Shaker Shelves

Skills you’ve honed in previous “I Can Do That” projects are all it takes to create this graceful set of shelves, so with this project we’ll teach you a few clever tricks to draw arcs without a compass, and to straighten twisted boards – which is often a problem when working with wider pieces of wood.

This modified Shaker design, downsized from a set of creamery shelves, is adapted from a Shaker Workshops catalog. To ensure our 3/4″-stock would  not bow under the weight of even the heaviest items, we decided to make these shelf pieces a bit shorter than those you’ll find on the company’s web site (

Many home centers carry only pine, poplar and oak (you may also find maple or aspen, depending on your region). We decided on oak because we think it has the best natural appearance.

One of the biggest challenges you’ll have with this project is finding wide boards that are straight and flat … and that remain straight and flat after you cut them to size. Take time to look through the racks for the best boards – and if at all possible, avoid shrink-wrapped boards, no matter how pretty. You’ll need two 6′ and one 4′ 1 x 12s (or one 10′ and one 8′ length). You’ll also need a 6′ length of 1 x 4 for the supports.

Once you’re back in the shop, your first step is to cut the sides to length on your miter saw. If you have a 10″ miter saw, your crosscuts on the sides (and shelves) will be a two-step process because the diameter of the saw blade limits the width of the cut. You’ll need to first cut on one side of your board, then flip it over and carefully line up the kerf with the saw blade before completing the cut (see picture at right).

Now, you’re ready to lay out the arched top and cutout at the bottom. Align the top edges of the sides and stick the faces together with double-stick tape to keep them from slipping, then clamp both pieces together flat to your workbench. Now,  measure across the width to find the center of your board, and make a mark. That measurement is the same distance you’ll measure  down from the top edge to mark the intersection of the two points (5 5/8″unless you’ve resized the plan, or used different-sized stock). This point is where you’ll place your compass point to draw the half-circle arch across the top.

And if you don’t have a compass, it’s no problem. It’s easy to make a compass jig. Simply grab a thin piece of scrap and drive a nail through the middle near one end. Now, using the same measurement you already established to find the compass point (again, it’s 5-5/8″ on our plan), mark and drill a hole that distance from the nail, and stick a pencil point through it. Voilà – a compass jig.