[Note: This entry was actually written in July 2013. I changed the posting date to keep my blog entries in chronological order]

By George Taniwaki

There are literally hundreds of woodworking plans for wine racks available on the web (Fig 1). They are all probably nice and you can easily find one you like among them.

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Figure 1. An example of the many wine rack designs available on the web. Image from Woodworkers Workshop

Despite the glut of designs, I’m going to add to the pile by describing a wine rack I designed and built for our new kitchen breakfast bar. The wine rack has two unusual features; it is back-lit and has clear polycarbonate shelves and dividers.

I started with a pencil sketch of the breakfast bar (Fig 2a). There will be a rectangular cavity for the wine rack. The space is 17”W x 44”H x 24”D. However, there is a drain pipe in the back that will limit the depth of the wine rack to 14″-1/2”.

I also measured the dimensions of some typical wine bottles. A standard shaped 0.75 liter wine bottle is cylindrical and about 2-7/8”D. Sparkling wines are sold in a bulb shaped bottle that is about 3-3/8”D at its widest point. Both types of bottles are about 12” tall.

Based on these dimensions, I made several preliminary sketches. (Unfortunately, I didn’t save them.) I made a detailed exploded view drawing of the final design (Fig 2b). Photographs of the completed rack ready for installation (Fig 3a and 3b) are shown below.

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Figure 2a and 2b. Pencil sketch of the breakfast bar (top) and exploded view of the wine rack (bottom)

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Figure 3a and 3b. Front and side views of finished wine rack before installation

This wine rack has two different sized slots. The smaller slots are 4” x 4” and can accommodate standard shaped 0.75 liter wine bottles. The bigger 5-1/2”x 5-1/2” slots can hold the fatter bottles typically used for sparkling wines. Instructions for making this wine rack are provided below.

Make the carcase

The carcase is a simple rectangular box made from 3/4” plywood. I used sande, a hardwood grown in Central America (available from Home Depot). This is the same species I used for all the other kitchen cabinetry.

Start with a sheet of  3/4” x 4’ x 8’ plywood. Using a table saw and a circular saw with a shooting board, cut out the four panels.

Using a table saw with a dado head cutter or a router, cut 3/4”W x 1/4” D rabbets along the top and bottom of the two side panels. These will hold the top and bottom panels.

Using a table saw with a 1/8” blade, cut 1/8” W x 1/4” D dados into all the sides to hold the vertical dividers and horizontal shelves. The top has 3 dados, the bottom has 2 dados, and the sides both have 7 dados. Use a crosscut sled (not the fence or a miter gauge) to ensure the dados on the left and right panels are parallel and identically spaced (accurate to within 1/32”). The dados must be aligned or else the wood supports for the dividers and shelves (described below) will not fit.

A construction note: My normal table saw blade has a thin kerf (about 0.09” ) and is too narrow to cut a 1/8” dado in a single pass. There would be no way to ensure accuracy using two passes, especially with so many cuts. Conversely, the kerf on my stacked dado head cutter blades are too wide (about 0.16”) to cut a snug 1/8” dado. I ended up buying a blade with a 0.12” kerf specifically for this project.

After the dados have been cut, use a chisel to add 3/4”W x 3/4”L x 3/8”D notches to the back of dados on the top and bottom panels (Fig 4). These notches will hold the vertical supports.

Assemble the carcase using glue and cabinet screws. Plug the holes. Finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

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Figure 4. Dados and notches for the top panel of carcase

Make the vertical dividers and horizontal shelves

The vertical dividers and horizontal shelves for the wine rack are made from clear gray 1/8” polycarbonate sheet. You can buy plastic sheet goods from a local hardware store or from a plastics specialty store. I bought mine from Tap Plastics in Bellevue, WA.

Unlike acrylic (often called by the trade name Plexiglas), polycarbonate is very flexible. It is also crack resistant and impact resistant but can be easily cut on a table saw.

Using a table saw and a circular saw with a shooting board, cut out the vertical dividers and horizontal shelves. There will be 3 long dividers, 2 short dividers and 7 shelves.

The dividers and shelves will interleave to form individual partitions for each wine bottle. Thus, each piece will need a 1/8” slots cut half the width of the piece where it mates with a cross-piece. These cuts need to very accurate (within 1/32”) or else the wood supports (described below) will not fit.

To make accurate, repeatable cuts, we need to set up a jig for each cut. To cut the 3 slots for the top 6 shelves, set up a crosscut sled on the table saw. Align a blank shelf to the first cut. Add a block of wood flush to the right edge of the shelf and clamp it to the crosscut sled to make a position stop. Add a piece of 2”x4” lumber behind the saw to make a depth stop.

Make the first cut, flip the shelf over and make the second cut (Fig 5). Repeat for the other five pieces. To make the center cut, move the position stop over and cut the six shelves. (Practice with 1/4” plywood before cutting the actual shelves and dividers.)

Use the same technique to make the two slots needed for the bottom two shelves. Note that the second shelf will have both the top and bottom slots cut into it, for a total of 5 slots.

Use a similar technique to make the slots needed for the vertical dividers (Fig 6). The bottom edge of the top dividers and the top edges of the bottom dividers are rather flimsy. Cut them off, leaving about a 1” tongue tapered at a 45 degree angle.

The front edge of the vertical dividers and the tongues will be visible. Using a file, ease the edges. Sand the edges smooth using progressively finer sandpaper, down to P400 grit. Then polish them using medium and fine buffing compounds and a clean cloth (Fig 7). When you are done, the edge should be as smooth as the factory surface.

To test fit the shelves and dividers, first lay the carcase face down. Slide the shelves into place in the correct order, slot side facing up. Slide the lower dividers in place. Finally, slide the upper dividers in place (Fig 8).

