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DIY Salvaged Wood Shelves In 10 Steps

For such a teeny space, the studio workroom is taking a little longer to pull together than I thought it would. Most of the odds and ends needed for the room have been ordered, but I still have some basket-buying and crate-wrangling to do to keep everything organized. The good news though? The Varde has been put together – and now, we have shelves!


For now, I dug a few supplies out of their moving boxes and gathered some of my favorite art that has been sitting in piles since, oh, last July (so sad!). The upper shelf is purely decorative, but the lower shelf will be much more filled with daily use items in time – packing supplies, etc. It’s not there yet, and all those miscellaneous items will evolve as the room unfolds (what will go in the Varde? What will sit up top? What will live in the actual studio?) – but the important thing is that we have shelves at all!

They’re made from our stash of 100-year-old+ reclaimed 2×4 studs from this very house (lovingly pulled out by these two during the deconstruction!), showing subtle cracks, hammer marks and old pock marks from nails – and I absolutely love them.

6 – salvaged wood 2x4s, 6′ each
4 – 5/16″ x 12″ threaded rods
8 – 1/4″ washers
8 – 5/16″ lock nuts
4 – 10″ L brackets
32 – #10 washers
16 – 1 1/2″ wood screws
Sandpaper (coarse-medium grit)
Wood stain (Jacobean)
Polycrylic (satin)
Spray paint (optional)
Toggle bolts / anchors

Miter saw
Circular saw (for fine tuning)
Socket wrenches
Drill + paddle bit (3/4″)
Hacksaw (for fine tuning)
Power sander
Brush/rag for wood stain
Brush for Polycrylic


ONE. Scott picked out six of the better 2x4s we’ve been storing in our garage, we cleaned them up (pulling out any remaining screws and nails) and cut them down to 66″ lengths on the miter saw. We decided on a depth of 12″, so there would be three 2x4s per shelf. Note: If you’re going for the same weathered and loved look, visit your local salvage shop for reclaimed 2x4s.

TWO. Unlike Jack’s pet food station, rather than Kreg jig our 2x4s together, Scott suggested we thread them together with a rod – especially since they would be so long. (All said and done, the threaded rod, washer and lock nuts will keep your boards together tightly.) To do this, we measured the two points where our threaded rod would go on all three of the 2x4s.  In our case, we marked a point 2″ in from each end. Note: If using salvaged wood, make sure the heights are all the same. Really old salvaged wood should be legitimately 2″x4″ as opposed to modern 2x4s which are only 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″.


THREE. After our marks were made, we used a 3/4″ paddle drill bit to allow the nut and washer we’d be using (soon) to be countersunk into the 2×4. For the nut and washer to be completely flush with the 2×4, we needed the depth of the counter sink to be 1/2″ – you can see that we taped off the 1/2″ mark so we knew where to stop. Note: You will be making your marks and drilling through the 2″ side of your 2×4, not the longer 4″ side. You will only need to countersink the outside 2x4s.


FOUR. Next, Scott used a 5/16″ drill bit to drill through those same marks, making sure to go all the way through the 2×4 and, most importantly, keeping his drill bit as straight as possible – that’s the real challenge. If you’re off by a small amount, don’t sweat it; the beauty is in the imperfections, right? Bonus: if you have access to a drill press, you’ll get the most accurate opening for your threaded rod.


FIVE. Now we were able to bring all three 2x4s together using the threaded rod, 1/4″ washers and lock nuts. We used a hammer to gently tap the threaded rod through, then on each end of the shelf and front and back, we topped the thread with a washer and lock nut. Using a socket wrench on each side, Scott tightened everything down, while I tried to guide the three boards together. Your threaded rod will likely be a little longer than your shelf (it was for us), so if you like that look, go with it – but make sure it’s only on the front side! But if you’re looking for a flush finish (like we were), use a hacksaw to cut down the rod. And if you’re building two shelves like we did, repeat the above steps for shelf #2! Note: If the ends of your shelves aren’t perfectly lined up, you could use a circular saw to shave off any planks that are too long.


