Introduction: Pipe and Salvage Wood Closet Shelving

We just bought a new house and with it a host of home improvement projects. This Instructable will walk through some of the basics if you want to build some clothes hanging racks from pipe fittings. For added effect, I chose to rust the pipe fittings to get a more weathered look, and use teredo clam-bore Douglas fir wood for the shelves.

Parts and materials

  • Wood for shelving - Length will depend on how long you want your hanging racks to be. In my case I added 3" either side of the hanging rack width for the shelf length. Width/depth should be at least 9", as this is the length your racks need to extend from the wall to accommodate hangers.
  • Pipe and fittings - There are as many variations of pipe fitting arrangements for shelves as there are days in the year, but generally you'll need the following:
    • Black iron pipe - I used 1/2" pipe as it is light, but strong enough to support clothes. Your local hardware store will sell this, often made by the Meuller company.You may need custom lengths. Your hardware store can typically cut and thread pipe for you, but most can't do anything less than about 8", so plan accordingly.
    • 90-degree black iron elbow fittings
    • Black iron floor flanges - You'll use these to connect your rack to your wood shelves, and also to mount to your wall.
    • 90 degree black iron side outlet fittings - These are tricky to find. I purchased mine from the site linked here.
    • Black iron tee fittings
    • Several black iron nipple fittings - These are used as connectors between things like tees and flanges.
  • Hydrochloric acid to rust the pipes - This can be typically found labeled as muriatic acid in the hardware store. In this form it's about 35% HCL.
  • Hydrogen peroxide - The stuff you can buy in brown bottles at the pharmacy/grocery store.
  • Baking powder - mixed with your leftover muriatic acid, will neutralize it and allow you to safely dispose of any leftover acid.
  • Nitrile rubber gloves - resistant to the muriatic acid.
  • Clear Satin Polyurethane spray finish to coat the pipes when you've finished the rusting process
  • Water-based finish to protect your wood shelves - I used this.
  • Screws
    • 1" wood screws to attach shelves to pipe flanges
    • ~2" wood screws to attach pipe flanges to wood studs in the wall
    • 8" structural wood screws - A quick and easy way to make hidden shelf supports.

Suggested tools

  • Sandpaper (80, 120, 150, and 200 grits should be enough)
  • Wood saw
  • Metal saw and bench vise
  • Drill with screw and drilling bits
  • 2 x Spray bottles - the ones from the dollar store

Step 1: Making the Shelves

As mentioned, we used fancy teredo clam-bore Douglas fir boomwood locally sourced here in Washington, but any wood will work.

  1. Measure twice, cut once. Once you have determined the dimensions of your shelves, measure them and cut to size.
  2. Next, we're going to sand the shelves to a 150-grit level. Sand first with 80-grit to get rid of major imperfections; be sure to do all edges as well as the top and bottom surfaces. Next sand with a 100- or 120-grit paper, and finally with a 150-grit paper. Now the shelves are ready for your finishing product.
  3. Douglas fir is tricky to finish because it's knotty, very absorbent wood. It's a little like pine, so any online guidance about finishing pine will also work for Douglas fir. As I really like the natural look of the wood I didn't want to stain it, but just protect and seal it. For this purpose, a water-based (doesn't change the color of the wood) poly acrylic (doesn't seep into the wood unevenly) finish will work the best. Minwax makes one of the only products out there for this. Follow the guidelines on the can; typically it's spray, wait an hour, sand with 150-grit sandpaper, spray again, wait another hour, sand lightly with 150-grit sandpaper, spray a third time, wait an hour, and sand with 200-grit sandpaper.

Step 2: Rusting Black Iron Pipes

This process is a little tricky, but it should work out really nicely in the end if you follow these instructions. Additionally, another user (Laral) has produced a great Instructable describing just this part of the process as well.

There are also many articles that describe rusting metal available online -- links to some below. Any of these methods will work to rust the metal; I chose the most dangerous option, most likely.

Note: Working with acids like HCL/muriatic acid is incredibly dangerous. The author accepts no liability for any harm sustained in this process. This information is presented as informational only. Follow appropriate handling guidelines and be sure to have fresh running water available should you spill any acid on yourself. Know the number of the local poison control center or emergency response team. Be sure to dispose of leftover acid appropriately.

