Built in Book Cases





Introduction: Built in Book Cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



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Nice work!

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

3 replies

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.


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

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.

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?

1 reply

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.


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.


1 reply

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

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

2 replies

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.

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.

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.

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

1 reply

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.

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?

1 reply

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.

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.

1 reply

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.


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?