Storage Solutions: Shelving

August 12, 2015

When it comes to storage solutions, the humble shelf is unsurpassed. Here are some tips on making sure any shelves you install are securely fixed and strong.

  • If you're installing a wall-length floor-to-ceiling bookcase you might have to strengthen the floor first. The average floor is strong enough for general domestic loads, but a fully filled bookcase can weigh hundreds of kilograms (or pounds). If in doubt, talk to an architect, carpenter or engineer before proceeding.
  • Glue and screw a strip of wood under the front edge of a flimsy shelf as a batten. Reinforcing the shelf in this way will slightly restrict the height of items you can store on the shelf below, though.
  • To prevent shelving from collapsing, a good rule of thumb is to space the supports every 80 centimetres (31 inches) along the length of a 2 centimetre thick (0.8-inch-thick) shelf. If your shelving will be holding a heavier load, put the supports closer together.
  • Shelving of any type will collapse and may cause injury if it is not fixed firmly to the wall. For masonry walls, use screws that penetrate at least 5 centimetres (2 inches) . Drive them into the wall through plastic wall plugs matched to the screw gauge. For wood-framed walls, use screws with 3.8 centimetre (1.5 inch) penetration, or 5 centimetre (2 inch) penetration if the shelves are likely to carry a heavy load, such as books. Make sure the screws drive directly into a wooden wall's frame.
  • Before fixing a shelf in place, check whether it will bow under the weight that you intend to put on it. Rest the shelf on bricks set at the proposed support spacing, load it up and lay a straightedge along the top surface. If the shelf bows, move the supports closer together or increase the thickness of the shelf material.
  • Glass shelves should be made from toughened glass at least 0.6 centimetres (0.25 inches) thick and set on brackets spaced no more than 40 centimetres (15 inches) apart. If the thickness of the glass is 0.9 centimetres (0.35 inches), the spacing can increase to 70 centimetres (28 inches); but keep the spacing at 50 centimetres (20 inches) if the shelf is likely to carry heavy items.
  • Loosely hang adjustable shelving tracks by their topmost screw hole then hold a plumbline alongside each one to make sure it's vertical. When the track is vertical, mark the other screw positions through the holes in the track. Swing the track aside while you drill and plug the holes. Reposition the track and drive in the screws.
Storage Solutions: Shelving

A quick guide to shelving materials

Shelving products have their pros and cons. Here's a quick guide to some of the different materials you can use:

  • Hardwood is fairly easy to work with and to finish. However, this attractive option is also expensive.
  • Softwood, particularly pine, is easy to work with and to paint. It's also attractive with a clear finish. But, softwood boards may warp, so you should hand-pick flat, straight boards with few knots.
  • Plywood is strong and durable. It also comes in a wide range of attractive veneers. But, any raw edges will need to be finished and it can be expensive.
  • MDF (medium density fibre) board can be readily painted, is easy to work with, and is finer and stronger than chipboard. But, you'll need to paint or varnish MDF and it rarely comes ready-cut. It can also be dusty.
  • Chipboard comes in a wide range of veneers available. But, this material bows under heavy loads, has raw edges that will need finishing, and is hard to find ready-cut.
  • Melamine-coated chipboard is cheap, can be found ready-cut, and can be used as is. However, this kind of chipboard gets dirty easily and will bow under heavy loads.

Keep these tips and this outline of materials in mind and your shelving job will likely go much more smoothly. It's also more like to look good and last a while.

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