Floating Serpentine Shelf

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Blog series by Ron Stewart updated 07-15-2017 02:45 PM 8 parts 6702 reads 2 comments total

Part 1: Introduction

07-13-2017 07:44 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

This series of blog posts describes my Floating Serpentine Shelf project in detail. Over the past few months, my wife and I have completely reworked our study. We replaced the carpet with wood floors, painted the walls a nice shade of blue, bought new accent chairs, built a Modern Computer Desk with Integrated Cable Management, bought a new printer stand/ladder shelf, and updated some wall art. The only missing piece was some kind of bookcase or shelving unit to fill (in a sparse way) the ...

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Part 2: Torsion Box Design

07-13-2017 08:23 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

In my final design, each individual shelf and vertical side is a narrow torsion box (1 3/4” thick) with a skeleton made of 3/4” thick plywood spines and ribs and skins of 5mm (roughly 3/16”) thick plywood. The back panel is constructed similarly, with wider structural parts. My plan was to attach each individual shelf to the back panel with a pair of 3/4” dowels and multiple #14 wood screws and to attach each side to its surrounding shelves with 3/8” d...

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Part 3: Building the Torsion Box Skeletons

07-13-2017 08:52 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

(I actually cut and beveled the edges of the thin plywood skins first, then sized the skeleton parts to match, but I’ll describe the work in reverse order because it seems more natural.) Aside from wrestling with half sheets of 3/4” birch plywood (I had Lowe’s cut the sheet in half lengthwise so I could fit it into my Honda Element), cutting the torsion box skeleton parts was straightforward. All of them (aside from the ones in the back panel) are the same width, so I sta...

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Part 4: Cutting the Torsion Box Skins

07-14-2017 06:08 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

My original design for the individual shelves would have been significantly easier to build than the ones I actually built. I had planned to build the outer torsion box frames from hardwood, mitered at the front corners, with a rabbet in which top and bottom skins would sit. My miter saw would have made quick work of the mitered corners. Those plans fell apart after I shopped for lumber and plywood. I found some 1/4” birch plywood that looked pretty good (apart from being rotary ...

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Part 5: Completing the Torsion Boxes

07-14-2017 06:51 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

I had the assembled shelf/side torsion box skeletons and beveled skins. All that was left was gluing the skins to the skeletons, hopefully without leaving many gaping corner gaps. My biggest worry was keeping the skins from sliding around on the wet glue. To help with that, I used a trick I had read about somewhere, but never actually used. I hammered a few brads into the skeleton. Then I snipped off the heads with side cutters, leaving short stubs. To align each skin, I pres...

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Part 6: Overall Structure (Odds and Ends)

07-14-2017 07:31 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

The overall shelf’s structure comprises several elements: A back panel that is a one-sided torsion box. Individual shelves that are torsion boxes and which are attached to the back panel with 3/4” dowels and numerous #14 wood screws. Short sides, also torsion boxes, that connect pairs of individual shelves with 3/8” dowels and glue. French cleats integrated into the back panel to hang the shelf on the wall. I had to make provisions for this structure throughout...

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Part 7: Applying the Finish

07-14-2017 07:44 PM by Ron Stewart | 0 comments »

Unlike most projects, finishing was by far the easiest part of this one. I just sanded everything to 280 grit and, in preparation, used every portable flat surface at my disposal to fill up half the garage. Then I applied three “coats” of Watco Natural Danish Oil over several days. I wet-sanded the second coat with 600 grit paper to try to fill in any corner gaps. The RevolutionPly didn’t absorb as much oil as most other wood (or plywood). I think that’s b...

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Part 8: Final Assembly and Installation

07-15-2017 02:45 PM by Ron Stewart | 2 comments »

Initially, I thought I could assemble the entire shelf in the garage, and that my wife and I could move it into the study. As my wife is happy to tease me, what in the world was I thinking? Weight-wise, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Size-wise, it’s theoretically possible, but totally impractical. We’d have dinged the frame of every door and cased opening along the path. So I did the final assembly in the study. Here’s the finished back panel with the shelf alignm...

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