Beam Shelf

Functionality is lacking in several of our living spaces. In order to maximize our limited space, we are taking these on one at a time. This particular instance is a second bedroom’s brick wall. Protruding electricals prohibit large furnishings from being placed against the wall. The goal is provide an option for shelf storage as well as a wall accent. The settled upon design solution is a floating shelf composed out of old cribbing material.


Balancing the existing material’s character and the cleanliness of what I knew to be solid red oak inside, was a difficult decision. The exterior of the nearly seven foot long piece of wood was rough sawn, dirty, showed wear, and had a large nail embedded. What was once used to support various construction yard materials and allow for forklift transportation, was now going to serve as the home of books, antiques, and hopefully Blue Jackets hockey memorabilia. I was given the wood from a friend in the construction industry (thanks Alex!) who was even kind enough to square up one side of the material with a circular saw. The cribbing had a significant bow but hardly any twisting or cupping. Once the bow was removed from one side (the side that would go against the wall) it was decision time. Some of the appeal from the piece of stock was the story that it told with it’s grime and distortion. Another option was to rip it down to a perfect square, exposing the pristine red oak hidden within the beam. However, the grime tells the beams story and matches many of the characteristics in the 1889 bottling warehouse that we call home. Sanding the existing beam was also much easier for an experienced woodworker (myself) with no access to a table saw, planer, or jointer.


Staining to reveal the depths of the wood was a little lucky. I had considered sanding the beam and not treating the wood, letting the remaining nicks and dirt provide the visual texture. However when I laid on a light layer of grey stain, the deep areas of the beam accepted the stain magnificently and highlighted many of the characteristics that were before unseen.

An oak (insert old use) beam 
with existing rustic pieces. 
Sanding clears away years 
of accumulation. 

Mounting the thirty pound (estimate) beam was an obvious question from the start. I wanted the beam to be the focus of the project and not be distracted by installed hardware. To achieve this effect, a typical floating shelf design was modified for use on a brick wall. The benefit of doing this on a brick and mortar wall as opposed to a drywall and stud construction is that I did not need to be concerned about the weight of the beam pulling on the wall. Although the brick wall is interior to another unit, it’s still several courses thick and thus providing a strong mounting surface. There were four pieces of seven inch rebar evenly spaced along the span of the beam and inserted nearly halfway into the red oak cribbing. Using the beam and rebar as a template, marks were made on the mortar of the wall for the matching holes. The masonry bit easily cut through the soft mortar between the bricks.


The toughest part I had known would be aligning the wood and rebar with the new holes in the wall. Fortunately with the help of a handy father-in-law and a level, our holes matched up well. While one person held the beam, the other was able to mallet the beam securely into place.


The final product, as we hoped, provides an activation of the underutilized space. We were able to accomplish the utilitarian task of storage and maintain a similar style and aesthetic of the warehouse wall. I am excited about how this turned out and found it just as fun to learn about the stories behind the materials and processes of construction. Was also a great reminder that regardless of constraints, there are always options to achieve the desired outcome through design (and friends letting you borrow their tools).

Rebar inserts.
Masonry bit into mortar.
Mounting beam shelf.

Comments (3)

Looks great Brian! I agree the stain took really well. Also the back flushed out nicely with two unpredictable surfaces. Got to love a nice doubled headed formwork nail for the accent piece.

I agree with that guy!!

Nice work! Now that you’ve conquered the first one time to get busy with the other 18 shelves.

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