Small Shelf Unit




Introduction: Small Shelf Unit

About: Growing up in a rural area in the East of England I've always been interested in nature and trees and eventually found myself building things from the wood I could find. This has led me to follow my passion of…

I recently acquired an old sideboard for free as someone was throwing it away, unfortunately it had a rather damaged top probably due to being left out in the elements. I decided to take the top off and turn some of it into a decorative shelf unit, trying my hand at diagonal wedged through tenons in the process. I was informed by the company that made the sideboard that it is made from elm, a wood I've never worked with before but I have now fallen in love with!

I hope you enjoy the video and if you'd like to know how I did it please check out the instructions to follow, thanks a lot!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Tools -

- Pencil, rule and combination square

- Screwdriver

- Knife

- Rip Saw, crosscut saw and tenon saw (or table saw, circular saw etc.)

- Clamps

- Smoothing plane and jointer plane

- Coping saw

- Chisels and Mallet

- Large round lid or maybe some dividers/compass

- Spokeshave

- Block plane

- Flush cut saw

- Small hammer

- Dual pointed marking gauge

- Spokeshave

- Flush cut saw

Materials -

- 2.2m of wood, 15cm wide and around 1.5cm thick

- Small piece of wood to make wedges from

- Wood glue

- Sandpaper if needed

- Wood finish (and something to apply it with)

Step 2: Taking the Sideboard Top Off (optional)

Obviously if you're making this for yourself the odds that you'll be using the same sideboard top that I did are very slim! But since I documented it I figured I'd show you how it was attached. All I had to do was take the little wooden screw caps out of the top and take the screws out, then the top came off, it was that simple!

Step 3: Cutting the Pieces to Width and Length

I've made some plans to show the sizes to cut the boards and joints to make the shelves the way I made them. Of course you may want to adjust them for your own needs, the height of the shelves for example. There's also a PDF for a clearer image.

I used a combination square adjusted to 15cm and scribed all the way along the length of the top to give me the width of the boards. I made sure to do the rip cut slightly on the waste side and then used a jointer plane to take it just down to the pencil line. Trying to do an accurate rip cut with a handsaw is something I cant do! After the boards were at the right width I then just had to cut them to length.

Step 4: Cutting the Tenons

Marking up is one of the most important parts of joinery and just a millimetre in either direction can leave your joints looking a little off. Which is exactly why my joints look a little off! I just followed the plans I drew up to mark them out and then cut them with a combination of techniques.

The two corners could be cut off easily with a tenon saw, its rather important to use a fine toothed saw for this part of the build as you don't want to see any tear out because the tenons will be exposed. The centre was cut out with a coping saw just to get most of the waste out.

The next part is rather satisfying and if you want to improve your accuracy or if you find your vertical chisel cuts angle off occasionally (that's me again) then this method is for you! Clamp a known flat surface to your piece, preferably a piece of wood as seen in the photo, right along the cut line. Then all you have you do is take a sharp chisel and use the block of wood as a guide to get a straight cut. Make sure you flip the wood over and come in from each side, don't try to go all the way across as this will likely cause breakout.

Step 5: Making the Mortices

I'd like to point out here that I clamped everything together before cutting the tenons so that I could carefully arrange all the pieces in place and then draw the thickness of the shelves onto the sides. Its a good idea when marking up a mortice to use the tenon board to mark from, this is because the tenons will tend to be slightly different sizes (especially if you need practice cutting again).

So after I got the thickness of the shelves onto the wood I traced the lines all the way around the sides so that I could reference the mortices from both sides of the side pieces. I then took a marking gauge, measured each tenon individually and marked each one onto the sides. It was then just a case of cutting the mortices out with a couple of chisels. I made sure to cut about half way in from one side, flip the board over and cut half way in from the other side. This once again was to prevent breakout.

When you have the tenons and mortices cut its very likely that you'll have to do some very slight adjustments to get them to fit snugly. There's a ton of ways to achieve this from using a file, sandpaper, a chisel, a plane etc. just to get the tenons and mortices to the right size. Its best to do what you know you can do the most accurately.

Step 6: Marking and Cutting the Curves

This of course is another optional step, you don't have to have curves on your shelf unit, you can leave it square or add zig zags! I liked the look of a curve though so I went with it. All I did was mark the points shown on the plans on both ends of each side, then I found a large circular lid to draw from one point to another.

All that was left then was to cut the curve out with a coping saw, chisel down almost to the line and then finish off with a spokeshave.

Step 7: Cutting the Diagonals and Making the Wedges

This is pretty much as straightforward as it sounds. All I did was mark diagonal lines onto the tenons and then cut straight down them. I used a slightly thicker saw this time so that a wider gap was made for the wedge to go into. Then I just cut some sapele to the width of the diagonal and cut it into small wedge shapes. After that I clamped a piece of wood to my bench and used a chisel to refine the wedges, trying to make sure there weren't too many bumps and ridges which might get caught.

Step 8: Adding Some Finishing Touches

I used a block plane to chamfer the ends of the tenons as they'd be exposed though the sides. (These photos were taken before I cut the diagonals). I planed the boards down one more time but set my plane to cut very thin shavings to get as smooth a finish as possible. I then used the shavings to rub against the wood, this makes a kind of burnished/polished effect which is hard to replicate in another fashion (unless I've been misinformed!).

So during this project I used no sandpaper at all, it wasn't just an accident, I wanted to try and make it in the "old style" and I'm pretty pleased with the outcome to be honest. I know in the future I can make it even smoother but I'm glad I did it this time.

Step 9: Gluing Up and Tapping in the Wedges

To start off with I put a little glue on the tenons and tapped them into the mortices carefully, I decided to clamp them up at this point just so that they would stay together tightly and square. Then all that was left to do was put some glue on the wedges and tap them in carefully but firmly with a small hammer. I took the clamps off at this point as the wedges had spread the tenons and therefore locked them into the mortices.

Your wedges don't have to be diagonal, they can be vertical, horizontal, vertical and horizontal, diagonal in both directions even! (actually I might try that in the future)

I waited a day for the glue to dry and cut the ends of the wedges off with a flush cut saw. Using a sharp chisel I carefully trimmed away very thin shavings from the wedges and tenons until I was satisfied with them.

Step 10: Finishing the Shelf

I used some beeswax and mineral oil mix to finish off the shelves and well, lets just say I let out some "oooo"'s and "wow"'s whilst doing it. The grain just flew out and the sapele wedges darkened, the shelves smooth from the burnishing started to reflect the light, I think it was the most satisfying finish I've ever put to wood.

I mounted it to the wall using a French cleat but you could do it whatever way you liked, if the bottom was flat it could even sit on a desk maybe. (if it had some weight to it or was fixed to the desk)

All in all I was really pleased with this little shelf unit and I was so glad to be using this elm to make it from. The joints weren't 100% to my satisfaction but it was the first time I tried it so I'm gonna give myself a little leeway this time.

If you'd like to see my projects as they're evolving or just generally show support then please like the Timber Anew Facebook Page. I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and the video, all comments, criticisms and general greetings are always welcome!

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    5 years ago

    Beautiful work lad! I especially like the shape of the curves


    Reply 5 years ago

    Well thank you very much!