Custom Work Space and Bookshelves.

A project by:

Gabriel B. Soares


Summer 2012

Build Time:

Four Weeks

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Finished Work Area

This is a woodworking project that I decided to tackle at my mom's house after realizing that the setup she had before was incredibly inefficient and led to a cluttered space.

Unfortunately I do not have a "Before" photo to show what the setup used to be, but I can do my best to describe it:

On the left side wall was a standard desktop workstation (CPU sits in the bottom, a sliding tray to reveal the keyboard and mouse, and a monitor on top) which was always filled with papers, books, CDs, and even floppy disks (yes, you read that correctly). The little bit of desk space available overflowed with post-it notes, scattered pencils and pens, and contained a myriad of random objects.

On the right side wall were two standard Ikea bookshelves, which over time were starting to develop an arch from the sheer weight of the books. We had more books than could fit in two shelves, and we were starting to resort to using the floor space to stack some more books.

Since this was not only a horrible space to work in but also dangerous (if one of those shelves decided to give in, it would have triggered a domino effect), I decided I would spend a couple of weeks putting something that was more permanent and sturdy. I wanted more working surface area, and also a design that took advantage of the vertical space to store books. The finished result is what you see above.


The first step in this project was to clean the space, take measurements and try to figure out the shape of the working surface that could work for that space. As you can see in the set of images below, I started by drawing on poster paper a real-sized outline of what I wanted to build. Without visualizing it and fitting it to the space, it would have been tough to imagine what the final product would have looked like. Doing this first step allowed me to take surrounding furniture into account, such as the desk chair, and make sure that everything would fit comfortably.

Once I had a design with which I was happy, I took it to the garage, broke it down into two sections (since the entire table was too large to fit in a standard 4'x8' plywood sheet, and transferred the design onto the wood surface. In this case, I decided to use a 5-ply plywood with an oak veneer which is very sturdy and matches the grain pattern on our floor.

To make the cut, I used a Jigsaw with a special blade to produce clean finishes (it has more teeth than a blade you would use to make quick, rough cuts). To join the two pieces of the table together I used a simple tongue and groove joint (done with a router). This joint was glued together in a later step, and I also added reinforcement (since there could potentially be a large load on the joint).

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Table Installation:

Once the table surface was cut-out, the next step was to figure out the height to install it at, and make the support structure to hold it securely to the wall. Using a level and a stud finder, I first marked the placement of where I was going to install the support strips. These strips are pieces of red oak which I had left-over from when I made the Okedo drums. I used large screws to secure the strips to the wall since these will be the ones holding most of the weight of the table. I installed them on the four walls that the table came in contact with which means it can withstand a lot of weight.

I added a coat of polyurethane before installing for protection and to make the oak grain pop.

I then installed the table and secured it to the wall strips, and cut out the holes on the table to install desk grommets which I would use to route cables.

For reinforcement and weight distribution, I cut out a few more strips of wood and glued+screwed them onto the bottom of the table. This also prevents the table from flexing as weight is added on the surface. On the tongue and groove joint, I added three additional strips of oak to remove any stress on the joint and distribute it to the surrounding areas. With those in place, the table did not flex or move in any direction, and felt extremely sturdy.

The last step for the table was to add an oak veneer on the edge that had been cut with the Jigsaw to hide the plywood layers, and to match the grain pattern on the top.

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Bookshelf Installation:

Happy with how the table turned out, I moved on to build the bookshelves. The criteria for the bookshelf was that it needed to be able to fit all the books that we owned, and be strong enough so that it wouldn't warp over time due to the weight. After browsing the web for hours looking for inspirations, I decided to build a 3-shelf bookshelf (where the 3rd shelf is the top), and where the first shelf is not as deep as the top two. I chose to vary the depth of the shelves due to the fact that the bottom shelf is close to eye level and would feel too invasive if it came too close to the person's face. It helps prevent the sensation of a small, cramped space, and adds some dimension to a fairly simple bookshelf.

The mounting mechanism to the wall was also important since I didn't want any visible vertical slats to hold the shelf. What I ended up doing is what is called a French cleat system (or floating cleat mount). This consists of a wood piece screwed onto the wall with a 45-degree (or greater) upward-pitched angle, which "receives" a 45-degree downward-pitched edge on the bookshelf. Then, we let gravity do its job. The weight of the bookshelf hangs on the 45-degree joint, and gets propagated to the wall struts. This is the type of joints that is often used for making "floating" shelves. Since the bookshelf is not physically fastened to the wall, if I ever decide to remove the bookshelf, it will be easy to do so.

Once the bookshelf was sanded, painted, and finished, I focused on the important detail; lighting. For this I had two choices: either replace the overhead light to something that was brighter or add secondary lighting. I decided to go with the latter option and install LED-strip lighting under the bookshelf which could be adjusted manually using a PWM controller. This ended up being quite a bit of work because it meant I had to remove one of the outlets on the wall, replace it with a switch for the LED lights, and I had to make a new outlet that was hidden behind the books which would source power to the LEDs. On the fourth image below, you can see there is an outlet on the right wall at about eye level. On the fifth image, you can see the end result after I moved the outlet up and added a switch to control it.

With that done, it was a matter of soldering the wires of the PWM controller to the power supply and LED leads, install everything, and put the books up on the shelf.

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Although this project took many weeks to complete, for a woodworking project that involved so many different components it is one of the fastest ones I've done. It involved coming up with a design, testing it to make sure it would work with the space, building it, and testing its strength and ability to hold large weights.

My mom was very pleased with how it turned out and uses that space all of the time do do her work (she claims it is her favorite nook in the house).

After completing this project, I still think the lighting can be improved by adding a diffuser over the lights. Right now, you can clearly see the individual LEDs on the strip, and adding a diffuser would help remove the point-source of lights and would help spread it over the working surface. The PWM control is very nice, but I want to replace it with something that is less bulky and has a slimmer profile.