(UPDATE: See the finished shelves here!)
Subtitle: The dirty truth. DOT DOT DOT!
You wouldn’t believe how much research it took before I landed on a design for our new floating shelves. I almost threw in the towel. But I really, really wanted thin floating shelves in the kitchen! (Like the mockup, see?)
My shelf requirements:
- 2″ thick or less (lest we venture into chunk-ville)
- 11-12″ deep (like a standard upper cabinet)
- look like (or actually be) a solid piece of walnut
- sturdy enough to hold all our dishes
I looked far and wide – and the floating shelf designs out there were either super chunky (we’re talking 4″ thick…), a little structurally suspect, or didn’t get into the nitty-gritty of the actual installation. “My contractor/husband did it” is not helpful on a DIY blog post!
One potential solution was inspired by this blog. They removed some drywall over the studs, and bolted steel corner braces to both the studs and shelf internal structure. Then, they filled in the drywall gaps with mud and slid a sleeve over the shelf frame. Theirs were chunkier than I wanted, but I figured with a long enough brace I could make something ~2″ thick work. I went to Home Depot to see for myself about these corner braces, and when I could bend the beefiest one they had with my bare hands, I scrapped that route entirely…
The Internet’s Solution
I finally settled on the technique introduced here and here. I read the posts over and over… they made it sound so simple! And easy! And inexpensive! It was exactly what I was looking for – something sturdy (supported by 5/8″ threaded rods set into the studs) and thin (just a standard 2×12). Hooray!?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s neither easy nor inexpensive, unless you happen to already own all the required tools/are already a pro at tricky hole-drilling. And I seriously doubt a super long 5/8″ ship auger bit is in most DIYers’ toolboxes.
Here’s the gist of the two posts linked to above:
- Find the studs in your wall where you’re installing the shelves
- Mark the vertical center lines of the studs and the horizontal center line of the shelf to locate where the holes need to go
- Drill a perfectly level 1/2″ hole at each marked spot
- Screw a long 5/8″ threaded rod into each of the holes (a 1/2″ hole gives you just enough room to screw it in)
- Drill perfectly centered, straight 5/8″ holes into your shelf material
- Pound your (finished) shelves onto the threaded rods
Can you get all the work done in a weekend? According to one of the blogs, yes, but that was not my experience!
Our Process, Warts and All
One issue I had with the “drill a giant hole in your studs” is that… well, it didn’t seem like a good idea. And if you screw it up, tough nuggets. No do-overs. Here’s what I’m talking about:
The 2×4 on the left is the suggested method: drill a 1/2″ hole in the center of a 1 1/2″ stud. A stud, which, by the way, is part of an external wall in my case. Probably not a good idea to compromise its strength by removing 1/3 of its cross sectional area! And worse, if I drilled even slightly off-center, I’d throw off the balance of the whole load-bearing member. NO THANK YOU.
For comparison, the 2×4 on the right has a 3/4″ hole drilled crosswise. This is the code compliant way to drill holes in studs to run electrical wires through.
The other part that freaked me out was getting the hole exactly right on the first try. I needed some way of introducing room for error, while not potentially compromising my house’s exterior wall.
Affixing the Rods
As you can see, I opted for a more – shall we say, invasive? – approach. We cut a giant hole in our wall, exposing both of the studs we planned to use as support. Why did we do that? Well, given there was NO WAY I was drilling giant holes lengthwise through the studs, the next best option was to fix the threaded rods into 2x4s and attach THOSE to the studs. Like so:
This way, we could adjust for level either by rotating (up/down) or shimming (left/right). It was important to get those suckers as level as possible.
The part I (mercifully) didn’t get photos of was of drilling the holes and using vise grips to wrestle the 12″ threaded rods into said holes. It was awful. Husband and I had to take turns. We were, um, grumpy when we were finished. But we persisted, and we were pretty sure we were at least 2″ into each of the 2×4 chunks. This gave us 2″ in the “stud”, .5″ in the drywall, .5″ in the forthcoming tiles, and 9″ in the 2×12 shelf, which only left about 2″ of the shelf without support running through. I’d call that a win!
