How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Transform turned spindles and plank shelves into a handsome display space

a custom-made open shelving unit
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.


Steps // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit
1 ×

How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

 
Step One // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

overview illustration of an open shelving unit

Cut List for Building an Open Shelving Unit

1x12 shelves: 5 @ 5 feet
spindles: 16 @ 17 inches (Cut equal lengths off each end.)
⅝-inch dowels: 12 @ 2 inches
1x2 nailing strips: 1 @ 60 inches, 2 @ 10 inches
1x4 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
 

 
2 ×

Cut the Parts

 
Step Two // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Cut the Parts

Tom Silva uses a miter saw to cut spindles to length
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
3 ×

Drill Recesses in the Spindles

 
Step Three // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Drill Recesses in the Spindles

a 5/8-inch paddle bit wrapped with painter's tape as a depth marker
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
4 ×

Drill Holes Through the Shelves

 
Step Four // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Drill Holes Through the Shelves

Tom Silva drills holes in the shelves
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
5 ×

Assemble the Base

 
Step Five // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Assemble the Base

Tom Silva assembles the shelving unit base
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
6 ×

Add Nailing Strips to the Top Shelf

 
Step Six // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Add Nailing Strips to the Top Shelf

Tom Silva attaches the nailing strips to the top of the shelving unit
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Glue and nail 1x2 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.

 
7 ×

Attach the Trim

 
Step Seven // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Attach the Trim

Tom Silva attaches trim to the top of the shelving unit
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
8 ×

Screw Spindles to the Base and the Top Shelf

 
Step Eight // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Screw Spindles to the Base and the Top Shelf

Tom Silva screwing spindles to the base of the shelving unit
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
9 ×

Assemble the Unit

 
Step Nine // How to Make an Open Shelving Unit

Assemble the Unit

assembling the shelving unit by attaching the spindles
Photo by Wendell T. Webber

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.

 
 
 

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