DIY Shelving Systems

If your shelving requirements vary and you need the flexibility of being able to move the shelves up or down, or if you need to be able to add cabinets or cupboards, but you are not sure where or at what level, then you need an adjustable shelving system. Basically, most systems consist of metal uprights with slots into which the shelf brackets are hooked. An alternative is channel-shape uprights into which brackets will lock where needed.

Fixing these systems follows very similar procedures whichever product you chose. The distance between the uprights depends on the type of shelf and on the weight which is to be supported. For general use the spacing is about 750mm.

First, position an upright against the wall and mark the top hole. Drill the wall using a 5mm drill to a depth of at least 40mm dependent on the thickness of plaster. You must get a firm grip of at least 25mm in solid brick or block and you may have to drill as deep as 50mm to achieve this. You can, of course, make a fixing to plasterboard or lath and plaster using toggles, but the weakness of the plaster will limit the weight the shelves will hold.

A plastic or fibre plug is inserted into the hole, ensuring that it really is flush with the plaster so that it does not foul the upright. Screw the first upright in place, but do not drive the screw tightly. Plumb the metal upright using a spirit level, although if the upright hangs free it should plumb itself. Mark the rest of the screw holes, drill them, fit the plugs and screw the upright tightly into place.

Measure the position of the next upright to ensure that it will be parallel with the first one. Level the tops of the two uprights using a straight-edge and spirit level and mark the top screw-hole. Drill the wall, plug and screw the upright into place as for the first upright. If a long length of shelving is to be installed, carefully position the two end uprights and use a string-line to line-up the intermediate ones.

This is all the fixing required and the brackets and shelves can be fitted. Lithe uprights have been levelled properly, the hook-in brackets will line up and the shelves will be level. If you use the locking type system, the brackets will have to be levelled by placing a spirit level on the shelf and adjusting the brackets to suit.

Shelves on bearers

Fixed shelving in alcoves is generally supported on wooden bearers which are fixed to the walls. One bearer at each end of the shelf is usually sufficient, but for books and other heavy objects, a long supporting rail along the back wall will help prevent the shelf sagging. Brackets can be used instead in the middle of the span.

Plugging the wall follows the same procedure as for adjustable shelves. Use a masonry drill or a hammer and jumper. If you use the latter, remember that quick blows that are rhythmic and not too heavy will drill the hole neater and quicker than wrist aching heavy blows with a heavy hammer. Also, keep turning the jumper bit as you hammer it.

Square-cut end bearers look clumsy, so make them in pairs with the ends cut at about 45deg. From about Thmm from the top. Smooth the end grain and chamfer the exposed corner. Screw holes can be bored at this stage. You will not need more than two, unless the shelf is very wide.

The alternative is to drill and plug the wall first and mark the bearers by holding them in place and squaring a line across to the face of the bearer.

Level the bearer in its finished position and mark the wall. Then, measure from the mark to the centre of each plug (they may vary in position) and measure this distance from the top of the bearer down the squared line. Drill the holes and countersink them for the screw heads. This method is useful when the drill tends to wander in the wall preventing you getting the holes in exact positions.

Having fixed the bearers at one side of the alcove, level across to mark the positions at the other side. If a rail or bearer is needed across the back of the alcove it is fixed in the same way and it is best if it is fixed first, then the joints in the corners will be better concealed.

A variation on this method of supporting shelves is one that is suitable for shelves which are for light display work. The wall is plugged and screws are driven into them until only the plain shank is showing. Then the heads are cut off. A slot is sawn in the end of the shelf just wide enough to take the screws. A power saw will give just about the right cut and can be stopped before the cut shows on the front edge.

The shelf can then be slid on to the screw shanks. This is not suitable for chipboard, unless the weight to be carried is only very light. It is best used with solid timber shelves which can be chamfered on the underside of the front edge to reduce the apparent thickness.

Heavy duty shelving

There are occasions when the storage of heavy goods calls for extra strong shelves and supports. As this usually occurs in garages and workshops the actual appearance is not so important as strength.

The shelving is erected using the same methods as those used for the more ornamental indoor shelves, but the fixings are slightly different. For instance, instead of ordinary wallplugs, wall anchors are used. You may have to use a star drill to make the holes for these. This is like a large jumper tool used with a hammer and it needs heavier blows than the jumper tool.

Heavy duty metal brackets can be screwed to the wooden uprights or you can make the uprights into wooden brackets. To do this lay all the uprights together and mark the positions of the shelves. Notches lOmm deep are marked and cut out to take the bearers. A timber brace is then marked with a 45deg. Angle halving joint and one end of the bearer is also marked with a 45deg. Halving joint. These are then cut and screwed together. The bearer and brace are then placed in position on the upright and the angled notch for the brace is marked and cut. The two are then screwed to the upright and when all are complete the set of brackets is bolted to the wall.

With this kind of shelving it is not always necessary to use full-width shelving. Open slats are often sufficient and are cheaper than solid wooden shelves. The thickness of the slats depends, of course, on the type of materials to be stored but they should not be less than 25mm.

If you prefer metalwork to woodwork, you can make the shelving out of angle iron in a similar manner to that used for making free-standing shelves. If the structure is bolted to the wall it will not need to have braces across the corners.

Shelves can be of solid wood, or chipboard can be used if the spans are short and the shelves supported on the long edges. Plywood can also be used, but again, it needs support along the front and back.

When metal supporting structures are being made it is best to use galvanised angle iron, but if plain metal is used it should be cleaned and primed with a rust-resistant paint, such as calcium plumbate, and then given its finishing coats as soon as possible; otherwise it will quickly get rusty and become very unsightly.

Folding shelves

The main difference between the fixings for a normal shelf and the fixings required for a folding or drop-down shelf is that the latter needs a horizontal board on which to hinge the shelf.

When fitting a simple flap support stay, the horizontal board need be wide enough to take only the wall section of the stay. This timber, which is as long as the shelf, must be securely plugged and screwed to the wall close to the point where the stay will be attached. One screw at the top of the board and one at the bottom will be sufficient for general purposes, but for heavy weights double the screws.

The shelf is hinged to a narrow timber of the same thickness as the shelf, which is screwed firmly to the top edge of the horizontal board attached to the wall. The width of this board depends on the projection of the flap stay when in the closed or down position as obviously the shelf must fall freely in front of it.

You can hinge the shelf using ordinary butt hinges set into its edges and its support in the usual manner. To avoid having to make recesses, you can use piano hinges. These are obtainable in lengths of up to about 2m.

Folding table tops and worktops can be supported on wooden brackets. Timber 50 x 25mm will make a strong bracket. The right-angle halving joint at the top is made first and is screwed together, then checked with a square to ensure its accuracy. The bracing piece is then laid across the two legs of the bracket at an angle of 45deg. Both timbers are then marked where they cross and the depth of the joint is marked on the edge of the timber. If possible, this is best done with a marking gauge, but if you have not got one you can make a gauge by driving a countersunk-head screw into a small piece of scrap wood until the head projects just the right amount for the depth required. Slide this gauge along the face of the wood so that the head of the screw cuts a line into the side. Then square the joint lines down to this depth line to guide you when cutting the joint.

Saw down to the depth line at each side of the joint and into the waste to make chiselling easier. Cut the waste from the face of one half of the joint and from the back of the other. Screw all the joints together and fix the bracket, with hinges, to an upright plugged and screwed to the wall.