Introduction: Industrial Shelving Unit

About: YouTube Woodworker/Content Creator/Podcaster (The Dusty Life)

This was a project that was inspired by a shelf unit at Restoration Hardware. A client of mine commissioned a pair of these shelves a year ago and it turned out great. While making this you will learn how to cut metal (flat, angle, square, and thin sheet metal), weld, patina steel, and a little woodworking as well, but that part is optional.

Step 1: Cut the Parts

I started with a 3D rendering in SketchUp and took measurements from the model to prepare the material for the shelving unit. The upper shelf unit was primarily made from angle iron that was cut square with a bandsaw. The bottom unit was made with square tubing also cut at the bandsaw. The angle iron that was cut for the bottom and top of the upper shelving unit was notched to allow for more welding area for strength. This was optional and straight butt joints would be just as strong.

While the square tubing was still at the bandsaw I cut small pieces for the feet so the whole unit would be sitting on 4 points instead of a 4 sided frame. This allowed for there to be no rocking in case the floor was uneven, which ultimately is inevitable.

Step 2: Weld the Sides

I started by making a spacing jig that would reference off the first rung of the side frame. This needs to be as long as the space you want between the shelves. Be sure to make both sides the same length and ensure it is square.

with the sides of the frame laid out on a table and with the bottoms even, tack weld the first rung into place. Place the spacing jig on the rung, align the next rung, and tack weld it to the frame. Repeat this process until the both sides are complete and you have 2 ladder-like assemblies.

Step 3: Attach the Sides With a Top and Bottom

The bottom and top frames are simple rectangles made from angle iron. With one of the shelf sides lying flat, stand the bottom frame on the end of the shelf side and tack it into place. Once it is lightly fastened you can flip it over and tack the other side on. At this point it is important to tack weld everything as the frame will move during welding and a full weld is difficult to flex back into square. Once the bottom is fully tacked to the sides you can tack on the top.

Step 4: Adding the Cross Strap

This is the step that is the reason for tack welding. With the unit lying on it's face/front side measure from one corner to the opposite and check for square. The measurements from each corner should be equal. Then cut a piece of flat stock and weld it into place to bring the unit into square. Tack it, and repeat for the other corner. Now the unit should be fixed into place by finishing all the previous welds and grinding them flush if you like that look.

Step 5: Welding the Trim

This is where the unit starts to look great. The trim on the top corners is cut from some flat sheet metal that can be welded easily without melting through. I roughed out a curve in a square piece at the bandsaw and drilled 5 holes to in them to weld on the heads of bolts that were cut off. These corner pieces were placed into position and then welded from the back side to hide the welds.

Step 6: Welding the Base (optional)

This step is entirely optional. If you want a unit that has drawers then you can choose to follow these steps.

Make a frame from the angle iron, in this case the frame was larger in depth than the shelving unit by 2 inches. Tack the frames together using square tubing that was notched to fit around the angle iron frames such that the front is flush with the top and bottom frames.

The drawer and shelf partitions are divided by welding square tubing to the top and bottom just as the sides were. These were spaced 1/3 of the distance apart. Separating the base unit into 3 equal spaces.

For the drawer compartments, I welded angle iron to the sides of the base unit between the square tubing to form a support for the drawer web frames. It may be difficult to see in the photo but you can make out the structure.

Step 7: Details, Details, Details

For the details of the shelving unit I first cut the heads off of around 80 carriage bolts. Then I drilled holes in the frame of the upper unit to allow a place to weld the bolt heads. Each head was held into place with a piece of flat metal clamped to the frame and then welding from the back side through the hole. This took some figuring out as some of the heads didn't take to the welding too well and would fall off with a little bit of force. But after a lot of practice it worked out and the heads were stuck fast.

A piece of flat stock was welded to the bottom to finish off the look of both the upper and lower units.

Step 8: Patina on Steel

To add a nice rusty look to the frames I made a solution of muriatic acid with a 14" length of copper wire coiled up and soaking in 7 oz. of the acid. After 7 days of soaking the copper wire dissolves and the solution is a dark green color. To apply the acid solution first fill a pump sprayer with 1 gallon of water and add the solution to the water. Be certain to add the solution to the water and not the other way around. Always add the chemical to the water. Pump up the sprayer, set the units in an area that will not be damaged by muriatic acid (it will eat away cement) and spray the steel frames. Let it dry for a few days and the result is a nice brown patina.

Step 9: Making the Shelves

The shelves were cut from a sheet of plywood. I initially cut them long to fine tune the length at the end. To keep with the industrial/rustic look I milled some old 2x4 material to use as edge banding to hide the plywood layers. I glued and brad nailed the reclaimed wood to the plywood and kept the shelves in clamps until the glue was dry.

To make the fresh cut wood on the top of the shelf look similar to the front of the edge banding, I burnt the wood with a torch and used a wire wheel on a cordless drill to remove the burnt wood. This replicates the old wood look.

Step 10: Making the Drawers (optional)

The drawers were made from 3/4" plywood and the bottoms were 1/4" plywood. I cut all the parts to fit the opening of the base unit. Before gluing the boxes I pre-finished all the insides parts so the glue would be easier to clean up when the drawers were assembled.

The fronts of the drawers had more reclaimed boards attached and hand holds routed to allow for easy removal of the drawers from the unit. This was accomplished by making a notched template and using a pattern bit in the router table to make the holds. The fronts were then reattached, burnt, and cleaned up to match as was done with the shelf edge banding.

Part 2 of the videos at the introduction shows this process.

Step 11: The Finish

The plywood was simple maple plywood and to make it match the reclaimed wood without having to buy expensive stains I simply coated the surfaces of the shelves with strong brewed black tea to introduce tannin (tannic acid) to the wood. The tannin reacts with the iron acetate that is applied to darken the maple. Iron acetate is apple cider vinegar with steel wool dissolved into it. It takes about 3 weeks to fully dissolve a steel wool pad so plan ahead. The iron acetate is simply brushed on and allowed to darken until dry. You can see how close the plywood looks to the reclaimed wood. Then the surfaces were lightly sanded with 220 paper, vacuumed, and sprayed with a water borne finish such as Minwax Polyacrylic. The drawers are sprayed with the same finish. Reclaimed wood looks great with a water finish.

The final result is a pretty nice set up.

For even more detail, watch the videos that are at the beginning of this project.


Metal Contest 2016

Participated in the
Metal Contest 2016