Shaker hanging shelf – FineWoodworking

Shaker hanging shelf - FineWoodworking

Synopsis: Hanging shelves were a staple in Shaker homes, created in a range of sizes, materials, and techniques. This one takes details from several styles and can be adjusted to meet your needs. Construction is straightforward, with graduated shelves with rounded front edges. It is designed to be held on a Shaker pegboard, following tradition, so construction of the pegboard is covered here, too.

The Shakers made a variety of shelves, including hanging shelves. These are seldom shown in the literature. However, they make a very useful and interesting project, offering a range of options as to size, materials, methods of attaching the horizontal shelves to the sides, and even how to hang them. This shelf is not an exact copy of a Shaker original; rather, it’s a composite of several styles. You can use your wood of choice and adjust the sizes to suit your needs.

My shelf is relatively small; consequently, I mill my stock to 9 ⁄ 16 in. thick instead of a typical 3 ⁄ 4 in. It’s worth mentioning that the shelves are about 1 ⁄ 4 in. deeper than the sides are wide, since they have a profiled front edge that extends across the front of the sides. That’s not necessary, but I think it’s a nice design feature.

Start on the sides

It is much easier to cut the dadoes before you taper the sides. Cut the dadoes on the tablesaw with a dado blade, then tackle the tapers on both sides at the same time. Tape the two sides together, with the dadoes facing each other, and cut the taper on the bandsaw. Clean the saw cut with a block plane, and refine the curve at the top with a file, sandpaper, or spokeshave. Cut a notch into the back of the sides if you plan to hang the shelf from a pegboard.

Get your side work done

The tapered sides set the stage for the graduated shelves and the hanging mechanism.

cut three dadoes per side on wood plank
Dadoes first. Before tapering the sides, cut three dadoes per side. Becksvoort uses a miter gauge and the fence with a dado blade.
taping both sides of wood and cutting notches at same time
Shape and notch. Tape both side pieces together, inside faces in. This allows you to bandsaw the taper and round the top of the sides as well as cut the notches on both sides at the same time.
man smoothing the bandsaw cuts using whatever method you prefer
Refine the shape. Smooth the bandsaw cuts using whatever method you prefer: a block plane, file, or sandpaper.
Going to the drill press and drill two small holes per dado in the sides
Pilot holes. Before moving on to the shelves, go to the drill press and drill two small holes per dado in the sides. Later, when you attach the shelves, you’ll know exactly where to screw and plug through the sides.

Round out the shelves

Next, round the front edge of the shelves with a router or block plane. The profile is not quite half-round, but more of a shallow bullnose. Then notch the ends of the shelves so the profiled front edge overlaps the sides.

Because the taper on the sides begins a few inches above the bottom shelf, the bottom shelf has a 90° notch, but the upper two shelves get notched at an angle. Mark all the notches directly off the sides. Slide the shelves into their dadoes so that 1⁄4 in. protrudes in the front, and mark the angle of the side taper on the edge of the shelves. On the tablesaw (or handsaw if you’re so inclined), cut 7 ⁄ 16 in. off both ends, to within 1 ⁄ 4 in. of the front. Cut the marked angle with a hand-saw, and clean the intersection of the two cuts with a chisel. Repeat on both ends of all three shelves. Slide the shelves into position, making sure that the back edges are all flush with the sides.

Beyond a basic shelf

The three shelves, each a different depth, are rounded on the front edge and notched at the ends.

marking cut for shelf
Accommodate the taper. Because the sides are tapered, you must angle the notches in the top two shelves to match the taper. After rounding the front edge of the shelves, either at the router table or by hand with a block plane, set each shelf in its dado and trace the side piece to mark the angle on the shelf.
Shaker hanging shelf - FineWoodworking
Tablesaw first. Use the tablesaw to cut most of the notch. Then use a pencil (below) to extend the tablesawn notch line to the angle line.

extending pencil marking

Starrett 4″ Double Square

– Small-size tool for checking or setting 90 degree angles
– 4″ double square, adjustable
– Working surfaces ground to a demanding +/- .00001″
– Rules are marked with 1/64″, 1/32″, 1/16″, and 1/8″ graduations

Price: $119.99 at the time of writing

Shaker hanging shelf - FineWoodworking
cutting notch in shelf with hand saw
Finish the notch by hand. Two handsaw cuts, one an angled rip and one a 90° crosscut (using the tablesaw cut as a guide), will give you the final notch. You can clean up those cuts with a chisel.

Bring the shelves and sides together

The original Shaker shelves were nailed; mine are glued, screwed, and plugged. With screws and plugs, you can opt for either face-grain plugs of the same wood, or end grain of a different wood. I usually just put a tiny dab of glue at the front overhang of the shelves. Glue in the dado works, too. The screws do most of the holding, so any glue is merely a good backup; just be sure that there is no squeeze-out.

Sand the sides to clean them up whether you’re using plugs, filled nail holes, or dowels. Complete them with the finish of your choice. I use an oil finish.

—Christian Becksvoort is a longtime contributing editor who makes furniture in New Gloucester, Maine.Shaker Hanging Shelf

Photos, except where noted: Anissa Kapsales.

From Fine Woodworking #302

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