Total cost of materials: ~$150
Total time spent: ~8 hours of work, not counting the time it takes for the stain and polyurethane to dry
In another installment in the “Doogie builds stuff and so can you” series, I’ll show you how to make a pipe shelf in the same ‘contemporary industrial’ design as my last project – a dining room table (see this post). The same goes for this guide as the last one – I’ll walk you through my thought processes so that you can adapt this plan to fit your own project.
As a disclaimer – I am not an expert and my design did not turn out exactly as planned. I did my best to point out areas where I could have done this or that better. I think that’s part of the fun. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments if anything is unclear.
Here’s an overview of the project:
- Create the design for your pipe shelf
- Supplies run
- Assemble the pipe shelf frame and paint
- Cut, sand, stain and finish the shelves
- Mount the shelf
1. Pipe Shelf Design
Make a rough draft – Once again, I am a very visual person, so I used masking tape to create an outline of the shelves on the wall. Feel free to do the same if it helps. Think about your different constraints. Are there any shelves that need to be a certain height? In my case, I wanted a place for a small fish tank at the bottom, so that shelf needed to be at least 12” tall. Do you want a crazy design, or would a symmetrical one look better in that space? Put some masking tape on the wall and play around with different designs until you wind up with one that you like.
Adjust for the supports – Once you settle on a geometric masterpiece, grab your stud finder and mark where the studs are on your wall. This will help you place the pipe flanges that are strongest when mounted into a stud. You can either write on the masking tape to mark where the pipe flanges will go, or sketch out the wall and take some measurements. Either way, you will need a pen and paper to record the dimensions of your shelf frame. Remember to start and end with a pipe flange that is anchored into the wall. I would suggest at least three to four mounts depending upon the size of your shelf. Better to be safe than end up with a beautiful pipe shelf torn out of the wall.
I enjoy symmetry in my design, so I went with two larger shelves on top and bottom, then three shelves that are the same height in the middle.
Take measurements – Using the outline on the wall, measure the lengths of the masking tape from the start of one one end to where that piece meets with the next pipe. If you end up using 1/2” pipe (which I recommend since anything larger is substantially heavier and counterproductive to mount on the wall), account for the connecting pieces by adjusting the length of that pipe section by 1” for each pipe flange or pipe tees. I found that right angle pieces don’t really change the dimensions too much since the threaded part of the pipe screws pretty far into the angle piece at both openings.
For example, the first length of tape was 20.5” from the start of the tape (also lined up with a stud to anchor with a pipe flange) to the beginning of the next pipe. Since this section will have a pipe flange, subtract out 1” for the connecting piece. This section has an 90* angle connector, but the adjustment is negligible (1/4” if you want to get really detailed, but I found that added another layer of complexity). Repeat the same process for the next pipe sections.
Develop a rough estimate for shelf lengths. Total those so you know how many board feet of lumber to grab.
Note to readers – you may notice that my final design differs a bit from my masking tape design… that was an error on my part. Two things caused the difference, #1. I though the pipe tees would add 2.5” when they really added 1”. #2. I consolidated my pipe lengths to make it easier for the person cutting the pipe at Home Depot. As a result, I decided to align the shelf with the light switch, and that caused the bottom part to be a bit ‘off’. I haven’t decided if it’s off enough to fix it – so I’ll leave it like that for now.
2. Time for Supplies
Use the measurements you wrote down and create a list of the different pipe lengths needed. On the design, mark where connecting pieces will and add those to the list as well. Here is a general list of what you will need from the hardware store:
If you shop at Home Depot, most of the time you can find someone helpful in the plumbing department who will cut the pipes to length. If there are a ton of pipe sections to cut, they may have you leave your order and come back in a few hours.
Here was my cost breakdown for the pipe shelves:
20′ of 1/2” galvanized pipe – $29
Four pipe flanges – $27.36
1”x 8” x 10ft pine board – $13.64
Golden Mahogany Stain & Glossy Poly – $19.25
Other parts (connecting pieces, screws, tube clamps, pipe straps) – ~$40
Grand Total – $130-150
Most of the materials in one place. Time to put this puppy together!
