How to Turn a Log into a Shelf

DIY Shoe-shelf in 20 Steps!

I’m pretty excited. This past week I finished what was essentially my first wood-working project ever: a shoe shelf to help clear our coat room floor of the jumble of shoes.

To imitate my process and make your own beautiful log shelf, just follow these steps:

  1. Select a log roughly as long as your shelf will be wide. Also select a thickish branch to serve as the supports on either side.
  2. Decide the log is about four inches too long, and start to saw off the end with a hack-saw. Either at this step or later, begin to de-bark the log (I preferred using a hatchet for that).
  3. Decide that this is taking too long, and that you don’t actually need the end sawn off. Measure and mark off three demarcations (in preparation for sawing the log into four boards, for four shelves).
  4. Begin sawing the first board down vertically – with a hack-saw.
  5. Decide this is taking much too long, and you need help. Get Dad to teach you to use the electric straight-saw.
  6. Start cutting out five boards instead of four – the branches as walls/supports idea wasn’t that good, so you’ll use the three internal boards as shelves, and the two outer ones (after you finish de-barking them) as the sides of the shelf. Brilliant!
  7. Decide this whole sawing thing is taking altogether too long, and convince Dad to teach you how to use the electric chain-saw.
  8. Saw your five boards with the chain-saw. This will take a few sessions; also, cut as straight as possible so one of the boards doesn’t come out with weird gouges where you had to correct your path…ahem…
  9. Once the boards are finally cut, you can use the sander and sand them! This is a good step to make sure the two ends are as de-barked as you want them to be. (I didn’t bother de-barking the shelf-boards, but I did remove any loose, dirty-looking bits with the hatchet.)

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    This lumber is not from a store.

  10. After sanding, ask Dad’s help holding the pieces together while you pound in the nails.
  11. Find out it’s better to put the heavier ends of the support boards on the bottom. Also, please note that your log was not straight up-and-down, so all your boards have cunning curvature to them now.
  12. After Dad has pounded in some of the nails, change your mind about how you want the boards to be arranged (after you find out the one for the middle shelf isn’t a proper size, the one for the top shelf isn’t the proper size either, etc.).
  13. With the help of your charming and obliging brother, nail the rest of the boards together, with the two curved sides arranged vertically as the supports/walls/ends (so, I hope you have something else to do with that branch…ahem). Also, this step will teach you that driving nails into a raw log isn’t nearly as easy as Dad made it look. Many nails will be bent, most likely.
  14. The shelf is assembled! Time to varnish it! If you’re following my process exactly, you won’t have any varnish in the house, so will have to wait before proceeding.
  15. Coat the shelf with water-soluable, clear-drying epoxy varnish to protect it from bugs and dirt, while preserving the nature look of the wood. (Bonus points if your basement – or wherever you’re doing this project – floods with ten inches of water at around this step.)

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    At least it still matches the aesthetic.

  16. Remember the curvature we mentioned in Step 11? This has make your shelf tilt backward, meaning that if you set any shoes on the top shelf, it might fall over. Fortunately, we have a section of this very log that we sawed off in Step 2 (back when we still thought the log was three or four inches too long). Using the natural curvature of the wood, use this piece to fashion shims under the backside of the bottom shelf.
  17. Varnish the shims.
  18. Get a piece of felt big enough to cover the whole bottom of the shelf. Glue the felt (I used hot-glue) to the shims and the front part of the bottom shelf where it will touch the floor. You can then trim off any felt that would show around the edges, and some of the felt that won’t actually touch the floor because it’s above the level of the shims.
  19. Set the shelf in its place, felt-side down.
  20. Put shoes on the shelf. HOORAY!

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    The shoes are not on the floor. Mission accomplished.