jump to example.com

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.


14 Responses to Hungarian Shelves FTW (or Why TM Readers Rock)

  1. aaron says:

    kick ass. i’m glad you decided to go this route. It’s much classier than brackets for the living room, and it fits very well in that space. Also the no hardware thing means its crafty, right?

    one thing – I’m having trouble understanding how you cut the notches – did you gang up multiple pieces and cut the notches in one go, or did you do each notch individually?

    Also, I hope you have a stool or extendo-arm – those top shelves look high 🙂

    • Chuck Cage says:

      @aaron: I cut the notches one at a time. You could automate with some kind of router jig or a dado, but I was in a hurry and had the circ saw handy. I pre-measured and marked all the notch locations on the verticals (from a pre-marked end since I wanted to use the pre-cut 10′ lumber — which is never quite 10′). Exact length isn’t really critical (I dare anyone to see 1/4″ difference in the height of the verticals), but you do want to get all the notches lined up. For the shelves, I brought each shelf in, slapped it in the vert notches, marked them, then cut the notches in the shelf and installed it. You could measure and pre-cut, but I figured why bother?

  2. Steve says:

    Looks great. My brother in law has about 10K dvds. He built shelves with bracket. Since the selves are a DVD height apart, you cant fit a dvd where ever there is a bracket. These look like a wonderful solution to that issues. He doesnt was adjustable shelves, just more DVDs and something to display them well. I’d like to see someone do this that’s not worried about money. How well can you finish these out? functional, sure, but can I get the wifes approval to do this?

  3. joelfinkle says:

    Beautiful, but just one comment: That’s not a lot of books. We have on the order of 5500-6000 in the house. Most of them are lining the basement walls on shelving units built with trad clip-style standards which unfortunately sag a bit over time, this looks to be stronger and more stable.

    • Chuck Cage says:

      @joelfinkle: That’s awesome, sir. This was just the last overflow. I’d already filled all my existing bookcases and built a number of built-ins around the house. But one of Audra’s professors has us all smoked: he has a large (I want to say 40×40 or so) building out back with a two-story library in it. 0_o

  4. Rick Reimundez says:

    This is AWESOME!!!

    that.is.all.. 🙂

  5. Ian Random says:

    First of all that is quite awesome. Unfortunately for me, I have way too much junk and need shelves for the that. So I am considering just scanning the books that have limited value.


  6. Fong says:

    Awesome! Always like the unexpected projects that can be built with inexpensive construction lumber.

  7. Lars Peterson says:

    Meanwhile, looks like that fence out back could use some attention.

  8. Yadda says:

    Now you need a sliding library ladder or a really long extention grabber to get to the top without having to drag in small ladder every time you want to read that book on top.

  9. Bend53 says:

    I am just wondering whyyou have stopped updating your web site? Toolmonger is my favorite site. I check it everyday. Even now!!

  10. Jen says:

    One of the Instructables I read suggested putting the shelves up against the wall, assembled, then pulling each shelf off one by one and making the holes that way. Did you find that necessary? Or did you just mark carefully and pray a lot? Thanks!

    • Chuck Cage says:

      Jen: I installed the far left-hand vertical by eye aligned to a stud (essentially shot the top screw into a stud, aligned it with a level, then shot the bottom screw in, then the others). Then I installed the far right-hand vertical the same way, but stuck one of the uncut shelves in it to align the height of the second vertical. I replicated the same process to install all the other verticals. The verticals are aligned up/down with the uncut shelf (and a level placed on it horizontally) and left/right by the vertical level.

      Then I just stuck each shelf in one at a time, measured the ends sticking out (and eyeballed them to make sure they looked about right), took them outside, cut them, and installed them.

      Good luck on your shelves! If you get a chance, post a pic to the TM Flickr pool and drop us a line. 🙂

  11. Ruth says:

    I fell in love with HS on Pinterest and had some built for our new condo.

    Would send a photo, but can’t see how to paste one in.

    Anyway, where can I get very thin shims???

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *