Slapped-Together Shelves

Back in the olden days before I went away to architecture school, we had a little tradition: when Noel traveled for business or music I would surprise him with a little improvement in the house (buying a bed frame, for example, or some potted plants for the front walk). That kind of went by the wayside when I was the one away all the time, but when he headed off for a music thing this weekend he seemed really down, so I decided to surprise him.

I don't usually do construction-y projects alone for two reasons: one is that I wrenched my back pretty badly while in school (carrying 100 lbs of reference books across campus) so I had a year or so there where I wasn't physically able to do that kind of thing, and even afterwards I've been much more cautious about lifting heavy things and all that; and the other is that I'm the worst combination possible of perfectionist and klutz, so I was known in architecture school for cutting myself badly with Xacto knives and then beating myself up for messing up my models in the process. This is generally a terrible combination for doing anything that requires, as one of my teachers called it, "developing some craft."

But that was not going to stop me!

We'd been talking about putting some simple shelves up in the laundry room, to store some bins of stuff I have that I need relatively easy access to, but not constant access. I figured I was capable of doing this without setting fire to the house or cutting off a hand, and it had the bonus of clearing up a bunch of space that those bins were taking up in the dining room.

Before shelves

Here's the laundry room before. Not entirely before; this is after I moved the dryer (not bad) and the washer to give me access to the wall. I think I could call this post "OMG I Moved That Washer Twice" and it might get across how heavy it is. Just imagine how heavy your typical top-loader washer is and triple it. I actually had to brace myself against a wall to shove it because I didn't have enough mass to get it sliding, and believe me, I have plenty of mass.

We now have a brief pause in the proceedings while I go into the basement and scrounge up some boards to make side braces and shelves. I needed 16" deep shelves, and all we had was nominal 12" stock, so I decided to move the shelf to the front of the brace; the bins can overhang a little in the back without it being an issue.

First side of braces in place

My strategy, if you can call it that, was to put in the braces for one side of the shelves first. Then I would use the shelf itself plus a bubble level to place the other side of each brace.

One shelf up

There was a certain optimism in this strategy. (By the way, the shelf there is actually perfectly level; the room itself is slanted; this used to be a back porch and so is slanted to shed water.)

The strategy required me to place the shelf on the installed brace, then holding the other brace and the bubble level in my other hand climb the ladder, then use the brace to hold up the free end of the shelf and set the bubble level on the shelf and bring it level, then use the nailer to nail it in place.

Except the nailer is on the dryer, several feet down. That shelf was pretty heavy, too.

Projects like this are much easier with two people. (I don't want to count the number of times I dropped something and had to climb down, or somebody came to the door, or whatever. It was a lot.)

All shelves up

Several hours later, I'd struggled and heaved and shoved and all four shelves were in place. Then I got to move the washer back! Except this time there was no wall to brace myself against. I have no idea how I moved it, but it was very, very, very slow.

Bins on the shelves

Once the washer and dryer were back in place and plugged back in (hmm, our dryer appears to vent primarily into the wall cavity there; I must look into that), I put the bins in place. There is one shelf I will not name that I may have mismeasured, because the 13" tall bins don't fit on it nicely. I decided it would have to learn to live with its own shortcomings because there is no way I am taking down three shelves and moving them down a small amount so it all fits.

I was also happy to see that there was plenty of room for other stuff, including my red suitcase with my small loom in it. Yay, shelves! I only strained my wrist slightly with the nailer, and all body parts in place before the project are still attached and functional.

(Yes, OK, this is also a gift for me, not just Noel.)

posted by ayse on 10/16/10