We’ve all seen a door turned into a shelf on Pinterest, DIY Network, an the living rooms of folks who like decorate in the country theme. I am not one such person. In fact my decorating philosophy involves heaps of unwashed clothing, dog hair tumbleweeds rolling across vast expanses of floorspace, and horror movie posters. Yet I have several of the original doors from my 1865 home and absolutely no desire to use them as, you know, doors.
This is an incredibly simple project (even easier if you just buy mine). Basically you cut the door roughly in half, screw the two sides together, and attach some triangular shelves. There’s a little more to it than that, but not much.
Measure the Door
You could just cut the door in half, but then you’d be an idiot. When you reattach the two sides at a 90 degree angle one side will be longer than the other. So it’s important to measure and write down the dimensions of your door ahead of time and plan this cut accordingly. To the side is a rough sketch of my door’s dimensions:
Width: 31 3/4″
Thickness: 1 13/32
A tape measure will work fine for this job, though I used a micrometer to determine the thickness of my door with a little more accuracy.
Cut the Door
You can use this simple formula to figure out where to cut your door:
2x + t = w
(Where t is the thickness of your door and w is the width. Solve for x.)
With a door width of 31 3/4″ and a thickness of 1 13/32″, I found that x equals (more or less) 15 3/16″. Mark your door down the length accordingly. For a job like this there are two saws you can use: a circular saw with a straight edge clamped to the work piece, or a track saw. I sprung for a DeWalt Tracksaw two years ago and now I wouldn’t want to live with out it. Whichever tool you use, make sure the door is well-supported on both sides of the cut line, and line up the blade such that the kerf is centered on the line. This way the waste will be equalized on either side of the cutline.
(Though you might be tempted, I strongly suggest you don’t use a tablesaw. Most people don’t have a tablesaw capable of safely cutting something as big and irregular as a door.)
You should be left with two sides that, when fastened together, will have equal visible surfaces.
Fastening the Two Sides
I decided to fasten the two sides together with 2″ screws, counter-sunk and hidden with plugs. I measured from the edge of the door 23/32″ (half the door’s thickness) and marked the door 2″ from either end and at 12″ increments in between. Next I used a 3/8″ Forstner Bit to drill about a 1/4″ hole that I could countersink the screws into, then used a regular twist bit to drill the rest of the way through the door.
In order to fasten the two sides together I found that it was much easier to stand the two sides vertically and clamp them together. This way you can make fine adjustments to the fit with your hand or a rubber mallet. Make sure you put something between the clamps and the wood to avoid marring the surface, and make sure you have the two sides positioned in such a way that the two visible inside surfaces are the same width.
Once the two sides are clamped securely together, run your screws through. Once all of the screws are installed you can remove the clamps and continue to work on it horizontally.
Note: After completing this project, I would change the way I fastened the two sides. Instead of drilling holes in the visible parts and screwing the two sides together, I think I’d use a Doweling Jig or (if I were rich) a Festool Domino to connect the two sides. The drill-and-plug method works fine, but it’s imperfect and adds quite a bit of touch-up work to the finish process.
At this point you’ll want to clean up the holes you just drilled and start thinking about the finish. I dapped a bit of wood glue into the holes, then inserted a 3/8″ dowel rod into them and cut it off with my dozuki (any saw which you can trim the dowels flush with is fine).
Think about what you want your finished door to look like. Is the paint chipped? What type of paint is it? The original finish on my door was lead-based paint and was flaking off at spots, so I used a paint scraper to remove any lose flakes. I took a larger piece down to The Decorating Center and they helped me find a good match. I wanted my shelf to look rustic but I didn’t want to risk having lead paint flaking off of it in the future. So I painted the dowel plugs and the edges of the door that I cut with the saw and left everything else as it was. I’ll take care of the “loose paint” problem a little later.
Installing the Shelves
Cutting the shelves is pretty simple. I had some plywood that was sitting against my shed for a while. The surface was worn and would match the door, but structurally it was still very strong. I cut off about an inch of waste on either side so I wasn’t using the junk edges to build my shelves, I cut 90 triangles with sides equal to the inside width of the door (15 3/16″ x 15 3/16″ x 21 5/16″ ). I painted the shelves with the matching quart of paint I had purchased, and then I used my brad nailer to install the shelves at the top, bottom, and two equally spaced on the inside.
Note: This is another aspect of the design I would change if I had it to do over again. I’d use my pocket hole jig to install them. Not only would it be a more secure fit, but it would also be reversible of the shelf position needed changed in the future.
After installing the shelves it was time to tackle the flaking paint problem. I had a gallon of lacquer and applied several coats to the entire shelf. The shelf has interesting, glossy sheen to it now and I suppose it depends on your taste as to whether or not that’s desirable. But the original coat of paint is now securely protected under multiple clear coats and won’t flake off.
That pretty much covers it! I’m really pleased with the way this project turned out and plan on selling it to someone who can appreciate the style a little more than myself. If you have any suggestions on how I can improve this process, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email!