How to Make Suspended Shelves With Steel Cable and Turnbuckles





Introduction: How to Make Suspended Shelves With Steel Cable and Turnbuckles

I had the idea for these shelves rolling around in my head for a while.  My wife asked me to build some storage in our living room and I told her about my idea.  She wasn't jazzed about it, because she said she was having a tough time envisioning it.   I told her to trust me and built them anyway.  Thankfully she ended up loving them.

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-2X10 wood boards
-turnbuckles (the number depends on how many shelves you want). You'll need 2 for every shelf
- steel cable
- ferrules and stops (the pieces you crip on the cable)
-a swaging tool (the tool that crimps the ferrules and stops)
- thimbles (the metal loop things)
-(2) 1 1/2 eye hooks

You'll also need a drill and possibly some wall anchors.

Step 1: Cut Your Boards to Length and Return the Ends... or Not.

First, I started off with some 2X10 Douglas fir boards. I cut them down to our desired length, which happened to be 30 inches in our case.

Second, I didn't want the end grain to show, so I returned the ends to the wall. This is the same technique you will see carpenters use when they want/need to stop moulding in the middle of a wall. To me it is these details that make the difference in a project, but is certainly not a necessity if you don't have the tools (a large miter saw and nail guns) or time to worry about it. (In hindsight, I think I would probably skip this step.  I don't think it makes a big enough difference to enough people to justify the extra time and complication, but if your a perfectionist have at it)

I cut the very ends of my board at a 45 degree angle.

Then I flipped the triangles I created so the end grain would now face the back of my shelf.

I glued the joint.

Then shot them together with 16 gauge 2 1/2" nails.

Step 2: Stain and Seal the Shelves

Then I stained and sealed my shelves. We use Minwax's provincial color a lot. It looks alright on this Douglas fir, but I like it even more on Pine.

Of course all the cutting, staining, ect went on outside in our driveway. You can see from this picture why we need a shop space so badly. Our poor neighbors always have to see our projects sitting half done, junking up our carport. Sorry, we're working on that neighbor friends.

Step 3: Drill the Holes in Your Shelves

Anyway, after staining and sealing the shelves, I then needed to drill the spots that the cable would run through. So I chose a drill bit that was just a tad bit larger than the cable, marked my spots on each shelf and drilled through the wood.

Now, in order to prevent the shelves from sliding up and down the cable I used a metal stop (pictured, but more on that later). I didn't want these stops to be visible when looking at the piece, so I used a spade bit to drill a slightly larger hole on the bottom side of each shelf. This way the stop would sit up inside the wood and be concealed.

Of course you want to be careful that you don't drill too far and you want both sides to be drilled evenly. To do this, simply place a piece of tape on your spade bit and when the tape nears the top of the wood, you know to stop.

As long as you can still see your drill bit below your tape you keep going.

But when the tape meets the wood, STOP!

And here's what it should look like when you're finished.

Step 4: Use Your Swag Tool to Create the Loops by Crimping the Ferrule

Now, it's time to cover the meat of this tutorial.

Measuring is very important in this DIY because you want to make sure your shelves don't hang crooked. Luckily, the turnbuckles give a little bit of play and should cover most minor discrepancies.

You will need two pieces of cable for each shelf. The finished length of your cable plus the length of your turnbuckle will equal the space between your shelves, so figure out your spacing before you start cutting your cable.

You can go ahead and make the loop on one end of each cable. I decided to use a thimble to give the loops some shape and to prevent them from creasing under a heavy load, but for most units they probably aren't necessary. You will need to use a ferrule to create your loops. You will slide the ferrule on the cable and loop the end around the thimble and place the end back in the other side of the ferrule. Once everything is in place you will use the swaging tool to crimp the ferrule in two places.

I have included a close up picture of the ferrule and then also a close up of the cable wrapping around the thimble and being secured by the crimped thimble.

Step 5: Add the Stops and Finish the Loops

So now that you have a cable with a loop on one end and nothing on the other, you need to add your stop. You will want it roughly in the middle of you piece, but double check your measurements and calculations to make sure they end up how you like. The stop will only need to be crimped once.

Next you will need to slide the cable into place in the shelf. Be sure to put it with the stop on the bottom of the shelf so it is concealed. Now you can crimp the other end just like the first loop.

You will follow these steps for all of your shelves except the bottom one. It will just need one loop and a stop. (You won't need a loop on the bottom since you won't be hanging another shelf underneath it.)

