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Cantilevered Display Shelves

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Cantilevered Display Shelves

Strong, glueless joints support these elegant, cantilevered shelves.

By Dave Munkittrick

Whatever you collect—rocks, porcelain, folk art or photos of your Schnauzer—it’ll get the attention it deserves when displayed on these shelves. The simple design is wide open at the front and sides so nothing interferes with what’s on display. The stepped back shelves allow ambient light to flood each shelf.

If you’re thinking of making some gifts for the holidays, consider these shelves. It’s almost as easy to make a dozen as it is to make one. Best of all, these shelves knock down to five easy pieces and six little screws that can be boxed up and shipped to anyone on your list. If you’re like me, building these shelves is a lot easier than writing a holiday letter!

These shelves are:
- sturdy
- lightweight
- easily knocked down for shipping
- fun to make
- easy to mass produce

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Cut the deep dado on the front side of the support using a long miter gauge fence and a starting block. This is the first step in creating the bridle joint that locks the shelf onto the supports.

The blade guard must be removed for this cut. Be careful.

Click on any image to view a larger version.


Cut the two shallow dadoes on the sides of the supports after slipping a 3/8" spacer board under the workpiece. You must cut all the dadoes for each shelf before moving on to the next. That way you keep the same fence and blade setting for each cut, which guarantees perfect alignment of the dadoes on all three sides of the support.



Cut a keyhole slot on the back of the supports using your router table and a keyhole bit. Brace the top of the support against a starting block and lower the vertical support onto the keyhole bit until it rests flat on your router table. Slide the support forward against the stop block to finish the cut.


Cut the tapers on the supports with a shop-made jig, or on a bandsaw. Taper the sides first. - Set a 5/16" gap between the two halves of the taper jig for the first side cut. - Set the gap at 5/8" for the second side cut. - Move the fence 1/4" farther away from the blade, set the gap at 3/4" and cut the front taper. - Mark each setting on the jig for future reference.


Plane the shelf stock to fit the dadoes in the supports. Use some scrap to determine the proper planer setting. Try for a slightly tight fit to allow for sanding.


Cut the notches in all the shelves at once. First, make test cuts on scrap to determine the proper width and height settings for the dado blade. Mark the center of each shelf and lay out the notches on the small shelf. Align the shelves in a stack held together with double-faced tape. Clamp the stack to a tall fence fastened to your miter gauge and make your first cut. Reposition the stack, clamp and make the second cut.

The blade guard must be removed for this cut. Be careful.


Drill and countersink pilot holes for the screws after dry fitting the shelves.



Taper the ends of each shelf on the bandsaw. You want to remove a 1/4" thick wedge that ends about 1-1/2" from the notch. Use a block of wood as a guide to keep the shelf perpendicular to the table. Stick the block to the shelf with double-faced tape.


Lay out the curve on the front edge of each shelf. Clamp a 1/4" hardboard strip on the ends of a 40" long piece of wood or plywood and add a 3/4" spacer block in the middle. Taper the ends of the plywood to create a fair curve. Cut the curve on the bandsaw.


Cut an 8° angle on the shelf ends using a miter gauge on the tablesaw.


Shape the bottom taper (grid area) with a hand plane or power sander. The object is to create an even 1/4" thickness across the ends and a sweeping curve on the front of the shelf. Take care not to remove any material around the notch or you’ll ruin the fit of the shelf to the support.













This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October 2001, Issue #89.