Introduction: Built in Book Cases

Picture of Built in Book Cases

For this project, we needed built-in book cases for a long wall. By using pre-drilled melamine laminated boards and pre-built cabinets from the local home store, we were able to build them with a minimum of tools, and get a perfect fit to the room.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

The book cases are made from a series of frames - pre-drilled shelf hole melamine on the sides, and 3/4" plywood on the tops and bottoms.  All the middle ones have a pre-made cabinet under them, and the leftover space was divided in half, to have a narrower bookshelf on each end to fit the room end-to-end.

The cabinets are pre-built and 36" wide and about 13" deep.

Melamine laminated sides - they are sold as 12" wide, but are actually 11.75" wide.  These are pre-drilled with shelf pin holes.

Plywood top & bottom & shelf above cabinet - we used 3/4" hardwood laminated - Luan or Birch is fine.

Plinth blocks (5" high and 2.5" wide) and rosettes (2.5" square)

Fluted molding - 2.25" wide

front edge trim molding

bottom and top trim 1"x3"

shelves - 3/4" plywood with 1"x2" front edges

shelf pins and knobs for the cabinet doors

crown molding

Step 2: Section Frames

Picture of Section Frames

Each section of the book case is based on the width of the cabinets we used.  The cabinets are wrapped in the frame, so the outside frame width will be the width of the cabinet plus 1.5" (3/4" for each side) plus a tiny bit for the melamine veneer.  So, we measured the wall, divided it up into the number of frames that will fit.  There was some left over, so we made narrower bookshelves on each end (with no cabinets).  In our case, we could have done one more cabinet, but the sides would have been too narrow to look good, so we used one less cabinet box and the result looks pretty good.

The cabinet frames are pretty easy to make.  We didn't use any fancy joinery, but you are welcome to! :-)  The cabinets have three fixed shelves; one for the bottom of the cabinet, one for the top of the cabinet, and one at the top of the frame.  The frames go from the floor to almost the ceiling, and the cabinets fit inside the frame.

The length of the fixed shelves is the same as the width of the cabinets - in our case, 36".  The width of the top and bottom fixed shelves is the same as the melamine sides (11.75").  The width of the middle shelf on top of the cabinets is wider to get some overhang over the cabinets (noted below).

The top edge of the bottom shelf was set to the height of the baseboard + 1/4" for a reveal between the baseboard and the bottom shelf.  Since we used 1x3 boards on the bottom, that's 2.5" + 1/4". 

The top shelf height is set to allow room for a top face molding, and then crown molding to the ceiling above that.  The height of each frame was a bit less than the ceiling height to allow for moving the frames in.  For our shelves, the top edge of the top shelf was the ceiling height minus the crown molding height minus about an inch reveal to the shelf minus a  1/4" reveal from the face molding to the top shelf.

The shelf above the cabinets needs to be deeper than the melamine so it overhangs the cabinets a bit.  We made it 13.5" deep.  It's  wider than the melamine (11.75" deep) to allow for the plinth block (3/4") + a 1" overhang over the cabinet fronts.

At the top back of the sides, we cutout a notch to allow the existing crown molding to stay in place.  This seemed easier than removing the molding, and since we have an older house, that crown molding is probably nicer than current materials.  Maybe some future owner will tear out these bookcases and thank us for leaving the molding :-)

We used drywall screws to hold the sides to the shelves, and they definitely need to be pre-drilled and counter-sunk since it's going into the edge of plywood and we don't want it to split. 

Each frame is not very strong, but once the cabinets are in place and they are side-by side, the whole system gets a lot stronger.  Attach the top and bottom shelves, but leave the cabinet top off for now - that can be added on top of the cabinets.

Step 3: Cabinets

Picture of Cabinets

Once you have the frames in the room, you can set the cabinets on the base.  We set them flush with the front of the frames.  Then we used a few drywall screws from the sides to connect the cabinets to the frames.  Be careful on the placement so the screws don't go into the cabinets.  Once the cabinets are in, the cabinet top shelf can be added, and screwed in.

Placing all the frames against the wall, and use shims to get the cabinet top shelves to line up and look straight.  Once you have them lined up, use a few 1 1/4" drywall screws to connect the frames together on the sides so they don't shift.  Pre-drill and counter-sink these holes too.  We found white plugs to put in the counter-sunk holes.  Wood putty and paint would probably work too - might not match the melamine finish exactly, but you really wouldn't notice once the shelves are in and filled with books.

