Introduction: Modern Shelves With a Rustic Twist

About: Woodworking hobbyist in Rochester NY and a high school science teacher. Follow me on instagram at @newmanspecialswoodwork

These shelves are made from Spalted Maple and Walnut, but can be made from any woods. These were designed as a pair, but can be easily made as a single unit. The shelves consist of a 2 side pieces, 4 shelves, and a base cabinet with doors. Each side piece is made from a single piece of wood and has the supports cut out, while each shelf sits in a dado (cut-out portion) of the support. The base is made using plywood and solid wood to make a storage cabinet. The doors and back of the cabinet are optional as this would still look great with an open base - for simplicity sake I'm not going to talk about making the doors and the cabinet back.

The beauty of these shelves is that they look very open and, with good wood choices, can be placed across a room and tie in various elements of the decor of the room. With the spalted maple I used in these 2 shelves, I used one board for each individual height shelf. This caused the grain of the wood to move across the shelves and looks great across the room.

The dimensions of this piece are: 28 inches wide by 60 inches tall. The base cabinet is 17 inches from bottom to top and each shelf is 10 inches apart, with each shelf 1 inch thick.


Support pieces - four 1 inch thick boards of your choice (I used walnut, which is the darker wood) at 7 feet long and 7 inches wide

Shelves - each shelf is 28" long and 1 inch thick. I used different widths, with an increasing depth as you went up - 15 inches for the cabinet top, 12 inches for the 2 shelves above that, and 10 inches for the top 2 shelves. You can choose the length that works best for you and adjust as necessary. You can also keep each shelf, after the base, as the same width, but be careful in making it too wide as balance can be affected. Wood choice is optional - I used Spalted Maple, which is the lighter wood with the lines in it. I chose this for the incredible contrast between the spalt lines and the maple and so that the grain would be visible across a room.

Other pieces:

Glue - I like TiteBond III, but most wood glues will be fine.

Dowels - to connect the shelves to the support pieces securely

Pocket Screws

Tools used:

table saw, fine blade pull saw, drill, jigsaw, random orbit sander, sandpaper, biscuit joiner, kreg jig (pocket screw kit), sandpaper, clamps

Step 1: Pick Your Lumber

Choose the lumber that you will use to make these shelves. I chose Spalted Maple and Walnut. I purchased this lumber from Pittsford Lumber in Pittsford, NY. For the shelves you need to find pieces that are twice the length of the shelf width you want, plus at least 4 inches to cut off any damaged ends. My shelves are 28 inches wide, so my boards were all 5 feet long. For the shelf supports you need boards that are the height you want, plus however tall you want the cabinet to be. My shelf height is 60 inches and the cabinet was 17 inches, so I bought boards that were 7 feet long. The thickness of the boards for the supports should be at least 1 inch thick to accommodate the dadoes that will be cut into them later

Step 2: Layout the Heights for the Shelves

The shelves are supported by dadoes, which are cut into the wood the thickness of the shelves. Cut off 17 inches from each shelf support for the base - put these aside for the next step. Lay out lines for the height of the shelves that you want - the lines should be for the base of the shelf and the top of it. The cabinet base shelf is 17 inches and each shelf is another 10 inches above the previous, with the top shelf being at the top of the shelf support. Take into account the thickness of the shelf. After laying out the shelf heights, cut along your lines using your table saw or a circular saw, to a depth of 1/2 inch. I used a router to clean out my cuts, but you can easily clean it out using the circular saw, table saw, or hand chisel it out.

After the dadoes are cleaned out, layout and trace the shape of the supports for the top 4 shelves. They are 4 inches wide from the back and the curve starts 8 inches from the bottom of the next shelf. Once these are laid out, use your jigsaw to cut out the area so that it looks like the second picture. I figured out the shape I wanted with a cardboard template and laid that out on my boards - unfortunately I can't find that picture, so I can't show it to you.

Step 3: Join the Cabinet Base and Round Over the Edges

Grab those 17 inch pieces you cut off in the last step (I told you to save them!) and use your biscuit joiner to join them to the front side of the shelf supports. This is will give you the width of the base that you want and provide support to the cabinet top. The first picture shows how it should look after joined up.

Use your router to round over the all front edges of the shelf support to give it a smooth look. I forgot a picture for this, but now is also the time to use your kreg jig to put pocket holes in the top of the cabinet base. These pocket holes will be used to hold the cabinet top to the long bottom shelf. I also routed a 1/2 inch groove in the base to place the shelf into.

At this point your shelves are still in 5 foot sections - cut those down to 28 inch lengths and use your jigsaw to round out the front corners of the shelf and sand these smooth. Since you already have your router out, use that to round over the front and sides of top side of the shelves. The last picture shows the shelves as they have been routed and are ready for sanding

Step 4: Make Cabinet Shelf

I don't have any pictures of this step. I made a shelf for the inside of the cabinet out of a 1/2 inch piece of plywood and a 1.5 inch piece of walnut. The walnut is the front of the shelf. The plywood should be 27 inches and the walnut is 26.5. Use pocket holes and glue to join them and put pocket holes on the bottom to join to the cabinet base sides.

Step 5: Cut Out Space on Shelves for Overhang

Use a fine handsaw for this step (which I forgot to take a picture of). The first picture shows the final project as it will look with the shelf will look when finalized. The idea is that the shelf sits into the dadoes we cut earlier and has an overhang. To accomplish this you need to mark off 1 inch in from the edge and 4 inches in from the back. This will result in an area that matches into the dado we cut earlier into the supports

Step 6: Dry Fit

Dry fit everything together to make sure all your cuts fit. If there are any places where the shelves don't fit, use a chisel clean up the cuts and make sure everything fits tightly together.

Step 7: Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding

I don't have a picture here, but everything needs to be sanded. Use the random orbit sander on the tops and sides of everything. I like going from 120, 150, to 220 with the sand paper grits and finishing with 320 grit hand sanding. Use hand sanding for all the edges and corners

Step 8: Pre-finish

Use tung oil to finish the wood. This will allow the wood colors to pop and give some protection and strength to the spalted maple. Allow to cure for 7 days and then begin to finish with your finish of choice - i used gloss wipe-on polyurethane and wiped it on almost all the surfaces. It is important to leave your gluing surfaces bare to ensure that the glue can bond

Step 9: Assemble the Pieces

Once you have everything finished and the wipe-on polyurethane has built up a "critical mass" on the surface, glue up the pieces and assemble the carcass. For simplicity I am not showing how to make the base cabinet. Once all the pieces are together clamp up the sides and then drill your dowel holes. Spread glue on the dowels and tap them in place.

Step 10: Trim the Dowels

Once the glue has dried, use a flush trim saw to cut the dowels flush to the support pieces. I use painters tape around the dowel so I don't scratch it up or cut anything. After you have it cut to size, sand the pieces so they are completely level, and apply your finish coat again... and again... and again.

Step 11: DONE!

Once you have all the pieces together - you are done! Place the pieces wherever you want in the house and be prepared for your friends to ask you to make a pair of these for them!

Step 12: OPTIONAL: Cabinet Doors and Back

Add cabinet doors and a back with a few simple steps. I made the doors from a single board that was resawed using a handsaw. This gave me 2 pieces that were just about 1/2 inch thick. These were biscuit joined together and glued up. I used regular cabinet hinges when I hung the doors on the front of the finished cabinet. The back was made of walnut and 1/4 inch ply. I cut dadoes in the walnut and used pocket screws to join the sides together. Biscuits were used to join the back to the side and pocket screws were used to connect the cabinet top to the cabinet back

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