The Fastest Filing Shelves in the West



Introduction: The Fastest Filing Shelves in the West

I keep paper-based records inside A4 envelopes stored in plastic crates which are about 300mm internal, 350mm external. (That's roughly letter paper in foot-square boxes).

Getting fed up with tripping over these crates, I decided to build some shelves to hold them. I wanted to build them as quickly as possible, with additional criteria of being cheap. To speed things up, I avoided using glue and didn't oil or varnish to finish the piece. It's raw wood and ugly but it does the job.


1 sheet of plywood (cheap, CD grade) 17mm (3/4inch), 1200x2400mm (4'by8')
6 pieces 1200mmx18mmx40mm (4'x3/4"x1 1/2") planed all round knotty pine

12 x 37mm(1 1/4") countersunk self-tapping woodscrews
52 x 50mm(2") countersunk self-tapping woodscrews

Step 1: Cutting Six Identical Boards

Easy with a good table saw, harder with a circular saw.

The shelves needed to be at least 350mm(14") deep.
The sheet of ply is 2400mm(8') long.
Making the shelves 395mm (15 1/5") deep will give a little room on the shelf, and a little for wastage in the kerf.

Since the piece was not going to be varnished or otherwise finished, I wanted the cuts to be as accurate as possible.
Rather than measuring each one, I set up the first cut and made a fairly robust measuring stick which could be re-used for each subsequent cut.
The first three photographs above show how I got everything aligned and then made the template piece from some scrap.

After that was done, it only took five minutes to set up and cut each piece, rather than the much longer process of measuring each time.
The last photo above shows how accurate the cuts were: when bundled together the widths of each board felt smooth to a thumb rubbed across the top.

Step 2: Cutting the Internal Uprights

With three shelves, three of the cut pieces were available for the uprights.
Most of two would be used for the sides, leaving one piece to provide internal uprights.
That would either leave shallow shelves or insufficient uprights.

Sacrificing one upright height from each end piece would resolve the issue, but for that to happen the height of the shelves must be reduced a touch.
Using an offcut strip of a similar plywood from a previous project meant that I could use the same rapid method of setting up each cut, by simply wedging the strip into the setup of the jig.

Again the result was the required pieces being almost identical.

Step 3: Assembling Upper Shelf

The ply was pretty poor quality, so care was taken selecting the nicest looking piece for the top and sides as they would be most visible.

The internal uprights were set at 400mm(15 3/4") and 800mm(31 1/2") offset 8mm(1/3") towards the outside of the shelf to allow for the fact that the internal uprights take up shelf space.
Pilot holes for the screws were drilled at 50mm(2") and then at 100mm(4") gaps.

Fixing the first internal upright took a lot of checking and rechecking, but then things progressed a little faster.

Step 4: Bracing and Second Shelf

The first pair of shelves could have the uprights end-grain screwed, but the second set would need a bracket.

By sheer luck there had been a 20mm(3/4") strip of ply left after cutting the six main pieces from the sheet, so it was halved, and then halved again on an angle which provided four nice little strips to support the internal uprights of the lower shelf.

Once the little brackets had been screwed to the internal uprights, they were screwed to the underside of the upper shelf and then the base shelf was added.

Step 5: End Uprights

Then the ends went on.

Due to the random guess applied to the internal upright sizing (see previous) the end pieces were a fraction long.
This is fine as 1) beauty wasn't on the to-do list and 2) wait and see.

The only hard part here was making sure that the end pieces went on the right way around, so that the fraction extra was on the bottom at each end.

Pilot holes for both end pieces were drilled at the same time, and then much clamping and spreading was done to make sure that everything was perfectly square.

Step 6: Legs

I grabbed some cheap pine from Bunnings (other stores are available) because 1) it was cheap and 2) it was convenient.

Since these are the legs, it's worth going through the whole stack to find the few straight bits. I could only find five, but I got a sixth which was straight for most of its length and good enough to provide a couple of short straight bits.

The legs go the whole height of the piece, which allows them to be screwed into the shelf ends.
The wood was about 17mm(3/4") thick, which is near enough the thickness of the ply.
Adding a second piece to each leg below the level of the lowest shelf gives a nice look and a bit more strength with minimal effort (except remembering to use shorter screws to join the two thin pieces of wood.

The cheap pine comes with barcode labels stuck to it.
These are normally a huge pain to remove as they need to soaked with petrol.
Since we're not gluing, there's no need for hermetic contact between the wood faces, so I just turned the timber inwards so that the sicker was concealed by either the end pieces or the inside of the legs. Simples!

Step 7: Done

Well sort of.

After screwing a wall anchor to the shelf, it was ready for loading and my piling system became a filing system.

Good Things:-

It took only four and a half hours.
The use of setup jigs for the circular saw is a _huge_ time-saver and is definitely going to happen again.
Some blind luck was involved in the measurements and in the spare strip of ply used for the brackets.
It looks far better than it has any right to: the way the thickness of the legs absorbs the end piece to give a smooth upright looks really good and I will definitely consider that technique again.

Bad things:-

I do prefer glue to screws:- it's cheaper and it looks better, but it does take much, much longer.
Even if it doesn't get the full "laminate and varnish" treatment, I would like to finish the piece better.
It could use lips at the front of the shelf (earthquake zone).

Overall, for a few hours and a hundred bucks, I'm stoked at how much tidier my study is now.

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