Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bookshelf Project

Over the past couple of weeks I've made several references to Andrea's bookshelf project. Now that its finished, I thought it was time that I described the project in detail.

We have three 3 ft tall bookshelves that sit side by side beneath one of the windows in the living room. These are cheap RTA bookshelves, like you'd buy from any big box store. We've had them for 7-8 years, and they've been moved several times. When Andrea installed the insulated window covering for that window she realized that it needed to drop behind the shelves a few inches. They were positioned too close to the wall, though, to allow that to happen. Since we were going to have to unload and then re-position them, she decided it was a good time to replace the cardboard backs with something that would be more stable and would last longer.

The first step was to take measurements of the shelves, to determine our material needs. The shelves were 29.75 inches x 31.25 inches. This meant that we could get backs for all 3 shelves from a 4'x8' sheet of plywood. We purchased a sheet of 5.0 mm plywood, as it was cheap and lightweight, while still much better than the cardboard. We also purchased a small amount of paint, so that the side of the plywood that would be visible from inside the shelf would match the shelves. Andrea took pictures of the shelves and then compared that to paint samples in the store. She apparently did a good job, because the finished products matches very well.

After gathering our supplies we next cut the plywood to the correct sizes. If you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll know that this happened in two different sessions, spread over a couple of weeks. That was partly due to the batteries in my saw dying, and partly because I'm terrible at that sort of thing. Someone experienced, such as my Dad, could easily have made all of the cuts in 30 minutes or less. Even without much experience, I think that I could probably have managed the cuts in not much more than twice that time. In other words, its not that big of a deal to cut the plywood to size, and anyone who has used a saw before could manage it I'm sure. Once the pieces were cut Andrea sanded the edges then painted them. They took several coats of paint, but she was able to finish the painting in a day, although we did leave them to dry overnight.

After painting the pieces, all that was left was to install them. That might be as simple as it sounds for others, but nothing is ever that simple for us. We removed the old backs, and pulled out the nails and/or staples that had been holding the cardboard in place. We then placed the backs on, and made any needed adjustments to make sure it fit correctly and that the shelves were square. Next we put wood glue around the back edge of the shelf, so it would help to hold the plywood in place where there were no screws. I then pre-drilled holes for the screws, so the sides of the shelf would not split from the screws. Since we have two cordless drills I used both, one to drill the pilot holes and another for the screws. This worked much better than trying to pre-drill all holes first, or than constantly having to change bits. The screws were so easy to put in, though, that a cordless screw driver, ratchet driver, or even a regular screw driver would probably have been fine.

Once we had the backs attached, we started trying to figure out the best position to provide the window covering the room it needed. During that process we decided that we needed some spacers behind the shelves to keep them the desired distance from the wall. We started with some 2x4 blocks, but they weren't quite enough. We found, though, that adding a piece of 1x2 was just about perfect. We screwed a piece of 1x2 onto each 2x4 block, giving us a spacer that was approximately 2.5 inches thick. We simply sat these in the floor and scooted the shelves against them, so that the spacers were sandwiched between the shelf and the wall. This seemed sufficient, and avoided us having to attach the spacers to either the wall or the shelves.

With the shelves in place, the last step was to make sure they were level, front to back. Andrea cut strips from the old cardboard backings we had removed, and we began placing them under the backs of the shelves, until the shelves were level. To make it easier, we placed and leveled each shelf before moving onto the next.

The project ended up taking longer than expected, but I feel good about the results. The cost ended up being $10-$15 for the plywood, paint, and screws. The shelves themselves are fairly good, even though they are made of particle board. I've always felt that the cardboard backs are the weakest part of the shelves, so now we've solved that problem. I think that by replacing the backs we've managed to extend the life of the shelves. A similar process could easily be used on furniture purchased from thrift stores or yard sales, which could prevent the need to buy new items. Anytime an item can be purchased used, even if it requires some refinishing, I believe it is preferable to buying the item new. The less material we can keep out of the landfill, and the less demand we create for new products, the better.

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