Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DIY Infant Shelves ("Montessori First Shelf")

Since putting Apple's room together before he was born we've wanted shelves in there but couldn't justify spending $200 on the undoubtedly beautiful shelves available in the right size, like the First Shelf in the Michael Olaf Montessori catalog. It's time though to find something, so- this is where you've been conditioned to expect photos of us at the picnic table with a table saw and our John Deere hats- yup. What we found was a little pile of  pine boards and a couple Sunday mornings.

  • 4 pine boards 4' x 11 1/4" x 3/4" (purchased $6 each)
  • 1 pine board 4' x 9 3/4" x 3/4" (leftover from another project)
  • finishing nails (about 60)

Better than chickens is watching Daddy and Mama working.

We used the table saw to cut our boards. For our purposes we made the following pieces (I hope I"m reading my chickenscratch notes correctly... caveat builder on the exact dimensions):
  • two shelves, each 48" x 11 1/4"
  • two interior supports, each 10 1/2" x 9 1/4"
  • two sides, each 11 1/4" x 12"
  • bottom front: 48" 1 1/4"
  • back: 48" x 9 1/4"
  • bottom supports: 10 1/2" x 1 1/4"

Yup. Boards.

From there it was easy to nail everything together. First we nailed the interior sides to the external sides. I didn't grab a photo because we try not to dally when working. Make sure to leave a 3/4" gap along the top edge when placing the smaller piece on the larger piece, for the top shelf, and a 3/4" gap along the side (left side for one, right on the other) for the backing piece.

Then we nailed on the top shelf and the bottom shelf, in from the sides.

interior supports flush with the front

interior supports set 3/4" inch in from the back
The bottom supports run along the sides, flush against the back and got nailed in through the bottom shelf. The back then rests inside the shelf (flush with the back if you cut well and your boards weren't bowed, as ours were... grrrr) and got nailed in from the top and bottom, and through the back into the interior supports.

back of shelf with bottom supports and back piece added

The front bottom piece keeps things from rolling under the shelf ne'er to be seen again; we nailed it in through the top of the lower shelf and in from the sides.

We used a nail setter to inset all the nails a little. The whole thing got a good sanding with a power sander; we used a piece of sand paper to round out all the exposed edges.

Not a bad way to spend a nice autumn day. 
Ta-dah! Shelf. Shelves? Shelving unit? Let's go with "Nifty $25 piece of lovingly hand-made amateur furniture." But "shelf" is shorter.

all put together

We've never put something together strictly with nails and hope it holds. If down the line we find it to be troublesomely un-holdy, some wood glue would probably solve the problem. We're unlearned beginners here and feel our way through trial and error.

We're not big on staining and painting since it's chemical-y (yes I know "water" is a "chemical," but yeesh have some contextual understanding here). We opted to seal it using the same stuff we sealed the infant toy arch with, though this time we added 15 drops of tea tree oil for antimicrobial protection (thinking the shelf may be repurposed at a later time and have some food encounters).

omg a photo of Jack not holding a baby

We just used hands to rub the oil in, which was excellent therapy for my hands, my having stupidly used sandpaper with my bare hands earlier (I've done it before, I'll do it again... stupid stupid Jack). It gave it a nice wet, finished look and enriched the color without really changing it. These boards were a white pine; the toy arch was douglas fir and reddened when we oiled it.

Finished Shelf

Finished Shelf in Use

Now Apple's room feels so much more finished. We have somewhere to organize his playthings and the $175 difference in cost to pay for frivolous things like bananas and doctor visits.


  1. I love this shelf, very inexpensive! Is it durable???

    1. Hey, thanks! Apple's turning two next month, and the shelves are going strong. Since we used pine, the top has dings and dents in it from being used as a shelf by a poundy little kid, but that's to be expected. Structurally it's a lot more sound than a lot of commercially available flat-pack furniture, for sure. I have no doubt it will see us through the rest of our children and then some.