Barn Shaped Knick Knack Shelf

I'm not exactly sure how or when I came up with the idea to build a knick knack shelf in the shape of a barn. My oldest daughter has a small collection of horse figures and somehow the idea seeped into my brain that they needed a barn to live in. Since my daughter is growing out of the toy stage, a barn shaped knick knack shelf seemed the way to go.

My wife helped me get the overall look and size of the shelves just right for the horses and the result is what you see here. I have to admit that this project stretched my finish carpentry skills. Fitting all of the angled pieces together in various combinations was a lot trickier than I thought it would be. However, with some patience the project turned out fine and my daughter was thrilled with the new "home" for her horses.


Since I had planned to paint the barn and needed a large panel for the back, I chose 1/2" MDF for the entire knick knack shelf. The back could just as well be 1/2" plywood, with the walls, roof, and floor made of 1X solid stock. This would have been my choice had I intended to stain and lacquer the barn.

Part of my decision to use MDF was the fact that I knew my finish carpentry skills weren't the best and expected I might have to fill and paint over some gaps in the joinery. I discovered (I suppose I already knew) that it's better to approach a project with care and patience rather than planning to have to cover up mistakes or poor joinery.

As it turns out, I took my time and there was no need for any filler on the finished barn. Even so, the MDF turned out nice and takes paint very well.

Cutting The Parts

In the knick knack shelf plans I've given you a layout for cutting the back by hand. I cut mine on my CNC router (including the 4 3/4" and 5 1/2" pieces) out of a half sheet (48" x 48") of 1/2" MDF. With a careful layout, you could use a saber saw or hand saw and achieve the same material yield. If you don't want to cut it yourself and are interested in having one cut on a CNC router, please let me know and I'll see what I can arrange.

In addition to the back, each of the wall, roof, and floor pieces are also laid out in the drawings. I cut them about a half inch too long, then mitered and trimmed them to fit as I went along. This is reflected in the parts list but not on the detail drawing views.

For the miter cuts I tried to keep the angles consistent and nice round numbers. Ideally they would have been on increments of 15 degrees, 45 degrees, 22 1/2 degrees, etc. I tried that but didn't care for the shape or size of the barn. So I went with what you see.

There is one challenge that I didn't foresee. In the original design, the Loft Brace and Loft Rafter both required 50 degree miters and my chop saw will only tilt 45 degrees. There are several great ideas I found on the internet for making 50 degree cuts and I encourage you to do a search and check them out.

My own solution, however, turned out to be very simple. I happened to have a cedar shim that had been cut at a 5 degree angle. After tilting the saw 45 degrees, I simply used the shim under the board I was cutting to make up 50 degrees. As simple as it was to make the 50 degree cut, I made a change in the design posted here to simply avoid the 50 degree cut altogether.


Putting the barn shelf together was a bit more of a challenge than I anticipated. There were no real surprises. It was just tricky to get all the miter joints to align properly. Leaving the parts long and trimming to fit was VERY helpful. I started with the bottom and just worked my way up to the top, finishing the perimeter before moving on to the interior braces, walls, and floors.

Glue and pin nails hold it together well. Some of the mitered joints were a bit tricky to get nails into. On those I only used glue and it has held up fine.


It isn't shown in the drawing but I discovered a really cool way to hang the knick knack shelf. You'll notice that there will be a 1/4" space between the back and the wall after the shelf is hung. I left the space there anticipating that I would use an aluminum bracket styled after the French cleat.

The bracket I had in mind proved difficult to find, but in my searching I discovered a neat bracket made by Hangman Products. It's marketed for hanging pictures and other decor items. I figure that knick knack shelves count as "other decor items", and with a 200 pound rating it was perfect for the barn shelf.

The kit came with screws for attaching one bracket to the barn, and drywall anchors for attaching the other bracket to a sheetrock wall. It even included a little bubble level to make sure everything hangs straight.

Barn Shaped Knick Knack Shelf

This isn't quite a beginner project, but it's a great way to hone your joinery skills. If you're ready to tackle this knick knack shelf project, check out the drawings by clicking here. If you'd like to download a copy to your computer, right click then "save-as". Either way, you'll need the Adobe reader to view the file. 

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