My wife was looking at a bare expanse of dining room wall and then back at a catalog with an unnerving intensity. At about the same time, my discretionary income early warning system started buzzing, and I knew it was time to ask her what she was thinking.
“I was thinking if this would look nice on our wall,” she said, pointing to a catalog picture. Surprisingly, I agreed, until I saw the poor quality wood and the high-test price.
“I might be able to build something even nicer, and for a lot less money,” I said, concerned that I’ve said that before without living up to the promise. Thankfully, this time, it worked out just fine.
Fine Wood and Simple Lines
This is a really stripped-down piece of woodworking, but it’s pleasing to look at because of the striking fiddleback maple I used for the wall moldings. I enhanced its natural color with a first coat of linseed oil, followed by several coats of dewaxed shellac. The intensely textured figure of the wood highlighted by the project’s repetitive lines is quite pleasing to look at.
Three moldings which were formed on my router table make up the majority of this project. I decided to construct most of the shelves with a mitered frame and plywood top and bottom, because it makes the most frugal use of wood — in both quantity of stock and the number of dollars spent. I also made a solid wood shelf plate molding, featuring a plate groove.
To be certain that everything would work properly, I made a mock up version of the wall molding and the shelf cleat molding, mounted to a faux wall, before I started. It helped me determine the critical distance between the wall molding pieces. If you follow the dimensions of the moldings shown in the Material List, the space between the moldings will be exactly 2". By using the mock-up and adjusting the various molding dimensions and configurations, I was able to set up my router table and test the fit of each molding as I machined it.
Because the maple I used presented such a curly grain, routing it was touchy — it really wanted to tear out on me. After a couple of sketchy cuts with a regular straight bit, I tried a compression bit made by Freud. It has two separate cutting edges machined on spirals, moving in opposite directions around the bit. It sounds kind of crazy, but it worked great to keep tearout to a minimum.
Once all the moldings were formed, it was time to cut and assemble the shelves. Mitering the shelf frame moldings, I made all the shelves 4" deep but in lengths of 8" and 12". I pinned the mitered corners but glued the plywood to the frames. The cleat moldings were cut to length and glued to the shelves. My last step was to finish the shelves with three coats of linseed oil — no shellac. It’s very easy to retouch if required.
Mounting the Wall Moldings
While you’ll modify the measurements of this system to suit your needs, please consider that your wall moldings should be created in multiples of 16" lengths. This will match the 16" on-center studs in your walls. My wall moldings are 48" long, so they crossed three adjacent studs per molding. I secured them with 2" finish nails. Starting with the lowest rail, I used a full-length spacer in the molding’s rabbet to properly locate the next molding up. If you want even more strength, it is OK to use construction adhesive, too.
Now our wall is nicely decorated, and our bowls and knickknacks have a home. And this time out I built a much nicer unit, for considerably less than the catalog version! Whew.