Sliding Dovetail Shelving




Introduction: Sliding Dovetail Shelving

About: I'm a single dad, woodworker, industrial designer, and adventurer. I like making all sorts of things in my shop for people.

This is my first Instructable, so I apologize if it's haphazard. This project shows one way to make shelving using sliding dovetails. I used many tools that you might not have, but there are of course other ways of making these.

All of the steps are shown in the video, but I'll also add steps with some photos going forward. I filmed the entire process for the YouTube video, but I forgot to simple photograph ALL the steps, so some won't have pictures, I'm sorry for that.

If you enjoy my video, please subscribe on YouTube! Okay, let's go!

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Step 1: What You'll Need

Tools are one thing, but material is more important here. I'll help you out with that. I used Cherry wood, one long board of it, about 8 feet. I also purchased 4 1-1/4" brass screws, a box of 2" drywall screws, and 4 2" "L" brackets.

Step 2: Flatten Material and Rip to Width

Start by flattening your material.

I used cherry, and my planer and jointer to do this.

I then cut it to final length. Each of my shelves were 42 inches long and 7 inches deep.

Step 3: Repair Any Defects

I normally fill cracks in wood with West Systems epoxy, but I decided to try my hand at making a keyed bowtie to

secure the crack in the cherry.

I made a bowtie on my bandsaw out of walnut. I had some scraps in my bin, and it contrasts very nicely with the cherry. I think I made it too large in hindsight. But it works for a first try.

I traced it's outline onto the cherry overlaying the crack.

I used a plunge router to first bore out most of the material inside the traced line, then I used a chisel to clean up the cut closer to the pencil line.

After pounding in the bowtie with some glue, I sanded it down with my random orbital sander and a heavy grit paper.

There were some defects in the fit, so I filled them with glue and sanded some more. This allows dust from sanding to enter the crack that has the new glue in it, basically making the defect dissapear.

Step 4: Router a Dado

Now on to the dovetail slots.

Decide where you want you "struts" to be located (consider where your studs will be, remember, 16" on center usually in the US)

Then set up a straight edge and route a dado. First though, place your 2" "L" bracket on the back edge of the bottom of your shelf where you want your strut to be. Your dado, and then later the dovetail that is made from it shouldn't go into the area where this "L" bracket sits. You can see this in the video.

The dados depth needs to be the same as your dovetail. This is basically just hogging out material before you make it a dovetail.

Step 5: Make the Dado a Dovetail Slot

Now using the same straight edge, change your router bit from a straight bit to a dovetail bit, and repeat what you just did. This is seen in the video as well.

Step 6: Begin Making Your Struts

Cut a triangular shaped strut with a right angle. It can be as large as you'd like, but make sure the short end is at least longer than your 2" "L" brackets. It will later conceal them.

Make sure you account for the added height of the dovetail!

Again, you can see this is the YouTube video on the first page.

Once they are then cut to length to match the depth of the shelf, begin the dovetail. This, for now, will run the full length of the top long edge of the strut. It's best to do this on a router table, and to begin with light "bites" so you don't take off too much right away. If it doesn't fit into your dado on the shelf, adjust your fence and take a little more.

I recommend making a test part first, and once you're dialed in then cut the dovetails into your final struts.

I've attached a youtube video of how I made my router table and fence, and how it can help you take less or more from your material in small, macro and micro increments.

Once your dovetail fits move onto the next step. Remember, because your dovetail dado doesn't go all the way through your shelf, the strut won't slide all the way in. We will fix that next!

Step 7: Trim Your Struts Dovetail to Length

Now we need to use a small saw or bandsaw to cut off a little over 2" of the dovetail. This allows the strut to slide into the dovetail dado in your shelf comletely, while also leaving room for your 2" "L" brackets.

You can see this step in the video at the 4:38 mark

Step 8: Add a Small Dado to Your Strut

Recess the back of the dado to accept the 2" L bracket. I used the router table and the straight bit again.

Step 9: Add a Recess to the Shelf

Add another recess, this time to the shelf to accept / conceal the L bracket. This can be seen in the video at the 6:37 mark.

Step 10: Counter Sink / Drill Into the Shelf for the Brass Securing Screw

This is the one step that ISN'T in the video. I carefully drilled a hole into the top of the shelf directly over the 2" L bracket where it's holes are. This allows me to insert a brass screw during final install that will prevent the shelf from pulling off the brackets accidentally.

Step 11: Glue Struts Into Shelves

Now glue your struts into your shelves.

Sand any defects, just like we did with the keyed bowtie, the glue and sawdust will mask any defects nicely.

Step 12: Apply Finish

Apply a finish of your choice. I used a brush on Polyuerathane.

Step 13: Mount the Shelves

Measure the spacing, on center, between the struts. This should hopefully coincide with the spacing of the studs in your walls. Mount the L brackets to your walls accordingly with the drywall screws.

Then, slide the shelf onto the L brackets and drive in the brass screws into the holes in the top. Hopefully the holes will properly align with the holes in your L brackets!

Be carefull with brass screws, as they are soft, and can break. I recommend using a hand screwdriver instead of a drill or impact driver.

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    8 Discussions


    3 years ago

    What type of Glue is used? I have some made just need to hang them up. Im in an apartment so I don't wish to drill holes in the walls any ideas on what to use to hang them up with?


    Reply 2 years ago

    Too late a response for the OP, but leaving this idea for anyone else in this situation... I might recommend using 3M Command Strips. They are easy to use, and come off from walls without damage. There are different versions so be sure to get the ones for large picture frames that support up to 16lbs each. Put one on each of the support members and maybe a couple along the back edge of the shelf and that comibined holding power is enough for anything you'd put on a display shelf.


    Reply 3 years ago

    You want to glue them to the walls? I'm not sure I can help with that.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Yup, sounds downright impossible...


    3 years ago

    Beautiful! Both the dovetails and the finish!


    3 years ago

    That looks beautiful! Great job :)