Introduction: A Small Shelf Using Only Hand Tools

About: Patrick Waters is an award-winning educator who brings the Maker Movement to new audiences. He founded The STEAMworks, a makerspace for individuals with neurological differences at The Monarch Institute in Ho…

Learn to build a small, simple shelf to practice your hand tool skills. You will learn the rip cut and how to use the coping saw successfully. You will assemble and hang our shelf using wood screws, the quickest fasteners around.

This project can be completed in a 15 to 20-minute session by a 8 and up maker. Young makers will need help and encouragement to complete the long rip cut. To install, I used cheap plastic drywall anchors and screws. Any big box store will carry a cheap assortment set.

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Step 1: Material & Tools

The Small Bookshelf


  • 1” x 12” x 14” pine board or similar.
  • 2 #8-1 1/2” wood screws, #2 Phillips Head



  • Woodworking Vise or Clamps
  • Ryoba or Panel Saw
  • Bench Hook
  • Jointer Hand Plane
  • Coping Saw
  • Sanding Block w/ Coarse Grit Sandpaper
  • Clamps
  • Hand Drill & Brad Point Bit
  • Countersink
  • 3-Jaw Chuck Brace & #2 Phillips Head Screw Driver
  • 1/2” Forester Bit
  • Combo square, panel gauge or mortise gauge to mark rip lines
  • Pencil

Step 2: Dimensioning


The first step in dimensioning lumber is to Rip to Width. While I give specific measurements here, the general steps remain the same no matter the project or board.

  1. Use a combo square to mark a strip 4 1/2” from each edge. dsc_2464
  2. Position the board for a rip cut as shown in a vise.[gallery ids="4354,4355" type="columns"]
  3. Saw along your marked line using the rip side of the ryoba saw or a rip-toothed panel saw. Go slow and concentrate on your form. If you veer off the line, try using slight wrist pressure to push the cut back to the line. If you find yourself in really bad shape, you can flip the board and begin on the opposite side.
  4. When you reach the halfway point of your cut, flip the board in the vise and begin cutting on the other end.

Next, we Crosscut to Length. Depending on your project, it might make more sense to cut to length before ripping to width. These two steps are interchangeable.

  1. Mark the one of the 4 1/2” strips at 12”, then mark it square with the combo square.dsc_1759
  2. Position the board on a bench hook or work surface for a crosscut as show.dsc_1765
  3. Saw along your marked line using the crosscut side of the ryoba saw. Go slow and concentrate on your form.

Step 3: Joint the Edge

Next, we will Joint the Edge. If you don’t have a jointer plane, use a long block with very rough sandpaper glued to its face.

  1. Match the machine cut edges together. Secure the two boards, ripped edges up in the vise.
  2. Joint the edge with a hand plane.

Step 4: Layout


  1. Mark the curves with a compass and pencil or use a round object as a template. dsc_1767
  2. Mark the location of the screws on the top shelf. They are 2” inches from each end and 3/8” of an inch from the long edge.
  3. On the wall board, mark out locations for anchor screws. The boards are 2” from each short end, centered on the board.

Step 5: Cut the Curves

Cutting the Curves

  1. Use a coping saw to cut the curves. Secure the work piece in the vise. Go slow and concentrate on your form.[gallery ids="4336,4337" type="rectangular"]
  2. Once the curve is cut, use sandpaper and a block to even out the curve.

Step 6: Assembling the Shelf

Assembling the Shelf

  1. Secure the wall board in a woodworking vise, with the long edge facing up. Place the top shelf in proper position and secure with clamps to the wall board.
  2. Use the hand drill to drill pilot holes. dsc_1776
  3. Use the countersink to ream the pilot holes.dsc_1779
  4. Use screwdriver or brace & bit to driver screws.dsc_1781
  5. Remove the shelf from the vise and place on the bench hook. Clamp to work table if you can. Use 1/2” Forester bit & brace to drill at 3/8” deep hole. Switch to a brad point bit the same size as your anchor screws and drill through.

Sand and Finish

Sand and finish as desired.

Step 7: Install

To install, I placed the shelf on the wall, checked to see if it was level, then marked the anchor locations. I then installed dry wall anchors at those spots and attached the shelf.


This design is only appropriate for short, shallow shelves loaded with light objects, such as knickknacks and personal electronics. Heavy objects will rip it out of its anchors.

Thank you for your continued support.

Thank you for visiting my Instructable. To support Instructables such as these, check out, like on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.