Built-in Bookcases





Introduction: Built-in Bookcases

About: I'm a Special Education Teacher with 7 kids. I use donated and salvaged tech to teach STEM with my students and kids. Someday I'll get all of my projects posted up. For now, it's nonstop DIY, teaching and do...

This Instructable will cover some tips on building solid bookcases. The finished bookcases can either be trimmed out as either stand-alone or built-ins.

These bookcases measured 82" x 20" x 12". I had the 3/4" plywood ripped into 12" strips at the home center before brining them home to make my job a little easier.

Step 1: Layout the Sides and Make a Story Stick.

A "story stick" is a great method for reproducing dimensions and measurements without the time consuming work of measuring and marking each piece repeatedly with a tape measure. Once you have carefully marked your story stick with detailed measurements, you can then transfer your measurements to each of the sides.

Step 2: Cut Your Dados and Rabbits.

This step may seem like a lot of work, but its really pretty straight forward. First, rabbits are simply dados (groves) cut at the edge of a board. It is common to avoid this step with a simple butt joint. However, dados are not only a much stronger joint, but they also have the added benefit of making assembly much easier. The shelves will fit tightly into the dados and are easy to keep at 90°. A dado blade set will cost about $100 at a home improvement store. If you are patient enough, you can make the cuts with many passes on a standard blade. Because these shelves are so tall, I used my radial arm saw. These same cuts can be made with a large sled on a table saw.

Step 3: Cut the Shelves and Glue Up.

The shelves were cut to rough lengths and finished up on the table saw. Glue up was pretty easy with the dados. I double checked each corner with a square before clamping and screwing.

Step 4: Adjustable Shelves and Installing the Back.

I used a jig to drill the 524 holes for the adjustable shelves on these six units. If you drill these before installing the back, it will make your work much easier. The backs are 1/4" plywood glued and tacked. I then went around the perimeter with a flush cut bit on my router to get a clean edge.

Step 5: Sand, Prime and Paint.

Once assembled the shelves can be thoroughly sanded before priming and painting them. These units were installed in a basement and trimmed as built-ins. This project was really straight forward with many repeated cuts and drilling. I was asked to build these for a neighbor, so I did not do the install or trim. But it was a really good project to work on some woodworking skills. I have lots of ideas for using these same methods on future projects around my home. Thanks for taking the time to view it!



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    10 Discussions

    Thanks for the very helpful, clear instructions!

    One question: I only have a hand-held power saw, no table saw or miter saw. Would it be possible to cut the dadoes with a hand-held router (using a track system of some kind to make sure of a straight cut)? Seems like a router would be a less expensive, more useful generalized tool for me to purchase.

    Or I guess I could just do it the "hard" way with my power saw and a chisel. Builds character. :)


    1 reply

    Sorry I didn't get to this response sooner. I hope I can still help.

    You can just as easily make the dadoes with a router and a straight edge. Just double check the width of your bit vs material. They make a set of plywood bits for the current widths of conventional plywood. You can also use a standard set (3/4, 1/4, 1/2) but to get a tight fit you will need to use the smaller size and make two passes.

    A router is probably the most versatile power saw for your money. I recommend buying one with a decent size motor and both 1/4 and 1/2 shanks. I like using the larger 1/2 shank bits because there is less vibration in the bit, so less chance of errors. Also, if you think you may use it in a table eventually, look for a model that has both a plunge and mixed base. Some will allow you to adjust the height with a hex key from the table service. This is EXTREMELY helpful and will save you $300+ down the road on buying a router lift if you don't want to make one. I have 6 routers, but my older ones are under powered and made with a lot of plastic parts. I made these my permanent round over and flush trim routers and use my new routers for finer woodworking. I suggest investing in a quality router since they are such a versatile tool.

    Oops...I have another question!

    You mention drilling the shelf support holes before attaching the back, but is there any reason you couldn't prep everything, assemble to check for square, but without actually permanently attaching the parts, disassemble, THEN drill all those holes? Just seems like a much easier way to work...but I'm not a woodworker, so what do I know?

    This is another project I've been meaning to tackle, so I really appreciate the tips. Especially getting the lumber store to rip the plywood for you! I've had them cross-cut some very thick boards for me, but I didn't think about the ripping. Especially since I don't have a table saw...

    Thanks again!

    1 reply

    I'm not sure if this answers your question, but... Where you locate the holes is not critical, as long as all 4 holes match for each location. Dry fitting is always a good idea. However the dadoes I cut made assembly much easier. Once you fit it together the dadoes pretty much give you square joints.

    Great job. I have one question. Where did you find the jig for the holes? I wanted to build a lot of built in storage to my little house but the pre drilled uprights cost a lot more then the plain shelves. I hand drilled all the holes in my first closet but it took a long time a jig would be much easier.

    2 replies

    Yes, it is the Kreg jig. I received it as a Christmas present. You can make your own and add more holes. This will save you time with moving and indexing on large projects.

    It looks like a Kreg jig. Here's a link: http://www.woodcraft.com/Product/153680/KREG-32mm-Shelf-Pin-Jig-With-14-Inch-Drill-Bit-Kreg-KMA3200.aspx?refcode=10INGOPB&gclid=CjwKEAiAk8qkBRDOqYediILQ5BMSJAB40A5UJ-9PsqnvlP35t8fFbs2rY2X8PkUh096LJ47jPs_OIhoCxMLw_wcB

    Well documented Instructable. Great that you are encouraging your kids to learn from you - they will remember these experiences for the rest of their lives and use what they learned in the most unexpected circumstances....

    1 reply

    I didn't realize until after I finished this that there is currently a contest for involving kids in projects. It honestly was a coincidence. I try to get my kids involved in some of the steps of all my projects.