Introducing DIY Me, Please, our new series where we teach you how to make a variety of vinyl storage and vinyl-adjacent products on your own. Here we teach you how to make record dividers for better collection organization.
Andrew: Once you fully commit to the “vinyl lifestyle” and go whole hog into collecting more than like 10 records, there’s an immediate problem you need to solve: how do you organize said records? The easiest answer--unless you live inHigh Fidelity--is to arrange your records alphabetically in some fashion.
But because I am a borderline obsessive compulsive when it comes to alphabetically arranging my records--I wrote a Tumblr about my records in alphabetical order, after all--that’s not enough organization for me. I want to be able to easily tell where certain records were on my bulging Ikea shelves (RIP Expedit) without having to triangulate based on where the records are in relation to my nearly complete Dylan collection, and my collection of Kings of Leon records I now regret. My search for better organization led me to the inevitable: record dividers.
You’ve seen them: they’re how most sane record shops in the world organize their records. But when I started searching for them, I realized, 1. I didn’t want flimsy plastic dividers like the stores have; I wanted mine to last and 2. The options that are for sale across the net that are made out of wood or particle board are too expensive, even if they're super nice, and even for someone who is so obsessed with organization he keeps a diagram charting how many records are in each cube of his shelves (ask my partner about that, she’s been trying to commit me to a hospital over it). I knew there had to be another option.
It turns out there was: I could just make them myself. Well, more exactly, I could ask my uncle Steve--who has an MS and BS in Wood Engineering and who is the president and CEO of a wood quality certification company--to help me come up with a diagram, and lay out exactly how to make my own record dividers from start to finish. And since I am a person with an open and giving heart, and with access to the blog of a vinyl-centric company, I present to you a guide to making your own DIY record dividers.
A quick note before we get started: Steve and I designed this project to work for people with even the most cursory woodworking experience and knowledge (like me) and for people with limited space at their domicile to do said woodworking (also like me). This project, unlike some of the DIY projects you can find on the net, can be done fairly easily by someone in a studio apartment and who can carry small sheets of plywood on public transportation (or can fit 4-5 boards into the back of even a small car). The record dividers you’ve wanted for your collection are easily attainable by following this guide.
PICKING THE RIGHT WOOD
Steve: One of the home improvement stores in your area will have several alternatives for suitable material for your dividers. Because you don’t want the dividers to take up any more valuable shelf space than is necessary, your best bet is to look for panel products that are less than ½ inch thick. Still, if you really want to use those 1-inch thick vintage barn boards that came from your grandparents’ old farmstead, go ahead. Just accept that a full set of dividers could consume over two feet of shelf space instead of just a few inches. We’re going to assume that you want your shelf space going to your vinyl collection, not as homage to your grand pappy. So our recommendation is to use the thinnest panel that will do the job—function over form, as it were.
There are several things to consider when selecting material, including the material type, the size of the pieces you buy, and whether you want them to be natural or painted. In our experience, the thinnest panel that can remain stable and has the strength and stiffness required has a minimum thickness of ¼ inch. Your local lumber yard or big box retailer like The Home Depot or Lowe’s will have several alternatives (and specialty building products retailers will likely have an even wider variety).
You can choose the standard 4’ x 8’ size (which is the common size used in construction) but it may be difficult to transport and even harder to work with if you’re doing this project alone. Most retailers will also offer smaller, more convenient sizes—like 2’ x 2’ or 2’ x 4’—to cater to the urban dweller who doesn’t own a pickup truck. Our cutting diagram is for a 2’ x 4’ panel, a size that yields six dividers and also fits in the backseat or trunk of your Subaru. The full-sized 4’ x 8’ panel would yield 24 divider base panels the same size as those in the cutting diagram, so if you want a full 26- or 27-piece divider set, you’ll need an extra small panel anyway.
When it comes to ¼-inch thick panel products, the options aren’t many but you’ll be able to find something that works. Here are the pros and cons of some of the options:
- There are several varieties of plywood that will work well as dividers. But you’ll want to select plywood that has at least five layers (referred to as “plies”) of veneer. The more plies, the more stable a plywood panel is. You can find 3-ply plywood but it will tend to warp more than a 5-ply or 7-ply panel.
