Starting off

From the start folks.

Simple shelves get the mention here. I like the stand alone set of shelves as it requires no study of load bearing walls, nor the fixings required to carry sufficient weight. What do you get, what you need and what you have to do will be covered here. I have done it and it works. You will be the judge of who can do it.

The stand alone shelves can be put together to your requirments following a few simple rules.

Thickness and Width

The Boards to use are 1 inch thick pine (light timber is a godsend when you are working with it) so the shelves will be 3 feet long. This is about the max you can stretch without support before the timber starts to bow or sag. I dislike saggy shelves, but each to their own. Different people have different ideas about shelf and book arrays on them. I remember seeing a quote from a then famous London bookseller (from poor memory it was early last century) “When I get a short fat book, I look for a short fat space”, so as I said – each to their own. There is no reason that you can not make two sets and place them side by side and so on.


Anything over about 4 feet high can not be free standing as a rule. Go higher and the top of the shelf needs to be fastened to the back wall with screws/toggles/fastners. These do not support weight, but do stop the shelves starting to lean and fall.


A measuring tape that will run to the longest length you may need (height of room kind of thing), a saw – fine teeth and cheap is ok. I use a Bahco 244 which has 8ppi (points per inch), A “Philips” or cross head screwdriver, a level  (again cheap and small) and a pencil.

Just a note on the saw – most have a handle that has a 90 degree angle to the blade and a 45 degree angle to the blade. If you put the blade of the saw flat on the plank and move the handle of the saw against the side of the plank so the top edge of the blade (no teeth) goes straight across – it will be at the 90 degrees you need. If you have that you will not need the level.


Planks of red deal that have been planed (PAO is a phrase sometimes used in Builders Providers – it means planed all over) that are 9 to 11 inches wide. The lengths will be multiples of the lengths you need so if its 3 feet wide and 4 feet high it will be multiples of these. The upper limit will be what will fit in or on your car. If it’s an issue, ask can they deliver – or say you will buy the saw there if they cut it to what you need (it works sometimes).

A thin timber strip, often called a slip. It needs to be planed and is about 2 inches wide and about an 1/8 of an inch thick. It needs to be just over 6 feet long. These slips are often sold as “fronts” for chipboard counter tops and come in 8 foot lengths. Not an essential but it will help the shelves.

Timber screws that will go well into the timber but not poke through. I use Spax 20mm screws. Four screws slightly longer to screw down the top shelf – 35 to 40mm (these have to go completely through one board and well into another) The shank on these screws need to be narrow – 2.5 to 3 so they will not split the ends of the top shelf.

L shaped shelf brackets. These are L shaped pieces of metal with screw holes in them – some have folds in them to give them more strength. You will need 2 for each shelf end.

Going at it with a will

The first thing you measure is the height of your books. Work out your shelf heights leaving an inch of space for the books to clearly and cleanly move in and out of your stacks. These heights together with the thickness of each shelf will determine the height of your set. The depth of your biggest book will determine the width of the planks you need. 11 inches suits almost everything, but if its like the majority of books then 9 inch wide plank will do fine. Make sure the top shelf is 2 inches longer than the other shelves so 3 feet 2 inches long.

Pick a place to work that can be used easily by you to get the job done. There will be sawdust. Nothing like being under pressure for space and in haste you find you have just cut through the chair you were leaning the timber on. Give yourself time and space.

Marking the timber is where you invest some time. Use the saw for all lines across the plank for cutting. Something I do is measure one board carefully and then put the other two or three boards required underneath it. Taking my time I cut through all of them together. Even if the measurement is slightly off, the one thing they have to be is the same length. Mark the planks you will be using for the sides of the set of shelves –  at the point where the shelves need to be attached. These lines represent your shelf heights. Screw in the 2 brackets on each marked line, so they will support the end of the shelf at both the front and back of each shelf. Screw on the shelves. Useing the slightly longer screws, screw down the top shelf. NB Do not seek to completley bury the screw in the timber – if you do so it will split the board. When the screw is just fully – leave it – further doesn’t give a stronger bond.