Step 4: Details

Picture of Details

The shelves on top of the cabinets should all be connected together to make the impression of one continuous surface.  They could be cut with notches for the melamine sides, but we just used little blocks to fill in those gaps.  Those were glued and screwed in since they were small, and we use wood putty to fill the gaps and sanded it smooth.  After painting, it looks like one continuous piece.  At the sides we added the plinth blocks at the bottom, the rosettes at the top, and fluted molding on the sides.  Note that these do extend into the shelf space a bit, and this is by convention and design.

The baseboard is 1"x3" pine, and the top face molding is too.  Each is attached with a 1/4" reveal from the bottom and top shelves.    The baseboard does not need to touch the floor (but it can) since we add shoe molding on the face.

We added crown molding to match the existing room molding - some tricky cuts where they meet, but we used the coping method to match that.

On the front edge of the shelf above the cabinets, we added some trim molding - it's 3/4" thick, so matches the front of the shelf.

Step 5: Shelves

Picture of Shelves

The movable shelves are simply made from plywood with a 1"x2" front edge glued and screwed on.  The shelves need to be 3/4" narrower than the sides to allow for the front piece + 1/4" narrower so the shelves are not pressing right against the trim molding on the sides.  So, make the plywood 1" less than the width of the sides.


JoG32 (author)2017-01-21

Nice work!

Kristenalair (author)2016-11-06

hi-I'm thinking of building these on either side of our fireplace-my question is how, or did you, secure the cabinet to the bookcase frame? Thanks

STYOmar (author)Kristenalair2017-01-03

I just finished building a book case in my office. For securing the sides, top, and the frame itself I used a Kreg Junior. It is a great tool and makes the work of securing the boards easier and guarantees the boards are flush without worrying about the screws going through at an angle. I also started with base kitchen, unfinished Oak, cabinets (30" for the two ends and 36" in the middle), with 3/4" Oak plywood for the frames and shelves. This did add to the cost and does not provide the flexibility of movable shelves (unless you pre-drill the holes), however, this does allow for more stability, both in terms of the unit itself and not allowing the shelves to bow in the middle, as well as more storage (the piece overall is 8 ft by 64 inches). For the outside framing, I used the Kreg Junior once again to first build and assemble the framing (using 1" x 2", pre-primed) then installed as one piece. I've attached the before and after photos along with the hardware that I used on the drawers and doors.

CarlS (author)STYOmar2017-01-03

Looks nice - the base cabinets definitley give you more surface space for the printer etc.

CarlS (author)Kristenalair2016-11-07

The cabinets fit inside the frames, so I just used a few drywall screws from the sides to connect the cabinets to the frames. Be careful on the placement so the screws don't go into the cabinets.

bnkjones3000 made it! (author)2016-05-15

after several weekends of work, my project is complete

CarlS (author)bnkjones30002016-05-15

Looks great! All set for tyhat new TV! :-)

kbrooks13 (author)2015-08-29

Hi I see you cut out the shape of the cornices at the top of the melamine that touches the wall.... How did you deal with the cornices on the two end shelving pieces? The far left and the far right ones?

CarlS (author)kbrooks132015-08-30

I wanted to preserve the old crown molding in case they were removed some day. So, I carefully coped those around the old molding and used some caulk to seal up any gaps. I probably cut it on an angle to start.

JasonB21 (author)2015-05-14


Did you do anything special for the electrical outlet in the baseboard? I haven't looked yet, but will an old work electrical box fit into the 1x3?

Thanks - I buying materials now. Very excited to build this.


CarlS (author)JasonB212015-05-14

I believe a box did fit under there. Good luck!

AdcockE (author)2015-01-23

How do you get the shelves to stay flush against the wall? Did you nail them?

this is why most have backs.. the wall is not perfectly straight.. never is... look for the method of trim off alittle to get it flush.. utube.. and with stuff on the shelf only U know it has that gap.. glue a piece of cardboard on the back if all else fails and get it not to let things drop thru.. toothpick size bothers us but the world at large never notices.

CarlS (author)AdcockE2015-01-23

For the most part, they were large enough that they do not move, and I was able to use a shim on the front bottom under the sides in some cases. But, I snuck in a couple L brackets fairly high up to be sure and painted them to match the side of the cabinet and the wall. Those are mostly covered by books and don't stick out.

janiceelaine.quandt (author)2015-03-14

purchase longer and cut it off and utilize the scrap in next project... 8'6" walls in this house makes for a lot of that.

AdcockE (author)2015-01-23

Hi, can someone please explain how the "fixed shelves" were done?

CarlS (author)AdcockE2015-01-23

I am pretty sure I just screwed those in from the sides with drywall screws. I would have pre-drilled the hole and counter-sunk it so it would not split the plywood, and so the screw head would not stick out.

esaydam (author)2015-01-13

Awesome built-in bookcase plans. I have 9' ceilings in the room I would like to build this in. Does anyone know where to find longer length pre-drilled melamine boards?

