Left on the shelf

Last time, I posted I promised to reveal how I made the picture shelves for the stairs. And I am sure you have all been sitting there waiting to know how to do it. For. 3. Weeks.

3 weeks without posting. Phew!

So, where have I been? In Australia, working hard on a top-secret extra-special project, about which I shall ‘tell all’ in a coming post.

Now I am back again, and almost over the jet lag, I can tell you how to make picture shelves. They are remarkably easy, quick and cheap to make, and require almost no carpentry skills.

So much so, that you will wonder why you ever actually bought any, particularly as you can make them exactly the right size for your space, and not be dependent on the sizes the stores think you need.

But first an acknowledgement: my picture shelves are based on the plan and fantastic instructions provided by Ana White, on her website here.

Plan for Ana White’s picture ledges. Image source.

Her plans require no cutting at all, so are ultra basic. And perfect if you are happy with an 8 foot run of 4 inch wide picture shelves.

I, however, wanted something different and modified her design for three reasons.

Firstly, I had some lumber left behind by the previous owners that I wanted to use up. Free lumber is the best sort of lumber, right?

Secondly, I wanted to be able to cut mine to size, to create an interesting layout for our stairs.

And thirdly, I wanted to make them narrower than hers, not just because that was the size of my free lumber, but also because our stairs are not very wide, and I did not want us catching parts of our anatomy on them as we went up and down.

The shelves are made of 3 parts: a base, a back and a front. The base and back are made of wider boards, and the front is narrower trim, that stops the pictures from falling off.

My plan was to use my freebie lumber for the base and back, and I bought some trim for the front.

Freebie lumber and bought trim

The first task was to work out the layout of my shelves.  This would determine what size I should make them. For this, I needed to know the available wall space.

In this case it was the ‘triangle’ made by the stair wall and the hand rail.

Location for my picture shelves: above the stair rail.

I drew this triangle to scale on a piece of paper. And played around with different sizes and layouts until I found one that I liked.

The plan

Once I had done this, I had the dimensions I needed. That was when I realized I didn’t have quite enough lumber to do what I planned, and so modified the layout slightly. This is, of course, the other reason for making a plan.

Then I set to work, measuring and cutting.

Remember: measure twice and cut once. Use a square to make sure your cuts are nice and straight, and then everything will fit together perfectly.

Use a square to make sure your cuts are straight

For each shelf you will need two pieces of the wider lumber, and 1 piece of trim.

Shelves cut to size

The shelves are joined using simple butt joins, which are very easy to accomplish. Here is a dry run of my shelves before sanding or joining.

Do a dry run to make sure you have measured everything correctly

Next sand the shelves, and then you can join them.

Join your two wider pieces of lumber first. Run a bead of glue along one edge.

Then clamp the two pieces together in an ‘L’ shape. I placed this over the corner of my work bench, then drilled

drilling holes for the screws prevents the wood from splitting

And screwed the pieces together.

After the two pieces were screwed

The trim on the front I nailed in place using brads (small thin nails). I hammered them through the trim first, so they were just poking out the other side. This allowed me to more easily position the trim before hammering home the nails.

Pre-nailing the brads

Then it was a simple matter of lining up the trim, and hammering them in.

And voila, you have a picture shelf.

Finished shelf. Don’t forget to wipe off the excess glue!

You can punch the nails and fill the holes, if you want, but because it is fairly dark in our stairwell, I didn’t bother. If they were in a more brightly lit space, I would definitely have done this, as it gives a more professional-looking finish.

repeat until all done

Next up, you need to paint them. I used some of the matt black spray paint that I had left over from the bathroom cabinet and wall shelves.

Make sure you spray paint outside on a non-windy day. Those fumes are nasty.

Once they were dry, it was a simple matter of attaching them to the wall using stud solvers. These allow you to screw into dry wall, without the need to find a stud. They will hold up to 50lbs, which is fine for these shelves. I have written previously about using stud solvers, here.

And installed. Note that I deviated from my original layout, slightly.

My plan is to eventually find matching picture frames to put on them, plus the beloved and I are going to go through and chose some photos to use. I will update you on that once it happens. In the meantime, I loaded them up with the existing photos we already had framed.

After: completed picture shelves

The only thing I had to buy for these shelves was the trim, so they cost me around $8.00. And they took me all of 2 hours to make, from start to finish.

Less time than it would have taken to drive to Ikea or Target to buy some that wouldn’t have fitted my space nearly as well.

Less time, less money. Better fit. Perfect.


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