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John Morris

How To Make an Adjustable Sawtooth Shelf Support System

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John Morris -
Keenan spiegel -
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For my latest project building some pine cabinets for a customer of mine, he has requested that the upper cabinet has a sawtooth shelf support system. He loves the old timey look it offers, and I like it too.

 

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Sawtooth Shelf supports come in various sizes, various angles are used for aesthetics, and you are not even regulated to sawtooth configurations, you can angle the notches at virtually any angle you like. It appears the builder of the supports in this image to the left angled their notches at around 15 degrees. We angled ours at 45 degrees.

 

So yesterday I took to laying out and cutting the sawtooth adjustable shelve supports. I did not use any specific dimensions for the layout as you'll see, I just went with what I thought would work, and offer enough strength for the heaviest of loads in my customers cabinet.

 

In our case the upper cabinet is 41" tall with an inside height of 35 inches. So I ripped down 4 pieces of pine at 2" in width and I cross cut them on my miter saw at 36 inches in length just to allow for some custom fitting after they are made.

 

It is very important to make sure that the entire operation is done while the 4 support blanks are grouped as one, this way you are ensured that when the supports are installed, the notches will be directly across from each other and you will not have wobbly shelves due to mis-aligned sawtooth notches. So to keep my orientation good, I bundled them together and secured them with blue tape, I then trimmed them together so we have a reference point that agrees with all the blanks.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports01-10690-6.jpg

 

Next I laid out the notches with a simple marking square, I did not even bother with measuring as the eye will never be able to tell if one notch is a 1/6" different from the next, and since they are all ganged up together, the notches will be directly across from each other once installed in the cabinet, so they will all be off a tad equally. For this one I laid them out using the default 45 degrees available on this square, and I drew the line to what I felt was a comfortable distance about 1 1/2" long at 45 degrees. The numbers on the rule mean absolutely nothing so don't get hung up on the numbers.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports02-10690-17.jp

 

Flip the square for the 90 degree lines and intersect them.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports03-10690-83.jp

 

Continue this layout procedure all the way down the board. By the way, I marked lines across the board at 6" from the top, and 6" from the bottom, since it is highly unlikely a shelf would be placed that close to the top or bottom of the cabinet. So I started my layout at 6" from the top, and worked my way down to the bottom to the 6" mark.

 

It only took a few minutes to get my layout lines down and ready for the table saw.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports04-10690-18.jp

 

I did my 45 degree cuts first, I don't know why, it just moved me to do them first for some reason. You must take care not to let the kerf of the blade float into the other layout line, or you'll have some very ugly notches.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports05-10690-54.jp

 

Then I set the blade at 90 degrees and commenced to cutting those lines, again, just because you have lines that are (insert dimension here) long, it does not mean you can set your blade at that height, you need to stay away from the layout line at the intersections or the points, or you'll have a very messed up looking point, we are going to clean that area up next to form a nice point.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports06-10690-96.jp

 

By the way I am using my factory provided table saw miter with a backer board for the above operation.

 

A close up of the finished table saw operation will show you why I stated to stay away from the tip of the notches! If you cut to the tip, you will intersect the blade kerfs and it will cause some irreversible damage to your nice notches.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports07-10690-15.jp

 

Next I took the gang of 4 to the bandsaw and finished up the notches to intersect the tips of the notches nicely. I happened to have my 3/4" resaw blade on the BS so I just left it on there, and it worked out great.

 

You'll notice the small problem I ran into, I could only finish the notches near the ends of the boards as the other end of the bundle would hit the yolk on the BS. So I could not get to the middle of the shelf supports to clean them up by the bandsaw.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports09-10690-80.jp

 

So to finish the cut on the notches near the center of the bundle, I took to a gents saw and a chisel and finished them up that way. I clamped the boards down to the bench for two reasons, first to secure them obviously, second, I wanted them all to be flush so when we finish up the notches by hand, they will be cut the exact same depth.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports08-10690-46.jp

 

Pare down to the intersecting lines after you have cut them with the saw.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports10-10690-32.jp

 

To finish them up and make my sawtooths look nice and clean, I ripped a 45 into a strip of pine and wrapped sand paper around it and used it like a sanding file of sorts to get right down in there and make them look nice and crisp.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports11-10690-7.jpg

 

The last step I took is to cut the tips of the teeth off. I feel that if we did not do this, they would just get knocked off during normal use anyway (and, that is just the way they are supposed to look judging by other cabinets I researched.) Notice the grain direction in relation to the tips in the photo above, that is just asking for trouble for those points to be knocked off during use.