CarlS (author)esaydam2015-01-23

I am not sure about taller pre-drilled melamine. There are hole drilling jigs from stores like Rockler. It may be possible to divide the vertical sides up at the sides of the cabinet, though it might not be as strong - not sure if there is enough cabinet frame to scew in to.

nathan.yeoman.9 (author)2014-12-05

I made a set myself and they turned out great (I'll add pictures). I am having one problem, and that is that some of the longer runs of shelves are beginning to bow. Do you have any suggestions for combating against that? I can't imagine I'm the only one who has encountered this problem.

CarlS (author)nathan.yeoman.92014-12-05

First of all, nice job, but it's kind of creepy seeing a part of my house in a different context! ;-)

I have not noticed that issue, but only have shelves the width of two cabinets. Did you use plywood or particle board on the shelves? Plywood may be stiffer. In either case, one idea is to use angle aluminum (or a square tube) in the middle of the shelf to stiffen it up - you can paint that to blend in. You could use another board, but with that 3/4" clearance, metal would probably be stiffer. Another idea is two shelf boards together so the whole shelf is 1.5" thick. There may even be stock shelves like that...

Good luck - as you say, this must be a common bookshelf issue.

sam11i (author)2014-09-14


Thanks for sharing, you inspired me to go for it!

A couple of questions:

- Did you use uppers or base cabinets? Is there a difference or just a size preference?

- How much space do I need to leave between the door and the molding to allow the door to open without hitting the molding?

- What measurements should I use for the base in proportion to the cabinet size?

- How do you match the paint color the melamine?



CarlS (author)sam11i2014-09-20


The cabinets are upper cabinets - the depth of those is more in line with a bookshelf depth. Since the cabinet boxes are slightly larger than the doors, I did not need any extra clearance on the top and bottom.

I am not sure what you mean on the base proportion - the frames of each unit are the width of the cabinets, and the height of the cabinets was just what I got from the store.

I do not think I did a great job of matching the melamine paint, but since it's all white, it does not show up much unless you get close. Melamine has a texture, but maybe semi-gloss?

Good luck!

bgabrielson (author)2014-08-03

Thanks a bunch for sharing this. Haven't yet decided if I'm up for tackling it yet or not though, having a little debate about if this is worth the effort compared to just springing for 3 sets of Ikea bookcases. The pros for Ikea are that they are portable should we decide to rearrange or repaint, have a option for glass doors and can be completed in a afternoon, the pros for this are the full built in look, maximized use of space, durability and some cost savings.

The biggest detriment to this project however is that the pre-fab cabinets only come in 12 inch or 24 inch depths. You used 12 inch uppers, but I'm really wanting a deeper storage space for some oversized books and computer equipment. Ikea options come in 14-16 inch depths.

Ideally I'd like 18 inch cabinets for the bottom run with a stained wood top and 12-14 inch bookcase above it but that's a substantially harder and more expensive undertaking. Still got some head scratching to do.

CarlS (author)2014-07-28

I wrote the Instructable after I built it, so the pictures are not the best. If you look closely at the picture in the Step 1: Materials section, you can see the 3 brown fixed shelves. One is near the bottom for the cabinet to sit on, and one is right on top of the cabinet. The third one is near the top of the frame. I'll try to label them in that picture.

All three were secured the same way - with drywall screws from the sides. Each frame was made separately, so there was plenty of access to the sides before they were put together. Be sure to pre-drill the holes since you are screwing into the side of plywood and don't want it to split.

kschmidt430 (author)2014-07-28

I have a couple questions, as of

"the cabinets have three fixed shelves; one for the bottom of the cabinet, one for the top of the cabinet, and one at the top of the frame."

Where is the "one for the bottom of the cabinet" Is it visible? Also, how did you secure the top shelf? Is it just sitting on the pegs or is it screwed in to the melamine. Thanks.

tcd555 (author)2014-02-17

Yes a window!

tcd555 (author)2014-02-08

Ok just finished and this is how mine ended up

CarlS (author)tcd5552014-02-17

Looks great! Is that a window in the middle? I was thinking TV at first glance, but then looked closer.

l2zhang (author)2014-01-06

We like your shelves very much. What kind of knobs did you use for the cabinets doors and where did you get them? Thanks for your quick reply. Cheers, Li

CarlS (author)l2zhang2014-01-06

Those are glass cabinet knobs - I think we got them at Orchard Supply, or maybe Home Depot.

tcd555 (author)2013-12-07

I love this project and am going to start it in a few weeks. A lot of people are asking how much it cost. My room is 19.5 feet wide with 9 feet high ceilings, so I am going to use 5 36x30 cabinets and basically all the other materials Carl used and I am estimating about $1200-$1500 with all materials coming from Home Depot. Hope that helps with the answer to that question!

