How to Install Wood Laminate Flooring

wooden laminate flooring

The days of having to spend exorbitant amounts of money to hire a professional to install your new flooring are over. These days you can give yourself a beautiful brand-new floor in a day with the proper tools and knowledge at your disposal. I’m going to give you the knowledge today by walking you through the steps of how to install wood laminate flooring, what tools you need, and some tips and tricks along the way. Settle in, because, after this, you are going to have the confidence to get out there and do it, and then YOU are going to give yourself a huge pat on the back while sitting on your gorgeous new flooring with a well-deserved cold bevy in hand. Because you are a DIY star!

wooden laminate flooring

But, first, story time!

Before I begin, I’ve got a little story for you about the guy I first learned how to lay floors from, and a bit of the wisdom he passed on to me regarding DIY. So, if you want to skip ahead to the how-to, by all means, we’re all busy people, but I would be remiss if I shared the steps to install wood laminate flooring without also telling you all about Stole.

Several years ago, while I was living in Vancouver in a tiny basement walk-out on 13th and Cambie, I heard several loud noises coming from the upstairs apartment and outside. Naturally, being the nosey early 20 something year old I was, I went outside to investigate and found my landlord, along with an elderly, Eastern European man, unloading a truck full of wood laminate packs.

The Eastern European man was named Stole, and he was going to be completely gutting and renovating the upstairs apartment. Now, Stole was 76 years old, and I am not intending to be rude when I say that he also looked 78 years old. The upstairs apartment was accessed by a set of narrow stairs, essentially three floors up. I wondered how he was going to get along with doing everything himself, but figured if my landlord had hired him, he would be fine.

At this time, I was already dipping my foot into the DIY bug and had recently built a cabinet unit, along with several other pieces of furniture, specifically fitted to my tiny, basement apartment. Avu, my landlord, had seen these pieces and was aware that I loved crafting things. Several hours after hearing the noise outside, I got a knock on the door.

Avu, my landlord was there to ask if I might lend Stole a hand if he needed it during the renovations. Avu had known Stole for several years and had hired him for all of the repairs and renovations on Avu’s properties, but, he knew that Stole was slowing down, and this project might be a bit too big for him to manage himself.  I was, of course, game to get my hand on any tools and learn a thing or two.

And that is the story of how I first got to work with Stole.

At first, I was a bit nervous, I had been on several worksites before and, being a young, 5 foot 2 female, often suffered the brunt of jokes (at the best), a complete distrust for my capability to do the job at hand, or downright abuse (at the worst.) I didn’t know how an elderly gentleman would react to being helped by a young woman, in what has historically been a man’s field. But, I was wrong to worry, in fact, after my first day working with Stole, he told Avu that he needed to pay me more.

While working with Stole, ripping up floors, painting, grouting, cutting trim, and laying new floors, I got to hear his stories of how he ended up working as a handy man. He told me, in his slow, heavily accented English how he had immigrated to Canada in his mid-twenties sometime during the 1960s with his wife. He related how he didn’t know anything about the trades, and spoke very little English, but started off accepting small jobs from people here and there – fixing a doorknob, painting railings, etc. If he was asked to do anything he didn’t know how to do, he told me he would always accept the job, and then go to the library and research until he knew how to complete it. What a guy!

After the third day working with Stole, he brought me three books on carpentry, electric wiring, and plastering. He told me that these were books he purchased early on and read several times. Turns out, Stole taught himself everything he knows and recognised the same drive to learn in me. I still fondly remember at the end of the day, when Avu would drop by to see the progress on the apartment, and Stole would excitedly walk around the apartment, proudly showing off the things “Raiff (this is how he pronounced my name) did today.”

It is amazing what having someone who believes in your potential can do for you.

Stole ended up being one of the seminal influences in my life in regard to DIY, renovations, and general outlook on life, and I still regard the several weeks that I got to work with him as one of the most enjoyable work experiences of my life. And my favourite piece of his advice?

Please read this in the best Slavic accent you can:

“Ifv you don know how to do sumpsink – go to tha library ahnd find a boook to learn how to do it.”

Of course, I mostly use the internet now. 😉

So without further ado, here is everything Stole taught me on how to install wood laminate flooring!

Why wood laminate flooring?

