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You are currently viewing How to build an Industrial Pipe Shelving Unit

This is one of the few projects I built TWICE because it’s so awesome. Check out the video and step by step guide on how to build an industrial pipe shelving unit. The guide provides two different variations for those with table saws and those without. I’m such a nice guy!

Difficulty: Beginner
Time Required: 1 Day
Cost: $100-$125 (black pipe is EXPENSIVE!)

Materials Required:

4 – 1”x12”x48” Stair Treads (if you have a table/circular saw) OR
2 – 1”x10”x8’ Select Pine (if you only have a miter saw)
1 – 3/4” black pipe @ 10’ (2) PIECES CUT AND THREADED TO 58” (home depot with cut and thread these for you. also, sorry for yelling.)
2 – 3/4” black nipple @ 3.5” (that’s what they call lengths of pipe, you perv!)
2 – 3/4″ Black Pipe @ 12″
2 – 3/4″ Couplings
2 – 3/4” 90 black degree elbows
4 – 3/4” Black Floor Flanges
16 – 3/4″ Split Rings
Minwax “Honey” Stain OR
Homemade steel wool & vinegar stain OR whatever you want! You do you!
Rust-Oleum Ultimate Water-based Satin Polyurethane
Black Enamel Spray Paint (the cheap stuff)

Tools Required:

• Table or Circular or Miter Saw
• Power Sander w/medium grit paper (100, 120,150 will do just fine)
• Sanding block (hand sander) with 150-200 grit paper
1-1/8” Woodboring Spade Drill Bit (aka speedbor)
• Tape Measure
• Pencil & Red colored pencil OR chalk of any color
• Dust Mask & Eye protection
• Paintbrush/Foam Brush
• Rag(s)

During my trip back east my sister mentioned that she landed on a new condo and was actively looking for some pieces to bring the space alive. Figuratively, of course. So she showed me some of her favorite Etsy and Pinterest pieces and I said. HOLD UP! Send me these later tonight. “Why?” She asked.

‘Cause I got you girl. I got you.

HERE’S what my sister sent me later that night…

Woops. That’s from a series of selfies I’ve been inundating my wife’s phone with. I try to capture every emotion I’m feeling throughout the day. It’s my reverse selfie psychology. I call this one, “Introspective Vulnerability”. By the time I’m done with her she’ll never flip that camera around again!

Also if you’ve got friends who consistently post those gross photos of last nights dinner, I’ve been working on reverse foodie psychology where I send individual bites of me eating my food. Like on the fork about to be consumed.

It’s going to be super effective, I can taste it! Anyway, here’s what my sister ACTUALLY sent me…

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 3.13.15 PM

That night I sketched a little sketch and mathed a little math…

Here are some things you should know before building your own DIY industrial pipe shelving unit. For one, it’s really easy. You need to give yourself some more credit than you usually do. I mean…so what if your honeycomb shelves looked more like an abandoned birdhouse. You’ve got to move on, man! It’s been months! The second thing you should know is that black pipe is fairly expensive. There are no two ways about this.

The total cost of materials for this project was about $125. Tools, time and manly man power not included. But before you go whining to your therapist, keep in mind that these things Etsy and retail for $300 and up. So save your tissues for another melodramatic meltdown!

Because we’re such great friends, there are two variations to this design. One is for my pals with table and circular saws. The other is for those with only a miter saw. The benefit of having the former is that we can use thicker stock which (in my under-appreciated opinion) looks BETTER. Stair treads are a true 1”, whereas the select pine claims to be 1” but only comes in at 3/4”. If that doesn’t matter to you or you only have a miter saw, go with option 2! You’re the one who’ll have to live with liars!

Option 1: Here are my (4) stair treads. I set my table saw fence (guide) to 10” and make the cuts.

Option 2ers aka pro-liars: Take your 1x10x8’s and mark out 48”. Chop (4) pieces at 48”. Then follow the guide as directed.

Stair treads about to be cut to 10″.

So the final shelf size for option 1 is a true 1″x10″x48″.

Using my dad’s palm sander, I SAND THE WOOD. Crazy, I know.

My sister likes distressed pieces, so I will oblige. I have a lot of experience being distressed…as do most parents I imagine.

If you put a bunch of loose screws, bolts and other hardware in a ziplock bag and hammer it into the wood, you’ll end up with some randomized marks. Wear your safety goggles and some gloves, because the bag usually rips after the first hit. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with the bag…but it does contain the hardware to a certain extent, which is enough pour moi.

If you drag the teeth of a saw (in this case a drywall saw) on the wood, it’ll give you a cool effect. I bang the crowbar randomly into the wood as well, because…why not?!

This close-up features wood abuse. Don’t worry, it’s legal!

Wipe your shelves clean of sawdust and wood tears with a damp rag.

Because I’m working out of my dad’s garage, I don’t have access to my collection of stains, so I decided to improvise and make my own.

I used my steel vinegar and wool stain recipe, but with one addition. I brewed (2) bags of tea and pre-treated the wood with it IN AN ATTEMPT to get more of a honey-brown hue. It didn’t work…

Now there could be a few reasons for this. The main one being that I didn’t give it enough time. And time is something I just don’t have this weekend. So for now I can’t write off that method for good. I need more data.

