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Floating Walnut Shelves


This is a triangular corner shelf I built for our kitchen nook fifteen or so years ago. We recently had to remove it so that the nook could be repainted. When the time came to reinstall it I decided that it was looking a bit tired and I wanted to make some new shelves. The main change I wanted was to get rid of the back of this unit and just have three floating shelves. I think they'll look lighter and less obtrusive than this.

(NEXT TWO IMAGES) These are going to be simple triangular shelves, so I don't need any fancy set of plans. However, I still took the time to draw it up in sketchup. This helped with showing my wife what I had in mind for the corner to replace the old shelf unit, and it also helped me work out the dimensions for the shelves.

I picked this eight foot long by six inch wide piece of walnut to use. This should provide enough lumber for three shelves. At the one end there was some rough wood with worm holes and cracks and gnarly grain. Generally I like to work with clean straight grain, but this time I'm going to use this section of wood. I will fill it with epoxy and see what is revealed.

The board is about six inches wide, but the shelves will be about ten inches wide so I cut the plank roughly in half and then jointed and planed the wood so that I could laminate the two pieces together to make a sufficiently wide board.

I was having a bit of issue getting the two boards to properly line up, so I used my dowelmax jig to drill dowel holes and used dowels to guarantee perfect alignment of the boards when glueing them together.

In this photo you can see the pencil lines which I used to roughly mark out the size of one of the triangular shelves. I am orienting them so that the grain runs along the front of the shelf, which is the long edge, for strength but also for looks.

The next few photos show the epoxy process. First, I applied tuck tape to the bottom of the board, as the holes extended right through the board, so we need to be able to contain the epoxy. I then mixed up a batch of West System epoxy. I used some ebony stain to dye the epoxy to a dark black. These cracks are quite deep, so I need the epoxy to run deep into the wood. So I first warmed up the board with a heat gun before I poured in the epoxy. I ended up needing to pour in three batches. I poured in the first batch and thought I had filled the voids. I came back a few hours later to check and the epoxy had sunk deep into the cracks, leaving a gap at the top, so I mixed and poured a second batch. Several hours later in the late evening I checked again and the top was fine, but I then flipped over the piece and removed the tuck tape. This revealed that there were places on the bottom that also were missing epoxy, so I mixed up a third batch and poured it on.

The next day I sanded back the excess epoxy, and then I could plane it to final thickness.

I cut out the first shelf on the bandsaw...

... I then cleaned up the edges on the belt sander. I then traced this first shelf to give the next two shelves. Those were then also cut out and sanded.

The original shelf had sharp corners, which I wanted to change. If you look back to the top of this article, to the sketchup drawings, you can see how I wanted to have a curve on the ends of each shelf. In sketchup I had also worked out a few ideas using a circle and some measurements, to try an figure out how to make these curves.

I set my Compact compass (that is a youtube link) to a radius of 1-5/8 inches. I then measured twelve inches along the side of one of the shelves. I placed the compass there as close as possible to the edge and drew an arc of a circle. This gave a nice arc that curved around and gently merged with the straight front of the shelf. I cut these out on the bandsaw and smoothed them on my disc sander. (Next two photos)

In this photo I am using some scrap wood against the shelf to help vizualize and plan for the cleats that I need to support the shelves. I settled on a height of 1-1/4 inches, and a length of 12-1/2 inches. This means that one cleat would be the full 12-1/2 inches long and the other would be shorter by the thickness of the cleats, which is about 3/4". I ripped some of the remnaining pieces of walnut from the original board into 1-1/4" strips to make these cleats.

I attached a piece of plywood to my miter gauge to act as a zero-clearance backer board. I angled the gauge to about 22-25 degrees and cut a taper on the front edge of each of the cleats. The exact angle doesn't matter, provided they are all cut the same!

I used an angled bit in the router table to route an angle along the face of each cleat. This was just for looks. However, it did add a complication, as I needed to NOT run the angle the full length of the longer cleats. I therefore stopped the cut about 1-1/2 inches before the end of the longer cleats.

This shows the result of the routing. If I had not stopped the router cut, then these two cleats would not meet snugly. Later on a chisel will be used to clean this up so that the two angled cuts meet nicely in the corner.

I used a chamfer bit in my small router to route a chamfer along the underside of the front edge of the shelf. This is purely for aesthetics.

You can see in this photo that the cleats are attached across the grain of the shelf. It's not at right angles, but it is still a cross-grain joint. Therefore I did not use any glue to attach the cleats. I tacked it in place with some tiny 23-gauge pin nails and then drilled and countersunk holes and used screws to attach the tops to the cleats.

I then used a tapered plug cutter to drill out some walnut plugs. These were then glued on top of the screws to plug the screw holes. I did my best to align the grain of the plugs with the grain of the shelves so that the plugs would be less visible. I got near perfect results on about half of the plugs, and good results on the rest. I then cut off the excess plugs with a flush-cutting saw. (next two photos)

Now back to the angled router cut to the cleats... I used a chisel to clean up the joint between the cleats in the corner.

I applied back paint to the heads of several screws. These will be used later when installing the shelves in the kitchen. The black paint will blend in with the dark walnut, and in the shadows under each shelf they will nearly disappear. I could use plugs on these screws also, but that would mean that it would be impossible to ever move or remove the shelves without destroying them and doing major damage to the walls. I would rather just live with some discreet screws under the shelves!

I sanded the shelves, vacuumed off the dust, and applied three coats of waterbased polyurethane to the underside of each shelf and four coats on the top. These shelves will have plant pots on them, so they need the water protection of polyurethane. I used Minwax Oil-Modified polyurethane, which despite the name is a waterbased finish.

The results on the one shelf with the wild grain and epoxy fill was beyond stunning. My photo skills were put to the test trying to campture a proper picture of it. I am so glad that I used the "junky" end of the board. In fact, when I later installed it, I put this shelf as the lowest shelf, so that it would be a prominent feature.

Some of the Tools/Supplies Used In This Project: (Affiliate Links)

Stanley Leverlocks -- love these tape measures
Other auto-locking tape measures
Robertson Screwdrivers
Robertson Screws
AKA Square Screws
Robertson Driver bits also
Picquic — some of the best “multi-bit” screwdrivers around
(But get the ones with Robertson tips!)
Torx Screwdrivers (If you must)
Painter's Pyramids
Dowelmax Company
NOTE: at the time of publishing (May 2023) Dowelmax is not currently available on amazon. It has been in the past, so I am keeping the following links, but right now only the link above to "" is known to work.
Dowelmax Dowel Joinery Kit
Dowelmax Drill Guides for 1/4" Dowels
Dowelmax Dowels

West System Epoxy Kits
Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane
I use these Lee Valley Tapered Plug cutters (non-affiliate link)
But You can also find plug cutters at Amazon -- make sure they are tapered!

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases you make using my affiliate links.


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See Also:

End Grain Coasters

Custom Kitchen Finale

Colourful Trivets