Introduction: Hanging / Moving Book Shelves

A dynamic moving / adjustable set of shelves that can be repositioned at will and respond to differences in weight, or the amount of books held on each shelf. 

While this project is specific to my house, it can easily be adapted to meet the specific conditions of your house or apartment, provided you do your research. You'll need to hang this from something, so it pays to know how your ceiling is built.

The setup...

Basically, four shelves (pods) hang from a Main Line. The Main Line feeds through a system of pulleys and is free to move through them. The pulleys are hung from eye-bolts which are anchored to a solid support. The support piece is anchored to the ceiling using long screws.

The instructions will tell you the basics of how I built this, but you can easily adapt what I did to suit your needs/tastes. Some steps can be skipped depending on your access to a table saw and tastes.

You will need the following....

6 Pulleys - (2 double sheave and 4 single sheave)
4 1/2" x 6" eye-bolts
4 Large "S" hooks ( to hang the pulleys from the bolts)
1 continuous length of rope that measures roughly 40' (1/2" dia. rope)
8 continuous lengths of rope apprx. 5' in length each. (1/2" dia.)
8 1/2" nuts that match your eye-bolt threads
4 1/2" lock washers
8 1/2" (dia. hole) flat washers
4 Steel rings (1.5" to 2" dia.)
A box of 4" long wood screws (I used 6 screws, so you don't need a whole lot)

You can get all of the above at Ace Hardware.

Birch Plywood
1 sheet of 3/4" thick Birch Plywood large enough to get the following pieces...

(4) top pieces

12" long by 9" wide by 3/4" thick

(4) bottom pieces

12" long by 9" wide by 3/4" thick

Craft Plywood
(4) Back pieces, each piece 12" x 6" x 1/4 thick
(4) Side Pieces, each piece 8.75" x 6" x 1/8" thick

Some wood stain if you like

If you want to "whip" the rope ends, you'll need a strong needle and whipping twine.

Step 1: First Things First - FInd Out What Your Ceiling Is Made Of

First, you need to figure how how to hang the main support piece. I laminated two pieces of 3/4” Birch Plywood to make a board 1.5" thick and fastened it to my roof trusses. You need to screw the support piece into something solid (truss) not just drywall. You could maybe get away with special drywall anchors designed to hold a large load, but I wouldn't risk it. Secure your shelves into a truss/beam of some kind.

A note about trusses...

If you live in a single story...your roof trusses are 24” on center and will either run perpendicular to your Left and Right exterior walls, or parallel. Find out before you go any further.

If you live in a two story (built with floor trusses)...your floor trusses will be one of the following: 16” on center, 19” on center, or 24” on center. Roof trusses are 24” on center. Again, trusses could be perpendicular to your exterior walls, or parallel. Find out before you go any further.

Apartments (units not on top floor) most ikely use floor trusses. Spacing can vary as per above.

Use a stud finder to find out where your trusses are, or go look in the attic.

Step 2: Support Piece

Support Piece

There are four shelves, so you'll need four support points to hang your shelves from. These four points should be inline with one another. The differences in the pulley sheaves will offset the rope to prevent excessive rubbing. I used (2) pieces of 3/4” Birch Plywood glued  together with wood glue to create (1) 1.5" thick piece and secured (4) 1/2” x 6” eye-bolts to hold the shelves. WHile plywood is strong in all directions, you need depth so you can counter sink the holes for the nuts/washers. If you do not, your support bar will not press flush to the ceiling.

In my case, the length of the wall where I am installing this is 7'. The shelves are going to be 12" wide, so the distance between eye bolts on the support piece needs to allow for the shelf itself (1' wide) and some degree of seperation between shelves.

The support piece for my project is 7' long x 1.5" thick x 8" wide. I pulled in 6" from the end and made a mark for the first bolt. Than, each mark after was 24". This leaves 1 foot between each shelf. Place a point on your marks where the center of each hole will be (where your bolts will be)

Note that in this case, my holes are not in the center of the board. This is on purpose and specific to my needs. It helps keep the shelves from rubbing against the wall. By offestting the bolts off the center of the support piece by 1", the shelves gain 1" of seperation from the wall.

Drill (4) holes apprx.  1/2" deep x 1.25" in diameter with a spade bit where your bolts are going to go. Don't go all the way through the board. This countersinks the holes for nuts/washer. See pics.

Next, using a 5/8" bit, drill thorugh the center of your larger, countersunk hole.

Now you can install the 1/2" bolts, with a flat washer and nut. Make sure the top of the board is flush with the top of the board/nut. The last picture is the assembled bolt with nut, lock washer, flat washer on the side you will see (bottom). The top side (side against the ceiling plane, doesn't get a lockwasher). You'll need two wrenches to tighten the bolts. 

Total you will have: 4 bolts, 8 nuts, 4 lock washers, 8 flat washers.

Now you can fasten your support piece to your ceiling. I stained the plywood dark walnut, but you don't have to if you don't want. You can see in the picture some little silvery spots in the wood. Those are the screws. Your screw pattern will vary depending on your trusses/ceiling. I used only (6) 4" wood screws of some diameter, I think #12 or #14. I had them in my garage. Use some common sense on screws, you'll want some heavyer duty screws for this application. 

The screw needs to be long enough to go through the 1.5" wood piece, 1/2" of drywall, and into the truss. Probably 99% of the time your drywall will be 1/2" thick.

If your anchoring into a floor truss, the truss chord (the bottom of the truss) will be 1.5" thick and will be 3.5" wide. You should aim for the center of this mass. If you are anchoring into a roof truss, this will be 1.5" wide (narrow so be careful) and 3.5" deep.

