Bookshelves Phase 1 Completed

It’s finally done. The cabinets that my grandfather and I built for Sue and mine’s library are now installed. My brother-in-law and father-in-law helped me (ok, let’s be honest here … I helped them. I know my strengths, and construction is not one of them) maneuver the cabinets into position.

It was not a particularly easy task.

Our house is an old one, having been built in the 1920s, and we’ve got plaster-and-lathe walls. For those who haven’t had a chance to experience this, imagine having walls made from chalk. The walls are solid — we’re in no danger of having them crumble down around us during dinner — but they don’t take screws well. In fact, all those neato expanders and tools for drywall are pretty much useless with plaster. The screws simply tear right out of

To avoid this (and really, you should do the same with drywall if hanging anything more than a poster) you need to find the studs. These are supports running up and down the insides of the walls and if you can anchor your screws or bolts to a stud, you’re golden. It’s particularly important with this project, since we’re about to be invaded by babies, and we need to make sure that a toddler can’t bring down the entire bookshelf when trying to climb it.

Unfortunately, in my house, finding the studs is something of a challenge. The building is so old that the building standards we have today weren’t around, and as a result, you have to guess just how far apart each stud is. This is requires looking for clues, such as where the heating vents are, where the electrical outlets are installed, and — if you have it in that wall — where the plumbing is. Of course, this isn’t just important for finding studs — you need to know where all this good stuff is so that you don’t accidentally electrocute yourself or put a hole in your plumbing. You can also use something called a stud finder — which measures density in the wall — to try and locate them, but in older houses like mine, it can give false positives. Once you’ve eyeballed where the studs are and tried to back-up your guesses with the stud finder, you mark everything with masking tape.

And then you start drilling, hoping to tell when you’ve hit a stud (usually, if you missed a stud the drill goes in easily, if you hit one, it’s a bit harder. But you really need to pay close attention). Once you drill the holes, you can feel around inside them with a wire (actually, we used an errant piece of straw that had escaped from one of Sue’s craft projects) to try and “feel” the stud.

It took us hours to finally pin-down the location of the studs, but we finally did it. We ended up bolting a six-foot long piece of 2×3 to the wall, and then running screws through the back of the cabinet into the 2×3 to provide the needed support. And now that puppy is going nowhere — it’s as solid as a rock, and I doubt even my nephew Cooper (a particularly adventurous toddler) would be able to budge it.

So now, Phase 1 is complete. And Phase 2 — the actual bookshelves which will sit on top of the cabinets — looms large. Thankfully, my father-in-law’s is going to build the first section or two of the bookshelves, and then we’re all going to get together to install them (and probably build the third one here). Will they be done before the baby comes in March, which is Sue’s hell-or-highwater deadline? Only time (and a few powertools) will tell.