Building shelves


Limp Gawd
Jan 14, 2020
I don't know if this will fit in this forum but in any case I'll try. I want to build shelves with 2"x3" studs and 1"x10" boards. So I was wondering should I use #8 screws on the side of the 2"x3" studs into the 2"x3" "brace". Should the screws and pilot holes both be about 2-3/4" or 3"?
And for screwing the 1" boards on the 2"x3" "brace", should I use #6 screws with a length of 1-3/4" or 2"? I think I'll be using softwoods like pine and spruce so would the drill bits be about 3/32" for the #6 and 7/64" for the #8 screws?
I am assuming from the nature of the questions that you are new to woodwork. Therefore, I will infer that you do not expect this to look like a showpiece when done. You want a shelf to hold shit.

Having no formal training but having fabricobbled a lot of wooden doodads, in short you are on the right track. Screws and wood are surprisingly strong when fit together with care, making sure that there are no gaps and that everything is aligned and piloted.

So, that being said, basically what you are suggesting sounds decent. Use three screws per piece at the end of the boards. Pilot drill to be smaller than thread size. Screws just short enough no to pierce through.
I hope this is going to work out. lol
I bought a Black & Decker drill and Black & Decker jigsaw. I also bought Paulin wood screws that are #8 x 2 inches and #8 by 3 inches. I watched a bunch of Youtube videos that don't show you how long your pilot hole has to be. Although one video showed the drill bit would surpass the first piece of wood and maybe like a 1/2 inch into the next board. Maybe I'll just ask store employees.
I have found piloting to full depth is not needed for most wood of the sort you sound to be using. Mostly that is because most piloting bits are not long enough for full depth anyway. However, piloting does wonders for clamp up and for getting the screw started.

I focus on this:

1) Use screws that have an unthreaded shank about as long as the depth of the first piece of wood. This help draw the first piece into the piece beneath it.
2) Likewise, I like having pilot holes fully through the first piece and a bit into the second. This guides the screw and helps with clamp up.
3) Clamp/press/squeeze your work together. With experience you learn to use your body, but even then clamping helps. For you, either get some clamps or have someone help you hold the piece together. I cannot stress enough how much this helps. Buy cheap clamps from Harbor Freight if this is a one off project. It is worth it.
4) As mentioned above, adhesives add a lot of strength. I sometimes don’t use them, since I feel like they are cheating in a way and can get messy. When done properly, glue and screws will hold while the substrate fails. However, adhesive will not help poor assembly or fix misalignment. Glue benefits from clamping even more than the assembly. Again: Buy some clamps.
I've looked into paint, primer and stain and didn't find either environmental or practical. So, if these shelves will stay indoors would it be safe to let the wood unpainted?
sure, it will just collect dust & oils like a mofo, and unfinished wood makes you look cheap & lazy. If the shelving doesn't share airspace with the kitchen where you're cooking, you'll probably be okay from oils sticking to the wood.
What room are these shelves being built? if it's the garage, you'll be okay without painting. Imo, a simple one-coat oil-based finish will prolong the lifespan significantly. It'll also help prevent discoloration over the years and make it look much nicer.
sure, it will just collect dust & oils like a mofo, and unfinished wood makes you look cheap & lazy. If the shelving doesn't share airspace with the kitchen where you're cooking, you'll probably be okay from oils sticking to the wood.
What room are these shelves being built? if it's the garage, you'll be okay without painting. Imo, a simple one-coat oil-based finish will prolong the lifespan significantly. It'll also help prevent discoloration over the years and make it look much nicer.
Finish as in stain or paint?
EDIT: I'm curious about water-based polyurethane right now, have to do more reading...
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sorry, I meant to suggest either an interior or exterior stain & finish combination (not paint).
It's really a matter of preference if you like the look of wood grains, or if you're using cheap wood, then you can just paint it.
Examples of water-based stain & sealer combination products:,4294696384

There are many new products that have color pigments but are not paint and the wood grain still shows through.
Even if you don't want to use a stain, it is a good idea to apply a sealer to prevent the wood from drying out or absorbing excess moisture and splitting.
Have you considered using Tung oil as the finish? It's a natural substance and is easy to work with.
I'm not a professional but I've put together some shelves, lamp, toddler bed, and a dresser using woodworking. Some notes from my experience;

Pilot hole size I eyeball holding the drill bit parallel and center aligned in front of the screw in question. Confirm that the threads of the screw extend beyond the drill bit, but the body is pretty much fully obscured. I drill pilot holes to a 1/8 short or deeper of the embedded screw length.

