Sunday, October 7, 2012

Home Improvement #4

I am sure that not everyone likes the industrial/rustic look for their home, but Sarah and I both really like that style, and so we ventured into designing and building our second pipe shelf to fill the empty wall space above our desk.  

We looked at several pipe shelf designs online (mainly on Etsy) and selected a few features that we would like: The "X", steps, and lights were key features that we wanted to incorporate.  After Sarah drew a few designs down, I (Simon) spent a couple of lunch breaks at work on the computer and drew up the final design using the 3D CAD software Solidworks that I use for work on a daily basis.

The final design we chose.  Honestly, it's half the work deciding on what you want to build.
After Sarah's approval, it was just a matter of going to Lowe's and Home Depot to buy all the required pipe fittings and nipples.  But not before checking our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore where we bought as many parts we could as they were a lot cheaper than the hardware stores mentioned above.  

Most of the pipe fittings.

Just as our pipe book shelf (found here), this shelf is made of 1/2" black iron pipe.  Because the pipe nipples are a little greasy and dirty on the outside, I didn't want to build it in our living room on the carpet so I moved to our balcony to do the first dry assembly.

First assembly on the balcony (not the weird name of some Baptist church)
After I confirmed that I had all the necessary pieces and that they fit together the way they were supposed to, I tackled the electrical aspect of this project.  I used Candelabra light sockets (also known as chandelier sockets) and a 1/2" by 3/4" reducing coupling, added some Goop glue, clamped it down for a bit, and ended up with a pipe socket.  It worked out pretty well, although this method was not my first choice.  I had really hoped that I would have been able to use regular medium (E27) sockets, but they are actually quite large, and it would have looked silly to go from a 1/2" pipe all the way to 1-1/2" or larger to accommodate the medium socket, so I resorted to having to use a separate adapter.  It took me a long time to settle for the Candelabra sockets, but in the end I'm happy with how it turned out. 

Candelabra socket + reducing nipple = pipe socket

After doing this 3 times, I set up a little soldering area on my desk to start the wiring.  The picture below shows the required tools: soldering iron, solder, flux, wire strippers, shrink tubing, a lighter, and of course wire to have something to solder together.

I disassembled the parts of the dry assembly from the balcony that required wiring.  In order to reduce confusion, I laid the pieces in the order that they go together, because once you feed the wire through and re-assemble the shelf, you can't just switch out one pipe nipple for another very easily.  The wire obviously goes through the pipe nipples and fittings and - in a way - locks them in place.  (Note: a flipped over area rug makes a great workspace inside an apartment without ruining your carpet.)

The partially disassembled shelf
Feeding wires through the pipe was a tedious process, because I had to leave just the right amount of excess in the wires to be able to connect them but not too much so that they wouldn't fit if they're being "crunched" together.  I had to take it one pipe nipple at a time, but it was an enjoyable process.

Extending the flying leads of one of the lights

Soldering the wires of two lights together

I don't have pictures of this (sorry!), but to be able to plug this "lamp" into the wall, I bought an extension cord and cut off the socket part at the end.  Then, I soldered the wires to the ones coming from the light sockets.

I used the leftover wood from our pipe book shelf project for the wooden shelves above the desk.  Using my circular saw, I cut the board in half lengthwise to obtain the required width.

The bottom shelf used one of the halves, where the other two smaller shelves used slightly less than one half each of the other board.  Using a 7/8" Forstner bit, I drilled holes into the board to accommodate the pipe.

The board for the very top shelf after I drilled the holes for the pipe to go through

I continued the same process with the other wooden shelves.  Below you can see the "before picture."  We already moved the desk out of the way so the wall looks even more bare than it was.  But we really wanted to get that shelf on the wall!  With Sarah's help, I got it up there (it was already getting dark outside hence the decline in light).

Before and...

We're using these really cool elongated light bulbs that we ordered from  They are only 30W, so they're not too bright and have a really nice glow to them, which is exactly what we wanted.  It doesn't show up well in this picture, but check out this close up:

Close up of the light bulbs we chose

In this last picture, you can also see the adapter that we had to use that converts a Candelabra socket to a regular medium socket.  I spray painted them black (they only came in white) so they wouldn't stand out quite as much.  Again, the solution to use Candelabra sockets wasn't my first choice, but I'm happy with how everything turned out!  Also, I didn't show this, but I grounded the shelf structure; don't want anyone to get electrocuted in case I messed up or some wire isn't insulated as well as it should be.

This shelf in addition to one of our power outlets that is controlled by a light switch, makes it a great "side table lamp" for our apartment.  We love it and are glad we finally built it!


  1. pretty awesome. nice soldering!

  2. This is great! Now I HAVE to come visit you guys so I can see all your cool projects.

  3. These shelves look really great! I really like the light bulbs that you picked too.