Laminate has come a long way in the last several years. No longer the tacky, peeling, cheap-looking stuff that was plastered on kitchen floors, you can now find quality “snap and lock” laminate flooring that looks incredibly realistic and beautiful.

Here are some great reasons to choose laminate flooring:

  • It’s relatively cheap – in comparison to other flooring options, high-end laminate regularly comes in cheaper than higher-end carpet, and well below natural wood flooring. Furthermore, having the option to install it yourself, can save quite a lot as well!
  • It looks good! Laminate has come a long way in the last several years. It is no longer the tacky, peeling, cheap-looking stuff that was formerly plastered on kitchen floors, you can now find quality “snap and lock” laminate flooring that looks incredibly realistic and beautiful.
  • It’s hypoallergenic, easier to clean and isn’t prone to stains or mold
  • Quick and easy to install – no need for professionals, and the job won’t take you too long either!
  • It can last a long time – a high-quality laminate flooring can last between 15-25 years. Furthermore, if you manage to damage one piece, it is possible to replace the single piece without having to replace the entire floor.

Some quick tips before you begin

  • Once you have purchased your laminate flooring packs, place them in the room where they will be installed and allow at least 48 hours for them to acclimate before installing. This helps to avoid a surplus of movement after you have installed them. All laminate will expand or contract but allowing this time before installation decreases drastic movement.
  • As you lay the flooring, take panels from various boxes to vary the colour and allow for a more randomised, natural look.
  • Door jams
    • Instead of trying to awkwardly cut your laminate panels to fit around the jamb of a door, cut the door jam to fit overtop of your panels. To do this, place a piece of your underlay down on the floor with a piece of your laminate over top. Take a flush-cut saw or jam saw and simply cut through the jam and remove the piece. Your laminate will now slide beneath the jam and create a more finished, professional look than had you tried to cut the panel itself to fit.
  • Drop and Lock vs Angle Angle
    • There are two main types of floating laminate floors: the drop and lock and the angle angle. The difference between the two is the way the joints connect – and depending on which type you have, the installation will be different.  I will touch on the different ways to install the two types when I get to how to attach the rows together further on in this article. The important things is that you know which type you have, which should be listed in the product documentation or on the box.

The Process

What tools do you need?

  • Utility knife
  • Rubber mallet
  • Circular, table, or jigsaw (or handsaw if you truly want to work)
  • Tapping block
  • Pull par

If you don’t have these, there is a good package on amazon with a pullbar, tapping block, rubber mallet and a whole slew of spacers here :

Prepare the room

In terms of setup, you’re in luck if you have anything other than carpet as your current flooring. That’s because laminate can be placed over any substrate except for carpet.

If you have carpet, you’re gonna need to rip the ol’ sucker out – but do it with glee, because if you are replacing the carpet it’s probably high time it got chucked, amiright? And imagine how much easier it’s going to be to keep your new floors clean!

Clean and prepare the subfloor

Your floors need to be free of all the dirt and debris before you place the floor – laminate doesn’t do well with irregular surfaces so give it a good clean, and if you have any serious dips or irregularities, fill them with a leveling agent before continuing.

removing nails from subfloor

Trim removal

If you have trim, remove it before laying the wood laminate down. Use duct tape or some type of soft covering over your pull bar to avoid damaging your wall as you remove the trim.

If you are adamant that you don’t want to go through the hassle of removing it, you can also simply lay the laminate down and attach a quarter round trim to the existing trim after – it’s the arguably easier, but more expensive option.

Plan your layout and measure your room

There is a bit to think about when deciding the orientation of your panels. Generally speaking, the panels, if possible, should run parallel with the long wall in the room, or the direction of the light source/focal point when entering the room. This creates a long, uninterrupted look which makes the overall end result more pleasant to the eye.

If possible, it’s also best to have the panels running in the direction of the main doorway in the room. If all of these factors aren’t possible; however, just go with the panels running parallel to the long side of the room.

Once you’ve decided on the orientation of the panels, measure the width of the room from wall to wall, accounting for a 10mm gap on both sides (we’ll touch on this gap later, but it’s best to check the installation instructions for your specific laminate to determine what size gap is necessary for expansion. 10mm is generally enough, but some products suggest more.)

