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  1. #1
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    Default Very tall bookshelf: design and sagging

    Hi all,

    Sometime this year, I'm going to be asked to build a couple of very tall bookshelves, with design pretty similar to the link below, but with about double the total height (maybe a bit narrower). These can be screwed to the walls etc. Does anyone have design/construction tips? Suggestions on timber (both for carcass and shelves) that aren't too expensive. Is MDF ok for the carcass? Plywood? Melamine? Real timber? It will definitely be painted white, so no point in using $$ timber for asthetics.

    I'm assuming for practicality the part that's the same as below would be two parts (cupboards and shelves), and the shelves above this would be in at least two parts.

    French Provincial Hamptons Open Library Bookcase with Ladder in Black 2 Bays - Wholesales Direct


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  3. #2
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  4. #3
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    I assuming 3/4" ply for the shelves, with a Tas Oak edging strip for appearance of thickness, and some stiffness. Given the shelf will be so far above our head, the "fake" thickness would be obvious. Maybe genuine 1" ply, or 2 x 3/4"?

  5. #4
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    What's the planned height of the shelves? constant height or variable to cater for taller hardbacks. This changes the weight limits and could open up options. oh and just how big is the planned shelf span? or did i miss that number

    Are the shelves also attached at the back? this changes the sag potential and seems not to be covered by the Sagulator.

    Also a little sag over time may never go noticed, I'm only referring to a 1mm. I was curious and just checked my 600mm wide paperback shelving that is not attached at the back and is simple 16mm MDF and fully loaded it's only developed a 1mm sag over 8years+ and I hadn't noticed it

    One thing to consider is the weight of the whole unit and or sections. MDF will be heavy, Ply will be lighter etc etc etc.

    Build thread with pictures though

    Cheers
    Phil

  6. #5
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    Painted = MDF.

  7. #6
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    If you want the least flex in a shelf use solid wood . Ply as a shelf flexes the most . Ply in a flat horizontal plane without bracing under it is its weak point . Half the grain in it is going in a favorable direction the other half isn't a favorable direction .

    IMO , after solid as the best for flex in a shelf the next best is Veneered chipboard for shelves then MDF and Plywood last.

    Im talking as if the shelf were loaded with a full load of books which is what you want to be designing it for .

  8. #7
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    If it is going to be painted I would use laminated Pine

  9. #8
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    Default

    I did something similar: the design brief went along the lines of 'get something done quickly to put the clutter on - NOW!'... (nb - how does one rotate uploaded photos? this system seems to randomly 'flip' mine??)

    20210120_065506.jpg


    Anyway, back on point:

    1. Yes, the shelf units and the base cupboards are separate units - too heavy and too complex to construct any other way.
    2. I used 18mm MDF throughout, because I knew the units were to be painted. It gives a superb, uniform paint surface. (Use spackle/plasterers mud, rubbed into any exposed cut surfaces with a finger, to give paint quality finish on cut edges). I molded curves into the edges on the horizontal top of the cabinets, and built up a complex moulding in stages.
    3. Beware of sag! I used the sagulator, put pine mouldings on the front of 18mm MDF shelves, and I've got visible sag after a year. Not massive, but the human eye is very, very sensitive to it. I'm going to remove these shelves, and replace with a deeper front edge/moulding to give the beam strength needed.
    4. Design in accordance with the available depths/thicknesses of your mouldings (eg, the skirting board at the bottom), so that you are not having to plane/shave to fit for hours and hours...
    5. I would (and did) design with graduated gap heights between the shelves. Particularly if your units are 'tall', this makes it look much more 'on balance', and is practical - heavier, bigger books at the bottom. (nb - absolutely fix properly to the wall, or it's a real risk of falling on someone...)

    Hope that helps - have fun!

  10. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by lyricnz View Post
    Hi all,

    Sometime this year, I'm going to be asked to build a couple of very tall bookshelves, with design pretty similar to the link below, but with about double the total height (maybe a bit narrower). ...
    French Provincial Hamptons Open Library Bookcase with Ladder in Black 2 Bays - Wholesales Direct

    Kitchen Dresser.jpg
    I am rather confused by what you are trying to do.

    The photo shows a fairly conventional Welsh (if oil finished) or French Provincial (if painted finish) kitchen dresser. This is confirmed by the dimensions given in your reference - Width 2000mm, height 2400mm and depth 470mm; the depth less the thickness of the moldings suggests that the shelves are over still 400mm deep. This is incredibly deep for bookshelves - normally 200mm is very generous, 150 mm is fairly common. If really intended as "bookshelves" then this seems an eccentric design.


    Many years ago, I made many bookcases sequentially from 18mm chipboard, plantation pine and hardwood. All eventually sagged, usually fairly quickly. Then I read that shelf stiffness increases with the square of the thickness - so I made future shelves thicker, eventually standardising on 32mm. I now have 32mm thick celery top pine bookshelves spanning up to 1500mm that have not sagged after 35 years, continually loaded.