SIX. With our shelves built, it was time to sand, sand, sand! I used our mouse sounder first with coarse 60 grit paper and followed that up with 120 grit. The goal wasn’t to get a perfectly smooth finish (since that would take away from the ‘salvaged’ look), rather, I simply focused on getting off the splinters and overall burrs.

SEVEN. I used one coat of Minwax stain in Jacobean to darken the shelves back up, and the following day I applied just one coat of Polycrylic in a satin finish. (I’m usually Team 3 Coats!, but these shelves are super hearty. I wasn’t going for the super slick, super smooth finish that we usually aim for.)


EIGHT. We wanted to use 10″ L brackets to lend to the whole industrial sort-of-rough vibe of the salvaged wood, but we didn’t love the aluminum finish. I used Rustoleum’s flat white spray paint + primer to get a look more up my alley, then touched up the screw heads with my spray painting trick (dabbing the exposed screw heads with the same flat white spray paint) after the install – which, by the way, took a lot of coats and a lot of patience. Lesson learned: If I had a do-over, I would spray the washers and screws separately, then follow it up with the touch up paint. (Of course, you could also use any brackets you’d like that would avoid this step altogether!)


NINE. Now, we were on to the install! We used two toggle bolts per support to install the L brackets due to the weight of the shelves, and the remaining holes in the L brackets got regular metal anchors. Because the size of the holes in the L brackets are larger than a typical screw head, we added #10 washers to keep the screws secure. As for the actual installation, we attached the brackets to the wall first, laid our shelf on top, then screwed into them from the bottom with more #10 washers and 1 1/2″ wood screws. (True story: This step took us several hours of measuring – there is not a single right angle in any room of this home! Our measurements were mostly accurate and somewhat eyeballed, too.)

TEN. Okay, this step is technically a freebie – by the time we finished it was late in the evening, but by the next morning, we were able to see the shelves in daylight and truly enjoy them!


We could not be happier that we decided to stash away all of the old 2x4s we pulled down from beneath these walls (and we still have a lot left!). There’s something so sweet about being able to use them again – but for the first time in over 100 years, they’re no longer hidden behind a sheet of drywall.

I imagine that the workroom will still look drastically different once we makeover and finish up the Varde (which will be getting the same dark stained top and a bit of color for the base!), lay down a rug and finally (finally!) organize all my stuff – shipping boxes, painting panels and paper supplies. The thought of breaking down those cardboard moving boxes (currently housing all the things) makes my heart beat wildly.

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  • Marie3.21.14 - 7:57 AM

    So original and unique shelves, it’s not surprising you love them. So do I ! You must be thrilled with the studio workroom taking shape.ReplyCancel

  • Katy3.21.14 - 8:44 AM

    I love them! So awesome that you were able to reuse something original to the house.

    Also, can you tell me where you got that armadillo print? I think it’s hilarious and would love one for myself.ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square3.21.14 - 9:22 AM

    Such a creative use of old wood! When we customized our existing built-in bookcase, John incorporated some old wood boards he found in our basement when we first bought the house. It seemed kind of fitting to use wood “belonging” to the house to retrofit the built-in. You did the same thing!ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.21.14 - 9:57 AM

      Yeah! It’s such a fun personal touch and an ode to these old homes.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah K.3.21.14 - 9:30 AM

    That is exactly what I was envisioning on the Varde looking at the photos – perfect! Knowing how much you love pink, a cheery hue would be fabulous in that white room.ReplyCancel

  • Kerri3.21.14 - 12:18 PM

    Love the shelves. plus that armadillo print?? amazing.ReplyCancel

  • Dave3.21.14 - 5:29 PM

    The shelves look like they were built “Vargo Tuff”! Nice job!ReplyCancel

  • Julia@Cukoo4Design3.22.14 - 10:41 AM

    Love how they turned out!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda3.25.14 - 8:14 AM

    These are beautiful! & they mean something. Great job!ReplyCancel

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