Revisit: the ash shelf

This spring I made a nice wall shelf in merbau. My sister in law liked it a lot, so I thought – why not gift one to her and her family for Christmas? It also gave me an opportunity to do some serial production. Low scale, mind you…

Since I’ve done this project before, I’ll focus on the revisit aspects of this project. As for the tiiiiiny bit of serial production – a series of two pieces. No need to go overboard.

The merbau shelf

The design is heavily influenced on a shelf from a Danish company named Andersen, but I feel it is different enough to stay clear of any infringement. It is a mix of three different shelf models. Besides, I don’t plan on mass producing these for sale.

I had some nice pieces of ash in the stack, and I thought that ash would fit in nicely in my sister in law’s home. The wood has a oak like look to it, while being more light in color. Undertones of red and not the big pores one finds in oak. Certainly an underrated species.

After I cut the pieces to length, I ripped down the shelf blank to two boards. The material was slighly over 50mm / 2’’.

I ripped a strip off of the shelf blank for the dowels. The next job was to flatten the surfaces and remove the marks left by the band saw, joint the edges and clean up the end grain.

My no.7 jointer plane can take really fine shavings, so I usually have it set up more like a smoother. One of my no.4’s is a dedicated smoother plane that cleans up any ridges left behind, resulting in a glass smooth surface. I sharpen it at 30 degrees, but on the finest diamond plate and the strop I introduce a tiny camber to the bevel. I use the Veritas honing guide with the camber wheel attachment, which give me a very consistent edge and camber.

Note the work holding. I use a Veritas planing stop and a batten secured by a holdfast. It is a very effective way to hold work while planing. You can just grab the board and lift it for inspection, slap it back down and go on. No tightening or wheel / handle spinning required. It is even faster than my quick-release vise!

Jointing the edges with the no.7 jointer plane. Quick work with an occasional check with a square.

After twenty minutes, I had the pieces ready. Just some minor finish work to be done, which I do right before assembly. Since I got two planks out of the shelf blank, I decided to go ahead and make two wall shelves. It would not take a bunch of extra time, and it will benefit me during the finishing process.

Here’s the part blanks for one shelf:

The square batten needs to become a round dowel, about 20mm in diameter. I don’t own a lathe that’s big enough, so my no.4 «hog» plane comes out. It is a Record 04 with a slightly cambered blade set up for heavy cut and quick removal of material.

I marked all the sides of the batten in thirds, then planed to the lines in my «dowel maker» – a piece of wood with a V-shaped groove and a stopped end. It holds the batten at 45°, making it easy to plane down the edges. Afterwards the batten has become an octagon. Rinse and repeat several times, and the square batten becomes a round dowel. Either leave the facets from the hand plane or sand smooth going along the grain.

The benefit of doing this over just buying a ready made dowel, is that we ensure both grain and color continuity. And the material is «free» anyway. No need to wait for supplies either.

Any problem can be solved by throwing money at it, except getting the money itself…

With that out of the way, all the major parts for the shelves are done. A quick mock-up to check the proportions as this will be slightly different in size from the previous one. The shelf and the slot for the dowel need to be placed a slight distance from the ends of the vertical piece. If too much of the vertical piece sticks up above / down below, it looks odd.

After I decided the distances, I marked and drilled a 20mm hole for the dowel slot. First I used a forstner bit in the drill press.

When that bottomed out, I used a 20mm auger bit to drill the rest of the hole. As soon as the snail poked through, I stopped.

Side note: that 18V Bosch thing is really powerful! Drilling a 20mm hole in hardwood sure takes some effort! On one of the planks, the resistance became way too much even for the drill. It took just half a second, but blue smoke started to emerge! No harm done, though. I retracted the auger bit, gave it a wipe with some wax and went on with the job. It went swimmingly. After the snail poked through, I used the forstner bit to finish off the hole.

Here’s the hole from the snail, which I used to align the forstner bit. I then drilled down until i broke through.

A test fit of the dowel, and the small disc left behind popped out.

I cut the slot on the band saw, leaving a small amount of wood to be removed with a chisel to ensure smoothness. You can see where the auger bit took over from the forstner bit, and where the two holes met. The alignment was off by just a gnat’s nadger – easily fixed with a round file and some sand paper. Overall, this method for creating the dowel slot worked like a charm; certainly much better than on the previous iteration.


I cleaned up the slot with a chisel and a file. On to the next page for fitting keyhole brackets.

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