The unused space inside our four fireplaces has driven us to a fiery rage for 12 years. Only, with no actual place to put that fire.

See, they’re coal-burning fireplaces, too small for a wood fire, which is  a grievous insult to (a) a couple who prides itself on efficiency and purpose for everything in the house, and (b) a wife whose tiny frame doesn’t carry enough fat to keep her warm through the winter. (See, hon, bacon does have its uses. Beyond, I mean, gastronomical perfection.)  So we hope to rectify this soon with an efficient wood-burning stove in one of them, but none of that is what I’m here to talk about today.

I’m here to talk about the unused space around those fireplaces.

And after seeing an inset bookshelf on the side of a fireplace at the home of our friends Hannah and Orion, I decided this was something I could try as well. What started as a little exploratory hammering for what I envisioned as a two weekend job turned into a whirlwind installation. Not only was I able to finish the whole thing in, like, 8 hours, but I didn’t have to buy a scrap of wood. Instead, I used reclaimed pallet wood that was beginning to lose a battle with rot after sitting in the weather for about a year. (On the “Dancer in the Dark” gallows-walk scale, this stuff was on about Step 83 of 107.)

I framed my inset shelf just big enough to fit between two wall studs — removing a chunk of one non-load-bearing stud between them. It was so snug that I could screw the cabinet in on the sides, through existing nail holes, no less. And I says to my shelf, “Shelf, you ain’t a goin’ nowhere.”

I wish the fireplace bricks didn’t taper in quite so much, as a solid brick backdrop would’ve looked smashing. As it is, I fitted more pallet wood as backing, ripping just one piece to get everything to fit.

Here’s how it went down (Click for a larger view and to, you know, read the type):

Inset fireplace bookshelf by The Dew Abides

Great drinking books by The Dew AbidesThere wasn’t as much wasted space back there as I thought. This is, of course, a good thing, but also a disappointment, as the cabinet is not as deep as a normal bookshelf would be. But since this is in the future-bar room, it’ll be great to display a few of the more curious liquors in my collection. And I built a bump-out shelf on the bottom to comfortably hold a few books, as indicated in the photo at right.

I sanded all the wood smooth and intended to patch nail holes and prime and paint the whole shebang. But almost as soon as I dry-fitted the wood in there, I knew I wanted to keep the natural wood look. All it lacks at this point is a tea stain, like I did on my pallet-built workbench (which I originally bad-mouthed in a post, but it darkened beautifully in about 2 days’ time), and a light wax.

Quite proud of the final product, and my success here has empowered me to plan to tackle a TV stand for the bar.

Further reading:

Inset fireplace bookshelf by The Dew Abides


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