  1. Assemble the metal fittings you plan to use into the final shape and arrangement they will be in. Rusting the complete piece is better as it would be much harder to assemble and screw in the fittings once they're rusted. You can see in the second image above the fully assembled hanging units.
  2. Mix some of the muriatic acid with water in a spray bottle.
    • Concentration: 5 parts water to 1 part muriatic acid. This is rough; anything between 3:1 and 10:1 ratio will work.
    • Order: Make sure to add the water first, then the acid. Use a plastic spray bottle and plastic funnel if needed. Never use metal tools with the acid as they will react with the metal.
    • Close the spray bottle loosely. Don't tighten the cap too much, as gases need to be able to vent.
  3. Spray your metal pieces down with the acid. You likely won't notice anything happen immediately. If you want, you can leave the metal overnight to develop a natural rust, or you can accelerate the process with hydrogen peroxide.
    • Put the hydrogen peroxide in another spray bottle.
    • Spray the metal that is still damp with muriatic acid. You should notice a reaction occur immediately; the metal will start to turn yellow and develop rust, and a gas will also be produced. This is chlorine gas, which is incredibly toxic. Chlorine gas will rust any metal nearby, and can do irreversible damage to your lungs. Do not breathe in whilst working near the metal, be sure to take frequent breaks away from it, and do all work in a very well-ventilated (preferably outdoor) environment.
    • To achieve the right level of rust you may want to spray the metal with acid, then hydrogen peroxide, and repeat the process a few times.
  4. Once you're satisfied with the rust on your metal, rinse with plenty of fresh water. Sprinkle baking powder over the metal to neutralize any remaining acid. Rinse with more water. Leave out overnight to develop more rust if required. At this point the metal will continue to rust until you spray it with a protective coating.
  5. After some time, spray the metal with the polyurethane finish per the manufacturer guidelines. The rusted pieces will take on a much darker, more uniform look once complete. This spray is very important, as without it, the metal may continue to rust, and more importantly, drop rust flecks and stain your clothes. The fourth picture shows the metal before the coating and after the coating.
  6. Neutralize any remaining acid leftover. This process will also produce a lot of chlorine gas. Do not breath in while doing this.

Step 3: Fitting the Pipe Fittings to the Wall

This is the final step, but there are some tricks to it. Once you have your wood shelves complete and the pipe fittings rusted and coated, you need to assemble everything together.

  1. Identify the location of your studs. You should have done this before Step 1. Using a level and measuring tape, measure the height at which you want to have your hanging racks sit (this information should help you plan), and where the flanges need to screw into the wall (and into the wood studs behind the wall). Mark the points inside the flange screw holes with a pencil.
  2. Pre-drill holes into the wall/studs where the flanges will attach.
  3. Holding the flanges in place, drill a 2" wood screw through the flange holes and into the wall. Once complete, your pipe fittings should be supported freely by the wall/studs.
  4. Place your shelves on top of the pipe fittings where you want them to sit and mark the holes where the screws will go into the wood. Again, pre-drill holes into the wood where the wood screws will go in.
  5. Using 1" screws (or something shorter than the thickness of your wood), screw the wood shelves to the flanges. The pipe fittings will support the shelves even if the shelves aren't physically attached to the wall.
  6. Admire your handiwork. This step took me approximately twelve minutes with periodic brief repetition.

Step 4: Fit the Shelves to the Pipe Fittings and the Wall

  1. With a pencil, mark the point where the shelf and wall meet, on both the shelf and wall, somewhere in the center of the location of the studs. For each shelf there should be two marks on the shelf and two on the wall.
  2. Remove the shelves again, and mark a point in the center of the shelf thickness aligned with each marking. This will be where you will drill the 8" long hole into the shelf that the long screws will slide into.
  3. With progressively larger drill bits, drill holes into the shelf on the side until you have a hole that is slightly larger than the diameter of the 8" wood screws and ~6" deep into the wood. You may need to buy a long drill bit for this purpose; I bought a 1/4" x 6" bit.
  4. Take the 8" wood screw and camp it tightly in your metal vise. Cut off the head of the screw with the metal saw.
  5. Insert the screw ends into your wood pieces.
  6. Place your wood on the flange again and mark the point that the screw points touch the wall.
  7. Pre-drill successively larger holes at these points on the wall to suit the wood screw diameter.
  8. Using a pair of pliers, screw the wood screws into the wall.
  9. Place the shelf back on the flange, slide onto the ends of the 8" wood fasteners sticking out of the wall, and screw the flanges back onto the wood.

All done!

First Time Author Contest

Participated in the
First Time Author Contest

Shelving Contest

Participated in the
Shelving Contest