In previous posts we've covered our journey in our initial attempt to build our completely custom home office desk, the headache we endured in constructing the desk top, and the construction of the upper storage areas, bringing our project to the point where the desk was actually a desk. We had lower storage, upper storage, lighting, a workspace, and even an area to the right of the main workspace for shelving. The problem? We didn't have any shelving yet.
Doesn't it look so bare and lonely?
We had gone to such great lengths to make the various desk components work seamlessly with each other, hiding any fasteners and concealing any non-wood components. Everything had gone well but I was starting to turn into my normal neurotic self about how I would build the shelves. We had installed a single downlight above the shelf area, and I was concerned that solid wood shelves would block the downlight after the first shelf, leaving all but the top shelf totally in the dark.
We started playing around with the idea of doing tempered glass shelves instead of wood. We felt like a transparent shelf might work best by allowing the light to pass through, but it might look too contemporary against the backdrop of the exposed brick and the desk that I had built to mimic an 1850’s antique bookcase. We had worked too hard for the look we had achieved just to throw it away on the shelves.
So the more we talked, we came up with a hybrid approach to our dilemma. We figured we could build wood frames with tempered glass inlays. This would allow the shelves to look like they are wood at first glance, but the inlays would allow the light to pass through from the top on down to the bottom. It was the best of both worlds so we decided to go for it.
With the shelf decision made I turned my neurotic attention to also start worrying a lot about the method I would use to support the shelves. I had used a shelf support jig to drill peg holes in the bottom cabinet, but I felt like that was too modern of a solution for the upper portion of the desk. Instead I referred to the cabinet I was mimicking for my inspiration.
The antique bookcase uses a pretty classic method for shelf supports. Pieces of wood with triangle notches cut out at regular intervals are mounted in each corner, and movable supports sit beneath on either side of the shelves supported by the notches. It kind of looks like a saw tooth support when done. This seemed the best approach for our desk as well, so with the approach decided I could focus on building and installing the shelves.
The first step was to order the glass that would act as the inlays for the shelves. As it turns out, tempered glass isn’t the easiest thing to order online. Any custom sizes are expensive, and shipping is always a risk (since it’s glass). We used a company called Wilson Glass for our bathroom shower doors and they were great to work with. I went on their website to look into ordering glass from them for our shelves and realized they offered some standard size glass at very reasonable prices (about $25 per shelf plus shipping). We ordered four pieces in the smaller size that would work for our shelves and waited to receive them so we could properly size the shelves.
While we waited for the glass to arrive I started to work on the supports. For this component I ripped a few pieces of cherry down to 3/8” thick pieces of wood. I then cut the saw-toothed notches that would act as supports, and the cross pieces that would sit in those notches to support the shelf ends. It was also important to cut all of these pieces before building the shelves so that we would know exactly where to cut each shelf in the corners to accomodate the supports.
No sooner than we had finished up the supports, the glass arrived. I mean, it came within something like 45 minutes of when I stepped back and said “ok, the supports are done.” When the glass arrived we were able to take accurate measurements so that we could make the shelves with the perfect size cutouts for the inlays.
As I mentioned, I had this obsession with using as few fasteners as possible on the whole desk, and trying to hide the ones we had to use. The shelves were no different, so I decided to use a mortise and tenon approach to building the frames. Because of the notches, the inlays, and the mortise and tenon construction, the joints actually looked pretty complicated, but they all went together quite nicely.
In the photo you can see the rabbets for the glass inlay, the notch at the top to make room for the support, and the mortise and tenon in the corner.
After cutting everything and putting them together with a bit of glue, I clamped it all up in the basement and let them dry.
A complete sanding, some pre-stain treatment, a couple of coats of stain and polyurethane, and we had shelves and supports and were ready to go. You can see the supports in the top of the following photo.
We laid the glass into the shelves and positioned the supports where they needed to go and placed the shelves in their locations.
We put a few of our favorite photos and keepsake items in place, like a wedding photo, an old baseball glove, some souvenirs from vacations, and a few of my favorite baseballs I've caught at games over the years (like this one). We were finally able to stop and appreciate what we had accomplished.
On a side note, how do you like my desktop wallpaper? I took a photo of the wall then positioned it perfectly. I think I spent like an hour getting it just right and then Wendy walked in and said the monitor was too far to the left and moved it right...go figure.
Our desk had gone from a rough sketch on a couple pieces of paper to what you see in the photos with only a few headaches along the way.
To this day I’m still quite proud of what we accomplished with this desk. It was the first “real” piece of furniture I attempted with woodworking. I used a lot of techniques and approaches that were otherwise foreign to me, but with a little bit of patience the end result was almost exactly what we had envisioned when we first started talking about how to build the desk. Here's one more photo with the wide angle lens to get the whole desk in the shot. It distorts it a bit, but with such a small room it's the only way to do it.
Oh, and did I forget to mention how I built the desk to incorporate and hide all of my computer and electronics gear? No? Okay, I guess I’ll have to do that in one more post. But trust me, it’s worth its own post.
What do you think of the shelves? I know, they’re just shelves, so I’m not sure they deserved their own blog post, but I think I put as much thought into the construction of the shelves as I did with just about any other single item of the desk, and that’s saying a lot. Would you have gone to the extent I did, or would you have just used normal glass shelves with pin supports? Let me know.
If you liked this entry, be sure to check out our whole collection of desk building posts that recaps the adventure from concept to functional office furniture.