diy project: kate’s leaning shelf

today’s final diy project belongs to kate from oakland, california. a finalist in the 2008 diy contest, kate submitted several projects, all of which were winners in my book. for this particular project, kate was inspired by similar narrow shelves she’d seen at big box stores and decided to create something more rustic that fit her personal style (and budget). after purchasing $7 with of wood from a reuse center in oakland, kate sanded each piece and gave it a clear wax coating. a few steps later kate had her own custom leaning wall shelf. want the full instructions? click here for the full post or just click “read more” below. [thanks, kate!]


NOTE: I was only able to find thick, pretty wood that was 6″ wide, so
I used 2 pieces that I attached with mending plates because I wanted
my shelf to be a bit wider than 6″. If you want a really narrow shelf,
or you are able to find wood that is the width you want the shelf to
be, you do not need the mending plates.

1. reclaimed wood – thick is best I think. I used three pieces that
are approximately 6″ x 9′ (2.5 ” thick).
2. long screws – 4″ and medium screws (2″ – 2.5″)
3. mending plates (you can buy these at home depot)
4. drill (with a drill bit and a screw bit)
5. saw (or you can have the wood cut where you purchase it possibly)
6. measuring tape and pencil
7. sand paper (or power sander preferably)
8. stain or wax (your preference for the finish of the wood)

1. Measure the length and width of your back pieces and decide how
many shelves you want to have on the piece. I chose to space them
pretty far apart to be more minimal. Cut the shelves from one of the
pieces of wood so they are the same as the width of your back piece.

*If you need to sand or stain the wood, do all of that before
building. Don’t forget the sides of the shelf pieces you just cut. Let
it dry.

2. If you are putting pieces together to form the long back piece, lay
them down with the front of the shelving unit facing down and make
sure they are lined up evenly on the top and bottom. Place mending
plates on the seam between the two pieces of wood, so that there is
equal amounts of the plate on either piece of wood. Vertically, place
them about 4″ from the top, bottom, and a couple more spaced evenly in
between. Screw the mending plates into both pieces of wood with medium
length screws, so that the two pieces feel sturdily attached.

3. Measure on the long piece and mark on the BACK where you want your
shelves to be. You can draw a straight line in pencil where the bottom
of the shelf will go.

4. Place all the shelf pieces down on the ground and rest the long
piece on top. Make sure you have the shelf lined up with the line you
have drawn, and pre-drill holes through the back of the wood into the
shelf. Screw 2-3 long 4″ screws into the shelf though the drilled
holes. Do this with all shelves. Stand it upright and check the
sturdiness of the shelves. You should be able lean it at any angle you
want, and if the wood is heavy it will stay in place. If you are
nervous you can use small brackets to attach the top of the piece to
the wall.


NOTE: This method of attaching the shelves will be plenty of support
since the shelves are thick and shallow (about 6″ deep). If you do
deep shelves (greater than 8″) this method will not be as sturdy, and
may not support heavy things. This is meant to be more of a
display/decorative shelf than a unit that can hold a lot of stuff

  1. Shalom says:

    Oh, what a great idea! I have TONS of scrap wood lying around. I am going to have my husband make me one of these.

  2. whitney says:

    Is that Miss Piggy on the pillow!? LOVE THAT! And the shelf is very cool.

  3. ThePeachTree says:

    I love love loved this :) Was one of my top favorites from the contest!

  4. John says:

    Kate — This is awesome. Where did you get your reclaimed wood? I live in the East Bay, and am just about to embark on building some shelves in my outdoor shed. Would love to know your source. Thanks.

  5. I love this piece! It’s actually the one I voted for. :)

  6. That is a totally cute idea. But with Oakland, CA being in the heart of earthquake country, I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea to anchor that to the wall. Somehow. Ditto if you have pets or kids or even just a clumsy partner.

    Sigh. The difficulties of being practical.


  7. beautiful piece of functional art. brava.

  8. Kate says:

    Thanks everyone! For you Bay Areans – the wood is from Urban Ore Ecopark, it’s right off of Ashby and San Pablo in Berkeley. A GREAT resource for any project! Plus you can donate stuff to them too.

  9. Letter blocks just add a touch of personality to anything dont they!

  10. Hanna says:

    What kind of wood did you use?

  11. fleur says:

    I’m going to build this for my little rented house, this way i won’t get in trouble for marking the walls. Thank you for the great idea!

  12. craig says:

    wonderful! Looks like the underside of a long picnic table bench. Would that work?


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