Saturday, 7 December 2013

Custom Shelves Pt1

I pretty much live at my desk, both at work and when at home.  When I'm not working at home, I'm probably playing games, faffing with personal software development, personal development, catching up with friends / family or just plain surfing around on the web achieving nothing.  I also have lots of "junk".  It's not junk, of course, it just has specific place and purpose; "place" being mostly piled on my limited shelf space.
Limited space no more.  Move over <insert preferred contemporary furniture outlet here>, Paul is going designing!

So this is my workspace.

It comprises of an old desk (that has served people well over the years) and a shelf unit wedged against the wall on one corner.  It's not pretty, but I guess it is functional.

Having scratch-built a [very simple] shelf unit before for CDs, DVDs and a couple of display shelves, using minimal skills and simple material (18mm thickness, 140mm planks), I decided that I should just about have the skill to turn it up a notch and design a shelf system what would fit my very bespoke-shaped wall space.
Scribbled ideas were OK, but I'm a digital man so I decided that a computer generated design should be within my ability. Queue SketchUp.

Tagged as "3D for everyone" and "the easiest way to draw in 3D" I figured this would be a good starting place.
Firstly the tutorial vids are quite good - I wanted to have a go at modelling something I already have, to get an idea if I had half a chance of creating something I ~don't~ have, so using the guides I replicated my desk.

This was a good starting point for then modelling my available space, importing the desk object to give me a canvas for the shelf unit.
At this point, the concept of designing what I wanted looked to be in the bag, so I started to research the next element.

My possible materials consisted of:
  • Pine
  • MDF
  • Kitchen products
One thing I was / am keen to do with this project it to use responsible materials.  While the CD unit was made of pine, that was purely out of convenience as the planks were perfect for CD / DVD depth.   With this this new build however, the shelves were going to need to be much deeper to accommodate monitors, manuals etc.  This presented a challenge for me as this would mean either a large expensive plank of pine (for 1 shelf alone) with the associated greater problem of finding a"good" bit in Homebase (which is never gonna happen...) or it would require me to apply woodworking skills I don't have to make multiple small planks into 1 larger one.  Pine also wasn't responsible enough this time.
MDF might be a more eco-friendly product, being a mush of what ever is in it (as opposed to physical sections of a tree) but has the obvious draw-back of not being the nicest thing to look at. It's also not exactly the sturdiest of materials for weight support - I've never seen an MDF shelf that hasn't bowed. 
Kitchen-type worktop would have had the strength, but after a little searching, could not find what I wanted.  It was also a little too chunky for the simplistic design I had in mind. 

The next idea that presented itself was block-board - essentially un-usable off cuts arranged into a plank-size area which is then veneered for an aesthetically acceptable finish.  I liked this concept as it encompassed recycling.  Unfortunately, after researching this I found that many people find that this style of board construction is great, as long as you don't necessarily need to screw into it; methods often leave air-gaps under the veneer. 
Almost resigned to kitchen surface for the "heavy" shelf and "something else" for the rest, I stumbled upon
These guys turn fast growing bamboo into hardwood-like planks.  They can also turn the planks into parts of an item.  They can even turn the parts into a completed product (in their solar powered workshop, no less!). Well this sounded ideal and over the last month or 2 I have been in communication with Andrew who has been extremely helpful.

My next task is to turn my final plan into a part list to send over for chop.  In an attempt to keep cost as reduced as I can (this material is not cheap, but it does look amazing and in conjunction with their workshop does make it the best I can find from an eco-point of view) I have opted for a self-build and I plan to use screw / pilot-hole methods.  While not perfect from a "highly desirable", shop-bought point of view, it does afford me some flexibility on construction costs and allows expansion / modification should I ever move house, against a glued final product.

This is a nervous time for me in this project - all previous steps are salvageable by the "undo" command... from here in, if I screw up, I end up with "tetris gone wrong"...