Flat Pack Shelf




About: I love working with my hands and Instructable is just the perfect place for me to share and learn.

I'm happiest when I utilize reclaimed materials for my projects. The wood that I used here came from an old wooden bed frame. The legs came from an old mattress. A little elbow grease is needed when you dismantle an old bed frame and mattress. They are not the easiest thing to do but knowing that there are good salvageable wood inside, makes it exciting. They are absolutely better than pallets. I cleaned the salvaged wood a little bit and stored for future use. The wood imperfections are just perfect for this project. The only material that I bought here are the dowels.

For this Instructable, I am building a shelf that sets up without nails or screws. That's right, no fasteners involved. Time to move on in a jiffy? No problem, just disassemble the components and stack them together. You can then carry the whole shelf as a flat pack unit.

This project should be fun for everyone and easy enough for the novice woodworker. It can be designed on a smaller scale that sits on top of a table or on a larger scale as a bookshelf.


Step 1: Gather the Tools and Materials You'll Need

This bookshelf is so versatile that you can use any kind and size of materials.

Materials :

1" x 3" wood for the legs

1" x 6" wood for the shelves (a wider size is an option)

1/2" wood dowels

wood glue

wood stain

elbow grease

Tools :

miter saw or hand saw


drill press or drill gun

pliers with serrated jaws


Step 2: Work on the Legs

The figures are self-explanatory so you can reference them as you go on the steps.

Start by cutting the four legs to length. I found that the bottom of a container of silicon spray is perfect to trace a round edge on the wood. Use a jigsaw to round the ends of the leg. Mark the positions of the dowels on one leg. Drill the holes you marked.

Use this leg as template for the other legs. An easier method would be clamping all the four legs together, then drill all the holes at the same time. I had tear-outs when I did the drilling so take note of that. Initially, I had to use a smaller drill bit size before using the half-inch drill bit. I used a total of 3 different size drill bits. Sand the rounded ends.

notes :

It is very crucial for this project to drill holes at a 90-degree angle. Use some kind of jig to make sure you achieve this. A sample jig would be 2 pieces of 1" x 2" molding that is glued together to form a 90-degree angle.You can use a miter box to cut the molding. At least a two-inch long jig is ideal.

Step 3: Prep the Dowels

Cut the dowels to 12 equal segments. Use a serrated pliers to create grooves on the dowel ends. These grooves will create some kind of space for the glue to nestle into creating a stronger joint. Apply glue to the holes and the dowel ends. Tap the dowels on the legs. Make sure the dowels are even with the sides of both legs. Wipe off excess glue. After the glue has dried, sand all the surfaces.

notes :

You can use a miter box to cut the dowels. A more accurate way of cutting them to length is to use a miter saw fitted with a "stop block".

Step 4: Prep the Shelves

The only limit here is your imagination. You can choose whatever size of the materials. That includes the length of the shelves. You can make the shelves anywhere from 3 ft to 5 ft. long. For a traditional look, you can cut them all to have the same length. To be more artistic, have a shorter shelf at the top to follow the angle of the legs, resembling a ladder-like shelf. Sand all the surfaces. Since all the components can be disassembled easily, staining can be done at a later time. I haven't decided yet on the color of the stain but I'm leaning on something rustic.

Assemble the shelf :

Setting up the shelves is the most fun part of this project. Just hold the legs vertically, slide in the three shelves in between the pair of dowels. Spread the legs slowly outward until "Physics" takes over to set the whole thing as one solid shelf unit.

Step 5: Some Thoughts

Using reclaimed wood present some challenges. They are not always perfect, some are twisted and some are not straight. I also had some mishaps when doing this project. The dowels that I bought are not enough and I broke my half-inch drill bit. Also, my camera is acting up, I really don't know if it's the camera, the SD card, or the batteries.

But overall, it was a really fun project and I had a blast. Please share your experience if you happen to make one for yourself.



    • Fandom Contest

      Fandom Contest
    • Arduino Contest 2019

      Arduino Contest 2019
    • Party Challenge

      Party Challenge

    6 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I love these shelves. I actually have one that I made about 5 years ago after seeing them in an old woodworking magazine. The design for these are at least 50 years old and they are remarkably stable. The wood you use really makes a difference in how they look too!

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks for the comment Newman. Yes, we've probably read the same old magazine. I was browsing through old mags that our local library would recycle. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to sell the old mags, which I don't understand. I really liked the idea, so the image got stuck in my head and said to myself that I would build it next time.


    3 years ago

    Is it likely to tip over? I voted because its a great design but I might have to modify it somehow to free stand on uneven ground better.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for your comment and vote AustinH6. I built this prototype using reclaimed wood. These wood are not perfect. The shelf seemed to be pretty stable on my uneven basement floor. The nice part of this built is - the more things you put on this shelf, the better. - Best


    3 years ago

    Much nicer than the original "move on in a jiffy" planks and cinder blocks. I voted for it.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for the comment and vote Quadrifoglio. I used to have planks and cinder blocks stand in the garage for my fish tanks. They are really strong but not the prettiest.