When you have the width of the room + the gap, divide this number by the width of your laminate panels. This will give you what the width of your last row of panels will be.

Ex – 600cm room width / 17.5cm width of panel  = 34.29 rows

Therefore: our last row will be .29 of a panel or 5.08 cm.

If you find the last row of your floor will be less than around 6cm, I would add the width of the last row that you got in the above calculations to the width of your panel and then divide it by 2.


(17.5 + 5.08) / 2 = 11.3cm

This will give you the width you should cut both your first and last rows to, which will create a more uniform look and allow you to avoid trying to lay a tiny sliver of flooring as your last row.

Put down the underlay

Underlay is essential for laminate flooring that doesn’t come with attached padding. It provides an even surface for your “floating” floor to sit on, gives support for the tongue and groove lock system, and helps with moisture control and reducing noise.

For concrete subfloor

If you are installing over concrete you will need to lay down a vapor layer as well as an underlay, some underlays come with a vapor barrier, and if so you only need the one product.

For padded laminate

If the laminate you are installing comes with padding – the underlay is unnecessary and will actually hinder the proper laying of your floor. However, extra care needs to go into preparing the surface that the laminate will lay on if you aren’t using underlay, as any irregularities can potentially cause the floor to not float properly and buckle at the seams.

Laminate floors with padding that are being installed over concrete will still need a vapor barrier – but make sure that you are installing just the thin vapor barrier and not an underlay with a vapor barrier included.

To put down the underlay, unroll it and run it in the same direction that the panels will run. Allow a bit of excess to run up the wall and use one of your laminate panels to press the underlay into the corners. Use a utility knife to cut off the excess against the wall. When your first row of underlay is down, immediately secure it by starting to lay your panels. As you lay your panels and begin to reach the end of your first row of underlay, unroll your second row. Make sure not to overlap the two layers as any unevenness can cause the laminate panels to buckle. You can join the two pieces with duct tape or another thin layer of tape.

Installing the first row

If your calculations during the planning of your layout require you to rip your first row to a certain width, you should do so now. When ripping the panels to length, cut so that the tongue side of the panel is the waste on each piece. Make sure you are cutting the same side on each piece! The tongue side, unlike in regular woodworking, is actually the side with the shorter extrusion.

For your very first panel, you should also cut the tongue off the short side of the panel that will jut against the wall.

Place your first panel with the cut side towards the wall and begin to assemble your first row. To attach the second panel at the ends, hold the panel at an upwards angle and insert the tongue into the groove of the first panel. Once the joint is snug, press the panel down to secure it in place. Continue building this row until you reach the last panel, ensuring there are no gaps in your joints.

Spacers

You have your first row of panels put together, minus the end piece. Now you need to place your spacers. Because all laminate expands, you need to leave a gap along all the edges to account for movement – if you don’t do this, your floor will buckle and the joints won’t sit properly!

Some packs of laminate flooring come with spacers, but if they don’t, check to see the manufacturer’s recommended expansion gap and use this size of spacer. Most laminate flooring that I have installed calls for at least a 10mm gap. The spacers can be strips of wood, plastic, store bought spacers or anything that fits the measurement.

At this point, take your spacers and place them at the starting end (the short side) and along the length of the wall, press your first row into place and measure the distance from the end of the row to the wall including the spacer. Cut your last piece to this dimension – but again make sure you are cutting the right end off! (can you tell that I made this mistake a few times? I am clumsy Raff, after all)

Your first row is now finished!

Offset your joints

If your offcut from the end of the first piece is longer than 25 cm, you can use this piece to start your next row. If not, cut a piece longer than 25cm to use as the beginning of your second row – ensuring that you cut off at least more than 25cm!

Installing Laminate Flooring

The length of this piece is important as you don’t want the joints in your rows to line up, and you want a large enough overlap. Part of the stability in floating floors is provided by the offset of the joints. Without it, your floors won’t have the same amount of strength to withstand buckling.

It also just creates a more natural look once the floor is completed – so don’t allow your joints to line up!

Start your second row

Slide the tongue of the second-row panel into the groove of the first row’s plank at an upwards angle, mimic how you attached the pieces end to end on the first row. Ensure there is no gap in the seam and press down to lock.

The second piece can be a bit more finnicky, and this where the installation differs between drop and lock vs angle to angle laminates.

