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Routing Modular Wall Shelf System Moldings
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Modular wall shelving project Some simply routing moldings cut and attach to the wall provide the basis for an easy, modern looking wall shelving system.

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.

For the modular shelving system diagrams and materials list in PDF format, click here.

“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.

Wall Shelf slat moldings Choosing the wood and finish for the project depends on the room you're tying it into and personal preference, but the higher quality wood, the more stable and better it will turn out.

“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
Routing fiddleback maple molding with a compression bit Of the woods used, the author found fiddleback maple the most difficult to route properly, which he solved using a compression bit from Freud.

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.

Cutting wall shelf moldings on a router table To cut your moldings for the modular shelves, use your router table and a good compression bit and cut out the grooves.

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.

Mock-Up Test
Mock-up for modular wall shelving system Your mock-up will help you test the fits and give you a good bearing for the dimensions of the shelving and between the various moldings before you start mounting them.

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.

Assembling modular shelf frames Pin the shelf frames together at their mitered corners, then attach plywood tops and bottoms that are cut to fit.

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.

posted on December 1, 2008 by Rob Johnstone
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2 thoughts on “Routing Modular Wall Shelf System Moldings”

  • gabriela

    Hi! I was very interested in your modular shelf. I would like to make one similar to my daughter's bedroom. May I? If yes, would you let me know how much weight a 35 centimeters high and 30 centimeters width would support? Thank you!

  • Carolyn

    I'm grateful to have found this plan. I have been wanting this arrangement for quite awhile...and didn't know how I could to it. I do now! As a beginner I am grateful for all of the details you provided! I honestly think I can do this.

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