There is a load of storage space in my motorhome but it’s all in cupboards, which tend to get crammed with stuff – sometimes you just need an easy-to-reach shelf to grab a mug from. I also wanted to move my drinking water bottle out of the cupboard it was in.

You’d think a shelf would be trivial – a plank of wood of the correct size resting on 2 screwed in support brackets – simples! But no! Nothing in my world is as easy as that! I didn’t want any visible screws or supports, and I wanted it to be wider at one end for the bottle, and it had to have a lip to stop things sliding off.

I started by measuring the span. Measuring internal dimensions using a tape is very difficult because the tape won’t fit right into the corner

So I found a piece of wood that was roughly the right length and clamped another bit on top to the full width of the span.

Then I took the two clamped bits of wood to the workshop and used the table saw fence to align the ends and mark the length on a piece of wood I’d found

The wood came from an old coffee table top, probably circa 1950’s or 60’s, that I’d kept for years. I wasn’t sure what species it was at first.

After cutting it to length I marked out the odd shape of the shelf, which had to accommodate a water bottle at one end.

I could have cut it all out on the bandsaw but decided to cut the straight section on the table saw and stop the cut before the end. To run the flat side of the wood along the fence I had to flip the board over so I marked the point I had to saw up to on the reverse side

I couldn’t saw right up to the line because the saw would be cutting further on the underside of the wood. So I’d estimated the point to stop at.

Unfortunately I underestimated how far the saw had cut underneath and I over-ran the cut. Damn! The rest of the cut I did on the bandsaw.

The design called for a lip along the front edge of the shelf. I mulled over how to lip the curved bit. I decided to just cut a strip of wood from the curved offcut, and then reduce its thickness by about a half

It was a slightly different radius now of course but I lined it up as close as I could and glued it in place. [Now that I’d run the wood through the thicknesser to remove the finish, I could see that it was almost certainly Ramin, which used to be quite readily available; alas I note now, 25 years later, that it’s on the endangered list!]

Then I made and glued-on a lip for the straight section. I smoothed the outside of the curved part of the lip using a detail sander attachment on my multi-tool.

I decided to relieve the front lower edge of the shelf to reduce the apparent thickness. I used the router table with a raised-panel bit to create a shallow chamfer

The bit I used didn’t create a flat chamfer but left a flat part

… which I had to remove using a chisel and block plane (here you can see the hole left from when I cut too far with the table saw)

After sanding the shelf I stained it using a stain that closely matched the wood in my van (I had tested a couple of different stains first)

After I had stained and de-nibbed I could see parallel lines running the length of the board. These were from the thicknesser. I was concerned to see these considering I had thoroughly sanded the shelf with my random orbit sander before staining. I think I’ll report this to the store where I bought the thicknesser and see what they say.

I finished the shelf with several coats of water-based varnish and then took it to the van to install. I marked the place where it would go by clamping a couple of scraps of wood to support it

I marked the upper and lower edges of the shelf on the ‘wall’ and punched holes using an automatic punch

.. and then drilled the holes for the dowels

For this end of the shelf I could drill through from inside the cupboard into the end of the shelf for the dowel holes. But for the right-hand end of the shelf I had no access to do this, so I first drilled the dowel holes in the right-hand end

…and then used dowel hole markers to mark the position of the holes on the ‘wall’ of the van

… which I then used to drill holes for the 8mm dowels. I glued the dowels into the right-hand end first. With the dowels inserted, the shelf was now too long to fit between the panels, so I had to angle the shelf downwards to start inserting the dowels into the side panel and wiggle it in gradually until the dowels were fully in and the left had end dropped into its correct position.

I inserted dowels into the left hand end from inside the cupboard, and banged them in flush with a hammer

So the shelf was installed without any visible fittings


Tools used

  • Table saw
  • Bandsaw
  • 13″ thicknesser
  • Router table
  • Panel-raising bit (router)
  • Veritas low-angle block plane
  • Chisel
  • Mirka hand sanding block
  • 9″ disc sander
  • 6″ belt sander
  • Wood/felt sanding block
  • Detail sander (multi-tool)
  • Cordless drill
  • 8mm wood bit for dowels
  • Permanent marker
  • Automatic centre punch
  • Dowel alignment jig
  • Dowel centre markers
  • Various clamps
  • Hammer

Materials used

  • Reclaimed Ramin
  • 4 x 8mm dowels
  • 180-grit Abranet abrasive sheet
  • 380-grit Silicon carbide paper
  • Colron wood dye (Canadian Cedar)
  • Liberon Natural Finish Interior Varnish Satin
  • Wood filler
  • Rustins 0000 wire wool
  • Gorilla wood glue

Things that worked well

  • The dowel alignment jig and the dowel centre markers did an accurate job
  • The original finish was too glossy so I cut it back with 0000 wire wool to more closely match the sheen on the rest of the furniture in the van.

Things that didn’t work (and improvements)

  • I sawed too far when doing the stopped cut on the table saw. Raising the bade would have created a steeper cut angle which might have helped.
  • Using the panel-raising bit in the router table was not ideal as it left a lip that had to be removed by hand – I have since ordered a 15° chamfer bit so the whole thing can be cut correctly in one go, for future projects
  • The spiral cutter head in the thicknesser left very shallow parallel lines that only became visible during staining. I should have maybe ran the whole shelf across my planer on a very fine cut, to remove the lines.