Monday, March 28, 2016

DIY Pipe & Plank Shelving

We began renovating our basement last year and it has proved to be a challenge!  The space itself is not challenging (it's basically just a big rectangle), but we're a family of 6 in a 2000 sqft house, and much is demanded of our basement. We need it to be a media space, play space, guest space, office space and a music space (yes, that's a lot of spaces to fit into one big rectangle) - oh, and we're on a tight budget.  I was turning out to be my own most difficult client!

I spent hours puzzling over how I could fit everything in, in a logical, functional way - still give things some measure of aesthetic appeal, and make it all fit in our budget.  During this time I had the opportunity to design a basement for a family who also needed many things from their basement.  It turns out that sometimes you need to look at someone else's space in order to derive solutions for your own!

I had seen pipe and plank shelving before and thought it to be a brilliant solution for low budget, custom shelving needs.  I used it to create a home office space for this particular client of mine, and in the process, realized that it could also solve some of my own problems with my basement.

Pipe and plank shelving is great for a number of reasons:

1) It's affordable
2) It's customizable
3) It's pretty easy to do
4) It looks cool

I did the regular Google research and found a tutorial on DIY Show Off which gave me the general gist of things.  I thought this was a good tutorial, and don't see the need to re-invent the wheel - so I would refer people there, but I did make a few tweaks of my own:


- Measuring tape and pencil
- 1/2" steel pipe fittings of appropriate lengths, 1/2" flanges, T-joints, and 90* elbows
- Spray paint (if you want to change the colour of the pipes)
- 16" wide wood planks (mine were listed as 16"wide, but were really more like 15")
- Wood stain and lacquer (opt)
- Drill
- 1" hole saw
- screws & screw driver
- Stud finder / hollow wall anchors


STEP 1: Plan out shelf and collect pipe fittings

After briefly reviewing the tutorial on DIY Show Off, I thought building this shelf was going to be a piece of cake.  I set to work designing the shelf I wanted and then ran out to the hardware store to get the necessary pieces.

The first problem arose at the first hardware store I visited.  I knew what I was looking for, but didn't really know what to call it.  After wandering around the hardware store for awhile, I finally found my way to the "Pipe Fittings" section of the Plumbing department.  There were plenty of copper pipes and plastic pipes - neither was what I wanted.

I finally found the pipes I was looking for (they're called 1/2" steel "nipples" by the way) - but was sorely disappointed by the selection!  Apparently steel pipes aren't in high demand, and a lot of hardware stores don't stock a ton.  They come in standard sizes (6", 1', 18", 2', 3'), but I had a really hard time finding the 1'-2' sizes (locally I had the best luck at Lowes, but they still didn't have everything I needed).   I was also hoping to avoid spray painting the pipes if I could, so I was hoping to find all the pieces I needed in the colour I was hoping for (they come in galvanized pipe, black iron, and black steel).  I couldn't find all the pieces I wanted (my original design required 36, 1' pieces), let alone pieces of the same colour - so the hunt began!

I visited 5 different hardware stores and gained an assortment of various parts of various colours (I was going to have to spray paint - boo. . .).  I basically had to scrap my original design and look at what I had and what I could do with it and then make a design based on that.  This is what I ended up with:


STEP 2: Put the pipes together and make sure it's going to fit your space

Another problem I encountered was accurately calculating the height of the pipes when put together (this is because the joints add height, and I wasn't sure how far I could screw the pipes into the joints).

I had to just do this the old-fashioned way and put a section of pipe together and physically make sure it would fit in my space.

In doing this, I also discovered another problem.  The 12" lengths with 90* elbows were designed for the shelf to sit on top of (they needed to stop short of the wall) - but I would need the top 12" length with a flange to extend past the 12" length with elbow in order to go right back to the wall.

So I went back to the hardware store and picked up a "1/2" close" and "1/2" 2-way connector" for each of the top 12" lengths.  This solved my problem!

 STEP 3: Measure and drill holes in planks

Once I had the details of my design worked out, I picked up 3, 16"x 8' unfinished pine planks from The Home Depot .  

In the DIY Show Off tutorial, the author made a cardboard template to cut the holes for the pipes in their wood planks.  I started with 1 board, and just measured and marked 3/4" in from the side and front of each front corner:

From there, I measured where I wanted my other two pipe supports to go, and marked them in 3/4" from the front edge of the board.  Once the placement of all my holes was measured and marked, I drilled the holes in the center of my marks with my 1" hole saw (attached to a drill):

Because all of my boards were going to be the same, after I finished cutting the holes in my first board, I just clamped it onto my other board ensuring that the edges were flush, and used it as a template to cut the same holes in my other boards.

After all my holes were cut, I proceeded to sand, stain, and lacquer my shelves.

STEP 4: Assemble and install 

You're probably going to want a partner to help with this next step!

Instead of building my shelf from the ground up, we chose to just put it all together on the floor and then stand it up in place.

Once we had it up in place, 1 person held it steady while the other marked the holes in the top flanges.  Because I had specific objects in mind that I wanted to place at the bottom of my shelf, I positioned the pipes around those objects, and did not place the pipes where there were studs in the wall.  Where there wasn't studs, I used heavy-duty hollow walls anchors and screwed the top flange into them.  I did however, get lucky with 2 pipes and hit studs!

We did find that there was some flex and wobble in the shelf while we were putting it up. Consequently, we started by securing the one end pipe to the wall, and then measured from pipe to pipe to make sure that it was the same distance on the wall that it was on the shelf before securing the next flange to the wall.  

After all the top flanges were secured to the wall, because I put this shelf into my basement and didn't want to anchor the bottom flanges into my concrete floor (through my new carpet!), I used 4, 1" corner braces on the bottom side of the bottom shelf to anchor the unit into the studs of the wall:

The end result was very sturdy, and fit just the way I wanted it to!  Huzzah!


  1. Well, this is a good idea to put all my pipe fittings in the Philippines into a creative material.

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