For angle to angle, first attach the short side of the second panel to short side of the first panel using the same angle method as you used in the first row. Get the corner of the second piece as close as possible to the first row, and before placing the panel down, line up the long side seems. After placing the panel down, you’ll have to lift the panel slightly to close the gaps along the seam in the long side panels, tapping with your palm as you go if necessary.

For drop and lock, instead of attaching the short side first, you slide the long side of the second panel into the groove of the first row – then position the short side over top of the groove in the first panel of the second row and simply lock it into place. I think drop and lock is an easier installation, but it isn’t as common as angle angle.

Use a tapping block

If the seam still has a gap, some laminate panels require a tapping block.

Sometimes manufacturers will include a tapping block with the laminate panels – if they do, take advantage of it, as they will often be profiled to fit the grooves of the panels to minimize damage! In fact, if you don’t want to make a tapping block yourself, I would recommend purchasing one from a laminate floor supplier or Amazon – they aren’t expensive.

 

If you really have the DIY bug though, you can make a tapping block yourself by taking a scrap block of wood and creating a rabbet along the side that is slightly larger than the groove on the laminate panels. Align it along the long side of the panel over top of the groove so that you aren’t tapping on the groove itself.

To use the tapping block, place it next to the panel and gently tap it with a mallet until the seams close. You can also use this method on the short ends of the panels. Take care not to damage the grooves of the panels as you tap, gentle tapping is all that you need!

After tapping, go back to check that your spacers haven’t shifted and your gap is still sufficient

 

Keep going!

Continue this process, row by row, until you reach your last row, making sure to check seams as you go to make sure nothing has shifted out of place. It’s difficult to fix a seam three rows in if you progress without fixing it as you go!

Install the last row

If you did your calculations right, you should be able to cut your panels to the same width as your first row. Measure the width including the spacers to make sure, and then cut the groove side off of these panels.

Place your spacers and use the same methods as before to attach your last row panels to the previous rows, using a pull bar in the gap instead of the tapping block to pull the seams together.

Reinstall trim

The process of laying the floor is finished! You can now reattach your trim using finishing nails or, if you didn’t remove the trim, install round molding to the trim to cover the gap.

Make sure you are attaching the trim to the wall as opposed to the floor itself – otherwise all your hard work to account for expansion will have been for nothing!

Lastly, attach a piece of floor transition trim in the doorway, and you are good to go!

You’re done!

You’ve done it! Have a lie down on your brand new floor, crack a beer, and pride yourself in a job well done with your own two hands!

 

 

DIY Magnetic Bottle Opener

I love a good bevy after work, and with a recent hand surgery coming up, I knew that twisting the tops off wasn’t going to be easy for a period of time. With that foresight in mind, I set about planning my perfect DIY magnetic bottle opener.

There were a few things I wanted from my bottle opener:

1. Magnets: Partly because I love magnets and partly because I dont like to go looking for the bottle cap after I was a bit too enthusiastic during the opening

2. Good, in-hand feel: I wanted smooth edges, soft corners and a perfect fit in my little hand.

3. Beautiful wood grain and contrasting metal: metal and wood are right next to cheese and pretzels in my favourite combos list.

As most projects go, with me being the clumsy crafter, I encountered a few hiccups along the way to my perfect bevy popper, but, in the end, it definitely deserves its place of honor in my bar.

Choosing the stock and drawing the template 

The first step was choosing an appropriate piece of stock for the body of the bottle opener.
I didn’t want just any wood for this special project, I wanted beautiful, relatively hardwearing – and most important scrap (so I didn’t have to go buy more) wood.

A piece of milled meranti
I had some leftover meranti from my magnetic shelf build and decided it would hold up well to the abuse it might have to endure. I cut the piece to rough size (200mm by 60mm) and then got about sketching up a template that I would use for eventually shaping the piece.

You can really choose whatever shape you want for this project – from a simple, spindle-shaped handle to a more complex shaped handle with several different rounded edges.

Having sketched out a design I thought I would like, I cut it out and traced the outline to the piece of stock.

Drilling the holes

The most difficult part of this build – especially if you don’t have a drill press – is drilling out the recesses that will act as the leverage for removing the cap from the bottle. You don’t want them too far apart or there won’t be enough leverage, and too much overlap will mean that you won’t be able to catch the edge of the cap and the back of the bottle opener at the same time.

