Compression Shelf Room Divider




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Storing your stuff doesn't have to mean boxing it and putting it out of eyesight. You can balance your storage needs in your place by partitioning your space with a smart storage solution like the compression shelf room divider.

Using compression poles as the structure, rustic shelves were added to partition space and provide a platform to showcase items from your home. I used one side of this compression shelving as a place for coats and boots, and the other as a workstation that can be converted to an eating bar. Since you can place the shelves at any height I added some storage higher up to place plants and show off antiques and other collectibles; there's even a swing out shelf for my laptop, and one for my dog's food bowl.

This shelving system can be customized to fill any space, and you can apply a variety of treatments to the shelving to match your style.

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Step 1: Design

After measuring the space I took the measurements into CAD software and started designing.

I loosely based my design around the idea that the room divider could act as a bar top work station. With this in mind I started drafting what the room divider might look like, trying different shelving combinations until I was happy with the results.

I took dimensions form the drawing to determine the wood I'd need for the shelving, then printed out the piece list to go to the lumber store. I've included my CAD drawing here in case you want to use it as a reference for your own design.

Step 2: Select Wood

I chose pine boards for my shelving as it is inexpensive and accessible at almost any lumber store.

Using my CAD drawing as a guide I went to the lumber store and got a few 1"x10" boards at 10' in length, and a few 1"x10" in 6' lengths. I wasn't picky about the condition of the boards, as I'd be refinishing them to look rusic and weathered, but all boards should be straight with minimal or no bowing.

Step 3: Drill Pole Openings

Using my computer design as a guide, I drilled the shelving openings to accept the compression poles. Following the printout I drilled all the openings, then cleaned up the edges with rough grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Distressing Wood

Pine wood doesn't really have an interesting appearance and wouldn't match the space it was going to be installed in, so I chose to distress (weather) the wood using a few techniques. The distressed wood will create divots in the wood which will stain darker and give the wood a very unique look.

I started my by dropping a handful of screws inside a denim apron and used it to bash the wood, creating divots.

After, I used a combination of threaded rod, hammer, and scrap piece of steel to further distress the wood. I also paid attention to the edges and ends to ensure the distressing covered the entire piece.

Step 5: Building Depth With Stains

To give these pine boards a more interesting appearance I stained them in layers to build up depth and character.

After distressing I applied a tea and vinegar solution to give an aged look, then applied a walnut stain to darken the boards, finally I applied a whitewash pickling stain which lightens the appearance and softens the stains underneath.

Step 6: Tea Staining Part 1

I have an Instructable on staining wood with tea, which gives it a nice dark patina.

Start by brew any black tea - I used Earl Grey. Let cool to room temperature, then apply the tea to the boards.

Step 7: Tea Staining Part 2

Next, steep steel wool in vinegar for a few hours. This makes iron acetate. Iron acetate produces hydrogen gas, so make sure you don't seal the container while the steel is steeping.

Apply the iron acetate solution liberally to the wood, you should notice a colour change almost immediately. The colour will darken aver the next few minutes.

Step 8: Walnut Stain

After the tea staining has dried completely I applied a water-based walnut stain.

A rag was soaked in water and then a small amount of walnut stain was added to the rag, the diluted stain was then applied to the boards and rubbed in. The divots from the distressing should be very visible now.

Step 9: Whitewash Pickling

The last layer of stain is a whitewash pickling solution, which will give the wood a ghostly and aged appearance and soften the appearance of the previous stain layers.

The whitewash was applied with a foam brush and immediately wiped off with a rag. If you leave the whitewash on too long the appearance will be too light. We want a hint of white, not a white painted layer.

Allow to dry completely. The brightness from the whitewash will fade some and the boards will be nicely, leaving the boards looking aged and worn.

Step 10: Start Assembly

Arrange the compression poles on the ground in the approximate location of your design. Carefully start adding the shelves in the order they need to be stacked, however instead of placing the shelves at the proper height locations leave them stacked up on one end of the poles - this will make it easier to stand up.

Place a collar in between each of the shelves on each pole and hand tighten.

Step 11: More Assembly

Continue placing shelves and collars, hand tightening as we'll be moving the stacked shelves after the unit is vertical. The exception is the last set of collars, these will need to be tightened completely so the shelves don't fall off when vertical.

Before stading upright, place the caps on each end of the compression poles.

Step 12: Stand Upright

You'll need a helper to stand up the shelving unit.

Once upright, extend the top poles to touch the ceiling.

Step 13: Square Poles

With your helper still holding the poles, use a level to ensure the poles are square.

Step 14: Tighten Bottom Nut

To hold the poles in place the bottom nut needs to be tightened. This nut will elevate the bottom of the pole and compress the top against the ceiling, creating a solid connection and holding the pole in place.

Repeat this for all poles.

Step 15: Arrange Shelves and Start Storing Stuff!

Once the poles are secure the shelves can be located at the heights desired.

Pull a shelf from the stack and pull it up to the height desired, then tighten the collar under the elevated shelf to hold in place. repeat the process for all shelves.

Step 16: Space (and Storage) Managed

These rustic looking shelves matched the apartment style perfectly, and partitioning a space with such high ceilings was no problem.

Depending on the treatment you give your shelves, and where you place your partition, there's no end to the variety or usefulness of your shelving room divider.

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    22 Discussions


    Reply 2 months ago

    They are sometimes called tension poles. However, be careful to get ones that can be vertical and create a tight fit (not a shower curtain).


    4 years ago on Step 16

    The compression pole's: Did you buy them or did you make them out of PVC?

    If you made them is there a parts list somewhere? And maybe a quick how-to.

    LOVE the "simple engineering" the best...GREAT Instructable.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, this is awesome! It's exactly what I want to do, and I love the small shelf for the computer! One question: the poles look like the Ikea Stolmen, is that right? Did you drill to fix them (as in the Ikea instructions)? We are renting an apartment and we can't drill holes so I was wondering if these poles are strong enough to stay in place without drilling.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    They are the same ones. I'd recommend mechanically fastening them to the ceiling so you have a secure connection, you'll also want to make sure you are compression the poles against something substantial (not just the soft ceiling but a joist under the ceiling. All this depends on the size and weight of your assembly.


    4 years ago

    Awesome build. Great job. I wanna know, where did that monkey come from!! I want her!!

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Yes she SUPER cute...and expensive. I looked it up. There is nothing about making one.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great use of compression poles. One question though - How come you didn't try to source/recycle old timber instead of distressing new timber?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Great question! Partly because it's tough to find reclaimed boards of the dimensions I needed, and all of the same species, and partly because I enjoy discovering new techniques to distress wood. If I were to remake this project I think I'd push the distressing further, or spend longer trying to source reclaimed wood.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    It's amazing how different I sound when I slow down and enunciate my words. Plus, I didn't really saw any words with long "ou" words, the hallmark of Canadians.


    This is great! I'll have to adapt the pole base to make sure it can handle carpet, but this looks like a great way to add function to a non-permanent residence :)

    1 reply

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Extremely well done instructible. Wish you were in Tampa- I laugh to think anyone has to 'distress' wood.


    5 years ago

    I have a friend with severe cerebral palsy. I want to make some compession poles that she can use them to more easily get in and out of her electric chair and get into her bed. Where do you find the parts for making the poles. We cannot afford to pay a medical company $180 for each. Thank you.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    It looks like they are using the Stolmen poles from IKEA that are $50 in Canada - check your store online. Various clamps or fittings that you can use to build most anything are also available.