Introduction: Plywood Utility Shelf

About: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.
In my humble apartment, I use a modern, open table for a desk, a dining table, and a workbench. Like many of us living in small spaces, storage is hard to come by and clutter can overwhelm. I wanted to take the scanner, speakers, router, pens, papers, and general nonsense and get it out of my way so the desk could be used for meals. I also wanted the solution to be low-profile, demountable, cheap, reusable, and sleek.

Made of a mixture of 3/4" and 5/8" plywood scraps, this shelf can be put together in an afternoon for just a few dollars. A quick sand and a coat of oil gives a maintenance-free shine to a cheap material, popping the grain and elevating the humble. A chase in the back organizes the cord bundle from various devices and hides it behind a picture wire slung underneath the structure. Four feet long, it mounts directly to the studs, providing a solid cantilevered platform for organizing your life.

You will need these materials:

1 piece of 3/4" plywood, 48" x 8-14"
2 pieces of 3/4" plywood, 48 by 6-12"
2 pieces of plywood about 14" square
1 piece of plywood 8" x 8"
Handful of drywall or deck screws
Galvanized wire
Wood glue
Finish of your choice

You will need these tools:

Tape measure
Table saw
Band saw
Drill/driver with countersink bit
Orbital Sander

Step 1: Cuttin'

Start by ripping down your pieces to width on the table saw. The dimensions are variable, according to what you have available on hand, so modify these instructions as you see fit.

I ripped one top shelf at 11-3/8"" x 48"; one intermediate shelf at 5-3/8" x 48" with two 2" x 23" strips added at the back; leaving a 2" square wire chase; two sides at 12" square; one back at 8" x 48"; and one intermediate divider at 6" x 8". The two shelves were made of 3/4" thick plywood and the ends, back, and divider were made of 5/8" plywood.

Trim the pieces on the chop saw to an even 48".

The end pieces are 12" on two sides, forming a 90-degree "L", one leg against the wall and one against the top shelf. The second, lower shelf is 4" up from the bottom and 8" deep; the front angles connect the dots between the leading edges of the shelves. Measure and trace this out, then cut out on a bandsaw or with a jigsaw.

Step 2: Dado!

A dado is a groove in a piece of wood, made to allow a drawer to slide, for instance, or to strengthen a joint. I dado-ed the shelves into the end pieces on this shelf for strength and neatness of appearance. Dados can be cut by a variety of methods, but the easiest and straightest way is to use a table saw.

Mark out the dadoes on the end pieces first: two parallel tracks, 3/4" wide, one at the top, and one 8" down from the top. Using a miter gauge or a crosscut sled to support the piece from kicking back, run the end pieces over the table saw blade, set to a height of 5/16". Scoot the piece over a blade's width, cut again, and repeat until the full 3/4" width had been removed. 

Step 3: Assembly

Before assembly, sand all the pieces thoroughly with 100 grit sandpaper. 

Fasten the short scraps to the narrower shelf with countersunk 3" screws and glue, making sure to flush the surfaces (a spring clamp can help. Align the ends of the pieces, leaving a 2" square gap in the center for the cord chase. Alternately, make a solid shelf out of one piece and cut the cord chase with a hole saw or jig saw.

Put glue in the dadoes, insert the shelves, and screw together from the ends, pre-drilling and countersinking the screws to prevent splitting. Scrape up excess glue with a putty knife. Fasten the back inside the end pieces so that the back is not visible from the sides and the whole assembly will mount flush to the wall.

Drill two holes in the tail of each end piece. Loop galvanized wire through the four holes, then insert a nail or similar and twist until wire is tight. Hang pictures and ephemera from the wire with binder clips or clothespins.

Mount to the wall by screwing through the back into studs. Secured this way, it ought to bear a substantial amount of weight.
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