One day I decided to pick up an old wooden headboard and footboard from a bed that someone was giving away for free. They were ugly, chipped, and stained, but I did see one redeeming quality: it had these lovely turned wooden pillars. After harvesting four feet by chopping them off with a jig saw, it became clear: I would build a shoe rack, upcycling this ugly headboard into something better. The idea for this design was to have a minimalist, modern main body that contrasts sharply with the antique looking feet, which form the main highlight of the piece. A coat of black paint seals the deal, giving it a sleek, modern look.
Since I already had extra plywood laying around, and the headboard was free, I only paid about $7 in total for the project: just the two cans of spray paint!!
Read on to find out how I made it, and as a bonus, you'll learn how to make a simple but effective dowelling jig from scraps of wood you probably have.
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Step 1: Design Explained
The shoe rack is made up of the main body, which is a simple rectangular prism made of plywood, joined by dowel joints. Dowels provide strong but invisible joints. The four feet are joined with dowels as well. Overall, this is an easy project you can do over the weekend.
As for dimensions, I measured a shoe rack I own to get an idea of what I wanted.
Reverse engineering the product you're trying to make is a great way to learn!
I aimed for about 5 1/2" between each rack to make room for taller hi top shoes too. The rack can fit 3-4 pairs on each shelf, so including under the body, inside, and on top, you could probably fit around 12 pairs of shoes!
See the sketch above for exact measurements of what mine turned out to be, but there is no need to match my exact dimensions. You can modify the design to fit your needs if desired.
Step 2: Materials and Tools
I used the following tools:
- Large workbench
- Table saw
- Drill press
- Hand Drill
- Mallet or hammer
- Band saw (optional, table saw can do same job)
- Several clamps
- Several squares
- 1/4 sheet (2' x 4') of 1/2" plywood. Try to get a higher quality kind.
- 3/16" hardwood dowels (a few feet worth)
- 1/2" hardwood dowels (a couple inches is enough)
- Wood glue (Titebond 3 is good)
- 1 can Rust O Leum "Dark Walnut" spray paint (LOVE this color)
- 1 can spray lacquer
Step 3: The Feet
For the feet, I used this old headboard I got for free. Using a jig saw, I initially cut the feet from the frame oversize (too long), then went back and put them through a bandsaw with the fence at 6 inches to make them exactly equal.
Then, I sanded them with a quarter sheet of 150 (or similar) grit sandpaper to remove the finish. This helps the paint adhere. WEAR A RESPIRATOR! Fine dust from sanding finish is almost never healthy.
Step 4: Cut Top, Bottom, and Sides
Rip a 2' x 4' panel of 1/2" plywood down the middle to make two pieces that are equally wide. To ensure they were exactly the same, I set the fence to 11 3/4" ish and trimmed both pieces, guaranteeing they're equal.
Note that 3/4" plywood would probably work too and would be stronger, though it would look thicker.
Then, use the table saw again to cut two large rectangles, which form the top and bottom, as well as the two sides. Use caution on the table saw and use push sticks.
Step 5: Dowel Joinery 101
I didn't have a dowel jig, but still wanted to use dowel joints. Here's a quick solution using trash from your shop:
TO MAKE A DOWEL JIG:
1. Cut a small rectangle (1" x 2" ish) of the same material you will be joining. In my case, I picked up an offcut of the plywood from the floor that was about the right size.
2. Using a square, mark the point exactly in the center of the top side of the rectangle. Use a drill press with a 3/16" bit to drill a hole perfectly perpendicular to the table. It should be situated exactly halfway between both faces of the plywood or else it will not work.
3. Extend the lines drawn by the square onto the faces of the plywood with pen so they are visible.
4. Cut a piece of thin, 1/4" plywood in the same size as the first rectangle. Again, I found a piece in my scraps bag. Drill a large hole in the center, about 1/2" or 3/4" wide. I didn't have a forstner bit so I just drilled two 1/4" holes next to each other to make one larger opening. It doesn't have to be perfectly round.
5. Place the thin plywood on top of the thicker one, making sure the pen line on the thicker one is visible through the hole of the thinner one. Nail or glue in place
The pictures and sketches should make it more clear what I mean.
Step 6: How to Use the Jig - Marking
First, align a side piece and bottom piece perfectly. Clamp them lightly to hold, or have someone else hold them in place.
Using a speed square, mark off 4 or 5 equally spaced lines which go across both pieces. These are the locations of the dowels.
Since this is 1/2" plywood, and I wanted the dowels to go about 3/4 into each side, that means the holes in each piece must be (1/2)*(3/4) = 3/8" deep. But don't bother measuring the drill bit. Instead, drill a hole into a test piece with the jig, then stick a dowel into the hole. Mark the surface line with a pencil, pull it out, and measure the distance on the dowel. This is depth of the hole. Adjust until the right depth is achieved. Mark this depth with a flag of blue painters tape on the drill bit.
