Bookshelf Project

The story of the unique MDF bookshelf I made as a Christmas gift for a friend.

The finished bookshelf Everyone knows Christmas is more about the giving than the getting. For me, the hardest part is finding the perfect gift for that special someone. In this case the gift had to be as unique as the person receiving it; a mass-produced shelf from Ikea or Wal-Mart would not suffice. The idea dawned on me to construct a bookshelf that was large enough to hold the many scrapbooks which were scattered on my friend's floor, as well as other books. I made only a rough sketch of the shelf and some quick measurements before beginning construction.

A multitude of tools were used in this project that I already had, such as a measuring tape, circular saw, electric drill, sawhorses, extra screws, various types of sandpaper, and a good workspace. I made the first of several trips to Home Depot and Lowe's picked up some half-inch thick medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and started measuring and cutting. At three feet high and just over a foot wide, I made sure the bottom shelf could accomodate a scrapbook or oversize photo album.

It took a few practice cuts to determine how to use the guide on the circular saw, but I soon got it. The shelf came together for the first time in my driveway and I was pleased that it seemed sturdy. After putting the screws in I used a hammer to tap them down so they sat flush with the wood. By this time I was running out of daylight and I packed up for the night. A lighted garage would have sped up the construction process tremendously, but I had to work with what was available.

The next thing I did was to apply a generous coat of carpenter's glue to all of the exposed edges of the shelf using the latex gloves. This would seal the edges and prevent them from soaking up the paint. In my research online, I learned that while MDF is known for its clean cuts, it is a porous wood and soaks up paint like a sponge when untreated. Because of this, I covered the entire shelf in Minwax Wood Conditioner to help the wood absorb the stain evenly. The wood absorbed the conditioner quickly and I was able to apply it almost continuously. After some light sanding and a few wipes with the tack cloth, the shelf was ready for the stain.

In the interest of saving time I picked up a new product called Minwax Polyshades which combines wood stain and polyurethane protectant in a 1-step process. At ten dollars a quart it seemed cheaper than buying the stain and polyurethane separately. The Bombay Mahogany color was one of the darkest available, which I thought would look classy. Using a foam brush I spread a little on a test piece of MDF and it looked amazing!

Once I applied the Polyshades to the actual shelf, I began to have second thoughts. It went on very thin and every stroke of the brush was visible. The Bombay Mahogany had looked so good on the label, but I really wasn't feeling it on my shelf. Ultimately I chose an assortment of Kilz spray paints and began redoing the shelf in some pastel-looking colors.

The Kilz paint was almost $3 a can and did not cover very much area. It had citrus scented fumes which were more pleasant than ordinary spraypaint, but still hazardous to your health. The tack cloth was very handy to have as the dust produced by the Kilz paint was thick with a capital T. I thought a purple trim on the edges would look neat, though it did take forever to tape off. Once everything was dry I covered the bookshelf in a few coats of Colorplace clear coat to protect it.

Although the shelf is not perfect it came out better than I had expected, in spite of my woodworking skills. After the shelf was completed I learned that the dust produced from MDF contains hazardous chemicals and I really should have worn a better quality respirator when cutting the pieces. When all was said and done, I was very proud of my homemade shelf and it was well received by my friend.

-Trevor Freeman
23 April 2007


Return to Projects Page