Tips and Tools: Knockdown Display Shelving

A few boards, simple tools, and an afternoon are all you need to construct this practical shelving design. The best part is that next time you assemble them, you won’t need any tools.

1 Assembled knockdown display shelving with Coomey’s cone 10 soda-fired mugs.

This project came about when I needed a new sales display unit for my mugs. I wanted the display to be easy to transport, quick to assemble without tools or hardware, and inexpensive.

This particular design met all my criteria. The shelving unit is a compact 23½×4½×4½ inches when disassembled and expands to 23½×15½×18 inches when assembled. Setting it up only takes a couple of minutes, with no screws or tools required (1). The cost for the entire project came in at $13 for materials.

• 2 boards, 1 in.×6 in.×6 ft. (I used knotty pine)
• Pencil
• Protractor
• Straight edge
• Tape measure
• Chisel, ¼–½-inch size
• Hammer
• 220-grit sandpaper
• Jigsaw

Cut List
• 3 shelves, 23½ inches long
• 2 shelf supports, 22 inches long
• 2 legs from one board split into two 10½-inch lengths

Create the shelves by cutting one of the boards into the 3 shelves. I made mine 23½ inches in length but they can be shorter if you choose. Cut the width of the shelves to 4½ inches. Wear eye protection when using the jigsaw.

Notes for images 2–5: Dashed lines indicate layout, solid lines are cut lines. Keep all 45° angles true so the unit sits level. It is important to cut within lines when cutting the notches to get a snug shelf fit.

2 Shelf support board with reference pencil lines (dotted lines) and cut lines (solid lines).

3 Shelf support board shown with notches and angled cuts marked.

Shelf Supports

Two shelf supports are required, identically cut. Once the first is cut, use it as a template for the second.

Lay out the dashed lines first, they are your reference lines for drawing in the notches. Keep these pencil lines faint so they can be erased later on (2). A marks the depth of the notches for the shelves. B marks the other corner of the notch. C indicates the depth of the notch for the leg. D marks the other corner of the notch for the leg.

Next, mark out the all cutting lines as indicated by the solid black lines (3). The first notch is 2 inches from the base end of the board. Make a pencil mark there. Using a protractor set at 45°, mark a line from the 2-inch mark to pencil line A. Mark the location for a second line parallel to this line; the distance from the first angled line will be determined by the measurement of your shelf thickness. Mine are ¾ inch thick. Draw a second line from the edge of the board to line B, then connect the two angled lines at the ends. Continue marking out the middle and top notches.

Cut along the angled notch lines, then make several cuts within the notch area up to the end line (4). Be sure to keep the notches no wider than the thickness of the shelf board. Remove the remaining wood between the lines with a chisel. Clean up the end of the notches using the hammer and chisel. Once the three notches that will hold the shelves are cut, trim the board to width.

Mark and cut out the single notch that will hold the leg to lines C and D as indicated and in the same manner as previous notches.

Next, trim down the corners of the top and bottom of the shelf support pieces. These are also cut at a 45° angle.

4 Notches shown roughly cut by jigsaw (left) and with material removed by using a chisel and hammer (right).

5 Leg board with cut lines shown as solid lines.


Mark lines as indicated on the 10½-inch board (5). Cut the board lengthwise down the middle. Cut the notches out on the ends of the two leg pieces. They will be cut to the thickness of the shelf support boards (¾ inch wide).

Finishing and Assembly

Sand down the unit to remove pencil lines and rough spots (6). Test the fit of the shelves in the notches; the fit should be fairly snug but not so tight that you have to force them in. Sand the notches wider if necessary. You can leave the wood natural or finish with stain, varnish, or paint. If using a finish, check shelf fit again once complete to ensure the shelves still fit within the notches.

6 All parts cut, sanded, and stacked. All photos: David Dickinson.

the author Madeleine Coomey is a studio potter living and working in British Columbia, Canada. She makes functional work that can be found in countries around the world and is an active member of the Ceramics Arts Network Community Forum. To learn more, visit


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