening: Make sure the bottom screw and foot are all the way into the pole, so the weight being transferred through the pole rests directly on the foot without having to go through the bolt. If you don't, the plastic will fatigue, and eventually fail. When it does, the poll will fall, the top will no longer be supported on top, and your Stolmen set will fall, scattering your books everywhere.

Jayefuu (author)2010-03-18

Brilliant first ible! I love how well written it is and that you gave credit where credit's due in all the right places. Awesome looking shelves. :D

chella448 (author)2010-03-18

I much prefer your shelves to these but i'm on a tight budget so..,2,137,138,&iProductID=25478&k=XX23159

kirnex (author)2010-03-18

 Love this project! Thanks for posting this.  

And, just my opinion, but I like the looks of yours better than the shelves that inspired you.

tiffehr (author)2010-03-13

 Okay, better daylight images uploaded.

blakeredfield (author)2010-03-11

Its beautiful. Very well done, piece of art. I'm wondering if whoever your design inspires next can bring down the price tag though. Well done. 5/5 

tiffehr (author)blakeredfield2010-03-13

 Skipping the custom threaded-foot hardware and a non-metal shelf helps a lot.  That would probably knock $100 off the price.  I need to take a better photo photo doesn't convey that the two shelves I built take up fairly large walls.

oakback (author)2010-03-12

I bought a corner shelf unit for a bathroom that does just this, a spring-loaded telescoping pole that presses between ceiling and floor.  It was cheap (not sure how much though, it was several years ago), and I'm sure two of these could be modified into bookshelves.

Sam the Wizer (author)2010-03-12

 Good beer choice!  Nice shelves too.  You've given me an idea of how to mount my electronic drumset.

Zansion (author)2010-03-11

 Awesome! 5/5!

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