If you look at a generic bottle opener you can get a relatively good idea of the spacing that you’ll need.

35mm Forstner bit in a Bosch drill
I used a 35mm Forstner bit for the first recess. Measuring 19mm from the edge of my template, I marked a centre point for my bit and clamped the board down before drilling. I used the depth stop on my drill to ensure that I didn’t go too far through and eventually ended up with a recess about 11mm deep.

Drilling the hole in a homemade bottle opener with a forstner bit

The next hole to drill was for the coin that would act as the lip of the bottle opener. I wanted the coin to sit flush with the body of the bottle opener and overhang the previous recess I had drilled by a few mm in order to create the lip. I had a lot of coins to choose from, but not very many drill bits to match.
I eventually settled on a 1000 Rupiah coin which came the closest in size to my 25mm Forstner bit.

fitting the coin in a homemade bottle opener

I was slow and methodical in this step – a bit of drilling, check the coin, drill a bit more – to make sure that I didn’t over-do it and set my coin in too deep. I did allow for a bit more depth than the coin to take into account the sanding I would be doing towards the end of the project.

The last hole that I needed to drill in the body would be for the embedded magnet I intended to use to catch the bottle cap after opening.

I had 10mm wide magnets that I had also used for my magnetic key shelves. Ordering these in bulk always means that when I have a project that might benefit from a cheeky magnet or two, I have some spares on hand.

I grabbed a 10mm drill bit and put a hole deep enough to hold the magnet and the wood filler that I intended to cover it with.

 

Cutting and shaping

With the initial drilling done, I was ready to move on to the fun stuff!
I roughly cut out the body of the opener along the template line with a jigsaw, giving myself a bit of leeway since none of the recesses were quite centred (A product of the very dull forstner bits and my shaky hands). This extra leeway meant that I could centre up the recesses during shaping.

I then set about shaping with my carving knives. I sketched a few lines on the handle to show where I wanted to take material from and set about rounding and shaping. This step is purely aesthetics and you can obviously shape it however you want!

Carving a handmade bottle opener

I found the sanding barrels of my Ozito rotary tool were a great option for final shaping!

Drilling the mounting hole for the coin

To drill the hole for the coin, I took my 25mm forstner bit and drilled a recess in scrap piece of wood. I then drilled a small hole through the centre of the recess. This setup meant that, in theory, I could place the coin into the recess, tape it, flip the board over and drill directly through the centre of the coin. Because my coin didn’t fit the 25mm recess perfectly, I had to eyeball it before I taped it in. It didn’t work exactly as I had hoped, but I think better than had I tried to do it by hand.

coin drilled through with a template

I placed the coin into a clamp and used a countersink bit to take off enough metal so that the screw head would sit relatively flush with the coin.

Using a countersink bit to flush a the head of a screw in a coinCoin with a a countersunk screw

Mounting the cap catcher

At this point, nearly everything was done, except for attaching the magnet. To do this, I placed a small drop of superglue into the hole and then pressed the magnet in, tapping it a bit with the head of a screwdriver and my mallet to ensure that it sat flat. Then I filled the hole with a wood filler that matched the grain of the wood. Had I not had this filler lying around, I would have just used glue and sawdust, or really any coloured wood filler – I think a contrasting colour might look nice as well.

wood filler and superglue being used to attach magnets into a diy bottle opener
Because the hole for the coin was slightly larger than I needed, I attached the coin and placed wood filler around the edges to make it look like it really wanted to be there.

allowing the wood filler on diy bottle opener to dry

I set it out in the nice, hot Australian sun to dry and…..

wooden bottle opener chewed by dog

Came back out an hour later to see that some terrible creature had ripped my poor bottle opener limb from limb.
It only took a quick look around to find the culprit….

Guilty dog after chewing a wooden bottle opener
The evidence still in her mouth! Please note, that they weren’t splinters, I did check 😉

Since Taco had apparently assumed that I had made her a wonderful new chew toy, it was back to the drawing board.

