Building a Rainbow Arch Sculpture Utilizing Recycled Books

As seen on Instructables

APR 10, 2022. PUNTA GORDA by Scott.

I own an independent bookstore and receive lots of books that are simply at the end of their lives. Old investment books from before the financial crash, books with cracked binding, or missing pages start to pile up in the corner. So, I decided to be creative and upcycle these books into something fun.

I built a frame out of 2×4’s and plywood to provide a stable base. I added rows of books and used a pneumatic framing nailer to secure the books to the frame and one another. I had to cut books with a miter saw to fill in odd gaps. This was a team effort, and it took over 4 weeks to complete!

The upper ‘rainbow’ section are paperback books arranged and cut into blocks. The colors are from the publishers, and I did not paint them.

I added some books by my favorite authors including Neil Gaiman (well, the store is named after the Sandman Comics), Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series, Andrew Smith’s Ignition (local author), and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. On the inside of the structure, I had my friends sign their names - this part is more meaningful to me now that my friend Will has passed away. I love knowing that his name is hidden underneath the books. 

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Supplies

  • 3 1/2 weeks of work (full time)
  • 5,000 books, both paperback and hardcover
  • 10,000 3 inch collated framing nails
  • 1000 3 inch construction screws
  • 5 sheets of osb
  • 3 repurposed pallets
  • 25 2x4's
  • 30 feet of crown moulding
  • Flooring glue (leftover from a project)
  • a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears!

Tools

  • Safety Glasses (all steps below need them)
  • Hearing Protection
  • 12 inch miter saw
  • Air compressor for tools
  • Framing nailer
  • Brad Nailer
  • Drill
  • Clamps
  • Circular Saw
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Patience

Step 1: Location, Location, Location!

The first consideration is to designate a suitable location for the Sandman Books Arch. My plans call for a 9 foot tall frame by 25 feet in length but you can make a much smaller structure. In my case, I am 6 foot 5 inch tall and desired an arch I could walk under without hitting my head. The second consideration is weight, especially if you are building an arch in a residential building. A quick estimate reveals each book weights approximately 1 pound plus the weight of the 2x4s, osb and fasteners. My design called for 5,000 books, so I had to accommodate at least 5,500 pounds. Luckily, the floor was reinforced concrete and more than adequate to support the arch. A smaller arch will weigh considerable less.

Book Arch Sandman Books Location Before Construction

Step 2: Wood Frame Construction

The first step is the construction of a frame to stabilize the book arch. Start by building two identical towers using 2x4s and fastened together with nails. I calculated each tower needed to be 2 feet by 2 feet by 9 feet tall to achieve the desired outcome. I utilized cross-bracing to minimize twisting at the bottom and roughly in the middle at 4 feet. At the top, I installed the bracing 4" from the top of the tower to accommodate the arch support.

The middle tower is constructed in a similar manner to the outer towers. Install cross-bracing near the floor and at the 4 feet mark. Since the middle tower will have more weight bearing down, I installed a 2x6 frame 4" from the top.

It is a good idea to bolt the arch to the ground, especially if you are in an earthquake prone area. In my case I used bolts anchored into the floor but you may use other fastening methods.

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Step 3: Arch Construction

The next step is constructing the arch frame between the three towers. Cut four 2x4s to a length of twelve feet then place them on the recessed frame stretching between the three towers. Install cross braces every 2 feet between the installed framing. Ensure everything is fastened with at lease 2 nails per joint.

Install the diagonal braces to form a rudimentary arch shape 3 feet from the top of each tower and attach to the overhead supports three feet from the edge of the tower.

Cut sixteen strips of OSB to 2 feet in width using a circular saw. Take one strip and freehand the approximate curved arch opening using a pencil. Cut out the arch opening using a reciprocating saw and save the piece removed as a template for the other three arch pieces. When you are done let your supervisor inspect everything. (His name is Kitty Wan Kenobi, the bookstore cat. Don't worry, he was at our house while we were using powertools).

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Step 4: Book Placement and Fastening

Now the fun begins! Start by stacking books around the base of a tower in full rows. Try to find books approximately the same thickness but vary the spine color for a rainbow effect. Open the top cover of the book and use a framing nailer to nail through the spine into the OSB frame. Once you have three approximately level rows, screw through the face of each book into the books below to fasten everything together. Make sure to stagger the 'joints' between books to provide stability to the book arch. Remember, the frame provides a structure to build the arch but most of the structural integrity are the books themselves.

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Step 5: Cutting Books

You may need to cut books in half to fit different areas. Books are not exactly the same size and there are variations with each publisher and edition. For hardcover books, clamp the book closed and carefully cut using a miter saw with a fine toothed blade. Make sure the book is flat on the saw before attempting to cut. If a book is not clamped, it tends to shred pages and make a jagged edge.

Paperback books are a bit different. The best method for paperback books is to use a brad nailer and nail several books together to keep the pages tight together. If the pages are loose, the saw will tear the pages and ruin the book. Only cut paperbacks with the cover facing down and the spines towards you. Wear safety glasses and keep your hands a safe distance from the saw blade.

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Step 6: Continue Installing Hardcover and Softcover Books

Install books in the curved section in a similar manner to the towers. Overlap the books about 3 inches over the edges of the arch to support the paperback rainbow above. Open the front cover of the book and shoot two (or more) nails through the spine and to each other through the covers. Do one complete band of overhead books before moving on to the the second and third. This section of books needs to be tightly installed because the books become somewhat self-supporting like a roman arch.

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Step 7: Installing the Rainbow

Cut bundles of paperback books using the method above to create two blocks of books. We opted to create a rainbow pattern so we color sorted the books by color. I am a bit color-blind so I outsourced this task to my wife. Once the blocks are sorted, it is time to install the. Glue the cut side of the blocks to the OSB in an alternating pattern. You may have to make smaller cults to fill in areas because not all books are the same dimensions. You may add some brad nails the paperback blocks from the inside of the structure. Big Kitty is the name of the compressor because it hisses a lot.

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Step 8: Add the Finishing Details

Cut the crown moulding pieces to fit the upper section and give the sculpture a finished look. You many use decorative books or other items to top off the book arch but we had extra crown moulding on-hand. Nail into place using brad nails into the top structure. Take a nap before cleaning up because you will be exhausted. Trust me!

Cutting Crown Molding Moulding using 12" Compound Miter SawWorld's Largest Book Arch Wedding Sandman Punta Gorda, Florida

 

Step 9: Dress Up in Costume and Have Fun!

Don your favorite apparel and take your best shot. The Books Arch at Sandman Books is a quirky art installation that is perfect for engagement, weddings, senior pictures, or just goofing around!

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