I have used two finishes i was happy with:
  • Lacquer (oil based?) - Gives a good enough surface finish without in-between coat sanding, hard, smooth, clear when all done. However it is difficult to find a work area that you can keep free of dust that could contaminate, probably causes brain cancer, and cleanup is a pain.
  • Feed-N-Wax (Bees wax and orange oil) - Easy to apply and difficult to make a mistake, tolerates a less than perfect work area during the finishing, safe. The surface is pretty close to untreated wood feeling, but it wont protect from scratches and such. I like this best really. Whatever the sanded surface felt like, it will feel like that. Mildly changes the appearance, sorta darkens the grain while leaving the other wood the same. Looks close to untreated, no gloss.
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So I'm thinking about sanding and cutting the boards before painting (or actually staining in my case). Does that sound more realistic? I don't know if this is the best way of doing it but I was also planning on making the supporting studs or whatever you call them before then sliding the shelves sideways into place. Then I could screw them down to the supporting braces.
premade will save a lot of time
Thanks for saying that after I bought the tools and some wood. lmao
Just kidding. In reality I could take time to get into the details but some of it has to do with wanting to avoid switches or electrical plugs on the walls etc. By building myself I can choose where to put the studs. And there's the overall dimensions as well (of things I want to put on the shelves). I also wanted to use two thick boards on one of the shelves for heavier things. And that's apart from the cost.

Overall it should be interesting for me unless it turns into a disaster. At least it will be a learning experience.
When I started this I did some calculations based on 2x3 boards etc. which I found out later were actually 1-1/2" x 2-1/2". At the time I thought I'd use 2 inch #8 screws for the shelf boards that were supposed to be 1 inch but really 3/4". I thought I'd want the screws to go thru the boards and into the supporting brace at least 1 inch. So the 2" screws I have would penetrate the 3/4" board with 1-1/4" depth. The 3" screws I bought would penetrate the 1-1/2" thick studs and go 1-1/2 inches into the supporting braces.
I found very little information on how long your pilot hole needs to be. And what I found I wasn't sure I could trust. I don't know what the actual standards are but I figured if a 2 inch screw goes in, I kind of prefer the pilot hole (at least in softwood like pine) would be only 1-1/2" so the screw would have 1/2" of firmer, tighter grip on the wood.
Since I bought #8 screws (because I read those are commonly use), I bought the recommended 7/64" size drill bit. However, the Milwaukee drill bit I bought only has a drilling depth of 1-1/4". This is not the end of the world because I purchased softwood anyway (so it may not crack).
If I did do this again though I think I might do it like this. I went on the Dewalt website and clicked on the drilling depths to figure out which size drill bits I'd get and then choose the corresponding screw sizes for softwood. Here it is, if I want a 2 inch screw and want a 1-1/2" pilot hole, on the Dewalt website their 7/64" drill bit would have a drilling depth of 1-1/2". So I would choose 2" #8 screws. And for 2-1/2" screws, I would want #14 screws for 5/32" drill bit and 2" drilling depth. In other words, for boards that are 1-1/2" thick and I'd want the screw to enter the next board by 1" (so total of 2-1/2").
The only drill bits that I found that are thin and long were for masonry. And those aren't recommended for wood.
I would suggest making a drawing with all your dimensions finalized before you start cutting the first piece of wood. Number one rule: measure twice, cut once. There is nothing worse than running out of material that is the right size. You will either make unwanted compromises or spend more money. Hand sketches are just as useful as CAD drawings. In either case, there are free solutions. Something like Fusion360 would be a good start and it would open up some doors for you as well. Practice drilling holes, countersinking and general torque setting on scrap pieces before putting final piece together.
The good news here is if you screw up you can just redo it. The bad news is the price of wood right now. At least you will be on your way learning a new skill.
I went a bit metro sexual with the tools because I bought the drill, jigsaw and orbital sander in a cool orange from Black & Decker. Then I got a three inch Mastercraft putty knife in black/blue, a six inch Home Handyman trigger clamp in black/yellow, a nine inch Stanley level in black/yellow and a blue Empire 7-1/4" triangular rafter square.

And I also bought a 16.5 feet Noma blue block heater extension cord, a 4 inch Bennett paint roller with white tray, Paulin #8 two inch and three inch yellow screws (kind of reflects like a red and green color), Varathane worn navy blue wood stain and Elmer's wood filler.

The wood I bought for one shelf are eight 2x3x8 boards, two 2x3x10 boards, two 2x10x8 boards and four 1x10x8 boards. For the other shelf I bought twelve 2x3x8 boards and five 1x10x12 boards. I think it's mostly pine or what they call SPF (Spruce, Pine, Douglas Fir).