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Figures 5 to 8. Using a crosscut sled and stops to accurately cut the slots on the shelves; Using a similar setup to cut the dividers; Sanding and polishing the front edge of the vertical dividers; Dry fitting the shelves and dividers

Make the shelf and divider supports

To keep the horizontal shelves and vertical dividers from flopping around, we will add wood supports to them. The shelf supports are in front and the divider supports in back.

There are five divider supports, three for the top part of the wine rack and two for the bottom. To make the divider supports, start with 1”x3”x4’ nominal (0.75”x2.5”x48” actual) S4S poplar. On a table saw, cut a 1/8”W x 3/8”D dado in the center of both 1” sides (Fig 9). Set up the table saw with a fine tooth blade and rip the stock at 3/4″. To avoid dangerous kickback, keep the wide side of the board against the fence and the divider support to be cut on the free side of the blade. To ensure both dividers are the same thickness, use a stop on the free side (Fig 10). On the miter saw, cut the supports to length.

There are seven shelf supports, five narrow ones for the top part of the wine rack and two wide ones for the bottom. . The top five shelf supports are made the same way as the divider supports. The bottom two shelf supports are 3/4” x 1”. To make them, start with a 1”x2”x4’ nominal (0.75”x1.5”x48” actual) S4S poplar. cut a dado on the wide side, 3/8” from the edge. Rip to 1” width and cut to length.

Each of the supports needs additional dados to allow the shelves and dividers to interleave. To make these dados, first bundle the supports using masking tape, place the bundle in position over the shelf or divider that it needs to match and mark the location of the cross dados (Fig 11). Set up the table saw with a crosscut sled and cut the dados (Fig 12). Remember that the second shelf support needs to have both sets of crosscut dados (five crosscut dados total).

Dry fit the supports to make sure they align with the shelves and the dividers.

Sand the dividers smooth. Finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

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Figures 9 to 12. Cutting the dado for the 3/4” wide supports; Ripping the finished support to width; Marking the locations of the cross dados; Cutting the cross dados on a crosscut sled

Make the face frames

Since the wine rack is confined within a cavity, it does not need a face frame to resist racking. Instead, the face frame is designed to cover the edge of the plywood carcase and hide the gap between the wine rack and the cavity. Thus it will be the reverse of a normal face frame by being  flush with the inside of the carcase and overhang on the outside.

Start with two pieces of 1” x 2” x 8’ nominal (0.75” x 1.5” x 96” actual) S4S poplar. Cut the four pieces of the face frame to length, sand, and finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

Make the back

The wine rack will be back-lit, so will need a translucent back (not clear which would expose the lights and electrical workings). Also, since the wine rack will not rack, the back does not need to be made of a solid material like polycarbonate. Instead, we will use a glass fiber nonwoven fabric. I used Synskin available from Tap Plastics. It is designed to look like the mulberry paper used to make shoji screens but is much tougher. To make the back, simply cut a piece sized close to the dimensions of the wine rack.

Assemble the wine rack

Lay the carcase face down. Peel off the protective paper off the shelves and slide them into place in the correct order, slot side facing up (Fig 13). Peel off the protective paper off the dividers and slide them into place.

Apply clear silicone sealant into the dados of the divider supports and apply them to the back. Use masking tape to hold them in place until the silicone cures (Fig 14).

Flip the carcase over. Apply clear silicone sealant into the dados of the shelf supports and apply them to the front (Fig 15). Apply wood glue to the edge of the carcase and align the face frame pieces. Tack them in place with brads. Once the silicone cures, attach the back to the carcase and dividers using 1/4” T-50 staples (Fig 16). Use a hammer to drive the staples flush to the carcase and dividers. You will want to use plenty of staples since you don’t want a bottle to push through the back.

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Figures 13 to 16. Installing the shelves and dividers; Applying the vertical divider supports; Applying the horizontal shelf supports; Attaching the fabric back

Electrical work and finish up

In this design, the lights for the wine rack are placed on the same circuit as the other accent lights. Run an electrical line from one of the accent lights to the back of the cavity the wine rack will be in. Since this is outside the fire barrier, the wiring may need to be in a metal conduit. Wire an outlet box (Fig 17).

We want the lighting behind the wine rack to be even and don’t want individual bulbs to create hot spots. To achieve that, make sure there is at least 4 inches of space between the back of the cavity and the back of the wine rack when it is in position. Any closer than that and the lights will show through.

Line the back of the cavity with white flame retardant vapor barrier. Wrap an 18’ long LED rope light around the cavity and attach is securely. If any part of the rope flexes away from the back, add more tie downs to maintain the 4” space between the lights and the back of the wine rack (Fig 18).

Nail or screw in two 2”x4” cleats to support the wine rack and add shims as needed to ensure level (Fig 19). Slide in the wine rack, add some bottles, turn on the lights, and admire your work (Fig 20). Notice on the upper left slot that two half bottles (0.375L) can be doubled up in a single slot. Also notice on the credenza on bottom right is a double bottle (1.5L) that doesn’t fit in the rack.

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Figure 17 to 20. Installing the outlet box; Testing the LED lights; Installing cleats and shims; Finished wine rack in place with a few bottles

The total cost for the project is itemized below.

Lumber, stain, varnish $   70
1/8”x4’x8’ sheet gray polycarbonate $200
2’x4’ sheet of glass fiber fabric $  20
Carpentry, painting, and cabinet installation labor $     0
Electrical materials, incl. 18’ LED rope light $   65
Electrical labor, rough-in and finish $    0*
TOTAL $355

*I am my own electrical contractor. If you hire this work out, it would add about $150

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All drawings and photographs by George Taniwaki unless otherwise noted.