Now for the slip. Cut it the same length as the top shelf – say 3 feet 2 inches. Then screw two of these lengths to the back of the shelves. It will make the shelves far more stable without pushing the shelves too far out from the wall they are resting against.


First there is chamfering. I love that word. You need anything from sandpaper to a block plane. It means shaving down the top edge of the shelf and it prevents the bottom of the books being rubbed or bumped. If books are dragged out or pushed in over the edge of the shelf the dust jacket can get worn and torn quite quickly. Spines don’t like it either. But the word sounds good. You could be enjoying the peace and quiet in the shed, possibly reading, and you get a call on how long you are going to be. “Just doing the chamfering” sometimes works.

Coating the shelves. Well, there is paint – various colours. If you like a change every now and again – try wrapping paper. The glossy finish of most papers of that kind are very easy on the books. Nothing lasts forever, so you might as well have fun with them. Automotive paint. Varnishes, oils, waxes all work. They are yours, do as you please, but please coat them in books.

On a final note – all it takes is a screwdriver to take them apart to be made up somewhere else. Good luck.

I do hope this made sense.



Filed under Books and their home.

3 responses to “Starting off

  1. Humble Paperback

    Dear Timberbookshelves,
    This is a great post and really helpful for those of us who share your appreciation of the stand alone bookshelves. I am a humble paperback myself and, to be truthful, am intimidated by some of your older posts. You see I have none of the rare qualities of a collectors book you so cherish, my author has never signed me nor bound me in some beautifully tactile material to coax the caresses of a casual passerby. Nobody would either buy or sell me at a specialist book fair. If that isn’t enough to engender a shrug of your shoulders, I am not even a first edition! I know – how could such a book have the audacity to post comments on an interesting blog?

    Ordinarily I would never do such a thing. I sit patiently in the corner observing all the other books rising higher up the bookshelves being celebrated by both shelf, owner and passerby. However, my owner loves me – what else can I say other than she loves me! She appreciates a beautifully bound book as much as the next bibliophile but she ‘gets me’. Every word in my unfolding story is lapped up and given a home in her mind, every turn of phrase appreciated. The big problem is that – horror of horrors – my friends (of varying shapes and sizes) and I have no shelves on which to rest our weary stories. We are stacked up in corners of her room and pray for the day someone like you will come along, sweep into the room and announce a new era of shelving – a place for every story. Nothing fancy, in fact we dream of some shelves as you have described here.

    Wishing you and your shelves a great weekend and hoping one day to find a shelf to call my own.

    Yours sincerely,

    A Humble Paperback.

    • Dear Humble Paperback, a book is never more valued, than for its story. I do not present my books for display, nor are the “fancy” ones the ones that make me smile as I pass my gaze over them (unless they have a great story). Every book needs a shelf.
      You will find your shelf. Thank you for the comment, it is much appreciated and has put me in a light I have not seen myself in – most interesting.

  2. Humble Paperback

    Dear Timberbookshelves,

    Your posts are wonderful and put you and all the innumerable books you so lovingly support in a beautiful light! You are mistaken if you don’t think that every single book would clamber for a place on your shelves. We books are like children and animals in that we love to be in the company of our own. Us books are terrible gossips too you know. When you turn your back, rumour and reason reverberate from book to book and shelf to shelf. Which of us will be chosen next? Where will we go when we are taken from the sanctuary of the shelf? We do love a good day out but have heard from other books who’ve been through the coffee ring and dog-eared adventures that it can get rough out there! Or so I hear. I am stacked in a corner but at least I’m safe. I will get my shelf one day and will elbow in with the best and the worst of them.

    It’s clear from your discussions that a book and it’s story are safe in your hands. While it is most enjoyable to read about the lives of the infrequently celebrated shelves, I, and I’m sure many of your other readers, would love an odd post here or there on some of those books that make you smile and that are the lucky ones to rest their tales on your supportive shelves.

    I salute your shelves and your stories and look forward to more great posts in the future.

    Kind regards,

    Humble Paperback.

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