Back of Stove Shelf

Blog, Home, Kitchen, Woodworking / Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

This project feels like it was a long time in the making, Ellie reminds me it was only about a month. A month to her I guess feels like three for me. It was roughly a month ago that Ellie showed me a pin on Pinterest for a back of stove shelf. One that wraps the sides and the top of the stove to give you some added storage. For us, that space is curved and slick with a gap between the wall and the stove, so not usable for any sort of storage.

I took a look at the photo Ellie held up on her phone and thought, “Yes, I can make that. I’d use it too!” Both of those thoughts are qualifiers for whether or not I’m looking to tackle any project. Also important are, “Do we have room for it?” “Is it worth the effort for a quality piece?” “Do I possess the skills necessary or am I willing to learn them for this piece?” Among others, of course. Not all boxes are always checked.

Here’s the mistake I made, though, I chose oak because it’s what I had on hand. Oak, pine, and elm are on hand. The pine and the elm are spoken for. I regret choosing the oak. I had a length leftover form Christmas presents, and I wrote a bit about it when I wrote about ornaments. The length I had left was enough to build the shelf, so an oak shelf it would be.

Here’s my beef with oak. It’s everywhere. It’s heavy. It’s a pain in my ass to work with. It chips out easily. Rarely am I happy with the color of the finished wood. I think our bedframe is oak, and it has that orangy-brown tinge to it. Ugh, I won’t buy more unless I start mass producing business card holders.

Anyway, I had oak so I used oak. 

My plan was to make a three-piece shelf. The shelf part on top, and two legs to run down the sides of the stove and butt up against the wall. The legs would be joined together with mortise and tenons joints. And glue. I would also scribe and cut out pieces in the back of the legs to allow the shelf to sit flush to the lip of the countertop. Slap on some finish and call it a day. Easy, right?

NO. It’s never as easy as I think it will be because I need to work on new skills and use new tools to get things done. I think if I were to make the shelf again, it’d be easy. So half-easy at best. Let me walk through the process for you in a little more detail.

I started by measuring the dimensions of the stove so I know how long to make my back of stove shelf and how tall to make the legs. I cut the oak to size on the Craftsman Radial Arm Saw.

Back of Stove Shelf Mortise Detail

Next, I tried to set up my hollow chisel mortiser for my ShopSmith 10ER. I have tried to use this attachment before and had little success. I eventually did get it to work the first time I tried, but that was with pine and it was a bit easier to cut. What I’ve learned is that you need a lot of force to get through a piece of wood using the hollow chisel mortiser. Whenever I press as hard as I need to use the mortiser, the headstock on the ShopSmith slides down the way tubes. So after a couple hours trying to get this to work, I ended up scrapping the plan to cut the mortises with the mortiser. Instead, I opted to drill out the material with the drill press and then clean up the cuts using a chisel. It worked better, but the mortise needed a lot of clean up with the chisel and even then it wasn’t great.

To cut the tenons, I futzed with my calipers for a while trying to get the right depth of cuts to make. I set up the dado stack, set the fence, and then started chipping away the material. Once I finished one, I realized I was an idiot. I test fit the tenon into the mortise to realize that I had chipped away too much material. I checked the fence and realized I had set the fence from the wrong side of the blade, effectively knocking off an extra half inch. Usually, this kind of problem wouldn’t be a problem because a seasoned woodworker would have followed a different order of operations. I am not that seasoned woodworker. I cut the legs to their length prior to cutting the tenons and this is what happened.

I nearly scrapped the whole project. But then I slept on it and in the morning, I had a moment of clarity. Just glue a piece of wood on the bottom of the leg, as a foot. Simple. So that’s what I did with some offcuts of pine from another project. Problem solved.

Once I had both legs cut and cleaned up, I did another test fit. Again, I realized I made a mistake. At some point, I set the depth of the dado cut too deep and one of the legs had a tenon that was not snug in the mortise. Will I ever learn to be careful? Someday, maybe. After recovering from the previous blunder, I decided this wouldn’t be an issue and I’d fix the problem during glue up.

Back of Stove Shelf Dry Run
You can see how much extra tenon I cut in this photo.

I took the legs up to the kitchen, so I could trace the curve of the counter top onto the leg. The plan was to cut out this chunk so I could have the shelf sit flush on the wall and the counter top. To cut it out, I had to learn how to set up my jigsaw attachment for my ShopSmith 10ER. For this, I’m glad I had two jigsaws sitting around because I learned that one was missing a piece on the bottom while the top on the other was broken. I ended up splicing the two together and it worked nicely. The jigsaw made the job of cutting out for the counter top so much easier. Because it was oak, I would not have wanted to do this by hand.

Prior to glue up, I wanted to clean up and flatten the wood. I don’t have a jointer or thickness planer, though I aspire to have one someday. Instead, I have a handheld power planer. If used properly, it can clean up unevenness in your glue ups and cuts. I threw the legs and the shelf, one by one, on my Workmate to hold it in place, and put the power planer through the paces. It worked great, with the exception of my inexperience. After about thirty minutes, I had clean and even boards to work with. A little bit of sanding helped even out my inexperience. I had accidentally gouged the boards in a few places, which fortunately didn’t really affect the use of any of the pieces.

For glue up, I took handfuls of the sawdust scattered about the shop floor and mixed it with glue. I knew I’d need to fill cracks and unevenness and that one tenon. I applied the sawdust filler and attached the legs to the shelf. I checked for square and in the case of the leg with the loose tenon, clamped my speed square to the inside of the joint to ensure it dried square. I liberally applied clamps and waited for it to dry.

After the legs were successfully glued in place, I took the shelf to the disk sander to clean up the excess glue and sawdust. In most places, this worked well but the outside of one leg was not flush with the edge of the shelf, so it was a bit harder to sand. No big deal. After sanding, I decided to mix up a second batch of sawdust wood filler with the very fine dust from sanding to fill the remaining cracks and crevices. After this dried, I took it to the ShopSmith disk sander one more time.

Back of Stove Shelf Finishing

To finish, I applied a coat of Danish Oil and wiped it off after it had time to set in. Once it was dry, I applied two liberal coats of polyurethane to seal the wood. I figured since this would be above where I cook, it’d get splattered with oil and food regularly so the better it was sealed, the easier it would be to clean.

And finally, it was finished and all that remained was to put it in place. It looks great, despite the places where I was careless. I’m really happy I took the time to cut out the legs so they would sit flush on the countertop and with the wall. The shelf sits nicely out of the way and we can now free up some space on our countertops.

Even with all the missteps, I would still make this project again. It was worth the effort, and I learned so much along the way.

Back of Stove Shelf Finished

Do you think you could use something like this?

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