How to Build Your Own Bookshelf

How to Build Your Own BookshelfFrom time to time here on PT Money I like to share some of the woodworking or home-improvement projects I complete in my spare time.

Sometimes these are ideas that have saved me money. Most of the time though, they’re just things I do to have some fun and use my brain in a different way.

The latest project is a bookshelf I built to be used for our baby girl’s room. You could build this yourself and it’s nice enough to use it in your home office, living room, or bedroom.

I got the idea for the bookshelf from a friend, who’s built a similar one for his living room. In general it’s built using only inexpensive lumber, a table saw, some wood glue, sand paper, and a nail gun. I added a couple of coats of some black semi-gloss paint to match the other furniture in our baby girl’s room.

raw-bookshelf-side-panel

How I Built the Bookshelf

The above picture shows the side paneling, built with four (4) 1×4 treated pieces of wood held together by five (5) 1×2 strips made from another 1×4. The strips are glued and nailed to the panel pieces. Since your bookshelf has two sides, you’ll need to make two of these side panels.

These strips serve to add strength to the bookshelf, but also serve as the rails for the shelves. For this reason, you’ll need to place your strips in exactly the same location on either panel. And because you’re building it yourself, you’ll get to decide where to put your shelves. I chose to make two bigger spaces on the top and bottom, with two smaller spaces in between.

raw-bookshelf-side-panel-connects-to-top-piece

Up next, you’ll need to connect your side panels to the top. The top is a special “project piece”. It’s basically strips of hardwood glued together to make a nice, big piece of wood, suitable for a bookshelf top. This was the most expensive part of the project, but worth it.

To connect these two pieces, I simply used the nail gun on the top side of the top piece and nailed down into the side panels.That didn’t feel strong enough, so I ran a piece between the two side panels just under the top piece at the back. See the black pieces in the picture below. Unfortunately, the above two pictures are all the construction pictures I have. I’ve put together this rough drawing though for you to follow…

bookshelf-plans

As you can see, once you get the two side panels connected to the top piece and you have your support slats in place, you’ve basically got the framework for the bookshelf built. Up next is adding the decorative trim pieces (above in red). Again, I used the 1×4 pieces to create these trim pieces. Doing this adds some depth to the look of the bookshelf and helps to hide the shelf support rails. These pieces are all nailed to the framework using the nail gun.

Next, I added a pre-finished faux-panelling to the back of the bookshelf. You can barely make it out in the last picture below. It adds a decorative touch without adding too much weight to the bookshelf.

Lastly, I purchased a 1×12 piece of shelving wood to create the shelves. This was my last and easiest step. The shelves aren’t nailed into the bookshelf, so I just needed to cut them to the correct size.

Once all the pieces were in place, I sanded the bookshelf (a lot, so little fingers can’t get splinters) and added two coats of paint. Here’s the final product…

completed-project-bookshelf-side-view

The Finished Bookshelf

In the picture above, you can see the completed bookshelf. I have to say, this has to be one of the favorite projects I’ve completed. It was fairly inexpensive ($75 for all the supplies), quick to build, and it turned out great. Nice enough to go in any room in my house, I’d say. Makes me smile to think that our little girl will grow up using this bookshelf her Dad made her.

completed-project-bookshelf-front-in-nursery

In this last picture you can see the crib which I was trying to match somewhat with the look of the bookshelf. You can barely make out the faux-panelling on the back of the bookshelf. This, I thought, went well with the slats of our girl’s crib.

Let me know if you’re interested in doing this yourself and I can help provide more details for you. Also, if you’ve done any woodworking, send some pictures my way. I’d be glad to share your project here on the blog.

Update #1: A reader emailed in need of a materials list for this project. While I don’t have an exact list made up, I’ve thrown together a rough version for you to start from. Here’s roughly what you’ll need:

Materials List

  • 48 feet of 1×4 inexpensive pine (for all the side slats, trim, and internal framing)
  • 12 feet of 1×16 shelving (for the shelves)
  • roughly 24×36 project piece (nice) of hardwood (for the top)
  • at least 3 feet x 4 feet sheet of beaded board panelling (back)
  • sander
  • wood glue
  • nailgun
  • black semi-gloss paint and brush

Update #2: Readers have been emailing in asking for more details on how to build the shelf. I took a stab at some crude step-by-step instructions:

Step-by-Step Instructions (…sort of)

  1. First, make the side pieces: cut the 1x4s into 8 pieces, 4 ft in length; use some more 1x4s (cut longways in half) to make the supports for the sides; glue and nail gun the supports to the 4 side peices. You should now have your side peices ready.
  2. Nail the top project peice to the side pieces.
  3. Cut 2 extra 1x4s (cut in half) into cross bars for the bottom (to give the bottom of the shelf some extra support).
  4. Use the remaining 1x4s to add front facing trim work to the shelf.
  5. Cut and nail the beadboard to the back of the shelf.
  6. Cut the 1x16s into shelf peices.
  7. Sand and paint it all and place the shelf peices inside. Viola!

I know that’s not as specific as professional plans. To be honest, I just kind of made it up as I went along. My advice would be to study the pictures I’ve provided and study bookshelves you see in stores. Get a feel for how the internal framing and structure works. Then, just take that knowledge and my materials list, apply your own math, and get to work.

Let me know how it goes!

Update #3: A reader recently emailed me and was kind enough to share with us the details of their completed media center using the concepts from this DIY bookshelf.

Build a Media Center Using the Same Concept

Email from reader: I had recently gotten into vinyl but didn’t have anything to store it, nor to hold up my turntable and receiver. I didn’t really like anything that I was seeing in stores, and then I stumbled across your blog about building a bookshelf.

I made a few adaptations and I’ve attached a picture of the result. I apologize for the quality, I only have my cell phone camera. I only had a 7th grade Tech Ed. education when it came to woodworking, and had invaded my Dad’s workshop while I was taking some time off from work so I could use his saw.

Thank you for that blog because nothing I saw in the stores would have come close to this functionality wise.

DIY Media Center

I didn’t draw up any plans, but I did draw up the design that I wanted. While putting the design on paper I was meticulously planning in my mind and making sure everything would work. Some of those plans went out the window though when I realized I’d have to build it in such a way that I could finish the construction in my apartment.

Compact cars sure weren’t meant for hauling furniture, and it was a 5 and a half hour drive. Multiple trips weren’t an option. More plans then went out the window when I realized wood dimensions aren’t quite as advertised… It was my first time working with wood, or working with any raw materials for that matter.

If you need any more details from me on the variations or steps I took just let me know. For the most part though, I basically built three bookshelves and bridged two together. The shelves were permanent though for stability in lieu of a backing, and my sides were two 1×8′s.

Thanks again for the blog. After reading that post I was confident this was a project I could tackle even with my limited woodworking experience.

If you build this bookshelf or media center let us know and leave a comment or email with details. Thanks!

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Last Edited: April 22, 2013 @ 1:29 pm
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a husband and father of two. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.