Bookshelves letters “DARE”
After about three months in which we went through various feelings of delight, upset, happiness, disappointment, three months of unpredictable problems, solutions, improvisations, and many things learned, we managed to finish our project: the bookshelf letters “READ”. This is how they should have been mounted on the wall when we started to build them, but it seemed to us that “DARE” fits better.
It is a very special project, which we made entirely out of MDF boards, including the back and the curved walls of the letters R and D. Although at first sight, it does not seem, it is very roomy. Due to the large size and the many boards used and joints, we were afraid of their stability. Some small cracks appeared, from time to time, at the slightest movement. That was a sign that the edges and the joints of the boards were not completely sealed, especially at the rounded walls.
We had to apply a lot of layers of primer and paint (that also involved many steps of intermediate sanding). We had to cover the new cracks with putty, sand, apply primer and paint again. We had lost our patience and had the feeling that it was a problem that we will never solve. But we started repeating all these steps until we finally managed to get the wanted surface.
Our emotions only disappeared when we saw the bookshelf letters mounted on the wall. In the end, We considered this project a success: only one crack appeared during installation, at a joint of the D. And that was because that the wall we placed it on was not perfectly flat. When we tightened the screws, we forced the letter too hard and it got a little bent. The result was a small crack. That was the only problem. We filled it with putty and applied white paint with a small brush. Now, it is no longer visible.
Regarding the project, we will point out the most important things and some tricks we discovered when solving various problems that appeared during the project. We will not describe every single step because there are too many things to be said:
The bookshelf letters templates
The first thing we did was to make templates for the 4 letters. We drew the approximate shapes on a math piece of paper, and then we started building them in real size. Here we had a small problem. Our workshop is too small to be able to do such a project easily. Even the workbench was too short for our letters. So we took each letter and built its shape separately taking into account the height and width.
We used 3 rolls of wallpaper that we found in the workshop and we cut strips with the width equal to the width of the inside of the bookshelves. Here we discovered a small trick. Since we equipped the workshop with a band saw, we have constantly used it to cut different types of materials. We cut wood, plywood, MDF (usual materials), and also plexiglass, cardboard and polystyrene. For this project, we tried to cut the wallpaper rolls, in order to reduce the time for cutting the strips. We glued paper tape in the middle so that the roll would not unroll, we marked with a pencil 20 cm from the edge of the roll and then cut a long strip of wallpaper in just a few seconds.
We used the strips for the straight sides of the letters. We calculated and cut the strips to the needed length, we positioned them, again and again, countless times, so as to get the needed dimensions and to get the letters with correct angles and a pleasant look.
For the letters D and R, we made the templates for the curves separately. To draw the half circles, we used a nail, a thread and a pencil, calculating in advance the circle’s radius. To make it fit the whole letter, we had to establish the center of the circle from the start. After several attempts, we found the right position of the center and size of the radius.
All in all, these are the templates of the bookshelves letters. We told you we didn’t have so much space in the workshop. We went out in the yard and glued the templates on the fence wall, to see how they look all together. The paper tape strips represent small adjustments to represent the walls of our letter, to make them look better. This way, we established the exact size for each letter bookshelf.
Building the shapes of the letters out of MDF
The simplest way to get the shapes (the backs of the bookcases) of the 4 letters would certainly have been to use a whole MDF sheet, but we would have wasted a lot of material. We decided to make them out of narrow strips of MDF. We cut all the needed boards for each letter. We calculated their dimensions taking into account the way we will join the bookshelves walls (we established how to make these joints according to the forces that will appear on all directions).
Cutting a board to the right angles is not a very hard thing. But cutting it round is a little more difficult. We solved this problem using a simple jig for the band saw. Thus we were able to cut the back pieces for the curves of the R and D letters.
We had to find a solution to glue all the boards together, edge to edge. This type of joint should also be very strong. The method consisted of routing channels into the edges of the boards with a slot cutting router bit and gluing plywood strips.
We routed the channels into the edges of all the boards to make sure that we will get a strong surface, including the curved boards (letters R and D) and the angled boards (letter A).
Gluing the walls of our 4 letters
When building the walls of the letters, the problem wasn’t with the straight boards. Everything is clear and simple:
- we put the boards in their places
- we drilled the holes for the screws
- we countersunk the holes to be sure that all the heads of the screws will be hidden
- we applied glue on the edges of the boards
- we screwed the boards together
For the curved boards, the situation was a little different. First of all, we didn’t have such panels nor flexible MDF. After some searches, we made our own homemade curved MDF panels. We used the same method we talked about above and we cut a lot of 2 cm thick curved strips. We took a 2 mm margin for sanding them. After we cut them, we glued them together. For this project, we needed two types of curved panels.
We sanded them before screwing to the letters. The outside surface was easier to sand. We used the belt sander.
For the inner surface, we used a DIY drum sander with 80 grit sandpaper that we secured on the lathe. We used the lathe at the lowest speed. It was just an improvised method, which wasn’t very safe either. But for us it was useful and we managed to sand the inner surface very well.
We sanded, using these methods, all the curved MDF panels:
Before securing them to the back of the R and D letters, we cut all the ends with the band saw after marking the lines and the angle to be cut (to fit to the edges of the straight walls).
We used a lot of screws to secure these panels: some of them were used to stabilize the edges of the panels (to make sure they do not crack) and others to screw them to the back of the bookshelves.
We did the same thing with the walls of all the bookcase letters. The way the letter R looked before installing the additional shelves.
Then, we secured the shelves using the same method with screws from the outside to the inside of the letters.
We filled the screw holes with two parts putty (we use this type of putty because the hardening time is reduced). After it dried, we sanded the excess and the small differences between the MDF boards.
In the end, we sanded the sharp edges to make sure there was no risk for the paint to crack.
We already told you about the finishing: applying the primer and the white paint, the sanding with 320 grit sandpaper, filling the new cracks with putty and repeating all these operations. The photos below were taken during all these steps:
We mounted them on the corner walls in our kids’ room. Now they are full of books and Lego toys: