Saturday, February 2, 2013

Walmart Hack: 3-shelf Bookcase

Believe it or not, this is a Mainstays brand bookshelf from Walmart, and this project went from an idea at noon on Sunday to a finished product by 8pm that evening*.  Yes, that included shopping time.  The even better news?  This project takes little to no "special" skills.  Mostly it's just an excercise in how much you love using aerosol sprays.

To make your own hacked version of this bad boy you will need:
  • A cheap, unassembled, bookshelf of your choice (or one you can take apart easily)
  • Spray paint
  • Spray adhesive
  • A piece of fabric somewhat larger than the back of the bookshelf
  • 4 furniture legs
  • 4 pieces of hardware that only J knows what they are called
  • Masking tape
  • Screwgun
  • Ruler
  • Hammer

J and I have been discussing the need for a small bookshelf in our bedroom for some time.  Well, at least since he got his library card and started filling the top of the dresser with stacks of possible reading materials.  As crafty types, we'd discussed all manner of creative solutions to the problem, (most extremely complicated and/or costly) and therefore no shelf had yet appeared.  This weekend we decided cheap and functional was more a necessity than elaborate and artistic (J says: "This time").  Sometimes, we hate to admit it, but these types of decisions have to be made.  To console ourselves, we designed a unique hack of a boring bookshelf, checked our fabric stash for inspiration, and made a master shopping list before heading out the door.

When we returned home it was getting dark, but we were hardly ready to waste our enthusiasm due to lack of daylight.  We drug all our finds outside and got to work.

We started by unpacking the bookshelf, making sure we had all the pieces properly labeled, and setting up a location for spray painting.  J is the master at this as you will see first hand once we get the video footage edited and up on the YouTube site.  We taped off the edges to provide contrast and only painted the interior sides and tops of the interior shelves.  It took two coats, as black is hard to cover, but with the breeze that was going it was dry in no time. (J says: Sand your painted surfaces thoroughly. In our excitement, I trusted that sexy spray paint would do the hard part for us, but nothing replaces sanding a glossy surface and even applying a primer if you want it bombproof)

Masked and clean.
Ooh. Shiny.
J also wrapped the metal bottoms of the furniture legs and sprayed them black to match the bookcase. (J says: Wear a disposable latex glove and you won't have to clean yourself up when you're done!)

While he was outside working with the paint, I stayed in measuring and cutting the fabric backing.  I measured the backing that came with the bookshelf and added three inches to the height and width measurements.  I worked hard to square up the fabric so the pattern lines would be straight, but I'll admit something got squirrely.  In hindsight it may have been easier to pick a fabric without a distinct horizontal and vertical pattern.
We took the fabric and bookcase backing outside and adhered them together using Super 77 spray adhesive.  We did this process in three sections to assure we were squaring up the fabric, leaving enough on each edge to fold over to the back, and pressing out any possible bubbles.  It's best to start at one edge and work slowly and methodically, rubbing the fabric down inch by inch so that it's laid without bubbles or wrinkles.  After it was all pressed down we cut off the corners to prevent fabric overlap on the back of the board.
Then we flipped the board over, sprayed adhesive on each edge, and carefully pressed them down to the back of the board.
 Once everything had been given a chance to dry, we hauled the project back inside the house to start installing hardware...
J here, and I'll be taking over for my lovely co-host. Once re-painted, the shelf goes back together essentially as expected, with one notable difference: The legs. The hardware A couldn't name earlier on the shopping list is a set of four threaded inserts. They come in various sizes, so pick a set that match the threaded part on your legs. Ours had a 5/16" bolt, so we bought 5/16" threaded inserts. Mark points up and in from the edges, double checking that you aren't going to install hardware where some other pieces need to go, like the sides or toekick. That distance will vary based on the shelf and your legs. (Ours was 1-1/4" in from the edges and back, and maybe 2-1/4" from the front because of the toekick. Not that I caught that the first time I drilled the holes and installed the wrong hardware. More on that later.).
These. Not something else.
Mark those points and carefully drill a hole just wide enough for the shaft of the insert but small enough to let the threads bite when you drive it in with a big flat-headed screw driver. Brass is soft, so go slowly and don't overcrank it or you risk chipping off the edge of an insert and getting stranded.
These inserts work as a portable nut that lets you thread a bolt into anything you please, basically a tap and die for wood and other shapable materials. They're great if you only have access from the bolt side or can't drill through for whatever reason. They are distinct from T-nuts. T-nuts are peculiar hardware designed to attach from the other side of something and leave exposed hardware. I make the distinction because the store we went to had plenty of T-nuts and only 1 threaded insert. I knew it wasn't the right tool for the job, but I did it anyway. They failed. They simply are not designed to be installed upside down for a different purpose (which I knew going in, but the desire to do it right now took hold). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there are that many things in a hardware store because each and every one of them has a unique purpose. Some things can do double duty, but T-nuts aren't one of them.
This thing. If it looks like this, you're doing it wrong.
Once the inserts are in, assemble the shelf as per instructions. Once done, tip it over, thread in your legs, and bask in the mid-seventies glow of your very own footed bookshelf. As a comparison, the original intended look for the unit, and our "upgrade".
Before. Unobtrusive.
After. Exclusive!
Ours is swingin' because that was the fabric we had and liked. There's no reason yours can't be a stately blue-on-white number with toile backing and elegant turned legs or black and acid yellow with lightning bolts and chrome feet. We just give you the techniques. It's your job to do something cool with it.
*Disclaimer: Due to hardware shortages in the greater metropolitan area, the unit wasn't actually completed in the eight hour window as stated. Had the store stocked 5/16" threaded inserts like every other hardware store in America, it would have been a one-and-done sort of project day.


  1. This is fantastic. I've got some stuff that I need to redo. I'm definitely going to use this as a guide. Thanks, my friends. <3

  2. Bought all the materials tonight and plan on assembling it tomorrow. Thanks for posting this DIY!

    1. Just finished putting it together and it looks fantastic. Instead of using the threaded pieces, we used Waddell 2.43-in Table Leg Angle Top Plate with 5/8 screws. With those we were able to get the legs at the perfect mid-century angle.

      Thanks again for posting this DIY!

  3. Bought all the materials tonight and plan on assembling it tomorrow. Thanks for posting this DIY!