Introduction: Cheap, Easy, Low-waste Bookshelf Plans

Build an easy, portable 3' x 8' wooden bookshelf in about 20 minutes, with a minimum of tools and less than 1% waste, for about $60. The basic concept can be modified to create any size shelf system needed.

For a similar bed see: https://www.instructables.com/id/Cheap-easy-low-waste-platform-bed/
For a similar dining table see: https://www.instructables.com/id/Cheap-easy-low-waste-trestle-table/

As a professional carpenter, furniture maker, and designer/builder, I see a lot of home carpentry projects that are grossly overbuilt and over-engineered. One of the goals of this Instructable is to avoid the unnecessary overbuilding that I frequently see on this site, and that I see every day working in the residential construction industry. Many of the building methods we (in the US) use today are horribly wasteful despite the advances that have been made in materials science and structural engineering, because most people in the residential building industry, from architects and engineers to carpenters, are mired in tradition, doing things a certain way "because that is how it has always been done", rather than consulting the best available science, or even questioning their own assumptions about "the right way to do it". I don't intend to knock tradition, either. Many of the tricks, techniques, and tools that I use daily are definitely "old-school", but seem to have been forgotten.

Thanks to my father for introducing me to this style of shelving, and who built a particularly fine example (using stained fir 2x4s and 2x12s, black washers, and brass acorn nuts) which is at least 25 years old and still in use.

Step 1: Tools and Materials


You will need:

(4) 8'  1x8  #2 and better pine
(2) 12' 1x4 #2 and better pine
(16) 9-3/8" long pieces of 1/4-20 all-thread rod (about 13')
(32) 1-1/4" fender washers
(32) 1/4-20 "acorn" or "cap" nuts
(1) 1/4-20 wingnut

My material cost was:
Lumber $39.62
Hardware $18.24
Total: $57.86

Hand or power saw for wood
Hand or power saw for metal
        (You can often have these items cut for a minimal fee at your local lumberyard)
Tape measure
Square
Pencil
Drill
9/32" drill bit for wood
Two 7/16" wrenches, or two adjustable wrenches, or a 7/16" wrench and a 7/16" socket and driver

Optional:
Awl, nail, or centerpunch


Step 2: Measure, Measure, Mark, and Cut

Yes, measure twice. As you can see from the photo, there is very little waste.

Trim the 1x8 boards to 8' exactly.
From each of the 1x4 boards, cut (4) 35-3/4" pieces for a total of (8)
Cut the all-thread into (16) 9-3/8" segments.

Before cutting each section of all-thread, run the wingnut onto the rod. After cutting the rod,remove the wingnut over the cut end to "chase" (repair) the threads.

You should also double-check the length of your all-thread rods. I'd dummy one up and try it out before cutting all of them. It needs to be just long enough to catch a couple of threads and snug down without punching out through the cap nut. The actual "cap" portion of cap nuts is fairly thin, and if the all-thread is even a bit too long it will punch through the end when you snug it up.

Step 3: Layout and Drill

Lay out one of the 1x4 pieces for drilling:

Holding the tape in your left hand, and hooking the end of the tape on the right-hand end of the board, mark:

1"
12"
23"
34"

Next, mark 1-3/4"  (the center line) across the board at each previous mark, and use a nail, awl, or centerpunch to dimple the wood and guide the bit.

Using the 9/32" bit, drill completely through the 1x4 at the four marked locations. Try to keep the hole as straight as possible, although a high degree of precision isn't necessary.


Step 4: Repeat

Using the first piece drilled as a guide, drill the remaining seven pieces. Use a clamp, or just your hands, to keep the first "template" piece aligned with each successive piece. Use the same template piece for the other seven.

If you wish to have a more finished appearance (hah!) now is the time to sand, stain, and seal your work. It will be much easier to do it now, before the piece is assembled.

Step 5: Assemble


Refer to the photos and the PDF.

Place lengths of all-thread through the top and bottom holes on two pairs of 1x4s.

Place a washer and a nut on each end of each length of all-thread. Note: washers have a "belly" formed when they are punched out of the sheet of metal. Like a biscuit or cookie, the top edge is slightly rounded, and the bottom edge is a bit rough. Pay attention to the belly, placing the rough edge against the wood, and the smooth edge out. Pro.

Place the top and bottom shelves into position on top of the all thread, leaving 2" extending out past the uprights. The uprights clamp or pinch the shelves in place, so gently snug the nuts down to keep it all together.

Assemble the other pairs of uprights in place around the top and bottom shelves, leaving 26" between the uprights.

Fill all of the remaining holes with all-thread and loosely attach the nuts and washers.

Thread the remaining two shelves down the length of the unit, on top of the all-thread, and "snap" them into place.

A scrap block and a hammer may be necessary to "snap them" down.

Check the shelf assembly for square by measuring it for corner to corner. If the two measurements are the same, it is square.

Tighten all of the nuts, using, simultaneously, your tool of choice on each end of each rod. Just snug them up; it is not necessary to get them "gorilla" tight.

Tightening the nuts clamps the uprights against the shelves, holding them in place and providing shear strength (through friction) for the whole assembly. I know of an 8' tall, 12' long version of these shelves that has survived a few minor earthquakes while fully loaded with hundreds of books. Once the nuts are tightened on my smaller versions, I (all 240lbs of me) have a very hard time "racking" the shelves by pushing on one end of them in an attempt to get them to collapse: I can't.