Step 6: Hang the Shelves

With all your pieces assembled, you are ready to start hanging the shelves. The cables will support the front side of each shelf, but you will need to support the side against the wall. I will show you what I did, but feel free to come up with your own ideas. I drilled two holes in the back of each the shelves that was large enough to accommodate the head of a drywall screw. Once I laid out where I wanted the shelves on the wall I screwed corresponding screws in the wall. I made sure there was enough screw in the wall to support the weight, but left about a 1/2" of the screw sticking out so there was plenty for the shelf to rest on.

**We are lucky enough to have 1x6's behind all of our drywall so I didn't have to worry about hitting a stud or adding anchors, but most likely you will, so think about this before you start drilling the holes in the back of each shelf and plan accordingly**

At the very top of the shelves I attached the large eye bolts to carry most of the weight of the shelves. Please make sure you find a secure spot to place these.  At the very top of most walls there are two 2x4's stacked that run horizontally.  This is great spot to test and can help you avoid having your layout determined by the spacing of your studs.

You will start installing the shelves at the top and work your way down.  Be sure to adjust each turnbuckle to make sure your shelves stay level before adding the next shelf.  Whenever you adjust the turnbuckle it will adjust everything below it so it is best to have them set before you move on to the next one.

Step 7: Put Things on Your Shelves

Finally, my wife got to work her magic and accessorize these shelves to a "T." She made sure not to stuff them full so that the shelves themselves could be appreciated.

There's also a lot going on in this corner of the room with our media console, so keeping things minimal was the best choice.

There it is. I know the instructions might be a bit hard to follow, but I have faith with a little tinkering you will be able to create something similar yourself. 

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    37 Discussions

    Would it be possible to just use one set of cables running down all three shelves with the appropriate stops? Or do the repeated loops add strength to the cable?

    1 reply

    One cable would work. I chose multiple loops and turnbuckles to allow for adjustment and I thought they added an interesting look. If you wanted a simplified look but didn't want to sacrifice adjustability you could use chain rope clips. They will work as stops (they would be harder to conceal) but you could adjust or change their position if you wanted.

    So many comments; your style is inspiring. Really love the block and tackle light. Will have to follow you.

    If any of the glue joints fail, the shelving unit fails. I'd leave the boards intact instead of returning the ends, at least through the region where the hanger cables go. Otherwise, the shelving could only be used for lightweight objects, not books and the like.


    I don't suppose you have an instructable for that chest of drawers just to the left?

    1 reply

    Actually, I really like that storage unit beside it! do you have a how to for that, please?

    Great ible!

    Would you make another one for the lamp piece in the picture? that looks nice too!

    Great Idea and execution. I was wondering if it would be possible to build something very similar, but with the whole shelf supported by just the two eyebolts? If you took 2 cables along the wall which were stapled into the back of each shelf and connected to the eyebolts, the whole thing could hang from two wall penetrations without any additional holes. It might not look as cool as this though. Great job.

    1 reply

    Yeah I think that would work. I would probably drill through the boards just like the front instead of stapling. I thing it provide a stronger hold and allow the shelf to rest flush against the wall. It would be a great idea for a wall that you couldn't screw in to.

    Loving the shelves timpaslay, hoping to make one for my kids bed room. I really like the part when you cut the ends at 45 degrees and turn them. That was truly an inspired touch. Thank you for sharing.

    1 reply

    Well thanks, please send some pictures when you finish them. I am glad there are people that appreciate the work to really finish projects. I think it can really make the difference in a project.

    I have to disagree about the end-grain flip being unnecessay. I think it enhances the look considerably. It would matter even more if you choose to use a finer grained hardwood.

    My 2 cents. Of course, it's, like, my opinion, man.

    1 reply

    I appreciate that you value the extra effort and normally I would agree it is a necessity, but with the style of this piece being more industrial I would understand if someone didn't want to put in the work.

    I quess I have quakes on the brain, but this seems precariously balanced. If the shelves moved off the wall pins, the whole lot will get dumped.

    How about a screw into each end or up from below, angled to hold the wood to the wall? Rebate the head so its not visible.

    Good thing is this shelf couldn't fall on you, and doesn't use any floor space.

    1 reply

    Growing up in the midwest I have never had to think about making designs quake proof, but that changed this fall and luckily these shelves have survived two earthquakes here in Oklahoma. They weren't huge, but they shook the house.

    It is surprising how much pressure towards the wall the design provides. It takes quite a pull to get any movement away from the wall. It definitely wouldn't hurt to add pockets screws into the wall, but I am not worried enough to bother with it. I won't be storing antique china or crystal on it though.

    Cool shelves, cool light fixture but that dresser under the TV is REALLY rocking! Nice 'ible, thanks for posting

    1 reply