We made this: simple steel shelving!

Steel shelves

Once upon a time, back in January 2015, Jamie and Sam were talking about something-or-other in our living room while I sat on the couch, tuning them out and searching for office shelving on my laptop. I wanted something simple and utilitarian without looking too industrial (or, god help us, “rustic”). I liked the look of the IKEA VITTSJO (especially hacked to great effect with wooden shelves on Yellow Brick Home), but getting bulky IKEA furniture shipped across the Bass Strait was out of the question. Closer to home was the Regency unit from Officeworks. Not as wide as I’d have liked, but not a bad option.

I promise this post has pretty pictures. Bear with me here.

So I mentioned to Jamie and Sam that I was looking for steel shelving for the study, and showed them the options so far. Immediately, they were wary of the low weight limit for the shelves and the potential flimsiness of the steel frame. Then Sam said, it wouldn’t be hard to put together something like that, get some right-angle steel and weld it all up. Said it was worth the bother, we’d get an extremely sturdy shelf for our troubles.

Looks like we’re choosing that option, then!

I made a simple sketch to determine the number of shelves (5) and its dimensions (1.8m x 900mm x 300mm), and Sam quickly sussed out how much steel we’d need. He was keen to give it a shot, as he’d get to practice his welding skills, and I grew excited about fabricating a sturdy, useful piece of furniture ourselves.

Shelf building process

Later that week, the two of us went to Nubco and picked up four 6m lengths of 1” right-angle steel, 3mm thick. (They cut the lengths in half so we could tie them onto the ute.) Sam took the steel to their dad’s work shed, of course, where we’d have access to gear like a bandsaw and welding supplies.

First, all the steel had to be cut to size:

  • 4x 1.8m lengths, square
  • 10x 300mm lengths, mitred
  • 10 x 900mm lengths, mitred

The assembly was straightforward. I cut pieces on the bandsaw while Sam began to weld the shelf inners. I didn’t try out any welding myself, which might be poor form in light of this being a major DIY project, but I did learn the basics of how arc welding and tig welding work and I got to feel like a moon man in a welding mask, which was cool.

Welded shelf inner

For the shelves themselves, we got a 2.4 x 1.2m sheet of top-grade plywood from Uptons. We went with a 12mm thickness, rather than 19mm, due to a significant difference in cost. Once Sam welded all five inner shelves, I measured the inner dimensions of each one — they all matched, thankfully — and then used that measurement (minus 5mm, for ease) to cut the plywood that would sit inside each shelf. I gave the shelves a light sand and then they came home with me, where I stained and varnished them on our deck.

The steel itself was a bit rough, so at Sam’s suggestion, I sanded all the lengths with 60/80 grit pads. It didn’t give them a full-on chrome polish, but it did make them significantly smoother to the touch. And again, at his suggestion, I wiped down all the steel sections with mineral spirits and gave them a preliminary coat of paint (Dulux Metalshield, black, semi-gloss). It was going to take a couple weekends to put this thing together, and this preliminary coat of paint could save me some work later.

Steel frame

So we had the inner shelves, and the four vertical sections. We attached the top and bottom shelves first, creating a long, rectangular cube. The most difficult part was making sure everything was square in all three dimensions. Lots of measuring and re-measuring in all directions. Sam did the welds, but I was there acting as second pair of hands. (Tip: measure the diagonals if you want to check whether something is square.) He’d tack-weld, we’d check measurements and square-edges, clamp everything in place and then he’d apply a proper weld.

Grinding edges

When we’d put in the other three shelves — middle first, then the others — Sam used an angle grinder to clean up any edges that had extra blobs of weld. He’d accidentally burned through the outer section in a couple of places, so he had to apply extra weld and then grind it smooth. I really appreciate his perfectionism. (Sam is an excellent human being, a gentleman and a scholar, in case I haven’t made that clear. I still owe him curry dinners.)

Timber castor details

Here’s a couple of detail shots of the timber itself and the rubber castors, which I ordered from eBay. Jamie and Sam’s dad — a machinist by trade, remember — cut off sections of 1″ steel rod, just longer than the length of the castor bolts, and then milled them smooth in the lathe. He then hollowed each section out and cut in the threads. Hey presto, channels for the castors to screw into. For him it was no big deal, but I was staring in wonder, thinking, THIS IS SO COOL. The channels themselves got welded to the inside of the base of the shelf, and we put locking nuts on the castors to make them height-adjustible.

Overall, the shelf cost about $200: $150 for steel + ply, $30 for paint, $30 for castors.

Steel shelf in the study

And then, once the shelf was cleaned and painted, it came to our house and lived happily ever after in our study.

Pictures! I promised.

Steel shelving unit in the studyStudy shelving

I am so stoked on our shelf. It fits in perfectly, there’s lots of flexibility to organise materials as I see fit and I’m happy with the aesthetic.  I also know the steel won’t dent or warp on me! She’s solid. (Speaking of aesthetics: I switched the shaggy striped rug on the futon for a vintage army-surplus blanket. If that’s not durable I don’t know what is.)

Steel shelving (DIY)

Tasmanian-designed and Australian-made, even, if I feel like being extra-braggy about it.

Study progress | Saltbush Avenue

Well this looks a hell of a lot better than having books and magazines in piles around the place.

The study is coming along nicely, and I’ve got heaps more updates to come: refinishing the desk and corralling the cords, building a workbench, building a brick hearth and giving the fireplace a makeover, hanging posters and prints and even assembling a tea station. It’s gonna look real good.

Previous: Plans for the study; refurbishing flat file drawers; vintage furnishings; ideas for workspace organisation.

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11 thoughts on “We made this: simple steel shelving!

  1. Very nice! You could make one for me on your next visit. Bring Sam too. Room & board & all the green chiles he can stand.

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