Introduction: Entertainment Shelf

I recently bit the bullet and purchased a fancy new television. For the past three years I've been using a shelf I found in the dumpster to hold all my AV gear. The new television is sleek and warranted an upgrade from the old dumpster shelf, thus the reason for this instructables.

I must confess that this is another one of my projects where I set out with no plans or measurements. I looked up some pictures and decided on a rough idea and headed to the shop to start construction. This was a quick sprint of a project taking approximately 4 hours from start to finish.

Since many readers really like drawings and plans I made one after the fact to assist others in recreating their own shelf. The overall dimensions were determined based on the width of my tv from edge to edge (57"), the depth of my gear including plugged in cables (16"), and the height required to mask my wall outlets (20"). To really make the shelf fit in your home I recommend adjusting these dimensions to match your requirements.

To complete this project you will need access to a welder, metal cutting saw of any type, drill press, table saw, and impact driver.

Step 1: The Frame

First things first, decide on the overall dimensions of your shelf and then start cutting material. I chose to use 1"x2" 16 gauge rectangular tube and 1"x1" 16 gauge square tube. You could use a different gauge steel if you prefer, but anything over 16 gauge will be overkill. steel gauges work the same as wire gauge, the bigger the number the thinner the material ex: 16 gauge is thinner than 14 gauge.

I have access to a cold cut saw which makes quick accurate work of this thin gauge tube. A cold saw uses a HSS (high speed steel) blade and coolant to chisel its way through material. The blade spins at a low rpm (40-100 RPM) compared to a much faster rpm of an abrasive saw.

The included PDF is a CAD drawing of the frame. Please reference this file for assembly.

Cut all your pieces before you start welding, this will streamline your process and ensure things are moving quickly. double check all your pieces are the length you want after you cut them. It is better to catch a mistake now than have to cut something out later to fix it.

I started with the front portion first. Using corner clamps I aligned the 45 degree pieces and tacked them in place. Then I added the lower shelf portion 6 inches from the bottom. I marked this using a scratch awl (hardened pointed metal stick also sometimes called a scribe). A scratch awl leaves a very fine line compared to a soap stone or sharpie and is my preferred method for marking cuts and layouts.

With the front portion of the frame completed I then duplicated it for the back. Since the back was not going to be exposed and I hate grinding welds I only did face welds on the front part. For the back portion a fillet was more than sufficient to hold everything together. Then I ground the face welds with a standard grinding disc on an angle grinder and progressed to a 80 grit flap disc wheel to smooth everything out. It is important not to get over zealous when grinding face welds. It is easy to keep grinding and actually make the material so thin that the weld will fail. This is only 16 gauge steel so you are working with typically 0.065" of thickness.

Step 2: Tacking Strips

The tacking strips will be used to hold the wood to the steel frame. Ideally 1" x 1" x 1/8" angle would be used, but I was building this entirely from scrap so I opted to use what was in the scrap pile. To make your life easier be sure to drill all your tacking strips before welding them in place. Many of the pieces are reverse and repeat so I chose to drill two at a time on the drill press. Grab your sharpest 3/16" drill bit some cutting fluid and head to the drill press.

Set your drill press to around 1500 RPM for mild steel and get to work. Notice that the holes are all offset to one side, this is intentional. I wanted to be screwing into the planks as far away from the ends as possible to help prevent splitting. The holes should be spaced 1"-1.5" apart and be about 3/4" offset to one side. I am lucky and have a mill/drill combo with an x y vice. This enables me to line up my vice directly under the chuck and just slide my material over in the vice for each new hole. I didn't measure for this portion as hole placement isn't critical. The auto feed on this mill/drill comes in handy for repetitive tasks like this. Once all the holes are drilled take a flap disc and grind the burs off created by drilling all the holes.

Once all your tacking strips are drilled weld them in place. Be sure to only weld on the underside where the weld won't interfere with the plank placement. A 1"-2" fillet every foot or so is more than sufficient to hold the tacking strips in place. Running a weld the length of the frame will cause warping and is just a waste of gas and wire (assuming you are using a MIG welder).

Tack the 4 tacking strips that run front to back in place. Double check that all of your diagonal measurements are equal to the matching diagonal measurement. This is the most accurate way to check for square. Use a pipe clamp or ratchet strap to pull your frame into square if it is off. You will have to pull the frame past square and then release the tension in your clamping device and re-check your measurements. The frame will always spring back a little, that's why it is important to pull it past square. Once you are satisfied weld everything in place. Again, be sure to only weld where it won't interfere with the placement of the boards i.e. the underside. Two fillets is more than sufficient to hold everything in place.

Step 3: Cleaning and Painting

Now that your frame has had time to cool it is time to clean it and prep for paint. Using a de-greaser scrub everything thoroughly. I used simple green in a squirt bottle and a shop rag to wipe everything down. If you haven't used simple green before I recommend it. Works great and is relatively mild and inexpensive.

I opted for a black finish, but you can choose whatever color or non-color you want. The important thing is that you coat the metal in something so that the metal doesn't rust because it will. The paint I used is designed to prime metal and can be rolled on. If you choose a spray paint be sure to use a metal primer first to ensure adhesion. As always with spray paint do this in a well ventilated area. To speed up dry time I placed a few box fans around to speed up dry time.

Since I did not have enough ash to deck the shelf with I opted to go with a scrap piece of ply and just paint it the same as the frame. Since this shelf will be covered in electronics it doesn't take away from the overall aesthetic of the unit, it just kind of blends in.

Step 4: Attaching the Deck

The wood I used for the top is 4/4 ash my uncle had laying in a pile slated to be burned for firewood. We get wood from the local sawmill sometimes deemed too low of a grade to sell. Usually that just means the grain isn't straight and makes for some really intriguing grain patterns.

The ash was planed down on two faces to 3/4" thickness and the sides were left rough. I had two boards of different thicknesses and cut them into 14" planks. I decided that an alternating pattern of wide board, narrow board was the most pleasing and then applied two coats of poly. It is important to coat these planks before you install them so that you don't end up with drips all over your freshly painted stand.

Something I should have done before welding everything on was countersink the underside of the tacking strips. This is a tiring process by hand, but makes the screw sit flatter on the underside. If you want to skip this step you can, only you will know that it wasn't done.

Once everything is dry (dry enough to handle) lay everything in place and start screwing the deck in place from the underside. If you are using an impact driver be careful not to over tighten the screws and strip out the wood. Be sure to choose a screw long enough to grab the planks, but short enough that they won't protrude out from the top. I started in the middle and worked my way out to the ends. This ensured that the deck planks were symmetrical, but if symmetry isn't what you are going for then skip this step. I trimmed the two end planks so that the top board would can the side boards and then attached everything.

That's it, you should now have a beautiful shelf to match your sleek TV. I love seeing what people come up with so I encourage everyone to post a picture if they build one.

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