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CAD for Bookshelves?

2004-10-04 16:30:02.037488+00 by ebradway 9 comments

Every couple years, it seems, I have the need to build some bookshelves. Sometimes they are built-ins and sometimes they are free-standing. No matter what, they always begin with my measuring the space for the shelves and the items to be placed in it. Then I try to sketch it out on paper and guesstimate wood widths and such. This time, however, I'm building the shelves for someone else and I'd really like to make a nice CAD style drawing of the shelves. But after a precursory google of the 'net, I can't find a CAD package designed just for shelves. Why doesn't such a beast exist?

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-06 22:34:57.196054+00 by: Dan Lyke

It seems to me that this'd be better done with a plug-in to an existing CAD package, rather than rebuilding the entire infrastructure. I've always done mine on paper and pencil, I've got a basic design that I scale slightly, but usually I try for 6' high, 30" outside to outside, 12" (really like 113/4") deep, with 8" (similar note on cut size) shelves. I use a router with a 3/4" bit against a clamped 2"x4" to cut the 3/8" deep dados (except for the inset shelf rails, which I buy at the hardware store, the dados could just be cut with a circular saw), 3/4" thick pine for the sides and shelves, with 3/8" ply for the back. Cross bracing is provided by some 4" pieces recessed in the bottom front and across the top back.

If this doesn't give you enough to start working with, I can pull out something and try to draw some diagrams and take some photos, but the only hard bit I've found is tightening down the router enough that I end up with sides as far apart as I originally planned on.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-07 01:06:54.598886+00 by: Larry Burton

I just use AutoCad.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-07 15:12:26.737848+00 by: ebradway

Dan: A plug-in definitely makes more sense. Let me expound upon this: I'm not actually building a bookshelf. What I've been tasked with is a cluster of projects:

  1. Make some built-in shelves in one room of the yoga studio to store props (blocks, mats, blankets). These shelves will be behind a curtain, so the finish doesn't have to be perfect and the ends of the shelves are completely hidden. The shelves will be 24" deep.
  2. Make some free-standing shelves in another room in the studio. These are exposed for everyone to see and might even include a cabinet door or two.
  3. Make some shelves for the closet that the Zen group uses to store their paraphenalia. These are hidden in a closet, but are used by Zen folks. Think Japanese rock garden...
  4. Make a set of free-standing shelves for a closet at home for storing multimedia (approx. 500 CDs, 100 VCR tapes, 40 DVDs, maybe 60 cassettes).

The last "shelf" I built was a hutch for my computer desk made from shelf-grade pine plywood (the fancier stuff you buy at Lowe's that's shrink-wrapped). It's 18" deep. I made dado cuts with a circular saw and used cross supports in the back. I've never tried using a router. How does it compare to the circular saw (of which I'm not a big fan - but it tends to become the universal cutting tool).

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-07 17:32:50.205162+00 by: Dan Lyke

  1. Use 3/4" or even 1" (if the span is huge) birch or poplar plywood with a small (1x3/4 or 2x3/4) strip glued along the front to finish the edge of the plywood. Good way to get wider widths cheap. In fact even for narrower widths it's still a good way to cut down on your lumber costs. Takes care with the plywood cut, you should do it against a clamped 2x4, so that things are super straight and you don't have gaps in the resulting joint.
  2. Doors done nicely are tough. Large expanses of nice plywood are easy. I'd think in terms of large expanses of nice plywood.
  3. When you close the closet, do the shelves still exist?
  4. Basic finish grade pine (not shrink wrapped) has worked fine for our closet shelves, and you don't even have to inset the shelf rails if you're feeling lazy.

A router lets you stop and start a dado in the middle of a piece of wood (think inset shelf rails), but needs more care and a well-clamped guide because it's more prone to jumping away from your guide. If you can't borrow and must buy, make sure you get the router with the big bit shafts, not the ones with the little bit shafts, and seriously consider the $10 extra or so on top of that it'll cost you to get a plunge router.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-07 20:09:40.632688+00 by: ebradway

I was actually thinking about birch plywood last night. I can buy a sheet of 4'x8' and have it ripped at the hardware store into 2'x8' pieces (the exact dimensions of the first shelves! Then it's just a matter of mounting and making dado cuts for the uprights. I'll probably skip on the router for now. I just spent a big chunk of $$ at Home Depot on a new set of Ryobi cordless tools(actually, I won a rather large gift card at the conference over the Summer). I've got a new cordless circular saw with the best blades I could buy (and lots of extra batteries). I'll go with the clamped 2x4 plan. That's what I've done in the past.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-11 08:02:37.710517+00 by: ebradway

Some lessons learned:

  1. 3/4" birch plywood is great stuff - add the iron-on strip for the edges and it looks fantastic!
  2. Cordless circular saws suck for any real cutting - I ended up needing to rip 1/2" off each of the four 24"x8' pieces of plywoof. I ran down three of my four batteries completely on those four cuts.
  3. Dado cuts with a circular saw suck, especially if you are using a cordless circular saw.
  4. Just because there is drywall doesn't mean there are actually studs beind it! And just because a $40 stud finder goes "beep" doesn't mean you'll hit anything!

BTW, Home Depot has a new line of Ryobi 18V cordless tools. The drill is fantastic but the circular saw isn't a replacement for a corded saw.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-11 14:51:57.291622+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'm a big believer in corded tools, although my Dad is replacing all of his with pneumatic, but, yeah, there's no way to store enough power in a hand-held battery to do the serious work of cutting. I'll have to look into the iron-on strip for the edges, I've always liked an inch or so of real wood 'cause it provides a ding-resistant edge, but there are lots of applications where cheaper would be okay.

And, yeah, those little stud finder thingies are serving suggestions, not sureties.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-11 15:57:55.782848+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

This is great stuff. I'm gonna hack together some shelves in a couple of months (after I get the bathrooms taken care of), so listening to your experience is good.

I always thought the idea of a cordless circular saw was silly. Thanks for saving me the time of confirming that thought.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-11 20:55:13.991241+00 by: ebradway

One plug for the cordless circular saw: if you ever have to work overhead or in an attic, the cordless saw is great. It's also fine for cross-cutting plywood under 3/4" (not ripping!) and cutting 1x4s. It's alot lighter than a corded saw, so the overhead stuff is nicer. It probably works fine with a metal cutting blade for cutting chains and rebar and such. I bought it because Home Depot had a $99 kit with the 18V cordless drill, flashlight, two batteries, charger. I put down the Ryobi $69 laser-guided 5800 rpm corded saw. Big mistake! I'll probably end up going back before our next set of shelves.

I'll post some pics in a few days so you can see what the iron-on stuff looks like. You get 25' of 3/4" birch for less than $10. You cut it with a utility knife and apply with an iron. It's real wood - about 1/8" thick. It adheres quickly and firmly and sands like it's part of the original wood.