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A project for a cold winter week

Need a place to store your back issues of Grainews? Try this at home before it's time for seeding

The first step was to find the right raw material.

We had been talking about it for a long time. We would either purchase shelving for our living room or I would make something. In summer, such deliberations seem like a waste of time. There’s farming to be done.

Well, it’s done. And it’s pretty nifty, I must say, a giant raw-wood bookshelf hewn from felled trees in our backyard. It resembles an art installation (it does actually hold things, too), and when you look at it, its simplicity will strike you. “I could make that,” you’ll think to yourself. It’s true. You can, and now, you may have to — depends on how Grainews is distributed within your home.

This branch was used as support for the shelves. (click image for larger view)
This branch was used as support for the shelves. (click image for larger view) photo: Toban Dyck

If your farm is anything like ours, the nearby wilderness is something you’ve been vowing to clean up for a long time. Spoiler: harvesting a shelf or two from it won’t change this. In fact, you’ll only become more intimately aware of just how much deadfall there is to clean up.

What you need/what I used:

  • Chainsaw
  • Four-inch deck screws
  • Two spray cans of varathane
  • Skill saw
  • Level
  • Steel square
  • Orbital sander
  • Drill and drill bit

Step 1: take some time. You have to figure out where you want this shelf —corner, along a wall, above the TV — and what you want it to look like. Done? Great. Now head out into the wilds to locate the felled piece of lumber that you can imagine becoming that shelf. If you don’t want to take the year or so needed to dry the wood before placing it into your house, the raw wood must not be alive, and it shouldn’t be rotten. This step is not easy. It took us a while to find the two specimens that would become our shelf. Cut the piece you want to use out of the branch or tree with a chainsaw and drag it to your work area (it’s convenient at this stage to have a quad or truck).

With some shaping, it was starting to take form.
With some shaping, it was starting to take form. photo: Toban Dyck

Step 2: cut the trunk so that when braced, the shelf will stand level on the floor. For ours, we had to get creative about the definition of “level,” and I think the pictures make that easy to believe. Also at this stage, begin shaping the wood, cutting down branches, and otherwise forming it. The branch we used as a support for the shelves we made out of a felled poplar near our house.

Step 3: the shelves. This part was dangerous, and I’m reticent to recommend that you do this. Take care of yourself. Use protective gear, and perhaps don’t do it alone as I did.

Find the pieces of trunk or branch that you wish to use as shelving, and split them in half lengthwise with a chainsaw. Make sure they are at least four to six inches in diameter, so this piece of upper-crust art you’re making can actually function as something practical, as well — hold things. We chose relatively straight pieces for this, but not entirely. The shape and contour of these shelves is entirely up to you. I also cut some disks out of a thicker trunk to fasten to my supporting branch at coffee-table height.

Step 4: sand, sand, sand. If you have a belt sander, use that. I didn’t have that, so I used an orbital sander to smooth all the shelf surfaces. Because I used a chainsaw to cut the shelves, the surface that shelf object would sit on was quite rough. Once you’ve smoothed these to a degree that will allow you to sleep at night, blow off the remaining dust with compressed air.

Braces for the base were cut out of disks, like the shelves.
Braces for the base were cut out of disks, like the shelves. photo: Toban Dyck

Step 5: build braces for base. Our shelf has limbs extending far from the base, playing with the whole structure’s centre of gravity in frustrating ways. It requires braces, which I cut out of those disks I made earlier using a carpenter’s steel square.

Step 6: assemble. In order to prevent cracking, pre-drill screw holes using a drill bit smaller and bit longer than the screws you’ll need to fasten shelves to base. Once done, fasten all the pieces of your shelf together.

Step 7: protection. I used about two aerosol cans of Varathane to seal and protect our shelf. There are other options available for protecting and sealing raw wood. If you’re unsure, talk with someone who knows about such at your local hardware store.

Step 8: bring it home. She’s not here to defend herself, but my wife was skeptical about this project. When I was pushing and scratching this large piece of lumber through our entrance, there was a look of reserved judgment on her face. But that changed once she saw it up and working. She loves it. It’s rustic and functional, and you’ll be the talk of the town.

Toban’s wife was skeptical at first, but now that it’s up and running, she loves the new bookshelf.
Toban’s wife was skeptical at first, but now that it’s up and running, she 
loves the new bookshelf. photo: Toban Dyck

About the author


Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]



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