 

I took the ganged up boards, back over to the table saw and I ripped a 1/4" off the teeth, leaving a net width of 1 3/4" from when we started at 2" at the beginning of our shelf support project.

 

I only cut two boards deep at a time, since I have a 12" blade on my TS I could have done the entire stack in one pass, but I know that most woodworkers run a 10" blade on their TS and I was not sure if a 10" blade could cut 3" stack of boards in one pass so for the sake of our readers, I did it in two passes.

 

Cut one side and flip it over, and cut the other.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports12-10690-80.jp

 

And now we have some nice looking sawtooth shelf supports!!! The only thing we need to do is cut 4 sticks of pine 45'd at both ends since I have two shelfs going in to the cabinet, we need two supports for each shelf. I will cut those sticks once the vertical supports are in place in the cabinet.

 

ning-sawtoothshelfsupports13-10690-10.jp

 

Total time for these shelf supports were 1 hour. And we have some very strong, nice looking supports that will add an awe factor to any case project you may have.

 

 

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Sweet!

 

I like the way you did the "gang" operations.

 

 

Also like that little combo square. I have a little 4" Starrett square- they are so handy.

 

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They are easy Harry! And the advantages of the sawtooth shelf supports far out weight the time it takes to make them. They look so cool, and they have been around for centuries, so these will fit in perfectly with any period work and modern as well.

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Yep, the gang cutting is a must Lew to keep them all aligned correctly and it just cuts the time down considerably. I'll tell ya what, that little Swanson I am using for the layout has been a very trusty square since I bought it over 15 years ago. It has seen a ton of action, it has resided in my tool bags while I was installing doors part time all those years and I used it faithfully for laying out butt hinge locations, and it has worked its way out my bags into the shop as a permanent resident and a very accurate square that is as good as any engineers square out there. I am sure the Swanson is a Starrett knock off, and it seems they even knocked off the Starrett accuracy too! 

 

Glad you guys like this How To for the shelf supports.

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They are quite easy Pat, and fun too actually, you get to utilize some hand tooling which for me is always fun. You really don't even need power to recreate these, you could use a dovetail saw for a carcass saw instead of the Table Saw.
 

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Pat Meeuwissen said:

John, great step by step directions. Was looking at my wife cabinet which has these in there and had wondered how to reproduce them. Thanks Pat

 


 

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Wow, sire, you are truely an artisan. From a thought to finished project is "Total time for these shelf supports were 1 hour. ".  I a certainly impressed. It would probably take me an hour just designing a jig/fixture to take the guesswork and tired ole eyes syndrome out of the equation.

 

 

 

 

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Give it a try Ron, they add a nice touch to your cabinetry.

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Ron England said:

I have seen those before and always wondered what they were called now I know,and will give it a try after shop expansio

 

 

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Ya but sometimes that thought to finish style I have Fred bites me in the but! A lot of times I'll build like this just winging it off the top of my head as I go, and sometimes it turns around and slaps me silly! Doh!


But this time it worked out fine, being under a time crunch to get these cabinets delivered by a specific date lends to the on the fly thinking. I am glad you like them Fred, I hope you can use them in the future.

 

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Fred Wilson said:

 

Wow, sire, you are truely an artisan. From a thought to finished project is "Total time for these shelf supports were 1 hour. ".  I a certainly impressed. It would probably take me an hour just designing a jig/fixture to take the guesswork and tired ole eyes syndrom out of the equation.

 

 

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Thanks Sue, I got the shelves notched and the cleats done this past weekend among other things, and I photographed the process, I just need to get them up here on TPW. I'll work on that in the coming couple days.
 

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SQ said:

John, Those turned out great!  Good information!

SQ

 

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Now, John, It was a writing of amazement - the other was time it would have taken ME ! ! ! !


The only butte I would care to bite at this time is a well roasted pig.. :)

 

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John Morris said:

 

Ya but sometimes that thought to finish style I have Fred bites me in the but! A lot of times I'll build like this just winging it off the top of my head as I go, and sometimes it turns around and slaps me silly! Doh!

But this time it worked out fine, being under a time crunch to get these cabinets delivered by a specific date lends to the on the fly thinking. I am glad you like them Fred, I hope you can use them in the future.

 

 

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