Then, follow the procedures for either drilling into an side or face. (Next two steps)
Step 7: Drilling Into the Side
To drill into the edge / side of a board, it's quite easy.
Align the jig so that the line on the jig lines up with the one you drew on the bottom piece. This is what that little window is for on the jig. Use a clamp to hold in place, then drill until the tape flag almost touches the jig.
Pull out the drill, unclamp the jig, and move onto the next hole. With practice, you can drill one every 30 seconds.
Step 8: Drilling Into the Face
Once again, align the jig so that the line on the jig lines up with the one you drew on the piece.
Use a clamp to hold in place, then drill until the tape flag almost touches the jig. Pull out the drill, unclamp the jig, and move onto the next hole.
Step 9: Cutting Dowels
Cut dowels with a band saw or table saw so that they are just under the total length of the hole.
I put a dowel all the way into a hole, marked the surface line with a pencil, and then set the fence on the band saw to just under double that length. Having slightly shorter dowels is OK, but longer ones mean your joints wont completely close, which is much worse!
Cut the 20 dowel pieces.
Step 10: Glue Up
Now, do a test fit of the whole box. You may need a mallet to make the connections snug by pounding them until they close.
If it fits, go ahead and glue it! Spread glue not only on the joint surface, but also the dowel. Again, use a mallet to make sure the connections are tight. Wipe off the excess with a moist paper towel and clamp with whatever clamps you have.
Go take a break while it dries, maybe with a cup of mango iced tea nearby.
Step 11: Feet Joinery - Marking
The feet are also joined with dowels to make an invisible joint.
First, mark the center of each foot, which I did by drawing two chords, then the intersection of their perpendicular bisectors. For reference, more info on how this works here:
Of course only later did I realize I actually own a centering attachment for my square, which is literally meant to do this job!!! This picture shows how it's supposed to be used:
PROTIP: You can skip all this and just guess the approximate center; the error from drilling and gluing will offset your accuracy anyways and likely nobody will notice if the foot is 1/2 cm off.
Then, mark the locations of the feet on the bottom using a square. This is up to personal preference, but I had the center of the feet set about 1 1/2" in from the front and back openings, and 2" in from the sides.
Step 12: Foot Joinery - Drilling
To drill the holes, use a small drill bit at first to make a starting hole which the larger drill bit will "fall into" later, helping it aim better.
Switch to a 1/2" drill bit and finish drilling out the holes to final width and depth.
The hole goes about 1 inch into the foot and 3/8" into the bottom board.
Cut oak dowels to length on the band saw, employing the same principle as before, to make them slightly shorter than the cavity's total length.
Step 13: Foot Joinery - Gluing
Do a dry fit to see if the feet fit well. Once they do, move on and glue the feet on with wood glue and clamps on each assembly.
Step 14: Sanding and Filling
The plywood I used unfortunately had unsightly voids in the side. I filled these in with wood filler, a paste which hardens to a hard, woodlike surface over time.
Use a putty knife, spackling tool, or just your fingers to work it into the gaps, then scrape off as much excess as possible from the surface.
Once hardened, sand the whole thing with an electric sander to 150 or 180 grit.
Use a tack cloth or vacuum cleaner to remove all sawdust from the surface.
Step 15: Painting!
This part was exciting. Truly, paint can transform a drab object into a chic one!
I set up a makeshift spray booth outside by covering a small wooden table with a trash bag I cut up.
Then, I sprayed the underside with a few coats of Rust O Leum's "Dark Walnut" a nice, modern color that isn't exactly brown or straight black; it really does have character and personality.
I flipped over the piece and sprayed the top and inside too. Avoid runs and blotchy areas by holding the can at least 8 inches away.
I used a couple coats and emptied the entire can. Let dry at least a day -- there must not be any trapped moisture before putting a finish on.
Step 16: Finishing
As for finish, I tried using Steve Ramsey's simple Lacquer finishing technique for the first time.
This is how I did it:
1. Spray the piece with three coats of spray lacquer, waiting 5 minutes between coats
2. Wait about 20 minutes until the surface is hardened and dry
3. Lightly sand the entire piece with fine sandpaper (I used 400 grit). This knocks down the bumps and makes the final result just exquisite.
4. Give it one last coat of spray lacquer and let dry overnight.
This technique was so easy and impossible to mess up! I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and easy finishing technique.
Step 17: Completion
And that was it! Behold, a shoe rack. I love how the perfectly square body juxtaposes the old time looking turned feet, it gives a charming character to this shoe rack.
I also found it a fun challenge to use an ugly, trashed headboard, and upcycle parts from it into something much better. Not only is it free, but also environmentally friendly.
Feel free to modify the design to fit your liking and requirements.
The feet are also an area of modification. If you don't have something like the ones I have, you could use dowels, or tapered rectangles, maybe even hairpin legs? Again, the design is ultimately up to you to decide.
Enjoy my work? Follow my Instagram: @lefthandedlimacon to see what else I'm making.
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Trash to Treasure