General Question

bobbinhood's avatar

Is this woodworking project salvageable?

Asked by bobbinhood (5879 points ) September 8th, 2012

We had the fantastic idea of building a bookshelf out of rough lumber because it would be less expensive and would be really strong. Unfortunately, we didn’t think about the fact that rough lumber does not line up well at all. Even though we got the straightest boards we could find, they are all slightly warped, which causes the legs to bow in and out at odd angles. When we put a shelf on top of the bottom level, the legs stick out on both sides, while the next set of legs are angled in. The only power tools we have to work with are a drill, orbital sander, and circular saw. Buying more tools isn’t really an option right now. We are much more interested in functionality than beauty at this point, so is there anything we can do to save this project and end up with a working bookshelf? I have linked pictures below.

original idea
current disaster 1
current disaster 2
current disaster 3

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19 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I like your design, rugged and durable. But the only way to fix that is a lot of fine tuning. Those legs are horrid. Can you borrow a dremel tool?

bobbinhood's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Probably. What are you thinking?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@bobbinhood I’m thinking the sanding bit and slowly square up the legs. It will take some time, but a dremel tool would work great.

chyna's avatar

Did you spend a lot of money for the wood? I think I would just scrap it and buy something from walmart or Target.

Jeruba's avatar

I can’t offer woodworking knowledge, but just looking at it I’m wondering if your best bet wouldn’t be to go ahead and build a rectangular exterior frame, stabilized with diagonals on the back, and then square your shelves into it. This would alter your design, but maybe it would end up in a better place than where you’re heading right now.

wundayatta's avatar

Why aren’t the legs all the same length? I might just nail the boards to the legs and not worry about whether they are level or straight. Then I would attache the shelf to the wall, anchoring it on the floor and also higher up, so it doesn’t tip. It would be a kind of Seussian construction like your rendering, only maybe a bit moreso.

Or I might build a sort of stand for it—a kind of triangular bottom brace attached to a single or multiple back braces, that could go vertical or diagonal, depending on how you feel. They should be sufficient to hold it steady, so long as you didn’t unbalance it with books placed in strange ways.

creative1's avatar

take the legs off and make them into one solid leg instead of 2 legs in 3 positions you would have 3 larger legs centered on the width of the plank in the in the 3 different positions. I would then attach the next plank of onto the top of these 3 legs making sort of a box like your picture. Repeat so you have the tiers you want.

gailcalled's avatar

Back in the day we used the boards stacked on cinder blocks. It always worked well enough.

You can fudge with some vertical piles of books of different thickness to compensate for the warping.

Four examples

dabbler's avatar

In the photos it looks very much like the vertical pieces are not square and possibly not of the same length. How are you cutting those? They look thick enough that a circular saw would not cut them in one pass….
If those are not squarely cut then figure out how to do that. Invest in a carpenter’s square if you don’t have one. Ideally you’d cut pieces that thick on a band saw but who has one of those lying around? At least mark all the way around the board and cut into the piece from each of the four faces separately cutting just over half-way across the thickness. Sand the end flat.
From the photos it really really looks like this is the problem, the verticals are not cut squarely. You will lose a little height fixing this problem. Figure out which is your worst case vertical piece and fix that then make all the rest of them that same length.

If you have indeed cut the vertical pieces squarely and they are all the same length and the wacky unevenness is all due to the wavy shelf boards then I suggest:
Start with the bottom side of each shelf (except not the top shelf), turn it over (so you can drill and screw in a downward direction) and attach all six verticals to each of them.
– get some serious screws (maybe 3” wood or drywall screws with philips heads) 8 per vertical piece, 4 each end.
– position each vertical as carefully as possible on a shelf, pre-drill pilot holes through the shelf and into the vertical piece
– tighten the screws each down into the end of the vertical piece.

Turn the shelves over. On each you have six verticals fastened to the first board and because of the warp of the shelf they are not sticking straight up as they should. Put the next shelf on top
– start with one corner, position the next shelf as well as possible to line up with the desired final position on that leg including propping up the shelf at whatever angle so that it sits flat on the face of the vertical piece.
– screw the upper shelf down flat onto the leg.
– use rope or clamps or shims between vertical pieces to wrestle the next vertical piece into position and screw the shelf down onto it, repeat until all six verticals are fastened to the next shelf.

janbb's avatar

I would consider using bricks or glass blocks instead of legs.

CWOTUS's avatar

I like the suggestions from @gailcalled and @janbb. The problem is not the materials but the workmanship.

The shelf pieces are beautiful, by the way.

