When we first started dreaming about a steampunk-inspired home office, we both wanted an industrial pipe bookshelf. Because of its popularity, we found several tutorials on how to make one. Those tutorials helped provide a general framework for how to do it, however, we had a hard time finding one exactly like we wanted. Most of the tutorials had the same length of shelves from top to bottom. I was fine with that look, but hubby wanted something different.
To allow for taller objects and to give some visual interest, we thought it would be cool to have two smaller shelves in the middle with a pipe connecting them. This was the hardest part of the project, but we figured it out!
To make sure we were on the same page, we got out the painter’s tape.
This tutorial explains our process of designing and creating an industrial pipe bookshelf in our home office.
Level of difficulty*: Moderately Easy
Time commitment*: A weekend project (if using a traditional stain), or several weeks if finishing wood with tung oil as described.
Find Your Studs and Decide on Placement
The main thing to consider for placement is finding your studs. The pipe flanges must mount into the the studs. Within those confines, you have some flexibility for placement.
I love painter’s tape for trying things out! It allows you visualize a design and placement before putting holes in the wall. If a “shelf” is too long, chop off the tape. You want it longer, stick it back up there. Move it here, there, and all around.
Your local hardware store will have many of the supplies we used.
- 2 – ¾” x 1” pipe
- 2 – 3/4″ x 2″ pipe
- 4 – ¾” x 3 ½” pipe
- 7 – ¾” x 6” pipe
- 1 – ¾” x 8” pipe
- 3 – ¾” x 14” pipe
- 2 – ¾ “ x 29” pipe
- 9 – ¾” T-fittings
- 9 – ¾” 90° elbow joints
- 1 – 2 x 10 x 10 (We cut to 20”, 22″, and 2 pieces at 38″)
- 1” hole saw (just big enough to fit pipe through)
- Phillips bit
- Steel wool (000 or 0000)
- Simple Green
- Orbital sander
- 80 – 220 grit sandpaper
(Optional for shelf adjustments)
- PVC pipe
- Black spray paint
- Hack saw to cut PVC pipe
Prepare the Materials for Assembly
We refinished the pipes and wood and cut everything to length to prepare for assembly.
Remove the Black Residue from the Black Iron Pipes
The pipes come with a black oil residue. We removed some of it, but not all of it to give it a more industrial look.
To remove the black oil:
- Spray the black iron pipes with Simple Green and let it sit for about 30 minutes to an hour.
- Wipe with a steel wool until you’re happy with the amount of black oil that comes off.
Tip: I recommend turning on your favorite tunes to make the time more enjoyable because it can take a while.
Cut, Sand, and Finish the Wood
Depending on the type of finish you use for the wood, the amount of time to complete these steps can vary. I applied 5-6 coats so it took several days before getting the desired color. I used more than an entire 8 oz bottle of tung oil for this project.
To prepare the wood for assembly:
- Cut the wood into these measurements:
- 2 – 38” pieces
- 1 – 22” piece
- 1 – 20” piece
- Sand the wood tops, sides, and corners.
We wanted subtle rounded corners and soft edges for a more worn look and used an orbital sander to make it go faster.
- Finish your wood.
We used dark tung oil to give the wood a darker appearance as a healthier alternative to traditional staining, which tends to have a high amount of VOCs.
To apply tung oil:
- Pour the tung oil onto a piece of sandpaper and immediately wipe the sandpaper into the grain of the wood pressing lightly.
Apply liberally, but not to the point of dripping.
- Wait 40 minutes and wipe with a clean, dry, lint-free rag.
- Wait at least 24 hours to dry.
- Apply coats the same way until you achieve your desired color.
- After the last coat, let it dry for 7-10 days for a minimum cure.
Wait 15-30 days for full cure.
Test Fit Everything Together
Test fitting with tightened ends is important. We didn’t do that and had to recut and refinish a piece of wood because one of the pipes was not the correct length. We had to get a longer pipe fitting than what we originally intended.
To test fit the pipes:
- Lay the pipe pieces on something you don’t mind getting dirty to ensure everything will fit together.
- Screw the pipe fittings together.
- Ensure the pipes are tight in the orientation you want the pieces to go to (like T-fitting end faces the correct direction for the next pipe to fit into).
Tip: If you find the T-fitting end faces to the left and you need it to face the right, try unscrewing it and then screw the other end of the T-fitting into the pipe. Usually one end, once fully screwed into the bottom pipe, will face the correct direction.
- Make any necessary adjustments.
- Hold it up on the wall to check alignment with the studs.
Attach Bottom Flanges and First Support to the Wall
Now that you’ve checked that all the pipe fittings screw in correctly and are the correct width and height, you can begin assembly by attaching the bottom flanges to the wall.
To attach the bottom flanges and support for shelf:
- Remove the bottom flanges from your test fit.
- Mark where you want the first flange to sit on the wall.
- Drill a small hole in the wall and stud.
- Screw the flange into the wall.
- Determine where the second flange needs to go using a level and your eyes (because sometimes walls are bowed, foundations are uneven, and in the end it needs to look level to the human eye).
- Repeat steps 2-4 for the second flange.
- Attach the 1” pipe, t-fitting, and 2” pipe by screwing them to the flange with the t-fitting facing upwards for both sides.
- Add the 90o elbows to the end.
This is what the bottom shelf will sit on.
Measure, Drill Holes for Pipes, and Assemble
After attaching the bottom flanges and piping to the wall, we cut holes into the wood to insert the pipe through the shelf and thread it into the bottom piping that supports the shelf.
To assemble the shelf:
- Place the 38” board on top of the 90 o elbow you just assembled.
- Trace around the pipe with a pencil so you know where to make the hole.
- Drill the hole using the hole saw.
Tip: Drill until the center drill bit exits the opposite side, then move the hole saw to the opposite site and finish drilling out the hole.
This will minimize tear-out and keep the surfaces looking nice.
- Place the board where it will go on the wall.
- Insert the vertical pipe through the board on the left side.
- Screw the vertical pipe into the 90 o elbow that supports the board.
Tip: To keep the board supported on the other side, consider placing a temporary support piece underneath.
- Attach the horizontal pipe that goes under the second board.
This consists of two straight pipes, a t-fitting, and a “support” pipe with a 90o
- Continue measuring for holes, cutting holes, and assembling in this order:
Note: Because our pipe crosses over and attaches to both sides on the bookshelf, the bottom flange that attaches to pipe (#6) had to be removed and screwed into the pipe before reattaching it to the wall.
Tip: You may notice that once assembled, some of the boards do not sit level on the pipe. To remedy this, for the side of the board that is sinking, measure about how much it needs to be level and cut that much off of a PVC pipe. Heat the pipe with a torch and with heat-resistant gloves, shape the PVC pipe around an iron pipe so that it fits snugly around it. Spray paint it black and attach it below the shelf and onto the pipe.
- Drill the top flanges in last.
We added a gauge to the front with a magnet.
I hope that by providing specific steps and measurements, it will go faster and easier for you than it did for us! Click here to see the finished bookshelf in our steampunk-inspired home office.
Do you like the look of an industrial pipe shelf and would you do it yourself?
If you try this, let me know how it turned out!
Tune in next month for another tutorial from our steampunk-inspired home office!
*We are not professionals and we are basing the level of difficulty and time commitment based on what it would take someone who had never done it before, but who has experience and some expertise with power tools.