How to Plan for Custom Furniture Builds

Hello again! While I’ve been working on renovating our stairs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), my mind has had lots of time to think about other projects I want to tackle and have a new furniture project in the works. It never ends around here, guys. For every project I complete, I come up with 10 more I want to tackle. This time, I’ve decided I want to make a teeny tiny bookshelf/tchotchke holder for the hallway right next to the staircase. Since it needs to be 8 inches deep and 11 ft 8 inches long, I knew it would have to be a custom build.

That sounds WAY scarier than it actually is. Most furniture is some form of a box, and it’s really pretty easy to put something custom together. It’s all about finding the correct measurements, looking for inspiration to pull from, and being willing to tackle it, even if it’s a little scary. Whenever I build something custom without plans from someone else, people always ask how I do it, so I’m going to share that with you today!

Step One: Inspiration

You probably already have an idea of what you want to build, but let’s figure out what you want it to look like. Enter: Pinterest. If you’re looking for inspiration for a particular room, I have literally THOUSANDS of pins for you to peruse if you’re interested. Follow me here!

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This narrow bookshelf I found on IKEA Hackers is great inspiration – narrow and long, it almost fits the bill!

 

Search for what you’re thinking of building. I’m looking to build a very narrow, long bookshelf, so I’m going to look through all the pins I can and try to notice patterns. I tend to like things with dark stain, white elements, and not too tall. I also am looking for what I don’t want. For example, while I think a full-size bookshelf would look neat in my hallway, I think it could also easily overpower it and make it feel lopsided.

Step Two: Safety and Code

Think about where your piece is going to be used. Will it need to be attached to the wall to prevent little ones from toppling it over? Do you need to be aware of building codes if it is going to permanently be installed, like new built ins? Better to think of these things now rather than later, since they can impact your design choices.

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This long, narrow bookshelf actually makes the hallway smaller.

For example, I was trying to decide if I should try to make my shelves built in, or removable. In Austin, building code requires hallways to be 36″ wide. If I made built ins that were 8″ deep, it would make my hallways too small and they would have to be removable. However, if they are only 6″ deep, everything is okay and I can make them permanent. It would be a huge pain to have to redesign the whole thing if I checked my building code at the end instead of at the beginning. Most code guidelines can be found easily online, just do a little googling!

Step Three: 3D Design/Pen and Paper Design

Yay! We’re out of the inspiration phase and are finally getting down to planning the actual project. I like to plan my builds in Google Sketch Up, but you can certainly do it with pen and paper as well. I might write a tutorial for using Sketch Up at a later date, but for now, I’m going to skip it as it’s too in depth for this post. Here’s what I came up with (see what I mean about it being a box?):

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This was my process:

  • Okay, so 6 inches deep meant I could probably get away with pressure treated boards from the stock lumber department, meaning fewer cuts and lower price.
  • I knew I wanted a solid top, and not to see the top edges of the side boards, so I drew it in first, making sure it measured 6 inches deep and 1 inch tall to match the boards I have picked out.
  • It made sense to draw the bottom of the bookshelf (not the trim) the same way, so I did just that.
  • I knew that 11 ft 8 inches of wood would sag with no support, so I divided it as evenly as I could into three sections.
  • I wanted to be able to add baseboard to the bottom of the unit, so I added 3 inches of space to the bottom.
  • I liked the look of 3 shelves, so I divided the vertical space into 3 (mostly) even units.
  • It might be a bit wobbly without some form of attachment to the wall, so I plan to use L-brackets to make sure it doesn’t sway, or little hands don’t pull it over.

See? Not so bad. Once you decide on your building materials, it kind of plans itself if you already know what you want it to look like. Obviously, this is a VERY simple build compared to the fancy woodworking that’s out there, but it’s a good starter project, and good to illustrate the tutorial for this post.

Step Four: Compile Shopping and Cut List

We’re almost ready to go to the store but aren’t 100% sure what we need just yet. We need our shopping list, which means we need to figure out our cut list. A cut list is basically just a compilation of all the cuts you’ll need to make and from which boards for your project. If you’re using Sketch Up, there are fancy programs you can buy to spit out the cut list for you, but I don’t find that necessary for most of my builds. Here’s what mine looks like for this particular build:

  • Four 1x6x12s cut at 140″ (for the top, bottom, and bottom support pieces)
  • One 1x6x12 cut at 36″ four times (for the vertical supports and two end pieces)
  • Two 1x6x8s cut at 46″ (for the four outer shelves)
  • One 1x6x8 cut at 44″ (for the two center shelves)

So, total, my shopping list looks like this:

  • Five 1x6x12s
  • Three 1x6x8s
  • White paint for shelves
  • Dark stain for top
  • 152″ of baseboard trim
  • L brackets to attach to wall

If you don’t have the necessary tools at home, I would suggest having Home Depot/Lowe’s cut the boards for you. Just be aware that sometimes their machines aren’t 100% calibrated, so you might end up with some uneven cuts. They cut a LOT of wood every day, and there’s not always time to make sure the machine is laser accurate.

Then you’re off to Home Depot/Lowe’s/Etc. to get your materials and get going! I’ll be building this beauty in the coming weeks and will continue the tutorial for this specific piece then, but this is all you need to start planning a custom piece of furniture. It’ll almost always be cheaper, made of better materials, and fit your needs better if you build it than if you buy it. Plus, it’s fun to break out the power tools and go to town!

If you plan anything with this tutorial, be sure to let me know! I’d love to hear from you. Or if you plan custom furniture, but in a different way, let me know! I’m always looking for new ways to learn!

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