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