CarlS (author)tcd5552013-12-08

Thanks! Good info, and good luck!

l2zhang (author)2013-10-09

Thanks so much for sharing this. It looks like exactly what we would like to have in our office/library room in our new house. Did you purchase all the materials for the built-in at homedepot? Would you mind to share the total costs of the material? What is the full length of your built-in on that one wall?

CarlS (author)l2zhang2013-10-11

Thanks. Yes, almost everything came from Home Depot. This was a few years ago, so the same products may not be available. I am not sure about the total cost - hundreds, for sure. The length is just over 20 feet. Good Luck!

nicalex2 (author)2012-09-12

This is great. I was looking to make something like this for my family room. You said you used 36" cabinets that were 13" deep. I went onto Lowes and Home Depot sites and they only had 12" deep. Did they change how they make them or are there others they aren't showing on their websites?

zydecohogg (author)2012-08-08

Thank you for this great idea! I am thinking about installing something similar in my refinished basement. The floor has not yet been installed, so I am trying to decide if I should go ahead and install the bookshelf before or after the floor is installed. By installing the bookshelf first, I i don't have to risk scratching the floor. Any thoughts?


CarlS (author)zydecohogg2012-08-08

I guess it depends on whether you consider them to be permanent - if so, then maybe do them first. The floor would then not extend under them. I built mine in an existing room, so I built on an existing floor, and as I mention in the Instructable, I worked the new molding around the existing molding to allow these to be removed some day - not that I ever intend to! :-)

okinawajoe (author)2011-11-22

For your half inch front edge here, was this something you picked up as a molding or cabinet edge? Just wondering where I go to look for this ... same areas as the molding, and just ask for 1/2" trim?

CarlS (author)okinawajoe2012-02-14

That was just some standard molding from Home Depot.

nancyellen (author)2012-02-04

I can't seem to find these premade predrilled 36 inch wide cabinets you are using. Where can I get them?

CarlS (author)nancyellen2012-02-14

I used ones from Home Depot. I am not sure now which ones I got, but i *think* these are the ones, or close to it:

They are 36" wide wall cabinets.

Hope that helps!

quelle4 (author)2011-11-18

Carl, love your bookcases, they really make the room more practical, not to mention they really give the space so much character!

Me and my husband recently finished our built in bookcases (pics and info here: )

however we used regular pine wood planks which we painted and beadboard for backing. I really like your cabinets at bottom however - so practical to be able to hide things you don't want to be out in the open! Great job!

CarlS (author)quelle42011-11-18

Nice work - that is a huge improvement in the room! I worked around the old molding, but I can't say that was important :-) I also had some low outlets which I moved forward to the new bookshelf baseboard molding, so that worked out well in my case.

makushr1 (author)2011-11-09

Carl - Looks great! I just bought a home that has a perfect space for something like this. I'm a little confused on the base though. I understand that the melamine frames extend from the ceiling to the floor, and that plywood is at the bottom. Is the only thing touching the floor the melamine frames? Also, are the cabinets sitting on the plywood and/or are they fastened to the wall and/or frame? Thanks for posting this, your help will make our 1960s home look like something from this decade!

CarlS (author)makushr12011-11-08

Thanks - yes, as I built them,only the Melamine sides touch the floor, so the bottom shelf can be set to just the right height for the baseboard molding (molding height + ~1/4" for a reveal). The cabinets are sitting on the bottom shelf, and I am pretty sure I screwed them to the sides from the inside of the cabinets since the frames were all up when I added the cabinets. I used a couple L brackets for the whole thing to hold the top shelves to the wall just to make sure it did not move.

Someone else suggested building a base like you might do for kitchen cabinets - that would probably be fine too.

I wish I took more pictures - was from pre-Instructables days! :-)

Good luck!

elicat (author)2011-11-07

Carsl, I can't wait to start this project. I just have a question:
How do you secure the frames with the back wall? or only with the sides wall will be enough? let me know.

CarlS (author)elicat2011-11-07

It's pretty stable, but I did add a couple 2.5" L brackets at the top to make sure. Good luck!

jwystup (author)2010-11-13

This is awesome. Now I really want a house (not that I didn't already, just more reasons!!).

CarlS (author)jwystup2010-11-14

Thanks. I used to feel the same way when I rented, but of course, with a house, you often have more projects than you choose! :-)

About This Instructable




Bio: A Maker since childhood with all the classic symptoms, a robot builder, and an Internet software CTO by day.
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