Dealing with Large Shelving Gaps on Built-Ins? - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 07-03-2018, 08:34 PM Thread Starter
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Dealing with Large Shelving Gaps on Built-Ins?

This is an epic refinishing job on very beat-out built in cabinets.
(see thread here for more info:

The built in cabinetry will soon be ready for top coating. It's got a first coat of primer on it and now I need to decide how to deal with some large gaps.
A couple shelves at eye level (one of them rather long at about 6') and a shorter (under 3') shelf below eye level have gaps where they meet the rear wall. The rear wall was skim coated and has been primed with a good water base primer (Benjamin Moore #046). The solid wood shelving has been primed with an alkyd primer (Benjamin Moore #217).

Here's what I was thinking:
I got some caulk, tube of Sherwin-Williams SherMax Urethanized (paintable) which I've never used before. I figure I can use this on shelving gaps up to 1/4" maybe with some backer rod foam stuffed in the gap (I think that's the terminology?).

The shelves that have gaps up to 1/2" (gah!) I figure will need another strategy. What's recommended? Some sort of small molding? If yes, what sort of profile? I want to retain as much usable shelving depth as the cabinets are only about 11" deep.

There's one other gap at the front of one cabinet, 3/16" at the widest (last photo) between the face frame and the shelf front ... I was thinking either a strip of wood underneath behind the face frame to fill the gap or maybe caulk shot in from underneath.

What do you guys think?
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post #2 of 10 Old 07-03-2018, 09:00 PM
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Are they removable?

The proper way to fix the gap is to eliminate it, by adding material either to the front and sliding the shelf further into the cabinet OR remove the shelf and add material to the back edge.

Caulking is a poor fix, especially for a 1/2" gap. Glue won't stick to all the old paint, so you need a fresh clean surface for it to adhere to.
You would saw some away then add the necessary amount back on.

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #3 of 10 Old 07-03-2018, 09:07 PM
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Looking at your 3rd picture it appears the faceframe of the cabinet was originally doweled to the shelving. The frame has now pulled away from the shelving exposing the dowels. This gap will need to be closed tighter a slight gap less than 1/8 can be caulked prior to painting.
If the back of the cabinet can be removed I think you can use clamps to pull the faceframe tight.
Replace the back after youve repainted.

If you don't have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?
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post #4 of 10 Old 07-04-2018, 01:08 AM Thread Starter
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I don't think there's any dowels anywhere.
The only fastening I see is nails.

There's no sliding that's going to take place on these shelves, no matter the direction. some of the shelving is about 10' long and it's all held together by .... who knows what? I'm fortunate the thing is integrally together ... pressing my luck by disassembling this any further would be madness (not that it's not already madness).

Everything was stripped down to the wood. It now has a coat of alkyd primer.

There is no cabinet 'back' either ... that's a plaster wall from the 1920s. As stated in the opening, this is built-in cabinetry.
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post #5 of 10 Old 07-04-2018, 01:42 AM
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Could you cover the plaster with some thin wood paneling (1/4" or so) and create a cabinet back? That would fill some of the gap without taking up much of the limited cabinet space you have. Just a thought

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post #6 of 10 Old 07-04-2018, 06:50 AM
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Where in the house are these shelves?

Bondo may be a good material for a gap filler.

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post #7 of 10 Old 07-04-2018, 07:41 AM
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Someone must have used green wood to build those cabinets for it to shrink that much.

As in the other thread I still recommend putting trim over where the cabinet meets the wall. I do that when I install new cabinets anyway. That large gap where the side meets the faceframe you better cut a strip of wood to fill that. A smaller gap around a sixteenth wide you could caulk that or fill it with bondo.
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post #8 of 10 Old 07-04-2018, 10:35 AM
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Might try a dead blow hammer to drive the wood back to its original position. Protect the face with a smooth block of wood when you hammer.
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post #9 of 10 Old 07-05-2018, 04:11 PM Thread Starter
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These are kitchen cabinets.
The structure is 90 years old and lots of settling has taken place not to mention leaks in walls, etc. so whatever distortions exist are a compounded issue.
I doubt these shelves will move by my hand, but if they move it will be with the building structure.

Everything is affixed and dependent on everything else (also some shelves are nailed to case side-partitions) so whacking on the shelves to move them against the wall isn't going to happen without unforseen consequences ... not to mention the gaps are only 1/2" wide in some places at other places it's stopped up. Not all the shelves have gaps, and where they exist they aren't uniform in width. I'm looking to conceal them so they look OK and with minimal effort and time.

The back wall where the shelves connect was recently skim coated. The gaps were for the most part not excavated at that time by the workers, in fact most of the gaps weren't visible, they were concealed. There was tape visible on the shelves under the paint some of which had been disturbed by the pre-skim coat prep scraping. Someone at some time had used what looks like duct tape or cloth tape to seal the gaps on the backs and sides of the shelves. So buried underneath the layers of paint was tape.
When I scraped and sanded the paint off the shelves I ripped out most of the tape, but I didn't excavate the gaps as to do so would have opened up another can of worms, entailed way too much labor, and probably necessitating re-skimming the wall. One has to cut their loses at some point or there's no end in sight. Besides I was just planning to cover them over anyway so why go to the trouble of scraping them out.

So here's what I did:
Ripped up the tape except for on the top shelf (at 8' high where it's not visible and seldom accessed anyway) and that of course now exposed the largish gaps. So the tape was a prior tenant's solution to the gaps. I stripped the paint from the tops of the shelves with a scraper and belt sander, the shelf tops had that tape but were also covered in a layer or two of some sort of adhesive backed contact paper buried under the paint and with dozens of staples standing proud to hold the contact paper. What can I say it was a nightmare(!) ... all that buried with dozens of layers of paint.
When embarking on this project I wasn't intending to touch the shelving or cabinet interior at all. However it sort of fell to my hand as the memory of gross kitchen cabinets remained, so I plunged ahead. I stripped the shelf tops of tape, contact paper, paint, staples, crud. The bottom side of the shelving I didn't strip (but they weren't as bad: no contact paper, staples, etc) but knocked off the high spots and used Ready Patch on the rougher areas to provide a smooth surface. I even stripped most of the paint out of the grooved front edge of the shelving by making a blade for a Stanley #66 beader. A lot of work. I wasn't looking for perfect ... but rather an acceptably freshened interior.

Then, I primed the shelving with alkyd paint.

I'm thinking to just use caulk wheres the gaps is up to 1/4", then prime again, and paint.
And on the lower shelving that's visible at eye level and with wider gaps, maybe fill with caulk first then put a strip of wood as molding over it. It will look clean, straight, crisp.
Then do the second coat of primer.
Then the top coat.

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post #10 of 10 Old 11-13-2018, 08:12 AM
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Should of cut shelving larger and scribed to fit. Takes a little more time but it's the proper way to do it.

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