How to build a bookshelf by yourself

DIY Bookshelf
how to build a bookshelf

Want to showcase your well read nature to your snobbish neighbor, and yet short of cash supply to buy a brand new bookshelf? Well, there is always a low cost DIY side to almost every furniture item. Learning how to build a bookshelf yourself is a fun endeavor by itself. In this regard, the bulky bookshelf is no different; since, all the components that you will need are covered by sturdy veneer plywood and of course a saw to cut it. In fact, the advantage of wooden bookshelves is that you wouldn’t need to make any structural changes to your wall. So, put on your carpenter’s hat, and go through the brief steps for creating an indigenous bookshelf of your own.

Things to consider before learning how to build a bookshelf

As always, our first pointer deals with the practical stuff you need to consider before starting out with your DIY endeavor. In the case of bookshelves, if you want the furniture item to be of a large height (that is above 8 ft) , lumber components like pine or oak chunks can be very costly. So, you can always opt for hardwood veneered plywood, as it is more economical and has more strength that conventional wood. In this regard, it is best to choose either oak plywood (for its sturdiness) or birch plywood (for its affability to paint jobs).

It is also important to have the plywood pieces cut into your preferred dimensions. For this you can always take the help of local lumberyards, where they cut the pieces adequately according to your fit. In relation to this, you should also calculate the frame width and depth. For example, in normal cases we should subtract around 0.7-inch for the added depth.

Tools and materials needed for building a bookshelf

We have compiled a basic list of tools which should be sufficient for constructing your bookshelf. They include the pretty normal furniture oriented stuff like square, pencils, handsaw, chainsaw, measuring rule, hammer, screws and of course a set of nails.

As for materials, we have already discussed about the plywood. Other than that we would also need sandpapers, glue, wood shims, wood fillers, primer and paint.

How to build a bookshelf by yourself

*This diagram was illustrated by Gregory Nemec for the Old House Magazine.

How to Build a Bookshelf in 6 Handy Steps

We finally move on to the all important process of building your DIY bookshelf. For the reader’s convenience, we have broken up this segment into the chronological steps pertaining to the whole process to properly explain you how to build a bookshelf.

Step 1: Measuring and cutting the individual bookshelf components

We already talked about your lumberyard turning the plywood into manageable boards with the required width. Now before you start ripping these boards into the preferred lengths, the components should be sanded and then primed.

After drying up the parts, it is high time to cut these pieces according to the heights and lengths of the bookshelf set by you. To start the process, you should first measure the height of the room space (in which the bookshelf would rest) and then cut two bookshelf legs from plywood boards corresponding to this measured height. You should then start measuring the width of the room space, and then cut the horizontal shelves and the top facade in accordance with the measured widths.

Now, after the cutting is done, it is time to transfer the shelf measurements on to the legs, by marking them. This can be easily achieved by laying the legs fitted to each other, and then using a square to transfer these marks. Further marks or plywood scraps can be used on the line of the edges to identify the width of each shelf.

The last part of this step entails the correct cutting of the vertical supports (basically square shaped panels of plywood). This is to be done by utilizing a saw and square, and then cutting the pieces so as to fit between the bigger spaces defined by the line of the edges along the legs. The horizontal shelves in turn would slip in between the legs, with their edges being supported by the recesses of these so-named supports.

Step 2: Fixing the vertical supports to the main legs

This is a pretty straightforward step which entails the attaching of the supports to the legs. This can be achieved by simply applying glue on the inner facade of the legs and affixing the individual supports one by one. For improving the structural bearing, the individual supports can then be nailed to the leg. However, when proceeding with the step, two things should be remembered: firstly, we should keep the recesses free between these vertical supports with the help of plywood scrapes. These internal spaces (of 0.75-inches) are kept for the horizontal shelves to ‘slide’ in. Secondly, the top most vertical support should be fixed 0.7-inch short than that of the total leg height.

Step 3: Fixing the hanging strip to the bookshelf

A sturdy plywood hanging strip will form as the main support of the bookshelf against your room’s wall. Now to install this hanging strip, you will need to slice off a 2.5-inch wide plywood component from the boards, whose length should be at least 1.5-inch less than that of the horizontal shelf.  This strip has to be placed (along the wall) between the top two supports, when the legs are arranged vertically with their back edge against the wall. Finally, we can fix these three components (i.e., the top two supports, the legs and the strip) by drilling two holes through them on each side and then fastening screws through these holes. For convenience’s sake, we can also slide in the bottom most shelf along the lower support recesses for balance.

The next part of this step involves the fixing of the top facade of the bookshelf on the top two supports and the hanging strip, between the legs. This top facade’s depth will take up the 0.7-inch free space we mentioned at the end of Step 2. Now for the fixing part, we can drill holes along its side and back edges, and then push screws through them. Thus the facade gets firmly secured on top of both the supports and the hanging strip.

Step 4: Sliding in the shelves of the bookcase

Before this step, the framework of the bookshelf should be complete with the tightly fixed legs and supports with the hanging strip. And, so now it’s time to slide in the shelves along the 0.75-inch (3/4-inch) recesses of the vertical supports. When sliding in the shelves, it is also very important to check their individual levels. In case of any disparity, we can always hammer in wood shims for maintaining a uniform level.

Step 5: Fixing the bookshelf with the wall

After adding shims from bottom to top as needed, the whole framework with the embedded shelves should be structurally balanced. The hanging strip is then to be firmly anchored to the walls by boring holes along its vertical surface and then screwing them. Now, as the whole bookshelf is supported by this hanging strip, we should make sure that the screws are fastened at the optimized areas to improve upon the firmness of the wall secured structure.

Step 6: Finishing the bookcase

Before this step, your rudimentary bookshelf should be ready to be used. Of course, a DIY project might be a tad bit sylvan, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it shouldn’t look good. In this regard, there are various ways to enhance the visual side of your bookshelf. For example, you can attach a complimentary kickboard (a shelf with cover) at the bottom of the furniture, or even add nosing to finish the front edges of the shelves. And, as for the entire bookshelf, you should give a good paint job, or at least coat the furniture item with a resilient protective layer like polyurethane.

Were these steps helpful to figure out how to build your bookshelf? Tell us more in the comment section below!

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