I read something here about the best way to fit shelves into oddly
shaped closets, and I can't seem to find it. I'm to build some in a
small closet that looks like a cross between an octagon and an obtuse
triangle in the back, and I'd like to fit them tightly to the walls.
The first is to simply start to snip cardboard until you have a template of
the odd shape. Use this to draw you cutting lines on the shelving material.
The other is to get yourself to the tool store and buy a T-Bevel. It is
like a small square with an infinitely adjustable side. You loosen up the
wingnut, slide both sides until they are flat against both walls and tighten
the wingnut. This gives you the true angle of the wll. Use this to make your
Also allow a bit of play. Make the shelves just a little smaller than your
measurements. This will make it easier to fit the shelves and limit damage
to the walls.
Use craft paper or poster board to make a template. Cut actual shelves
1/16" inside the line traced from the template, to allow yourself a
little wiggle room. Plan on a small flexible decorative molding to
make the resulting "almost" fit exact.
Alex -- Replace "nospam" with "mail" to reply by email. Checked infrequently.
I did that a while ago. The shape the shelves had to fit included a
jog in one wall and a 135 degree corner. Basicly, what I did was put
cleats (3/4 x 2 inch pine) all around the perimeter at each shelf
level (there were a stack of 4, the lowest about 18 inches off the
floor, the highest about eye level). The cleat are nailed into
whatever studs I could find with (IIRC) #8 finish nails. The shelves
just sit on the cleats.
The hard part is that there's no such thing as perfectly square, true,
and plumb in a sheetrock wall, and small distortions get exagerated in
a confined space like this. Nothing for it but to make a template out
of scrap, cut the shelf to match the template as close as you can, and
then spend a lot of time with a block plane trimming as needed.
You'll never get it perfect. Don't worry, it's a closet; the shelves
will get covered with stuff, and then you get to close the door :-)
It helps to bevel the edges slightly to help drop the shelves into
Last year I had to fit a shelf (top of a built-in dresser actually) into a
small alcove. Naturally, the walls weren't perfectly square and had
variations where the drywall corners were taped.
I used three scraps of wood to make templates. I held a board against one
wall, and used a scribe to mark the wall variations on the board. Then I
cut the board until it fit perfectly on that wall. I then repeated the
process with the other two walls, using the other two scraps. When each
board fit snugly against each wall, I screwed them together in the corners,
and added a fourth board across the front as a support. I then pulled this
"pattern" out of the alcove and traced it onto my plywood shelf. A few
quick cuts and some touch up sanding, and the shelf slid right in for a
I should point out that my opening was wider at the front than it was in
the back. So I could make the shelf an exact fit and slide it in from the
front. If you don't have this luxury, you'll have to make the shelf
slightly undersized so you can slide it in at an angle and tilt it
downward. If the underside will not be exposed, you might be able to bevel
the back side of the shelf to allow some pivot room, and yet still have a
tight fit on top.
They don't need to fit precisely. It's a closet, not an end-table.
The tricky part is getting them in the door, around, and down to where
you want them once constructed. Use an adjustable bevel and a tape
measure [or measuring stick] and draw it as you see it.
I had a hard time understanding the granite supplier that came into
the kitchen with a bunch of slats to "measure" the requirements. When
five people hauled the granite in everything almost made sense.
Concur with Swingman.
There is a method I use that is simple and extremely accurate. I
do not know the name of it and it is harder to explain than it is
to do. I am going to explain the process as if you could
accomplish it on the floor of the closet, you may need to adapt to
get above the base board if required.
-Get a scrap of plywood 6x6 to 12 x 12. Tack it to the floor so
it can't move
-Get a stick, a 1x2 would work well. Sharpen one end to come to a
distinct point or install a heavy nail in the end. The stick
should be long enough to touch each "corner" with which you are
working and rest on the scrap plywood.
-Lay the stick across the plywood with the tip touching the first
corner. Mark across the plywood along the 1x2. Make a tick mark
on the line on the plywood and the 1x2. Label the line and the
-Move the stick to the next intersection and repeat.
-After you have all the marks, move the story pole and plywood to
your material. Tack the scrap ply in an appropriate place
(workbench, floor, etc).Set the 1x2 on each line making the tick
marks line up. Mark the shelf material at the sharp tip. Connect
the dots. Cut and install. This method works well with
Another that works well is to cut a chunk of template type paper -
heavy rosin or tar paper work well. Tack it or tape it down and
rough cut it to within 2" of the wall surfaces. Use the 2" body
of a frame square laid tight against the wall and mark the
template on the opposite side of the frame body. Do this all the
way around. Move the template to the shelf material and attach
the template. Use the same frame square along your template marks
and mark the opposite side of the blade on the shelf material.
(top posted for your convenience)
Keep the whole world singing . . . .
DanG (remove the sevens)
I'm going to assume that you are setting your shelves on pinrail, and
that you have already installed the pinrail, on level lines, so that
the tops of the pieces are coplanar.
Cut your shelf material about a half inch longer than your longest
line length, measured at the back and the front of the opening, at the
depth of the shelf.
Rest the overlong shelf on the left pinrail and push it back to the
It will rest on the pinrail on the left and sit high on the right.
Take a scriber and run the metal arm along the wall, with the pencil
arm tracing the scribe line on the left edge of the shelf.
Cut to this line. I like to use a good jigsaw and set the base to
make a 5 degree undercut.
Hang the hook of your tape on the back left corner of the shelf and
measure to a point equal to the line length of the back pinrail. Make
a crow's foot mark.
Put the shelf back on the pinrail, with the right side of the shelf on
the right pinrail. Take your scriber and set it to the crow's foot
mark. Run you scribe line off the right wall.
Cut this edge the same way you cut the left edge.
If you do it right, you will have two perfectly scribed shelf edges.
You can fuss with the back edge if you want to. I wouldn't.
This is one of those things that takes much longer to explain than to
do. It's a normal part of a decent finish carpenter's repertoire.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker
I use 1/8" hardboard strips 2 7/8" wide (gets me a nice number out a
I use 3" tinsnips to cut, hotmelt to make templates. I then use a
Sharpie to trace the wall shape onto the template.
In fact, I'm doing a full-height backsplash in a large kitchen as we
speak. My template locates electrical outlets, windows yadda, yadda....
above all, it tells me if I can even get the damned thing in/out of its
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