    Bookshelves.JPG

  11. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by GraemeCook View Post
    I am rather confused by what you are trying to do.

    The photo shows a fairly conventional Welsh (if oil finished) or French Provincial (if painted finish) kitchen dresser. This is confirmed by the dimensions given in your reference - Width 2000mm, height 2400mm and depth 470mm; the depth less the thickness of the moldings suggests that the shelves are over still 400mm deep. This is incredibly deep for bookshelves - normally 200mm is very generous, 150 mm is fairly common. If really intended as "bookshelves" then this seems an eccentric design.

    How do you dream this stuff up Graeme ?

    Welsh if Oil finished. French provincial if painted. Kitchen dresser. The only bit I believe in this is that your confused .

    Going thicker on the shelves is good advice .

    Anywhere between 19 and 25 mm will do in solid wood depending on length . Even thicker if it looks good .

  12. #11
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    I went and measured the space (it's two alcoves each side of a fireplace). The space is 362cm tall, by 140cm wide, by 59cm deep (where the dresser is in attached photo)

    Bookshelf Location.jpg

    I'm not expecting to use all the depth, and maybe not even the height. At 140cm wide, that's too big for a single span, so with a centre divider ~65cm span should be fine with justabout any kind of wood. As far a depth goes - 20-25cm? Some of our books are big picture-style (atlas, travel books, art books etc)

  13. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by auscab View Post
    How do you dream this stuff up Graeme ?

    Welsh if Oil finished. French provincial if painted. Kitchen dresser. .

    ....

    Thanks, auscab; I plead guilty to being excessively succinct. Perhaps I should have said something like:

    Stylistically, the generic kitchen dresser referenced by lyricnz could have originated virtually anywhere in western Europe, Australia or New Zealand from the Napoleonic era through the Great War, or, more recently from Indonesia. The hutch is unusually deep for a dresser at around 400mm. In Wales and the West Country it was the tradition that usually dressers were totally unfinished but regularly washed with white stone or that they were given an oil finish. In provincial France in this era it was more common for dressers to be painted, often with milk paint and/or folk art.

    The key points that I was trying to make is that the referenced photo incorrectly described a kitchen dresser as a "library bookcase" and that the hutch depth was too great for bookshelves.

  14. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by lyricnz View Post
    I went and measured the space (it's two alcoves each side of a fireplace). The space is 362cm tall, by 140cm wide, by 59cm deep (where the dresser is in attached photo)

    Bookshelf Location.jpg

    I'm not expecting to use all the depth, and maybe not even the height. At 140cm wide, that's too big for a single span, so with a centre divider ~65cm span should be fine with justabout any kind of wood. As far a depth goes - 20-25cm? Some of our books are big picture-style (atlas, travel books, art books etc)

    Those are fairly standard dimensions for an alcove. One option that you might like to consider is to make the base deeper than the shelves - say 450mm for the base and 200mm for the shelves. By pushing the shelves back it will also be less imposing visually.

    I have a degree in fine arts so we have a lot of art books; there has been no difficulty storing them. I actually measured a pile of books - most of my shelves are 250mm between shelves (not centres) and about 20% are 350mm high. This has worked well in practice and the very few books that are taller than 350mm are just laid on their sides. One difficult storage item are A4 ring binders - generally around 320mm tall and 240mm deep - but if you put them on the bottom shelf 200mm deep then nobody notices the small overhang. Some shelves are only 150mm deep - but still on 200mm stiles - and any deeper books simply have the last 20mm or so hanging in space; not an issue except for the price of timber at the time! If you make the shelves 32mm thick then you can easily span 1400mm without sagging - that central support then becomes and aesthetic consideration.

    Our rooms are a little lower than yours at 3350mm; my top bookshelf is at 2800mm and I find that I rarely access books on that or the second top shelf - room space is too valuable to leave a ladder there permanently - so we use it for books we never read .....

    PS: I always put a safety tie between the top shelf and the wall to stop accidental toppling.

  15. #14
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    > the depth less the thickness of the moldings suggests that the shelves are over still 400mm deep. This is incredibly deep for bookshelves - normally 200mm is very generous, 150 mm is fairly common.

    I think the asthetic they were going for was not so much open-faced bookshelf, with books right on the facing edge, but books (and stuff) being tucked into, and kindof surrounded by the bookshelf - perhaps more of a "display cabinet".

    Their more traditional bookshelf
    appears to have 32cm shelves
    dsc_0780.jpg

    Will chat with Her Indoors

  16. #15
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    320mm is a good depth for and open display cabinet/shelves.

    Deducting the drawers, pedestal and pelmet from the overall height of 2400mm, it seems the five shelves are each about 375mm high. This is fine for display, but inefficiently high for bookshelves. If the shelves are adjustable then you could have varying heights for different shelves; perhaps you would need to make a few more shelves. This is also an aesthetic vs functionality trade off.

    If I was in a humid place like Auckland then I think that I would be hesitant about putting a back on a bookcase as you want airflow to minimise the risk of mould and foxing in books.

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