Introduction: Endlessly Configurable Shelves

About: I like making stuff, especially furniture and am always up for a refinishing project!

I saw one of these once designed for children, it was much smaller but I thought the idea was really cool, so I figured I would try my hand at a DIY adult size version! The concept is based around the toys where you stick your hand or some other object up against the pins, and it retains the shape of that object. But this version is a much larger size and made of wood. The pins become perfect shelves, with an endless array of configuration options! Best of all, there are pins on both sides, so you can use both sides for shelving! And it's tons of fun to play with, reconfigure for storage or just make cool patterns on! The pins move easily, and the options are endless!!

The dimensions of this unit are 70" tall, 36" wide, and the depth can range from 10.5" to 21" (depending on whether you have all pins pushed to one side, or have pins extended on both sides. Any shelf can be up to 10.5" in depth.

Note that while these are the dimensions of my piece, you could easily modify to meet your need by following the steps in this Instructable.

Overall, this project looks more complicated than it is! The secret to success is to prepare yourself for each step. There are very few steps, with lots of repetition, so you really need to take the time to set up each activity so that you can execute every step consistently.

Step 1: Step 1: Materials and Tools

42 - 6 ft. Length 3/4" dowels

8 - 8 48" length 2" in diameter dowels

2 - sheets 1/2" plywood, cut to 36" x 5'5" ( I used Purebond plywood and had the hardware store cut these for me)

3 - 6 ft. Length 1x2s

Scrap 1/2" plywood pieces to brace inside of backboard and for underneath your work while drilling

1 - 2x12, 10 ft length (for footers)

Scrap wood to make jigs from


Nails - 1 1/4"

Screws (1" self tapping, 2.5" self tapping)

Handheld drill
Drill guide (so you can drill straight holes)
Tape measure
Saw (I used a compound mitre saw because that's what I have, other options would work).
Nail gun.
Pocket hole jig (not mandatory, screws would have worked as well).
Power screwdriver
Safety glasses
Hearing protection

Step 2: Drill Holes in Backboard

1. Firmly clamp you 2 pieces of plywood together with scrap plywood clamped to the backside. Triple check to be certain both pieces are clamped to each other and lined up exactly. This is important because ultimately the two pieces of plywood will make up the backboard and there will be a half-inch gap in between the pieces. If the pieces are not lined up correctly when you drill, your holes will be off and you will not be able to push the pegs through.

2. Map out holes. I spaced my holes 2.5" apart and staggered every other row.

3. Double check your hole placement before drilling. I'll admit I don't always follow the measure twice rule... But it's crucial with this step. The end result needs to be perfectly laid out or any off places will really stand out against the overall grid. So seriously, before you start drilling, take a break, come back and double check that you've accurately marked out where each hole should go. I used a t-square to check that all rows were positioned correctly.

4. Drill holes using a 13/16" drill bit. Have scrap plywood underneath so you don't destroy your actual plywood by blowing through the under side. Use a drill standup ensure your holes are perfectly perpendicular and not at an angle.

Step 3: Step 3: Cut 3/4" Dowels

1. First, a step I wish I did: check the actual diameter of each 3/4" dowel, some were thicker and I couldn't use them, wish I checked that befit cutting them! Also wish I removed all barcode stickers from dowels before cutting.

2. Cut 3/4" dowelS. I cut mine to 9 7/8" length. Use a blocker piece of wood so all are exactly the same length.

Step 4: Step 4: Cut 2" Dowels

1. Make fastener/jig for safely cutting 2" dowel into 1/2" slices.

2. Cut 576 1/2" slices from the 2" dowel. You should get 72-73 per dowel. You could use a bandsaw for this step... I used what I have, which meant I had to figure out a way to safely cut these pieces with a mitre saw... Small pieces like this would fly off and not cut straight or consistent, so I created a jig to hold my pieces in place while I cut and to also ensure they came out the exact same size.

Step 5: Step 5: Assemble Backboard

Assemble the backboard:

I used pocket holes.

I cut my 1x 2s to frame the plywood and cover the raw edge of the plywood. They also hold the 2 pieces of plywood together. There is a 1/2" space in between the plywood sheets. I added scrap pieces of 1/2" plywood to edges at corners to ensure even spacing. Putty and sand with 220 grit sandpaper. Finish as desired ( I used clear wax).

Step 6: Step 6: Attach End Cap to 3/4" Dowel

Make jig for attaching 3/4" dowel to first 2" end cap (see pics - this hold the end cap in place perfectly centered over the 3/4" dowel). Attach a 2" dowel cap to top of each 3/4" dowel.
Sand the partially assembled pegs (pegs have one end cap in place at this stage).

Step 7: Step 7: Make Base

Cut the 2x12 as follows:

2 - 21" lengths
4 - 7" lengths
2 - 2" lengths

You will sand which the 2" length between the 7" lengths and center on the 21" board. Make 2.
Putty and sand with 220 grit sandpaper.

Step 8: Step 8: Position Backboard in Base and Add Partially Assembled Pegs

Position the backboard in the base. Drill through and secure with lag bolts.
Insert the partially assembled dowels into the holes of the backboard

Step 9: Step 9: Attach Final End Cap

Attach end caps the the partially assembled pegs. I used a piece of scrap wood securely clamped across a row of pegs on the opposite side, and then glued and nailed with a nail gun the final end caps. Putty and sand,

Shelving Contest

Runner Up in the
Shelving Contest