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Overbuild Shelves to Prepare for Weighty Future

November 05, 1994|From Associated Press

Most of us share a problem-- lack of storage space.

Regardless of the size of homes, there never seems enough room to store everything. This is especially true for condominium and apartment dwellers. Somehow, the longer you live in the same place, the worse the problem gets.

Fortunately, easy-to-build shelving systems offer an effective, inexpensive remedy for the do-it-yourselfer.

Shelving materials are available at lumberyards and home centers. Shelves are most commonly made from particleboard, plywood or solid lumber and are either three-fourths or 1 1/2 inches thick.

Edge treatments are often applied to shelves for appearance. They can conceal exposed plywood edges, add rigidity and increase the shelf's load capacity or simply create a decorative detail to dress up the room.

The exact shelf design you choose is determined by the weight of the items being stored and the look you desire. But remember, you might also want to store heavier items in the future, so it's always better to slightly overbuild the shelves to prevent sagging and possible collapse.

The maximum span between supports for each shelf varies with the load and the material.

As a general rule, three-fourths-inch particleboard 10 inches wide can handle a load of 30 pounds per linear foot with supports 24 inches apart. You can stretch this span to 32 inches for three-quarter-inch plywood or solid lumber and to as much as 60 inches for 1 1/2-inch lumber or plywood.

If the shelf is reinforced with 3/4-by-2-inch-wide stiffener along the front edge and a 3/4-by-2-by-6-inch-long support cleat under the rear of the shelf at the middle, you can increase these spans by 50%.

When appearance is not the controlling factor--utility shelves in the basement, garage or workshop, for example--No. 2 common pine is quite suitable.

This grade pine has knots of various sizes, so be sure to handpick the boards carefully to avoid loose or oversized knots that would weaken the shelves. If the pine is to be painted, first seal each knot with shellac to keep it from showing through.

Particleboard is the most economical shelving material and is often used under a plastic laminate. The disadvantage of particleboard is that it's heavy and tends to sag if it isn't supported properly.

When the look of fine hardwood shelves is desired, choose hardwood-veneer plywood. This cabinet-grade plywood is less expensive and lighter than solid hardwood and it's warp-free.

Also, extra-wide plywood shelves are made easily without having to edge-join several boards together. Conceal the plywood's exposed edge with veneer tape, trim, or a molding.

Shelves can be installed as permanent fixtures in the cabinet or as separate components that can be adjusted or removed, if necessary.

Large cabinets or cabinets without backs often have several adjustable shelves and one fixed shelf.

This fixed shelf adds rigidity and strength to the assembly. Fixed shelves for small, lightweight cabinets can be attached with simple butt joints using glue and screws.

However, for a much stronger assembly, you should use dado joints--slots in the end supports--to install permanent shelves.

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