I have a lot of books. No, really. A lot of books. And up until recently they’ve been piled around my house in all sorts of places. Sean and I started building bookcases back closer to when I first moved in, but we ended up getting involved in other things (like starting TM, for example). Between lack of time and lack of funding, I never really got enough built to hold even half of my book stash. So a few weeks back, I decided to go for broke and just slap whatever I had to on the walls to hold up shelves (and books). To that end, I posted here asking TM readers .
Of course, TM readers are way smarter than that.
TM reader David chimed in instead with a suggestion that I build what he called “Hungarian shelves,” complete with a link to an Instructable on the process. Others chimed in on the Hungarian recommendation, so I gave it a look — and I was shocked. What a great idea! Basically, these Hungarian shelves consist of vertical pieces notched to hold notched shelves. The verticals screw to the wall through the notches, then the shelves fit in place with a little help from shims as needed. Result: extremely strong and stable shelves with no visible fasteners. As a bonus, you can easily build them with cheap dimensional lumber and almost no tools. Above you see a pictured of my project, adapted from the Instructable concept.
Yep, that’s a 10′ x 10′ set of 10 shelves that cost me a grand total of just under $200 and was damn easy to build.
The verticals are 2×6 lumber, though we ripped them down to more like 4-1/2″ because the circ saw we had handy seemed more accurate when it was set at 2-1/2″ for cutting the notches. In the future I’d just use 2x4s, which would offer plenty of horizontal support. (You need far less overhang than you might think with this system.) We made all the cuts in the project with a $30 circ saw and a came-with-the-saw framing blade. For the vertical rips (which you could easily avoid), we clamped a straight piece of steel to the board as a guide.
To cut the notches, we simply stood the board on end with a couple of clamps, cut the edges with the circ saw, then chopped the middle out with multiple cuts. Sure, it’s probably a little hard on the saw’s bearings, but hey — it’s a $30 circ saw. Even if we destroyed it, it’d be a small price to pay for the project. But even after cutting 120 notches, the saw seems fine.
Assembly is easy. We lined ours up to studs, but unless you live in earthquake territory, you could totally get away with attaching some of the verticals with molly bolts. Even if the final project loaded up weighed 1,500 lbs., because there are 60 (!) fasteners in the system, each would bear only ~25 lbs. In my case, I just picked up some 4″ drywall screws, pre-drilled the verticals in the notches, and screwed them right to the studs, placing one screw into the stud in the middle, then adjusting the vertical to bubble-center with a level, shooting a screw in the top to make sure I still hit stud, then filling in the rest. I cheated by installing the verticals first, then marking my shelves directly from the mounted verticals and cutting the notches as I fit each shelf. The shelves, by the way, are 1x10s with a 1×12 on the very bottom.
The beauty of this system is in the design. Because of the way they lock together, very little accuracy is required in any cut. If you get the notches aligned within an 1/8″ or so, they fit great and you really can’t see the resulting gaps much — especially when you actually put books on the shelves. In fact, a little mis-fit seems to make them fit tightly and hold in place well. We used a deadblow hammer and a towel to pound in the tough-fit shelves, and shimmed the shelves to level with a couple packages of pre-cut shims. These shelves would be easy to remove, too, and the small holes created by the drywall screws would be easy to fill. If a shelf sags or breaks, it’d be easy to un-shim it, pull it out, and replace it.
So David, thanks for the hella-great idea. It turned my family room — which stood for years as a big, ugly box of a room that only saw use when we had lots of people over — into my new favorite place in the house. There’s really nothing cooler than being surrounded by your books and your cool stuff, as proven by the fact that we now spend a lot of time there.