Books are ace. Just like reading on a Kindle, but with a souvenir at the end! The trouble with books is that they multiply. Before you know it, you’re an octogenarian hoarder squeezing through tunnels of books and collecting jars of your own piss.
This, storage fans, is where shelves come in. By far the easiest and cheapest way to get shelves is to wait for a relative to die and steal theirs. Or you can go to Ikea. Not me. I decided to build something I saw on Etsy, because it would look better on Instagram.
In order to build a bookshelf from scaffolding, you need some scaffolding. I got mine from the internet. The design called for six 2.4-metre wooden boards, 12 metres of 33.7mm steel tube, and 88 cast steel fixings. Not a cheap way to make shelves, granted. But you save a lot of money when you’re aggressively single.
The place I ordered from will cut the tube for you, which is definitely the best option if you don’t have precision cutting tools. I don’t have precision cutting tools. All I have is a junior hacksaw and a deluge of mood disorders. I asked them to cut it for me.
You can buy new wooden boards, but I bought used ones for that authentic “yes, I’m a bit of wanker” look. There was originally meant to be a seventh shelf, upon which I’d place my dreams. But that won’t be necessary now, will it, Julie?
I marked out the fixings at 50cm intervals along the first board, 1cm from either edge (this is so the wall clamps line up properly later). Because they are used, and because scaffolding boards aren’t meant for construction, there is a slight variation in width and length. A bit like me over Christmas.
In order to get the fixings in a uniform place on each shelf, I measured up and marked the holes on one board, then I used that board as a jig to drill into the other 5 boards, lining up the back edge and clamping them together while I drilled.
For those not familiar with DIY terms, a jig is a type of dance.
I then cut the boards cut down to size, but with a saw, not with the kind of words my parents use when they text me.
Wood tends to splinter when sawn, so to get a neater edge score the line with a Stanley knife first. This breaks the fibres and makes you look like you know what you’re doing.
Before you actually cut anything, measure it a second time just to be certain. Carpentry is like a date with Cara from Accounts: You don’t get a second chance. As my dad always says: “Stop calling us, we don’t like you.”
Being used, the boards were stained with various building materials and dirt, and had plenty of dents and rough edges. You want the boards to look used, but not this used. A good sanding will sort them out. Instagram filters only hide so much.
I used a rough-grade paper on an orbital sander. It stripped the undesired rustic hue off quicker than I shed my jeans when I get home at the end of the day. If only it were as easy to get rid of memories. Sigh.
It being a rainy day, I had to sand indoors, and that meant dust. A lot of dust. I spread dust sheets over my bed and other furniture and got to work. A couple of passes on each board and they turned out pretty clean.
After an hour of sanding I was covered head to toe in dust, turning me prematurely grey. Unfortunately I forgot to buy a dust mask. You should have seen what came out of my nose in the shower. Nothing makes you contemplate your life choices quite like violently ejecting clumps of sawdust-encrusted mucus from your sinuses.
Now the timber is fully prepped, you can start bolting the whole thing together. At this stage it’s a bit like hipster Meccano, with a kit you’ve made yourself. Mostly. If you’re too young to remember Meccano, it’s what virgins did before video games were invented.
I used 6mm nuts and bolts to join two “feet” fixings at either side of the board. The first board I did by hand with a wrench but with four bolts per fixing, that took forever. Then I bought a socket driver for my electric drill which was much quicker. Until my drill died.
RIP, Bosch: You died as you lived, screwing everything in sight.
With fixings attached to the bottom two boards, I slotted in the scaffolding tube. I had the tubes cut into 30cm sections, 36 in total, plus six 10cm sections for the feet. The tubes fit easily into the feet and are then held in place by a “grub” screw, which you can tighten with a ¼-inch Allen key. Simple.
I fitted together the first three boards flat on the floor, along with the feet, before standing it upright. Because you’re adding a lot of steel, the structure is heavy as fuck, so if you don’t stand it up at this stage you might not get it up at all.
A bit like that time I went out with Cara from Accounts.
Adding boards from here gets trickier. I found it best to place the tubes into the feet on the lower shelf first, leaving them loose, then lifting the new shelf up and slotting the tube into the bottom, working from one end to the other. I also pulled the unit away from the wall, because one slip and you can say goodbye to your pristine white paint.
If you have friends, call them, it’ll be much easier. I don’t have friends, and strangers are just people I hate whose names I don’t know. Like any reasonably self-serious anti-hero in the Western canon, I work, invariably, alone. Luckily I’m tall as shit.
Yes. Unlike me, this shelf is well balanced. I quickly realised that the floor in my room, however, is not level, so I was able to adjust the shelves as I went to make sure they were right at least. Take that, Victorian-era builders.
The floor is only out by a centimetre or so, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. If you just assume everything is fine, that’s when you get to the end of the project only to realise the shelves have left you for a waiter. I’m only kidding. Shelves have a heart.
Slowly, like really slowly – this project took for-fucking-ever – the shelves began to stack up. Bolting the feet to each board is seriously time-intensive without a power screwdriver (you live on in our hearts, Bosch!) so leave yourself lots of time.
Again, because they are used timber boards, there is some slight warping to contend with, but I think it adds to the overall aesthetic. You hear that, Julie? Sometimes wonky is good!
For the top shelf, I decided to cut slots for the bolt-heads into the wood, so they’d sit flush and make that shelf useable. There aren’t many problems in life you can’t fix with a Stanley knife and a hammer.
The shelves will stand upright without any weight on, but you don’t want them tipping over once laden with books, so securing them is a must. To fix the shelves to the wall, I slipped four of these brackets over the back poles before putting on the top shelf.
You can fix the brackets into the wall with your preferred plug/screw combo, depending on whether your wall is plasterboard or brick. Knowing my landlord, my wall is probably made of Ryvita and disenchantment, so I took no chances.
A bookshelf without books is just a ladder to nowhere.
The finished article is 2 metres x 2.4 metres. It won’t hold all my books, but it’ll hold enough. I still haven’t figured out how I’ll organise the books (chromatically? autobiographically? drunkly?) but until then, I just made it look pretty for Instagram.
Here are some highlights:
After three days – around 20 hours of work – and £450 in materials, my bookshelf is done. It was a terrible idea. It took forever to build, and for that price I could have had about six double-width Billy bookcases from Ikea, and had space to store many more books.
But anyone can go to Ikea. Just like anyone can leave me for a waiter. Not everyone can have a goddamn handmade bookshelf, especially one so majestic. Just look at it. Legitimate bookshelf boner. If only Cara from Accounts could see how upright I am now.
It won’t keep me warm, but it will keep me happy. Bad ideas never looked so good.
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