Introduction: Pivoting Steel Shelving System

The inspiration behind this project stemmed from the components and interior design of Maison de Verre, in Paris. As a collaboration between a furniture designer, an architect, and a metal worker, the "House of Glass" represents a level of design and craft that has maintained it's elegance and inspirational quality for over eighty years after its completion.

It was the pivoting screen wall for the bathroom in MdV that led us to begin considering how this concept could be incorporated into a more neutral architectural element. How might we take advantage of a rotation from a pivot point to create or divide space? The bookshelf became our solution. By immobilizing one element (or set of shelves), the adjacent ones could pivot either towards or away from the wall, essentially creating anything from zero to ninety degrees.

Step 1: Design

Although we began designing this as floor to ceiling shelving concept, we ultimately turned it into a four foot shelf system due to material cost and fabrication/assembly time. By using DOM tube (.51" diameter), solid rod (.5" diameter), and a couple water jet cut pieces we were able to design our own hinge that could quite easily be fabricated for a relatively low cost. We also wanted to design a shelving system that could accommodate different lengths of shelves so we made the steel elements independent of one another, allowing the dado'd wooden shelf to serve as the lateral brace. The beauty of this system is that it could potentially be scaled up or down in all dimensions and additional pivoting (or tied back) modules could be added in either direction.

Step 2: Parts (Water Jet and Stock)

Because we had access to the water jet cutter at Autodesk's Pier 9 we designed a system that would both take advantage of the accuracy provided by the machine as well a accommodate stock material.

Step 3: Cleaning Water Jet Pieces and Cutting/prepping Stock Material

Water jet pieces needed to be "deburred" and cleaned of rust....

Stock DOM tube was cleaned, measured and cut into pieces for the hinges.

1/4" solid rod was cut into 1" segments in order to be plug welded into the water jet cut holes in the bracket elements.

Step 4: Welding Set-Up

All stock material of was cleaned with rubbing alcohol to remove grease before drilling and welding. The large vertical stock elements were drilled using a 9/32" bit to accommodate the 1/4" solid rod that was previously cut into 1" segments. In order to ensure that the brackets with the soon to be plug welded rod would accurately fit the vertical elements the bracket was clamped to the bar as a guide before drilling.

Step 5: Cleaning Welds and Finishing/Polishing Steel

Upon completing the welding process it was necessary to grid down the plug welds on the modular shelf elements as well as clean up the other corner welds. We also took this opportunity to partially polish ALL the steel to create a rough, industrial aesthetic. This was all accomplished using a handheld grinder with a variety of sanding and Scotch Brite pads.

Step 6: Preparing the Wood Shelves

Although we used knotty pine for the shelves, one could potentially use any type of wood (preferably hard to reduce warping). After cutting the full length boards down to the desired length of two feet we used a jig along with a sled on the table saw to dado out a slot on both ends that would allow the shelf to slip onto the modular steel shelf brackets. It is important to note that this system can accommodate longer or shorter shelf lengths due to the fact that the steel elements are independent from one another. The front corners of each shelf were also notched to fit around the vertical bar stock and supporting brackets. The pine was then sanded and finished with Natural Danish Oil to further expose the grain.

Step 7: Final Product and Installation

Because the steel elements are independent it was somewhat tricky for one person, but quite easy for two to install the shelves. We initially set it up parallel to the wall before pivoting the part that was not tied back to the wall. Although this part of the system was placed on a caster to allow for easy rotation, it is important to note that a locking caster is crucial to prevent the shelf from twisting and falling over. After leveling and securing the tie backs to the ridged shelf (seen as a single shelf at desk height in the images) we were able to rotate out the secondary shelves, essentially beginning to create a semi enclosed workspace. The system comfortably held books and other office materials.

Step 8: Conclusion and After Thoughts

Although our idea of using the wooden shelf as the lateral brace did work, the shelving modules still racked a little. In order to prevent this and further the strength of what is essentially a moment frame at the front of the system, an additional steel rod or bar could be incorporated between the vertical bars spanning the width of the shelf. This could either be hidden within a similar notch to those carved out by the dado, or it could be exposed as a detail below each shelf. We would also encourage using a harder wood to both increase shear strength in the system as well as reduce the possibility of warping (one of our shelves did warp a little which made it difficult to snap it's notches onto the metal brackets). Potentially one could also commit to creating a rigid set of shelves and ignore the homemade hinge. This would be a good approach for a larger, floor to ceiling shelf system. The caster, while a nice detail, could also be replaced with a similar foot fabricated by spot welding the DOM tube used for the hinges to the rod where it meets the floor.

Step 9: Tool List

Water Jet Cutter

MIG Welder

Angle Grinder

Drill Press

Metal Band Saw

Round File


Rubbing Alcohol

It is important to note that although we used a Water Jet Cutter this prototype could potentially be made using only stock material. The water jet was helpful for us to ensure accuracy with the individual brackets and expedite the cutting process of the pieces, but with good tools and well considered jigs all the elements could be fabricated out of stock material with very minor adjustments to the design.