Purpose: Create a quick and cheap bookshelf in a weekend!
Tools: CNC router, table router, orbital sander, drill
Materials: Single sheet of plywood, six 1/2” screws, wood stain, paint, eye dropper, wood glue
Step 1: Custom Design
Just because a project is quick and cheap doesn't mean it needs to be bland and boring. I had the overall design on lock down fairly quick, but what would make this pop? Project: bookshelf. One piece of plywood. Weekend. This would be great for a kid's room. What is a great story to get kids of any age hooked on reading? Peter Pan! Every person in the history of the world (post-1902) loves Peter Pan, and subsequently pirate ships – everyone. Don't argue, just accept.
Since this project was going to be a CNC cut stencil, I needed an iconic silhouette. I started with an awesome pirate ship, cut out the background and adjusted the levels in Photoshop, inverted the image to account for it being a stencil, and added Peter Pan himself! I saved this image as a PNG file to completely rid myself of the background, and converted to a vector outline. Photoshop, Illustrator, and CorelDraw all have this feature. Finally I added this last touch into my CAD file.
Step 2: The CAD File
The shelf itself was dimensioned to fit entirely on a single piece of plywood ($15-90 depending on what grade you want), and be assembled with zero hardware. In the picture you can see that one side is tapered so that the three shelves extend out, and the opposite side is notched for the legs giving the whole piece an asymmetric design. Pocket cuts and notches ensure the bookshelf is assembled quickly without needing a measuring tape or extra equipment.
I love using AutoCAD for this portion because the end result needs to remain a 2D vector. While something like Inventor and Revit are more powerful, all I needed was a quick and dirty solution, and AutoCAD let me complete this step in minutes.
Step 3: Cutting
After running the pathing in Vcarve, I gave the file to the ShopBot (CNC router) and it handled the rest. I used a 1/4” bit for the main cut-outs, and an 1/8” for the detail. One of the side goals with this project was to test the limits of the ShopBot, and while I was pleasantly surprised by the results, I also wanted to see how well the FlowJet handled plywood. Since plywood is a laminate, I wanted to test for blowout in between layers of material. All in all, both methods worked well.
Step 4: Hands On
Once the parts had all been cut out I ran each of them through the table router with an 1/8” round over bit to clean up the edges. From there I used an orbital sander to prepare the wood for staining and selected a dark color. Since the ship had been cut out in fine detail, I quickly discovered that getting all of those edges was going to prove difficult. Fortunately I had an eye dropper readily available, which was able to get into all of the nooks and crannies easily (whew). At the same time I was staining, I needed to paint the backside of shelf that was going to show through behind the stencil. A bright color will add contrast and pop the most against the dark base stain.
Assembly was so quick, that I forgot to take photos! The side with the pirate ship is two pieces, so to expedite the gluing process (cheater) I hid screws in the shelf channels. Everything else was simply wood glue.
Step 5: Final Results
The bookshelf itself was a fun experiment in minimizing materials and hardware. When people see it they find the shelf interesting, but then start ooo-ing when they look at the side detail! It's amazing what you can do with a single piece of plywood and some wood glue.
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