Jan 10


The first project Meg and I decided to tackle was a bookshelf.  We have quite a few magazines, books and DVDs that we wanted to store openly as well as a modest 32 inch television.  To our delight, the new place had a 8 foot wide by 9 foot high recession (approx 1 foot deep) in the main living area. We originally were going to create Hungarian style shelving but decided that it might not be able to hold the weight of our television. Other options included Ikea compression poles, financially out of reach portable shelving as well as just buying a Kindle and donating our collection (just kidding).

Our friends over at Kitka Design pointed us in the direction of a very affordable DIY system made out of galvanized plumbing pipes and pine planks (via The Brick House). The instructions at Brick House were great and, building upon them we redesigned the unit to fit our space and needs. As always, we hit some bumps in the road and figured we would share our experience as well.

It took over a week to complete and a few hairs were lost, but we love it!

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The unit measures 7’10″ long x 7’2″ high and 12″ deep and cost us about $400 CDN to make.


2 – 1″x12″x4′ Pine planks
3 – 1″x12″x8′ Pine planks

Pipes and Fittings:
We found all of our fittings and pipes at Home Depot and Preston Hardware in Ottawa. All pipes and fittings are 1/2″ and we used a combination of galvanized steel and black iron. We would recommend using all galvanized steel materials if you can find them as they are much easier to wash (and cheaper).

21 – 90° elbows
17 – 3-way t’s
8 – Base flanges

17 – 8″ pipes
4 – 9″ pipes (custom cut)
16 – 12″ pipes
2- 18″ pipes
2 – 31″ pipes (custom cut)
1 – 25″ pipes (custom cut)

Paint and Stain:
3 cans Rustoleum Spray Paint – Black Gloss
1 can Cabot Oil Wood Stain – Walnut

I can’t stress how important it is to make a very clear plan before starting this project. We had, what we thought was, a very good plan before beginning and I lost count of how many times that plan changed throughout the process. Here is our diagram with all of our final measurements.

The biggest problem we encountered was our failure to account for the height added by the fittings. For example, in our original plan the 25″ pipe to the right of the TV section was to be 24″ since it was adjacent to two 12″ pipes. We had a 24″ piece of pipe cut but when we assembled the two 12″ pipes into the 3-way T, they measured 25″. This, we later discovered, is because the pipes don’t thread all the way into the fittings. We would recommend measuring two 12″ pipes threaded into their fittings to determine the exact measurements for your custom cut pieces. This goes for any section of the unit where one pipe needs to be the same height as two pipes attached by a fitting.

As mentioned, we went to Home Depot and another local hardware store to purchase all of the pipes and fittings. To avoid too many custom cuts, we relied on common pre-cut lengths of pipe, 8″ and 12″, for our plan. All custom cuts and threads were done at Home Depot; I would recommend going to get this done outside of peak hours as it’s slightly time-consuming.

Once you have all the pipes and fittings, you need to wash the grease off each piece. We used a heavy duty grease cleaner we found at Home Depot.

Assemble sections of the pipes so you don’t have to paint each individual piece separately. This took a bit of planning to ensure that no pieces would need to be disassembled after being painted. We found the best solution was to assemble one vertical pole (12″) to a crossbar (3-way T, 8″ pipe and 90° elbow).

Once you have all your pieces assembled, double check that the height of all matching vertical pieces (ie: all pieces comprised of two 12″ poles and a crossbar) are the same.
Note: We ran into some problems here but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by tightening some of the pieces using wrenches and super-human strength.

We fed string through each pre-assembled piece. This allowed us to spray a whole piece at once and then hang it dry. 3 cans of Rustoleum worked out perfectly to three coats per piece with very little paint left over in the end.

Neither of us had ever stained wood before but it’s pretty intuitive. The helpful saleswomen at Lowes suggested we use Cabot instead of Miniwax as it covers better. Having never used Miniwax I can’t comment on the differences but I was pleased with Cabot. I would, however, recommend using the water-based Cabot stain; we mistakingly purchased the oil-based product and the clean-up was consequently disgusting.

We used a 3/4″ wood auger drill bit to allow a little wiggle room when sliding the shelves onto the pipes. The holes were drilled 1″ from the side and/or front of the wood.
Note: Because you lose an inch on each side of the shelf, you have to make sure that the long sections on the 8′ shelves allow for this with the shorter, 4′, shelves. In other words, don’t plan to make the long expanse of shelf (ie: where your TV will sit) 4″ long, it can’t be any longer than 3’10″ long or the holes won’t line up. Clearly we ran into problems here.
Since the holes need to line up perfectly from one shelf to the next (pipes don’t have much give), drill the holes in one 8′ and use that as a template for all other pieces.

Pictures of the process end here until the unit was fully installed, call it what you will (being fully absorbed in the job or a domestic dispute) but the last thing on our mind’s was documenting the process.

We built from the ground up in order to ensure that the feet of the unit were firmly on the ground and therefore supporting the majority of the weight. From there it was relatively straight-forward; base pieces, lay the board on top of the shelf supports and attach the next vertical sections. As you assemble it, the unit gets quite heavy but can rest against the wall for support.

Once you reach the top, you need to make sure all pipes and shelves are level and straight before screwing the top flanges into the wall. We used a combination of metal screws and drywall plugs to secure the top flanges and the unit is exceptionally sturdy.

And then we celebrated….

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