Using a stud finder, locate the truss. Once you have the location and direction, you can use saftey pins or sewing needles to poke small holes into the ceiling to locate the boundaries of the wood truss/beam. Mark the center with a pencil. Remember you won;t see these marks once the piece is installed. 

Step 3: Shelf Making

Each shelf is made up of 5 pieces of wood. The top and bottom pieces are 3/4” birch plywood. There are two side pieces of 1/8” thick craft plywood and one back piece of 1/4” craft plywood.

The top piece is 1' wide by 9” deep by 3/4” thick. It doesn't support any load.
You'll need to drill 4 holes (1 off each corner) for the ropes to pass through. The rope is 1/2”, so the holes should be just a tad bit bigger. Leave some edge distance. See pic.

The bottom piece will be exactly the same, except we will add two grooves for the rope on the underside of the piece, and two grooves on the top for the side pieces (or book ends). You can skip the rope grooves if you like, it is an aesthetic choice for me, but you don’t really need it. It allows the rope to cradle the shelf better.

Underside (rope) grooves...

Using a table saw, set the blade low so that it will only cut perhaps 1/8” to 1/4” deep. Run the piece over the saw to score the wood in line with the holes. This will allow the rope to feed into this notch. See Pics.

Start by cutting the limits of each groove. My grooves are 1/2” wide by 1/4” deep by “length of the shelf – 12”
Go back and forth and continue to cut the rest of the groove out, moving the guide on the saw a little bit with each pass.

You'll need to use a file or sandpaper to clean up the cut. See pics. The last picture in the set is the finished underside.

Step 4: Shelf Making - Side and Back Pieces

The two side pieces (book ends) for each shelf are 6” high by 8.75” in length (this can vary based on preference) and all these do is keep the books from falling out/over. The ropes will help with this too, so you could maybe even skip this step.

Similar to how we grooved the bottom for the rope, we will run the top of the piece over the saw blade  to score out a groove for the side pieces. The width of my blade was 1/8”, so I just set it to cut about a 1/4” deep. No glue needed to keep the side pieces in due to friction.

Make your groove on the inside of the holes.

For the back piece (which is 1/4" thick x 1' long x 6" high) you need to cut out a 1/4" wide groove the whole length of the shelf. This will be perpandicular to the side piece grooves. See Pic.

Again, you could skip this and simply glue/nail the back piece on without a groove. This groove was purely for looks. Make sure to nail the back piece into the bottom with small tack nails.

The last few pics in this set show the side piece being inserted and the back piece being nailed on. (Note I stained the wood after making the individual pieces)

Step 5: The Ropes

I used 1/2” manilla rope. You can use whatever, but the pulley you'll have an easier time finding is for 1/2” rope. Not, if you use smooth rope (nylon) you may get better movement than with a more rustic rope. I went for the rustic look.

Feed the ropes through the top piece and then through the bottom piece. Each shelf has two lengths of rope. Each length is 5' long. Your length can vary based on taste. My shelves are 16” high when complete to accommodate large books, and can be adjusted to be lower if needed. Use a small nail to keep the top piece from slipping down if friction doesn't work.

The rope needs to be wrapped / secured around a steel ring at the top of the shelf. This ring will accept the main line.

You can use rope clamps (available from Home Depot) or you can whip a loop into each length of rope around the ring like I did. Again, this was aesthetic choice for me. It takes a long time. You need a long, strong needle and whipping twine.

You can look up how to whip rope if you want to do this step, as it would take a lot of pictures and time to explain. I show some pics on how I did this. It is strong, looks good, and chicks dig it.

I posted a short video of me doing a loop. My technique is crude and the video is a bit shaky. But it will help I think. The link for the youtube video is...

Basically, you are sewing the rope to itself in a loop by feeding a needle through the rope and wrapping it like a noose. If you use rope clamps, follow the directions on the package. The important thing is that you secure the shelf to the the ring.

Step 6: Pulleys and Main Line

So now that each shelf is built, you need to hang them. Depending on how high you want each shelf to go, length of your setup, etc. your rope will vary. My 7' long by 11' high setup has about 40' of rope.

You need two types of pulleys. 2 double sheave pulleys, 4 single sheave pulleys. The doubles go on the ends of your support piece, one on the left end and one on the right end. Two single pulleys go in the center two spots.

Use an “S” hook to hang each of the pulleys from the eye-bolt.

The two middle buckets I arranged to ride along the main line on pulleys. These are single pulleys and I used "S" hooks to hang the shelves from these pulleys.

The pulleys allow the ropes to move along the system. By NOT fixing the shelves to the rope and ALLOWING the rope to freely move through the rings which ARE ATTACHED to the shelves, the shelves can be manipulated into different configurations.

You'll likely have fun experimenting with different ways of feeding the rope through the pulleys. I did. And depending on how you want it to move will depend on how you feed the rope through the system.

However, you should have the rope “doubled up” on the ends. On one end of the system, you'll need to secure the Main Line Rope with a clamp or a whip. Or you can just tie a knot.

Step 7: Final Outcome

Try some different arrangements with respect to feeding the Main Line through the pulleys. There are wrong ways to do this. There are also some pretty cool ways to do it. Pay attention to which sheave the rope feeds through so the rope won't rub. The system can be arranged in many ways.

Originally, I wanted the shelf to move each time a book was removed or added. However, friction on the rope prevents fluid motion with such minor changes in weight. Still, it is easy to move the shelves. Perhaps using a smoother rope would affect this in a positive way.

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