I followed the same steps, more or less for my second version until I got a bit rushed/somehow got distracted/had a complete space-cadet moment in which I moved the drill back for some reason before drilling the coin recess, probably because I wanted more work.

diy wooden bottle opener with mistake
OOPS

As a result, I drilled a very nice, unusable recess which didn’t overlap with the previous hole at all (+1 for clumsy Raff).
Luckily, my stock was thick enough that I could stand to lose a bit. So, I grabbed my orbital sander, sanded off that recess, and re-drilled to the depth of my coin, ensuring that I was definitely in the right spot this time.

I did the majority of the shaping for this one with my Ozito Rotary tool. The longer I have it the more uses I find for it, and I just love it!

Ozito rotary tool drum sander being used to shape a wooden bottle opener

Once all the drilling, cutting, and filling were done with this version, I made sure I placed it in a spot that wouldn’t be so tempting for Taco.

The finish 

Once the filler was dry, I sanded the excess off with a low grit, working my way up to a final grit of 360. As I said, I wanted a smooth hand feel.

Walnut wood stain and varnish used to finish a wooden bottle opener
After cleaning away the dust, I used a can of thinned walnut stain and varnish that I wiped on and left to dry.
Once dry, I gave it a bit of a buff with the 360 again and then put a second coat of varnish on.

DIY Magnetic bottle opener first test run

At that point, I eagerly awaited the moment when it was fully cured and I could truly test it out.

And lo’ and behold. It worked swimmingly.

Homemade bottle opener after its first test run

 

 

Fun DIY WoodWorking Projects: Magnetic Key Holder Shelf

A handmade DIY magnetic key holder shelf

A while ago I was given a book called  The Art and Craft of Wood by Silas J. Kyler and David Hildreth. It’s a gorgeous book with stunning visuals of step by step project builds, it makes for a great coffee table book, but, for me, I immediately wanted to recreate everything in the book – talk about some great ideas for fun DIY woodworking projects!

One of the projects in the book was a beautiful, simplistic design for key storage – a wooden magnetic key shelf.
I was immediately hooked, as it was something useful, easy, and needed in my home!

The shelf features 4 countersunk magnets along the bottom that, being flush with the wood, are practically invisible to the eye unless peering from the bottom. What really appealed to me though was the use of magnets to cover the mounting hardware. I’ve always loved the look of metal and wood, and this is sleek!

Sourcing the Materials:

While the book focuses on harvesting, milling and preparing raw wood for various projects (There is some awesome info in there!) – I used lumber store hardwood, as I just didn’t have access to raw wood at the time I wanted to do the project. Getting the square dressed hardwood from the lumberyard meant that this project was even easier.

I chose a length of Meranti hardwood that measured 19mm thick and 140mm wide. A 3 metre piece put me out about $30 AUD.

For the first shelves I built, I sourced rare earth magnets from a local shop. After building those first two shelves for myself though, I realized they were perfect for gifts for family and friends as well – which meant that I didn’t want to be purchasing individual magnets when I could be paying cheaper prices to purchase them in bulk.
I was able to find loads of magnets on Amazon with similar quality to the ones that I purchased locally!

For the 20mm X 1mm magnets that would cover the mounting hardware, I found a 20 pack online (available from Amazon here – this was enough for me to build ten shelves – pretty good value if you ask me.
And for the 10mm x 2mm magnets that would hold the bottom of the shelf I found a pack that had 120 magnets which, admittedly, was a bit much – but since then I’ve found a plethora of uses outside of the shelves themselves for the little guys and I’ve actually ended up ordering a few more! (You can find them on Amazon here if you are interested!)

a rare earth magnet holding a set of keys on a wooden key holder shelf

These magnets are very strong in terms of fastening and holding power, but they lack strength within themselves (especially the 1mm mounting hardware magnets). This means if you drop them, or are rough with them, they are liable to crack or break. (This is another good reason to order them in bulk.) Always slide the magnets apart if they are in a stack, as opposed to trying to pull them apart – it’s way harder to pull them and you only need one time where the magnet slips and pinches a soft piece of skin to learn your lesson. 😉

Making the Cuts

In order to avoid doing several rip cuts, the first step was to rip cut the length of lumber to the size of the shelves. I wanted the horizontal piece to be wider than the vertical so I made a rip cut that left me with a roughly 60mm top piece and a 75mm bottom piece (taking into account the waste from the kerf of the blade). I then took them over to my miter saw, set up a stop block, and cut each piece down to 415mm in length. This meant I could get 7 shelves from a 3 metre piece!