But those legs! They appear to be both out of square and of varying lengths. That’s workmanship. (It might also be failure of the square, if one was even used.) Bricks, cinderblocks and glass blocks are generally true enough that they’ll make excellent legs. Any warp in the shelf lengths or minor height difference in the blocks can be adjusted with shims (which can be placed so as to be invisible to casual observers). That way will be quick, true and a lot less frustrating than what you’re going through now.

Incidentally, your original design would cause you problems if executed that way. For heavy shelving you want your vertical supports to be in line. Otherwise the weight for the upper shelves is all transferred to the lower shelves when the posts are offset like that. You’d end up bowing the lower shelves in short order if you load them with heavy items such as books.

BosM's avatar

You can salvage the shelf lumber but the 4×4 pieces are not going work, they’re too short and not strong enough to deal with the variability in the shelf sections. Scrap the existing 4×4 pieces and to go to full length 4×4’s, use a dado blade to cut 1.5 inch valleys into them – at the same interval in length and same width of your shelf pieces – finish the cut with a chisel to insure a smooth result then dry fit the shelves and 4×4’s.

You want the shelves to fit snug into the dado cuts made to each 4×4. Once everything fits and is square, disassemble, apply glue into the dado cuts, reassemble the bookcase, and then use 2” woodscrews at the joints to insure strength of the bond.

Remember, measure twice, cut once. Good luck.

woodcutter's avatar

I like the plan. It has the potential to be nice. If the verticals had been cut to the same length square, it would have gone your way. If you can borrow an electric miter saw and trim both ends of each one, it looks like it would line up. It will still need a back in order to stabilize it all to prevent racking under load.

If you have a Harbor Freight close by it would be a good cheap investment (miter saw) and if you aren’t contracting with it, it just might last a long time. There’s one on sale right now for 85 bucks.

bobbinhood's avatar

@wundayatta @dabbler @CWOTUS @woodcutter The verticals are all the same length and they are all square. They look like they are not because of the warp of the shelves they are attached to.

@everyone Thank you for your responses. I really appreciate the ideas.

woodcutter's avatar

You may have to painstakingly trim each vertical to fit each attachment point but boy is that going to be a pain. It will come down to how much you value your time and how much patience you have. With that setup it is going to be important that whatever slant you have to make, that it has no gaps because you will play hell keeping the whole thing tight.

Or just get some straight shelf material and go from there. Having crooked components and tight fitting joints won’t ever go together well.

wundayatta's avatar

If those shelves are warped like that, I would use screws to attache them to the legs. I suppose there are techniques to unwarp boards, like maybe getting them wet and then drying them with wieghts on them or something. That probably wouldn’t work, but there may be techniques that do work.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s not obvious from the photos that the shelf boards are warped. But if that’s the case (and if the boards are dried, so they’re not going to continue to twist and warp), then just take them to a place that does mill work and get them run through a surface planer for a very nominal cost. The purpose of that is to give true surfaces. (You’re talking about two minutes of machine time. If you’ve got a local woodworking operation of any kind, they may not even charge, just for the good will.)

You can use “rough lumber”, but it still has to be trued in some way.

augustlan's avatar

If you place the boards with the “cup” facing DOWN, you should be able to screw it down into the legs with good sturdy screws. That will be a two person (at least) job, for sure. One holding everything steady and plumb/level while the other drives in the screws. If you’re not too worried about a polished final look, you could just try using washers to fill gaps between the boards and legs.

rooeytoo's avatar

That is beautiful timber and you must have spent hours sanding it. I would much rather have that than crap from a cheapie store. I used that same design years ago. We did it so it would be easy to move. Here is my solution, you need a drill bit long enough to go through the length of the legs. Mark the center of the legs by making an X going from corner to corner. Then drill straight down through each leg. You will have to set up a guide because you must keep it perfectly straight. A drill press would make it easier but it can be done with a hand held drill. Then place the legs where you want them on the shelves and drill a hole through the shelves. Go to the hardware store and buy 6 pieces of all thread rod the height of the shelves, some washers and nuts for the ends. (you have to counter sink the washers and nuts on the bottom and on the top if you don’t want them to show) then screw it all together. You should be able to pull it all together, that is straighten out the warping, using this method. If you have trouble with any one section, soak it or steam it for a bit to soften.

Don’t give up, that is gorgeous wood, it will be beautiful. Are you going to stain it? I wouldn’t, I would just oil or wax or clear poly so that you show off the grain of the wood.

Let us know how it goes.

Uh oh, your plans took forever to load so I didn’t see them before I wrote. The method I suggest will only work if you have all the legs in alignment. Sorry. But you could do that and it would still look good.

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