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Back to the basics

You know how in junior high and high school, math teachers always said you would use what they were teaching you later in life? Well, this project finally fulfilled that long standing prophecy! Now I did have to look up some of the equations to calculate the lengths of wood needed, but it was one of those memories that just had to be dug up.

This project started when we (my mom, cousin and I) got a catalog from Grandin Road and saw these adorable hexagon shelves. Yes, they’re cute but since we each wanted one and they’re $89 each not including taxes or shipping & handling fees we opted for the homemade version.

First I had to figure out the size of the shelves to be built and how much lumber I would need. The hexagon shelf from the catalog measured 5″ deep by 24″ wide by 21″ high, I figured I would stay with a profile that wasn’t any deeper or narrower than this as items that would be placed on it might need more depth. I settled on a 1″ by 5″ board then started on the other dimensions.

This is where math comes in and things get tricky. If the catalog shelf measured 24″ wide, half of that would be 12″ which would be the length of each side of the hexagonmartin4.1 as a  hexagon is made of 6 equilateral triangles. I had to look at a lot of diagrams of hexagons and equilateral triangles as well as some equations to remind myself of how to calculate things. I didn’t want to make these shelves too big as they could overpower a wall, I settled on an 18″ and 12″ which meant each side would be 9″ and 6″ respectively. As far as the angles go, an equilateral triangle has 60°, which is half of the what the total angle of each “corner” would be. What I needed to remember though is that the outer length of each side and the inner length need to be differentiated. Using a compound miter saw set to 30°, I cut 6 pieces of wood for each of the four shelves I made.

Once I had each length cut, I did a rough sanding with a 80 grit along the cut edges which you can see the below. I applied a thinnish coating of wood glue, spread is with my finger, and laid it next to the adjacent pieces of wood to form a lopsided hexagon. Once I had everything lined up next to one another I placed a tie down around it as a form of clamping. I periodically checked the “squareness” of the hexagon by measuring opposite corners length against one another. So if the corners were labeled 1 through 6 going clockwise, I would measure the distance between corners 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6. Ideally, the length would be the same for each distance, which would make it square. I let it dry overnight, filled any gaps with wood putty, and sanded the joints.


I knew on the bigger shelves we wanted a shelf to intersect at some point. To figure out the length at which to cut the shelves, I decided where I wanted the top of the shelf to be. Measuring from that point across, I figured out how long to make each shelf using the same principles as the sides of the hexagon. And because the angles of the sides are 60°, I cut them the same way using the compound miter saw. I glued, puttied, and sanded the middle shelves the same way I did the for the hexagon shelves.

The part that seems so tedious yet gives fantastic results is the painting. Doing a quick sanding ensured the absence of flakes of putty or wood splinters; make sure to wipe down all surfaces of your project with a lint free towel (I figured out that dry microfiber towels work fantastically!). I did a coat of primer, sanded it using 140 grit sandpaper and wiped it down again. I used Swiss Coffee in eggshell, sanded again with 220 grit paper, and wiped it down. I applied the last coat of paint and it looked perfect! I attached 2 D-hooks to the back of each shelf for hanging, yet none of us have hung our shelves yet. Just waiting to get our gallery walls together and hung. As soon as I have pictures of them hung, I’ll upload the to here.


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