- Do you want your dividers to have a natural look, or do you want to paint them? If natural, your choices may be oak, maple, birch or some other hardwood. Retailers tend not to carry all of these in the 2’ x 4’ size, so you may have to opt for the 4’ x 8’ size in some cases if you have your heart set on a particular wood species.
- Note that even with high quality plywood, your dividers could experience a small amount of warping. Wood is a natural material that can take on moisture in humid conditions in the summer or dry out when the humidity drops in the winter.
- Cost: a 2’ x 4’ piece will be between $6 to $12, depending on wood type and quality.
Hardboard or medium density fiberboard (MDF)
- Hardboard and MDF are composite panels made from small wood fibers that are pressed together. Both have a very smooth finish so is easy to paint. Unpainted is an option too, if you’re going for a utilitarian look.
- Cost: a 2’ x 4’ piece will be $3 to $6.
You’ve Got the Wood. Now What?
Andrew:Below, you’ll find a cutting diagram Steve created for the 2’ x 4’ board option. Just scale up or down depending on if you get smaller or bigger boards.
So the obvious first step is to diagram the cut lines out onto the board(s) itself. Your industrial tech teacher was right: always measure twice (or thrice), and cut once.
The beauty of using such thin plywood for this project is that it's fairly easy to saw the board into smaller pieces using even a hand saw. Line up your board on the edge of a table to keep your saw straight. The process will go a lot quicker if you have access to a table saw, or a powered hand saw, or a circular saw, obviously.
Once you're done cutting--that's the most arduous part, I promise--you'll end up with a stack like this.
From there, it's time to cut out the tabs.
We opted to do a shifting tab--as in no sequential letter has a tab in the same spot as the one before it--but you could ignore that and just make dividers with the tab in a uniform spot. Either way, you'll need to measure out what you need to cut out to create the tab. The easiest way to do that is to take some scrap wood--you'll have a bit of it--and saw off a piece you can use as a guide, like so:
You'll end up with boards that look like this, which you then need to cut out.
Cutting out the tabs is a sometimes annoying job, but, once you're done doing that, you're ready to sand off the rough edges of your dividers. Just a quick sand to all the edges and your dividers will slide in and out of your shelves easily.
Finishing the Job
Steve:The beauty of doing DIY dividers is that you have total control over how they look at the end, including their color, stain, or paint. Building products stores almost always have a paint section where you can find a wide variety of paint, stain, brushes, etc., plus service staff who will help you understand what to buy and how to complete your project.
- Varnish — will protect the dividers and preserve the natural color of the wood.
- Stain — will also preserve the natural look of wood, with dozens of tones and colors to choose from.
- Paint — can be applied to any type of divider. The hardboard/MDF option will not require a prime coat like natural wood dividers will, but that’s something you can discuss when you’re selecting your paint at the store.
We went with a "beach wood" stain to give these dividers the look of weathered boards. From there, it’s up to you how to stencil the letters onto the dividers. Again, the DIY model leaves a lot of space for creative freedom. You can go to a craft store to pick out a variety of stencils and colors for said stencils. It’s up to you: the record divider world is your oyster.
About that Leftover Wood And The Extra Dividers
Andrew:As you may have realized, the cutting diagram yields 30 dividers. If you opt not to use one for 0-9 for bands that are numbers, you're left with four extra boards. As you can see above, I opted to turn some my extra boards into a "Comps" divider for my compilation albums, and a "Dylan" board for my Bob Dylan records. You could also turn one into a Vinyl Me, Please divider, if you sort our records out differently than the rest of your records (wink wink).
But that's not all. The cutting diagram also leaves a strap of wood that is unused at the end of each board. Well, it turns out we have something cool you can do with that: you can make a placeholder stick to remember where you pulled a certain record out from.
So there you have it. With a little bit of sweat equity and some cheap plywood (we got all our wood for around $40, total spend including stencils and stain was $53) you can have your own record dividers.