Putting shelves on a terrible wall


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Established Member
8 Jan 2017
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A friend of mine lives in a converted methodist chapel and has asked me to put some shelves up in his study.

Trouble is, the wall in question is old, thin TnG panelling secured to probably structurally terrible battens about a metre apart and not helpfully placed, which are fixed into the ancient rubble wall which I wouldnt feel great at all about getting any sort of reliable fixing into. from this side of the TnG. The panelling is pretty weak, flexible and dare I say, not suitable for shelves.


(Theres a builder on site thats not my stuff)

Originally he wanted individual floating shelves but I think succesfully sold the benefits of at least having some vertical sides so they hang with a bit of structure off of whatever fixings we do manage to get, floating shelves (mostly for books :eek:) would have the panelling off immediately no doubt

Anyway, im a bit stumped. Its all just been decorated so I don't want to make a mess of the panelling. But without going to the floor or maybe hanging from the ceiling I dont think its a wise thing to agree to, unless anyone has any clever ideas...
An alternative to floor standing is ceiling hung, off four 3mm wire ropes.

If you can put a back on the shelves, French cleats the full length of each shelf glued onto the panelling and screwed every 50mm. If you use a structural back, you can put extra cleats midheight between each shelf. Will still need full length sides on them or some other method of supporting the front of the shelf.
Free standing. No alternative!
Not necessarily to replicate the proposed layout either. Could be several same or different sizes, moveable to other positions. While you are at it might as well add doors, possibly glazed, to keep more valued items in good nick
Or perhaps actual separate freestanding (but also fixed to whatever you can) with TnG backs to match the existing wall? I'm shooting from the hip here as your options look to be a bit of a shrugfest 🤠
A good case for some freestanding bookcases as geting fixings into that wall could be a real pain. If you really had to with no other options then I would look at chemi fixings and stud of some sort.
As all the others have said.... free standing.

I had a similar job back in the late 90s entailing a set of book shelves in a Grade 2+ listed ex-vicarage.
The client wanted a study in what was originally the old scullery.
In this case two of the walls were original (16thC, I think) wattle-and-daub, the others were masonry and none of it was straight, square or plumb.

Drilling anything anywhere anytime was VERBOTEN!

Add to the mix, the fact that the client wanted the items to look 'built-in'

The solution was to build free-standing sections of shelves and lower cup-boards, join them all together on the sides so that the whole thing was rigid and then to very carefully scribe the wall contours onto a board and to cut the contours onto a piece to fit over the gaps where the walls bowed and bent and with some decorative beading. this was fixed to the backs of the units with the sides barely in contact with the wall.

One essential thing to do using this approach is to build in a hollow base - about 4 inches in this case - below the floor section, with an air grille and a hollow back-gap - 3 inches or so - open at both ends for ventilation.

I should add that this was approved by the conservation bloke, who was mostly interested in the wattle and daub....... as far as he was concerned, the shelf unit minimized damage to it.
Haha brilliant advice everyone, thankfully i think i have put him off these particular shelves (there are plenty others going on).

Living in a house with meter thick rubble walls, floor standing is the only option I ever have. You either drill in to incredibly hard rock, or softer than butter mortar (and then the drill bit hits the boulder behind that and you have a wall that looks like Dart Vader was practicing his light sabre technique).