I forgot to photograph the Milwaukee drill bits but got a 7/64" for the #8 screws. (I did get a 17/64" though to drill through two consecutive holes for the jigsaw blade.) Number parts are 48-89-4604 and 48-89-4614. (I could have bought some Bosch but felt too busy to order them. But I'm thinking of later on getting Bosch TI2136IM 9/64" for #12 screws and Bosch TI2137IM 5/32" for #14 screws). By the way it takes a #2 Robertson square head for the #8 screws (or #10 screws) and a #3 Robertson square head for the #12 and #14 screws. For that, I have a Haussmann multi-bit screwdriver that came with #1, #2 and #3 Robertson bits but also has a hex base that can take hex base drill bits like the ones I bought. (#1 Robertson head is for #5 to #7 screws. I also thought about buying #6 screws because I already have a Mastercraft 3/32" hex base drill bit. By the way a #10 screw would take a 1/8" staight drill bit but all the sizes I mentioned are for softwood like SPF.)
Did you ever make a drawing with dimensions?
Yes, well a couple of things I noticed: the wood may not be at all the measurements as described and if you have 4 support columns, you have 3 spaces between. 2x3 boards for example are 1-1/2"x2-1/2" and 1x10 boards are 3/4"x9-1/4".
How do you intend to use the shelves?
I live in what they call here a 1 and a half. So it's like one large room with a toilet/shower on the side. I've lived here for a while and I have accumulated a lot of stuff. Some of my boxes are on the floor everywhere so my first goal is to clear my floor and get those things on the shelves.
I'm just curious... was the main goal to have the shelves be adjustable and make it so you could use vertical space rather than horizontal space because you have a taller ceiling? And also not having anything blocking the back so you could get at any outlets without having to punch a hole or route cables in an awkward way?

I have something very much like this, though I got a version that was designed to be used with a computer and had an additional tray for a keyboard and mouse. It was about $120. It's probably too late now, but if you're ever in the situation again... this is a thing you can do if you don't care too much how it looks (and based on how you were talking about leaving the wood unstained, it sounds like you don't). The big advantage is it has wheels, so you can move it later without lifting the whole thing or taking it apart, plus it also won't be permanently affixed to the wall. You can set the shelves to any height you want and make them stay, etc. And there's nothing impeding cables that would go to outlets at all. If you're worried about smaller items slipping through the cracks, you could just slap a cheap piece of cardboard or plywood or whatever on top where that's a concern anyway.

I hope building the shelves goes well, but if not... well, that's another option.
So I took months to get this done. I might post more details about this but for now I'll include these pics.


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If you're saying Pig because the boards look dirty, they look like that partly because they were stained, not painted. I finished staining the boards completely after they were completed.
Actually he's saying good job. They're shelves. They don't need to be pretty, they need to be sturdy. Those look like they'll do the job just fine.

Just to add some notes on the build...

The shelves were cut around 39mm deep by 66mm wide. I used a piece of wood held as a guide clamped down with two bar clamps to cut the wood. For the the 3/4" thick shelves, it was no problem with a jigsaw. For the 1-1/2" thick shelves (the 2"x3" boards are actually 1-1/2"x2-1/2"), the blade would move sideways which would produce crooked cuts.

Had I known this beforehand, I either would have used a hand saw (using a guide or mitre box) or even table saw or 4.5" circular saw. I hesitate to use a 5.5" or larger circular saw because I fear the weight might cause it to fall and injure myself. I'm strong enough but don't trust regular-sized circular saws.
Because I used a jigsaw, the (1.5" thick) 158.5mm support boards were all crooked. I ended up aligning the support columns all in the same direction and leaned them towards the wall.

I used 4 bar clamps to complete these. The Irwin Quick Grip clamps worked better than the other ones I used. My Black & Decker jigsaw, orbital sander and drill all worked OK. I could have used 60 grain sandpaper on the sander though rather than 80 grain.
I found rubbing alcohol can rub off Varathane stain.

The pilot holes I drilled for the screws were not the full length of the screws. I couldn't really find long 7/64" drill bits and gave up and used what I could find (Milwaukee). The only two holes that I made with the #8 screws that cracked the boards a little were close to the ends of the boards. So even if you use SPF (Spruce, Pine or Fir) boards and drill a pilot hole, it's still possible to crack the ends of the boards. I used #8 x 3 inch screws for the sides (support boards) and #8 x 2 inch screws from the top to screw down the shelves.

When it comes to assembling, I found it's easier to try to connect the two inner support columns to the shelves then slide the support columns in place at the ends then clamp them with a bar clamp to keep them in place (before screwing them).

Since I used 9-1/4" wide boards (they were marked 1"x8' and 2"x8'), I find that a shelf with only 8 inches of space above does not give me the space to slide in a board. So I had to slide one board on top of another then use some boxes to keep it up while I screwed the support boards for it. The next time I build shelves I want to use 158mm (approx.) support boards at the bottom and middle of the shelves (where the first board is going to be in the middle anyway). Then I want to screws the shelf in place before putting the next support boards and shelves. In other words, if I do one shelf at a time, it's much easier to try to drill the shelves to the support boards before you put on the next shelf. The other shelves I want to build are going to have spaces like 9 inches, 8 inches, 7 inches and 6 inches between.
Screwing into end grain is typically not advised for supports. Pocket screws are generally preferred.