How to Make Steel Pipe Bookshelves
A recent design trend is the use of reclaimed, retro, and industrial style furnishings in the home and office. While small pieces can cost several hundred dollars, you can make some simple items like wall shelving out of black or galvanized steel pipe and fittings for less than $30. If you want a more industrial look, you can leave the pipe unfinished or you can paint the pipe to match your décor.
The configuration is completely up to you and the amount of money you want to spend on fittings. The mounting for the shelf is accomplished by standard pipe flanges that have four holes which allow the shelf to be screwed into the wall or framing. For a vertical shelf unit, you can use a flange as a foot on the floor where it can sit or be screwed into place. You can also use a vertical spine with a flange at the top and bottom and a few offshoots on either side for book storage.
The pipe is very strong and will be able to hold any amount you can place on it, the anchors or screws in the wall will fail before the piping. For this reason ½-inch fittings are a good choice for small units and ¾-inch for larger ones; this also keeps the cost down.
Tools and Materials
Adjustable pliers or small pipe wrench
Screwdriver or cordless drill
Various pipe fittings, flanges, and pipe nipples; pieces over 12 or 16 inches long may need to be cut to order.
Drywall anchors such as toggle bolts
Drywall screws for mounting to wall studs
Determine the spacing between the wall and center of the pipe for the shelf; the books will stay on the pipe if it is just past the centerline of the book so it tilts towards the wall. Attach an appropriately sized nipple into the flange and an elbow on the end of this nipple. With a tape measure tighten the fittings with the pliers or pipe wrench. The fittings do not have to be overly tight.
Repeat this process using nipples and elbows to make a shallow “J”
Wall Sconce Shelf
You can also make a staircase shaped shelf out of the pipes and fittings with by attaching nipples and elbows to make three or four tiers. Attach an elbow on the end and insert a short nipple and flange so there is an attachment point at the top and bottom.
For vertical shelf units, use a longer nipple or cut pipe about 12 to 16 inches in length and then attach a tee fitting on the end of the pipe so that you can attach another pipe on the top and then one on the side so that it is parallel to the floor. Continue this process by alternating the side the shelf support comes out. You can continue to make a vertical pipe shelf that is 30 to 48 inches in length and attach a flange on the top and bottom or attach the top to the ceiling and the bottom on an elbow mounted into the wall. You can also mount the bottom to the floor and the top section to the wall for longer units.
Wall mounted shelf
After the pipe fittings are tight and straightened, you can clean the black iron with a degreaser such as Simple Green or a citrus-based cleaner to remove any oily residues. After it is dry you can paint the shelf with a spray paint formulated for metal or a rust inhibiting paint or leave the finish natural for a modern look.
You can also create a distressed look by rubbing some oil-based paint onto the fittings with a rag. You can wipe off some of the paint after it starts to set up with a clean rag and some paint thinner. Off-white is good for an antique look, or you can choose another color such as gray, patina green, or slate blue. Another good choice is a flat black or silver.