3. Pipe Shelf Assembly
Just like the old days playing with a K’nex set, put together the pipes and connectors until it looks like the design in your head. Use the extra pipe as leverage to really tighten the threaded pieces together. You want a frame that will stay in the same shape, so the tighter the better.
After your shelves are nice and secure, spray the pipes down with a de-greaser to remove the oil and then rinse the pipes with water. Let that dry, and if necessary, use an 80 grit sandpaper to remove any rough spots or imperfections. Dust off the metal shavings and you should now have a paint-ready surface.
Move to a well-ventilated area and apply several layers of metal-grade paint to the pipe and any pieces that will show. While you wait for the first layer of paint to dry, might as well start on the shelves.
4a. Cut Shelves to Length and Prep the Wood
Working with wood has taught me that some things are 90% preparation. This is one of those things. You might think – “Hey, I’ll cut these boards to length and slap some stain on them – it shouldn’t take longer than 20-30 minutes.” however, if you want to end up with a final product you can be proud of, take some time to prep the boards that will become your shelves. This means a lot of sanding – first with a belt sander (or planer if you have one), then with an orbital sander. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper (80 grit is good), then progress toward 220 or 300. The better sanding job, the more consistent the stain will absorb into the wood and create a nice natural color.
When the boards are sanded to your satisfaction, it should look something like this:
4b. Stain and Poly
Once you have your wood prepped, run a damp rag over the boards to remove any sawdust or debris and let it dry for a few minutes. The wood should look clean enough to eat off of at this point. Apply the stain according to the manufacturer’s instructions and leave it in a cool, well-ventilated place – preferably with a fan on it to speed up the drying time. Depending upon the look desired, several coats of stain may be necessary. I went with only one coat and did a small amount of sanding to lighten up the darker spots.
It may take several hours to dry, and if pipes need to be painted, then jump back to that task so that you’re not stuck playing the waiting game.
Apply the polyurethane in a similar manner – this time using a synthetic brush – and let each coat dry for the recommended time. Some finishes have you sand between coats, others don’t, just check the label for guidelines.
5. Finishing Up – Mount the frame and shelves
Now we’re in the home stretch. All there is left to do is to attach this monstrosity to the wall and secure the shelves to the frame.
Find someone to help you by holding the pipe frame on the wall in its final resting place. A tip from experience: this thing is heavy – set a small box or hard object underneath the shelf so that it sits at its final position. Leveling the shelves also takes some work. The 90* pipe connectors often make the shelves unlevel under the weight of the frame. Get as close as possible to level, and then mark through the holes in the pipe flanges for your screws. There will likely be spots where the stud doesn’t line up – use a drywall anchor that is rated for 20-30+ pounds (each hole) and drill those into the wall before you attach the pipe frame. Start with the top pipe flange and work your way down, so that the rest of the pipes can be supported with one or two pipe flanges screwed in.
Lastly, attach the shelves to the pipes using a mixture of pipe clamps and pipe straps. If the pipe wants to swivel, either find a way to increase the friction on the pipe straps (electrical tape underneath works in a pinch, or get creative), or add more pipe clamps.
When I finished with this part, my shelves were still not perfectly level. My solution was to add washers between the pipe straps / clamps and the shelf. As long as your pipes are close to level, you can use this method. Otherwise you may have to re-drill holes for your flanges (like I did in one spot) and use plaster to hide the old holes.
Once you’re finished and the shelf is attached to the wall, it should be nice sturdy. I haven’t tested it other than pulling down hard on each shelf, but with 30 pound anchors, this should be rated for at least 480 pounds. The pipes would likely start to bend before you got to that point, but it’s nice to know that the unit isn’t going to tear out of the wall unless a very large person decides to climb it.