DIY Industrial Shelving from the IKEA Hyllis

As part of my unofficial Three Days of Labor over the Labor Day three-day weekend, I did  up some long-awaited DIY industrial shelving, adapted from some IKEA parts and Home Depot wood. It’s nice to have some projects to pass the time while dog- and house-sitting at my parents’ house over the long weekend.

DIY industrial shelving
What it should be and what it can be…

I’ve been lusting after some industrial shelving (the decorator’s term might be “French industrial shelving,” to be precise). Yes, I did the wood and metal open shelving for my TV, but I was after something like this Restoration Hardware vintage industrial tower or the shelves in the unknown-source image below – just not at a $1,000 price tag.DIY industrial shelving

So inspired…so expensive…

Yes, I could have built one of these awesome pipe-and-board units, but piping is expensive. So how can I get close enough to the inspiration to make me happy, but spend as little as possible? DIY industrial shelving with some help from IKEA, naturally – specifically the $14.99 Hyllis.

DIY industrial shelving
$14.99! Seriously!

The galvanized stainless steel Hyllis shelving looks quite nice without any modifications, and the 2013 IKEA catalog shows it looking at home indoors and outdoors. For my purposes, though, I just used the rails and feet, choosing to replace the shelves with wood boards from Home Depot. (Now I’ll have to think of something to do with the stainless steel shelves…)

I looked at the same common pine boards I used in the TV open shelving project, but they didn’t have the heft and thickness that I liked in the shelving from the bottom inspiration photo. Happily I stumbled on framing boards and got an 8 foot length of Douglas fir, 2″ thick, for just under $9. The nice guys there cut it for me into about 23″ boards (remember, boards are never exactly the length listed on the tag due to the thickness of saws, etc.).

I also thought about using the same stain wash that I’ve used on the common pine boards, but I wanted to try the “steel wool and vinegar” aging method.

1. Brand new old wood.

Stick a pad of #0000 gauge steel wool into a jar of vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar because an online search hinted that might give me a more grayish color than regular white vinegar.

You’re supposed to wait a day or two for the steel wool to dissolve. I waited 3 days and mine did not dissolve. It disintegrated a little, but I suspect the apple cider vinegar I used didn’t have a high enough acidity. No matter – I just fished the remaining steel wool out and used the liquid anyway. It worked fine.

DIY industrial shelvingAt first, it looks like nothing is happening and that you just painted your wood with water. Even after the wood looks “dry” again, it looks sort of the same (or at least mine  did), but just give it about 10 minutes or so. It will start turning grayish.

DIY industrial shelving
Boards in the process of turning gray from the steel wool and vinegar stain.

Add more coats of the “stain” to get it darker but let it dry between each one to make sure you’re not going too dark. I wanted the slight driftwood look, but didn’t want the “been sitting in the sun for fifty years” look, so I stopped after about three coats. My wood was more dense than a pine board would have been, so different woods will require different numbers of coats.

2. Brand new old rails.

The galvanized stainless steel Hyllis rails look nice and bright and shiny – the opposite of what I wanted. I used a can of Rustoleum flat black I had lying around and painted the rails. Rustoleum will go on evenly in one coat, but I wanted to mimic the subtle brush strokes in the galvanized metal, so I cut the paint with some water and used the flat of a foam brush to “swirl” the paint on. It resulted in an interesting pattern – I haven’t decided if I love it or if it looks like a failed paint job. I can always paint it more later.DIY industrial shelving

Shelving rails – before and after

3. MacGyver-ish.

The original Hyllis shelving uses very short screws to attach the stainless steel shelves to the stainless steel rails. With the heavy wood board shelves, though, I couldn’t rely on just those small screws to hold up the shelves, much less anything on top of them. I used small L-brackets to add support and screwed at 3 points in each corner:

  • I put an L-bracket along the edge of the wood board (between the board and the rail), then used a long wood screw to screw through the rail hole, the L-bracket hole and straight into the wood.
  • I screwed the L-bracket into the wood board on the underside.
  • And then I used the original short screws on the other rail hole, into the short side of the board. The short screws were ideal here, because with two long screws going in opposite directions, I was afraid a third long screw would hit one of them.
  • Screw. Screw. Screw. Screw. How many screws can I use in a single sentence?
DIY industrial shelving
Many screws. (And yes…I painted the wrong side of the L-brackets. Sigh.)

4. Screw and repeat. 

With the whole thing lying down on a flat surface, repeat the 3-screw process on every corner of every shelf.

5. Finish and stand.

Stick the little plastic feet on the bottom of the shelving to protect the floors and then stand ‘er up. Yay!

DIY industrial shelving
I don’t know why the rails look so curved in this photo. They’re really not.
DIY industrial shelving
Aww yeah.

Round up

Time: 3 hours, not including the 3 days of steel wool (non-)disintegration.


  • Hyllis shelving unit, IKEA – $15
  • Douglas fir boards, Home Depot – $9
  • Apple cider vinegar – $1
  • Steel wool #0000 gauge – already owned
  • Rustoleum flat black paint – already owned
  • Foam brushes – already owned

Total: $25. Nice.

It is much more stable than I thought it would be, considering that I read in several places that the original Hyllis needs to be bolted to the wall for stability. I will end up bolting mine too, since it’s heavy, but it stands pretty sturdily by itself.

So there it is – my DIY industrial shelving slash IKEA Hyllis pseudo-hack.

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12 Responses to DIY Industrial Shelving from the IKEA Hyllis

  1. nancy says:

    really great idea and it looks excellent !

  2. deborah says:

    totally awesome. I’m gonna copy this, though I’ll prob. use some other wood I have knocking around. I absolutely love it. When you bolted it to the wall, did you have to drill holes in the rails, or are they already there?

    Thanks. I love your blog; just found this today when I decided to buy the Hyllis as it fits my teeny kitchen perfectly.

    For your leftover steel shelves, look on Ikea Hacker where somebody used them for kitchen backsplash. It looks cool.

    • Claire says:

      Thanks, Deborah! I don’t think there are pre-drilled holes, but you could use L-brackets or drill holes (the metal isn’t that thick). And thank you for the tip about the uses for the extra shelves!

  3. Bob says:

    Very cool! I’m wondering why you use the L bracket. Was it to prevent wobbling or just to brave the weight of each shelf?

    • Claire says:

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you! It is to brace the weight of each shelf. The original construction is built with screws that go through the rails and directly into the light metal shelves, but this would not have adequately supported the wood shelves.

  4. Anna says:

    My husband did it this weekend! It looks amazing! Thank you so much!

  5. Ektor says:

    Great hack you’ve got there. Looks pretty easy and the result is just great. Will probably try this one myself in 2/3 months. Thanks!

    • Claire says:

      Thanks! It’s definitely easy to do and gives that slight industrial feel. You can even switch up the wood or color of the rails to work with other things in the room.

  6. Kyle says:

    That looks amazing! I’ve been looking for an alternative to the 500 dollar industrial bookshelves I love and this one nails it.

    One suggestion though. You could age the galvanized steel by spraying it with vinegar or an acid (My friend uses toilet bowl cleaner) and leaving out in the sun. The patina would not be as dark but would look much more natural upon close inspection.

    • Claire says:

      That’s such an awesome idea! I will have to try that when I finally get around to using the spare shelves. Thank you!

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