This ingenious IKEA hack will make you smile

Pile of 3D printed shelfie brackets.
Start with a pile of 3d printed brackets

Last month, we (my wife and I) disassembled an IKEA Expedit shelf unit, and while I didn’t take a photo of ours before disassembly, it was a 5×5 unit identical to the one featured here. The room the Expedit was in was getting rearranged and there wasn’t going to be a place for it any longer in the room. We don’t really have any other spot in the house where it would fit, so my wife suggested putting it on the curb.

I realized that while it wouldn’t fit in the closet in our home office, I could salvage much of the material and repurpose it for a custom shelf system. What I figured I could salvage and reuse were the 20 short pieces (the vertical walls in the photo on the above linked page) and the four long and thin pieces (the horizontal pieces in the photo on the linked page.)

On Thingiverse there is an thing called the Shelfie, described as a DIY parametric shelf and storage designer. I had made a few of the brackets a few years ago when I had a surplus of small plywood panels, but I never finished that project. Originally, you could use the customizer on Thingiverse to configure the brackets exactly how you wanted them, but the Customizer hasn’t been working on Thingiverse for awhile now. However, you can load the design in OpenSCAD and customize the design to be whatever you need.

The screenshot above shows how the Customizer in OpenSCAD is used to configure the part to be a T shaped bracket with a back and a pass-through channel so the long board can go all the way through.

I did a quick measurement of the closet and figured out that the long boards would fit in the width of the closet and that I could easily get three rows of shelves to fit without having to work around anything already mounted in the closet. So, I drew up a quick sketch:

This is messy, but I think that messiness shows a part of the making process.

I wanted a few tall cubbies, so I scribbled out the parts where there wouldn’t be a shelf. Then, I came up with a shorthand for planning out what brackets needed to be 3D printed: Ts = standard T bracket, Tp = T bracket with passthrough channel, Xp = X bracket with passthrough channel, and each of the corners was going to get a standard L bracket, so I didn’t label those.

I needed two complete sets of the brackets, one for the front and one for the back. The ones on the back I decided (after suggestions from other Workshop 88 members) to add the option to screw a backer board onto.

After customizing all the designs in OpenSCAD, I started printing. And printing. And did some more printing. I lost track of the total print time, but it could have easily been a week of continuous printing. With the breaks I took between some of the prints, it took me about three weeks to finish all of them.

Finally, I was ready for assembly!

Attaching brackets to the wall.
Shelf unit taking shape!
Building up the shelves!

Somewhere towards the end of the assembly, I realized that I had miscounted the number of short panels I needed. I thought I would only need 18 of the 20 panels from the Expedit, but I had forgot to count the three horizontal short panels needed for the top three cubbies! So, it turned out that I needed 21 panels, but only had 20 available. Whoops!

Fortunately, my design only was using three of the four long boards, and since they were all the same thickness, I cut the end off the extra board to make the last needed small panel.

I also made a last minute decision to attach the brackets directly to the wall panel in the closet. I figure that it is a closet that I don’t mind if the wall panel (it is a panel, not drywall) gets some holes in – especially since they will be small holes. Hopefully the shelves last quite awhile, though!

Finished with the assembly!

In the assembly process, I only had one bracket break – a T bracket with a passthrough and wall attachments. The reason it broke was that I had attached it to the wall before putting in the last horizontal long board. It wasn’t lined up with the other brackets, so when the long board was inserted, it bent the bracket and snapped off one side of the passthrough channel. Fortunately, I had a leftover test print that worked as a replacement part.

Broken bracket.

In the Workshop 88 slack there is a channel called “entropy” which I find to be delightful because members use that channel to discuss the various ways that they try to reign in the disorder in our workspaces. I don’t have a “before” photo of the closet, but I can attest that although the closet is accurately described as a “walk-in” closet, it would have been impossible to do that before I added the modified shelf. Here is the photo after adding all the stuff back into the shelf:

It’s hard to see in this photo, but there is actually space now to walk in the walk-in closet.

I’m really happy with how this Ikea-hack project turned out. I’m cautiously optimistic that the shelves will have an extended life helping to control the disorder in this closet.

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