A couple tricky things I ran into when I was attaching the rods to the studs:
- My house is pretty old, so that means the studs are high quality. Meaning difficult to drill into. No way was I getting screws into those studs without pre-drilling…
- Pre-drilling was tough given the tight quarters inside the wall, with the insulation and all. Because I didn’t want to risk moving the now level-to-the-wall-and-to-each-other rods, I needed to drill a 1/8″ hole through two studs. This meant buying yet another drill bit to get the job done – a super long 1/8″ drill bit that I was afraid I’d snap at any minute!
The going wasn’t easy, but I pressed on and eventually got everything affixed. Driving the screws was also darn near impossible and a 90 degree attachment made at least getting the screws started a whole lot less frustrating.
Patching the Wall
I’ve already talked a bit about drywall here on AMT but just to fill in the gaps in the process, here’s what I did to eliminate the (scary) gaping hole in the kitchen wall:
Yep, that extra hole is definitely where I transposed my measurements! (facepalm)
A jab saw made quick work of the holes, which I oversized to make the fitting easier.
Making the Shelves
This part was harder than it needed to be, because at first I ordered a 5/8″ ship auger bit from Amazon and I didn’t realize until NOTHING WAS FITTING that it wasn’t 5/8″ at all. No, it was barely over 1/2″! Blergh.
I bought the straightest 2×12 I could find at Home Depot (quite a task, yikes) and had them cut it down to size for me. Splinter city! The damage wasn’t irreparable, but I’d highly recommend cutting it yourself if you’ve got the means and the transport.
The task remains: how on earth do you drill a perfectly straight (up & down, side to side) 5/8″ hole TEN inches deep in 1.5″ thick material?
As it turns out, the answer has a lot to do with this ship auger bit. Our friend Phil (YOU ROCK!) came through in the clutch and let us borrow his drill. The drill you use for this needs to be CORDED (cordless drills can’t handle the crazy torque) and accept 1/2″ bits. Ours only went up to 3/8″. Womp womp!
Before I got started drilling, though, I did two things:
- I snapped a chalk line down the middle of the back of the shelves so I knew what the center was. That way, I could mark where the rods came out of the wall and be sure that holes drilled at those intersections would make the shelves level. Convoluted? The reason for the chalk line is that the 2×12 isn’t totally straight, so this compensates for some of the bend.
- Most importantly, we practiced our drilling setup. This is NOT a one-person job! It took a few screwups in a scrap material before we felt confident enough to do it “for real.”
What Worked for Us
The way we worked it, I manned the drill, while husband held the board steady and kept the framing square as close to the drill bit as possible. Our Kreg jig did an excellent job of helping to steady the board!
Starting the hole is the part where you’ve got the least control, so know that in advance. The drill wants to jump around and spin you this way and that… to some extent, let it. For the first two inches or so. Then, clear out the chips, re-insert the bit, and really try hard to keep that thing straight up and down. Having the framing square up super close was extremely helpful. I could step back a bit and gauge the side-to-side wobble or scoot forward and check how straight up and down I was.
If none of this makes sense, it shouldn’t. This is a weird thing. You really just have to give it a whirl and practice, practice, practice.
Finishing Those Suckers
By this time, we were home free! Actually quite a bit of time had passed before I finally finished and installed the shelves. We wanted to tile the wall first (read about that here!) before putting the shelf on. And there was a LOT left to do before we were ready for that…
To finish the shelves, I sanded them to 240 (taking care to sand out all the crappy splintered ends from the Home Depot saw), stained them with 4 coats of Varathane dark walnut stain/poly, and that was it!
I gave them a good rub-down post sanding to get rid of any remaining dust!
Varathane suggests sanding to 240ish between the first layers, so that’s what I did. A tack cloth is helpful for getting rid of the fine dust created!
At this point they’re all ready to go! YAHOO!!!
And… I can’t share what they look like installed yet. I’m way too far behind on sharing the rest of the kitchen updates and I don’t want to spoil the surprise for the 5 of you reading this blog (hi, Mom!!) Rest assured, this topic will be revisited… And maybe I’ll take a good photo of them now that we’ve been using them for the past 2.5 months!! Read all about how we installed them, what they look like, & how much we love them here!
What do you think, inspired or totally turned off to floating shelves?