While I dig the grey hue the homemade steel wool and vinegar stain provided, I had a feeling my sister would not.

The things she showed me were a nice honey-brown, after all…

So I picked up…minwax’s “honey” wood stain. I’ll throw that on later.

Let that dry and mark out 4” from the of your shelf and 3.5” from the ends.

This is where we’ll be drilling our 1-1/8” hole (with the speedbor bit) for the 3/4” pipe to go through. You may notice the hole size and pipe thickness seem a little off, but let me stop you right there. Pipe thickness is measured by its ID or inside diameter. So the TRUE size of the pipe’s OD (outside diameter) is just about 1”. Getting a 1-1/8” bit gives us some play and ensures that the pipe will slide in without a fight. If that was unclear to anyone, just drop a comment below and we’ll straighten things out then tell ghost stories.

Once you drill the holes, lightly sand the top and bottoms to get rid of any rough spots. I had a lot of tear-away with my holes, but luckily they were all kept to the underside which will be hidden by split rings.

Speaking of split rings…lay out a drop cloth with some scrap wood and spray paint the pipe accessories. I didn’t spray the 58” lengths of pipe because they were already painted black.

If there was any tear away, hit those spots of exposed wood with your stain of choice. It’ll cover up nicely. Next up we’re going to clear coat these shelves. I use Rust-oleum Ultimate Water Based Satin Polyurethane with a foam brush. Brush on a generous first coat and let dry (drying time depends on temp and humidity. Both of those were over 80 today so I’M GOOD! AND GROSS!)

Sand with 150-200 grit sandpaper using a sanding block or some sort of an improvised flat edge. Apply a second generous coat and after that dries you can assess whether or not you need a third coat. I usually do three coats, but today I only did two! I’m such a bad-ass, I know.

While those dry, grab your tape measure, the (2) 58” lengths of pipe and a red colored pencil/chalk/something that will show up on black pipes.

Lay the pipe down and mark out the following:

Option 1: 12”, 13”, 25”, 26”, 38”, 39”, 51”, 52”

Option 2: 12”, 12.75”, 24.75”, 25.5”, 37.5”, 38.25”, 50.25”, 51”

What we just did was lay out where our shelves will be going. Obviously you can change this to suit your needs and space the shelves wherever you’d like. But this layout ensures each shelf has exactly 12” of interior space by accounting for the material thickness. Option 1 accommodates 1” stock and option 2 is for 3/4” stock. If someone finds my option 2 math to be incorrect, I hereby challenge them to a trial by haiku combat!

dust settles today
liar cries with many tears
cup of joe you owe

I feel like there’s a little bit of a Yoda vibe in that haiku, but I also feel like that’s why it’s so great?

I forgot where I was. That was fun. Uhh…split rings!

Once your 3/4″ split rings are dry, set the first two on each leg just under your 12” mark. The top of the split ring should be on the bottom mark. Make sure the orientation of the split ring is pointing towards you long-ways. This will help reduce shelf movement.

Slide on your bottom-most shelf and make your way up to your next mark, repeating the process outlined above.

Once all of the split rings and shelves are on the legs, screw in the bottom floor flange and the top elbow to nipple to floor flange.

The unit will NOT stand on it’s own without being mounted into the wall…so having a friend hold the unit while you screw it into studs wouldn’t be a bad idea. Assuming you have those. Friends…that is.

Due to the length of the unit, only ONE leg will hit a stud (going by general contracting standards studs are usually 16” apart). So, the other leg will have to be mounted in the wall using wall anchors.

To secure the DIY Industrial pipe shelving unit to the wall:

Mark out your stud, stand the pipe shelving unit up and mark out the holes through the floor flange. While the unit is still standing, mark where you’re going to anchor in the other leg.

Lay the pipe shelving unit down and pre-drill with a smaller bit than your screw/anchor. Get your anchors set in place and then stand the unit back up and secure it to the wall.

If you have hardwood floors, I would also suggest getting some furniture leg felt to ensure the bottom floor flange doesn’t scratch your hardwood floors. You could cut some craft felt yourself and conceal it under the flange, or purchase the little furniture sliders that come with adhesive on back. I’m using some paper towels as a temporary solution for the photo above. If you’ve got carpet, you’re good to go!

Think of the possibilities! AMAZING!

Well that about wraps things up. Drop a comment to let me know what you think or if you have any questions.



One stay at home dad (to be) conquers DIY and Diapers

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Kimberly

    Do you have the plans in a convenient PDF that you can email or post? Thanks!!!

  2. Chris V

    Amazing things happen when you come type in DIY shelving in the search bar of YouTube, your video appears. Your method is simple and easy to follow, but I am still left with two questions: 1. Can I be cheap (CFO of household has limited my budget) and buy silver piping and paint black? 2. What would you estimate the weight limit of the shelves to be. Thank you in advance. – A new fan

    1. Rick

      Hey Chris, not sure on the weight but it holds quite a bit. I have heavy books on every shelf, but I would use your discretion. Yes you can buy uncoated pipe and paint it, no problem!

  3. Jacqueline Ward

    Great shelf! Could you adjust the materials list for me to do 5 shelves… I am making one to fit a 96″ wall with 5 shelves. Would I just need to add the wood and 2 more split rings?

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