Meranti hardwood cut to length for a wooden key holder shelf build

 

Drilling the Magnets

After the cuts were finished, I set about measuring the spacing for the locations of the magnets on the underside of the shelf. Let me tell you something about math. I went to a tiny little private Bible school from the age of 7 to the age of 16. Let me tell you how much math I learned there…. Umm…. Well… I think it’s generous to say I ended up graduating at a grade 8 level in the maths. Whenever someone asks me what I would change about my childhood this always comes up. I wish I had been taught math and science (among other things). It’s been a slog to try to learn it since.

I digress. My childhood isn’t the point of the article – the shelf build is. What I was trying to get at was the fact that it took me a while (and a tutorial from my partner) on how to calculate for the spacing of points along a given line. I know it all sounds a bit sad that I couldn’t even do this simple stuff, but look I CAN calculate it now. Never too late to learn, as they say!

Drill template for a magnetic key holder shelf
I ended up creating a drill template out of scrap which made the multiple shelf builds much quicker!

Once the math was out of the way, I did a few test drills on scrap and then placed masking tape on my drill bit to mark the depth I needed to drill for the magnets. Four, evenly spaced holes resulted and I was pretty happy. Word of advice here – be careful when dry test fitting your magnets as they are hell to get out of your perfectly drilled holes if you push them all the way in. I will confess to having one magnet that isn’t glued for this very reason. It’s still hanging in there, so I suppose it will stay that way.
Once the holes were drilled, I gave both pieces a good sanding. This is mentioned in the book – but it’s also just good practice to pre-sand your pieces before tacking them together. It’s going to save you a ton of time later in the process, and it makes it a lot easier to get into all the corners that are harder to access once the piece is finished. For the pre-fastening sanding, I went over everything with a 120grit sandpaper.

After sanding, I used a drop of super glue at the bottom of each hole and pressed the magnets in. Make sure you clean up any seepage right away, as it’s not nice to try to do so later.

Using superglue to attach rare earth magnets to countersunk holes on a key holder shelf

Next up was the larger, shallow countersinks for the magnets that would cover the mounting hardware. I don’t have a drill press, which would have made every step of the process easier, but it is definitely doable with a hand-held drill if you are slow and methodical. First, I laid out where I wanted the screws to be positioned on the top piece and pre-drilled a hole for them.  The top magnets were only 2mm thick and I used a Forstner bit, centered on the pre-drilled hole, to slowly mill out the material until I was satisfied that they would sit flush to the surface.

Putting it all Together

With the sanding done and the magnets in place, I was ready to join the two halves of the shelf! The only thing I changed from the original plans was removing the use of dowels for the joining. I chose screws and glue because they were on hand and nothing is as good as what you have on hand. However, you really could skip the screws altogether and simply glue and clamp the pieces, it would be plenty strong enough.

Rare earth magnets countersunk into a wooden key holder shelf

Final Sand, Finish, and Mounting

Once the glue was dry, I was ready for the final sand and finishing – which happens to be my favourite part of any build.
I love the way a good finish brings a project to life!

While I liked the colour of the wood as it was, I felt it could look even
better with a bit of a darker tinge to make the grain pop. I chose a walnut stain I had on hand that I mixed with clear varnish. The result was a nice red-ish brown with a satin finish. I ended up doing two coats but likely could have gotten away with one if I hadn’t thinned out the varnish as much.

Walnut stained Meranti wood key holder shelf with rare earth magnets

Mounting was easy. I simply marked through my predrilled holes onto the wall, drilled and put in a wall anchor, popped one screw in, leveled, then popped the second in. I think the magnets covering the mounting screws are my favourite part of this build! It’s such a clever way to make the shelf look uniquely finished while serving a functional purpose.

What I love most about this piece is the simplicity. There is something about the clean lines that draw the eye to the grain of the wood, which of course then draws your eye to the stark, yet appealing interruption of the shiny, metal magnets that hide the mounting hardware.

DIY hardwood magnetic keyholder shelves hung with wall anchors

I’m excited to do more projects from The Art and Craft of Wood!