how to build shelves, boat shaped shelves, first woodworking project, shelf plans
Illustration from a set of shelf plans exploding the parts so the user can see how each part relates to the whole

How the Parts of the Shelf Relate

How To Build Shelves Is An Easy  First Woodworking Project

Most things are easy to start if you follow three steps, which I call the keys, to your success in woodworking.  A contractor knows he needs

plans before he builds, the tailor knows he needs a pattern before he makes a suit, and a good woodworker knows he needs a set of shelf plans before he tackles a shelf building project.

Shelf plans can be found virtually anywhere.  Free ones and ones for purchase are on the web, there are books in the reference sections of the major home improvement stores, and books abound at your own public library.  If this is your first shelf project, you would be well advised to buy a set of quality shelf plans which will guide you step-by-step through project and will also include lists of the materials and tools you will need.

Some would tell you to pick the design first, but given these trying times, my advice is to determine your budget first.  Once you have determined the price range of your project, then you are ready to begin your basic research for designs and materials.

Your second task will be selecting your design.  Literally, thousands of woodworking designs are available at the click of your mouse.  Your design will be dependent in greatest part on two factors.  The location of the shelves.  Are you planning to build garage storage shelves or furniture quality book shelves?  What will the weight or load be on the shelves you  are planning?  Knowing these facts then frees you to begin evaluating shelf plans for your exact purpose.

Pictured are three small boat hulls standing upright on the sterns' transoms with additional cross members from port to starboard creating shelves.

Books and Ships Ahoy!

Last, but certainly not least, learn all you can about the project you will be building and practice with the tools you’ll use if you are rusty or have never used a particular tool before.  You’ll often find too that you can learn a great deal from family members and/or friends who have shelf building experience.  Asking for and receiving help from others is a wonderful way to solidify bonds with them too.  It opens the door for reciprocal give and take in the future and allows for the sharing our most precious assets, our  time and our knowledge.

Have fun with your project and do take a minute to evaluate the quality and the many choices you will have when you purchase your shelf plans from this premier woodworker from Iowa.


Plywood is Great for Storage Shelves and More


Plywood is simply an odd number of  layers of wood veneer in sheets bonded together with each layer’s grain running cross-grain to

Pictured is a close up of a dado joint using clear plywood to build wood shelves

3/4 Inch Dado Joint Using Clear Plywood

the layer opposite to to it.  Shelf plans will frequently recommend the use of layered plywood for storage or book shelves.  The layers may be of hard or soft wood or some

combination, but it is the alternating or crossing the grain the layers that ensures a solid and durable product.

The quality of the outer veneer layer can vary widely from very clear to extremely knotty.  The appearance isn’t of much consequence if you are building some shelves for the the garage, but its clarity will be of keen importance if building some shelves for inside your home.

Because of the layering, finishing the edges can be a challenge when using plywood for a bookshelf.  See the illustration for a bull nose

Bull nose softwood covers the edge of a plywood shelf for a nice finish as well as support for the shelf

Bull Nose Softwood for a Nice Finish and Support

finish for plywood shelves which adds not only a nice finish, but also support

for the shelf.  Plywood is likely to bow under heavy weight, so where practical, a batten board for support all the way around the shelf will help prevent sagging.  A batten board is simply a small board used to hide joints or to shore up a board’s weight bearing capacity as it runs the length of the outside of the board.

Here is a final example of batten boards used for support in pantry shelving which allows for heavy loads of canned foods and for the weight of kitchen appliances and other heavy kitchen utensils.  You will note the batten boards in this illustration run the complete length of the shelf  to prevent sagging from the weight.

Unlike the bull nose finish, the batten boards form their support underneath the outside edges of the shelf.  It is important to stress

Loaded pantry shelves emphasize the importance of batten board support under shelves bearing considerable weight.

Load Bearing Pantry Shelf With Batten Board Support

theuse of batten boards for shelves which hold considerable weight as compared to the length of the shelf.

A good set of shelf plans will provide instruction as to the purpose of the shelves and the type of shelf support necessary.  Without the batten board support, these shelves can eventually sag to the degree the support at each end gives way sending the shelf’s contents down in the process.  These heavier objects could pose great danger to anyone in the vicinity.

Safety First, is our motto, which is key when you are building home woodworking projects that require attention to safety.  Shelving is certainly one of those kinds of projects.  You just never know who might be near or maybe even climbing on the things you built when your back is turned.


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