Tools & Materials
You’ll find open-shelving kits in almost any home store, but their boxy designs can leave you with a case of the blahs. This Old House general contractor Tom Silva amped up the style of this common piece by making it from shelving planks sold in 8-foot lengths and turned spindles cut to size. To streamline construction, Tom cut the shelves to 5 feet and used the excess to create supports for the base. (Five-foot shelves can hold lightweight items without sagging; if you plan to add heavy items, like books, cut shelves to no longer than 3 feet.) Trimmed with crown molding, this piece will prove the perfect spot to show off all your treasures.
How to Make an Open Shelving Unit
Cut List for Building an Open Shelving Unit
1×12 shelves: 5 @ 5 feet
spindles: 16 @ 17 inches (Cut equal lengths off each end.)
⅝-inch dowels: 12 @ 2 inches
1×2 nailing strips: 1 @ 60 inches, 2 @ 10 inches
1×4 base: 3 (Custom miter to length.)
crown molding: 3 (Custom miter to length.)
base supports: 2 @ 10¾L x 2¾H (Make from shelf cutoff.)
Download a printable cut list and plan here
Cut the Parts
Using a miter saw, cut spindles to the desired height between shelves. Cut the shelves to length with a miter saw or a circular saw guided by a straightedge. Cut a ⅝-inch dowel into 2-inch lengths.
Drill Recesses in the Spindles
Make a ¾-inch recess in the center of both ends of eight spindles using a ⅝-inch paddle bit wrapped with painter’s tape as a depth marker. For remaining spindles, make a ¾-inch recess in one end and use a ⅛-inch bit to drill a pilot hole in the other end.
Drill Holes Through the Shelves
Stack the shelves on top of one another. In the corners, drill pilot holes 3 inches from each edge to mark hole locations. Then use the paddle bit to drill holes through three of the shelves in these locations, where the dowels will go.
Assemble the Base
Glue and nail mitered 1x4s to the front and sides of the bottom shelf, with their top edges flush with the shelf’s surface. Rip support pieces from excess shelf material. Secure them to the underside of the shelf for stability.
Add Nailing Strips to the Top Shelf
Glue and nail 1×2 strips on the flat to the front and sides of the top shelf’s surface so that all the edges are flush. This will provide a built-up surface for attaching the trim in Step 6.
Attach the Trim
Cut crown molding to size, using a 45-degree miter on both ends of the long piece and a 45-degree return on one end of the two short pieces. Glue and nail molding to the nailing strips on the front and sides of the top shelf.
Screw Spindles to the Base and the Top Shelf
Line up the pilot holes at the ends of four spindles with pilot holes in the base. Secure spindles to the base with 3-inch screws. Repeat for the top shelf.
Assemble the Unit
Starting at the base, fill recesses in the spindles with wood glue. Fit dowels into the recesses. Slip a shelf over the dowels and cap with spindles glued in the same way. Repeat until unit is assembled. Finish with semigloss paint.