Enjoy!

Comments

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ShmemilyWoodey made it!(author)2015-09-19

This bookshelf is fantastic. It is sturdy, attractive.. The hardest part was cutting the threaded steel rod by hand, and finding the appropriate hardware at the hardware store. I ended up having to go to the store twice to get parts when I miscalculated what I would need. There was a very specific space in my wall I needed the shelf to fit in, so I ended up altering the plans slightly to fit my needs.

I used pine since it was cheap, but paid a little extra to get some high quality straight boards for the shelves. I sealed it with some very transparent glossy stain. I managed to build this without any saw horse or woodworking table by cutting the boards with a hand saw, and drilling the holes with my cordless drill in my small kitchen, using storage totes as tables. I accidentally drilled into my kitchen floor a bit when drilling the holes. Don't tell my landlord! That was super derpy of me, but it allowed me to work on it in the winter, at night time, while it was raining and cold outside.

Overall, this project was fun to do. The instructions were excellent, and the bookshelf is very sturdy, and a great visual piece in my living room. Thank you for the Instructable!

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aeray made it!(author)2015-09-24

Thanks for the photos. I've drilled more than one hole in something I didn't intend to, so don't feel too bad about it.

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royaroo made it!(author)2015-05-31

Other than drilling a bunch of holes and using a dremel tool to cut some 5/16" threaded rod, this was a very low intensity build! I bought the lumber in the sizes that I'd use, so nothing needed to be cut - I used pine boards, 1x3x6 for the side pieces and 1x10x6 for the shelves. The threaded rod was 36" long and I cut it into 12" pieces; each piece had a two washers (one at each end) along with an acorn cap nut on the front face of the shelves and a wing nut on the side by the wall.

The whole thing went together so smoothly and easily - I can't recommend this instructable enough.

Oh, and as for the sturdiness... It's awesome!

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aeray made it!(author)2015-06-07

thanks for the photos, and I'm glad you like it.

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piiopah made it!(author)2014-03-17

Brilliant design. Cheap and easy, as promised. Also nice and stable. I don't have any real tools so I made mine 8' tall x 8' wide x 8" deep. No wood cutting necessary. For the threaded rods, I just bought a $6 hacksaw and a $6 clamp when I bought the lumber and hardware. I put the rods between blocks of scrap to avoid damaging the threads.

8" is a little narrow for something so tall, so I'd make it at least 10" deep next time around. I spaced several of the shelves 12" apart in order to accommodate some larger books that I have. Finally, while I used cap nuts on the front side (available at both the Ace Hardware and the Home Depot near my house) I used regular nuts on the back. That way I didn't have to worry about punching through the cap nuts.

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cattyb made it!(author)2013-03-04

We'd been meaning to build these for over a year to replace a bulky entertainment center plus some cobbled together shelving for our TV wall. With a new 32" panel TV that only needed an 8" front-to-back shelf, this looked like a good choice! Since we live in rented housing, we couldn't attach anything to the walls but wanted something large enough to cover an exactly 8' x 8' wall without protruding the 27" into the narrow living room that the old furniture had while being "knock down-able" for future moves. Main problem = no real workspace for 8' uprights.
We finally did it!
My parents have the space and Dad has the tools -- a drill press, forstner bits and a long workbench were pretty essential. We decided to use countersunk 2x4s as uprights. This eliminated the need for pricey cap/acorn nuts while still leaving the all-thread ends 'protected' on the outside and allowing us to put it flush against the wall without causing damage.

Dad was SOOO concerned that there wasn't any way they weren't going to go rhombus and kept trying to over-engineer the project (my husband wasn't so certain, either!) but I stuck to my guns and followed the plans I'd "modified" to my specs -- 92" uprights (so as not to actually wedge against the ceiling), with 3/4" washers plus lock washers and plain old hex nuts in a 1" wide hole countersunk to 1/2" depth, 1x10 shelves and my brother just happened to have salvaged massive amounts of 1/4" all-thread that Dad cut to 12" lengths for us.

Because we needed to fit a 32" wide TV into the center of the whole shebang, we spaced the uprights further out from the center and eliminated a couple of shelves from just that center section...making 8" tall shelves on either side suitable for DVDs.
I also had the brainstorm to use two nail-in furniture "feet" on the bottom of each 2x4 on the front side so as to compensate for the carpet tack strip on the back edge and to make the shelves lean ever so slightly into the wall. I thought we might have to anchor the top of it to the wall, but with the feet, it stands very firm with absolutely no signs of wanting to tip forward! I felt great satisfaction when the almost 150 square inches of friction applied allowed for NO racking -- I could practically climb the end without anything budging!

We now have over 58 linear feet of shelving (with space under for shoes) for that wall that barely protrudes 12.25" into the room for a total cost of about $125! We plan to make at least two more units to accommodate the more than 15,000 books we own that are currently on store bought or cobbled shelving and in boxes plus have display space for our many collections Our only problem...we didn't take into account the depth of the shelf itself -- if you've got 10" between holes, you actually only get 9 1/8" of useable height on the shelf (most hardback books are 9.5" tall) = major bummer! We measured (from bottom) 12", 12", 10", 10", 9", 9", 10", 10" with top shelf at 13" from the ceiling.

(The shelves are only partially populated in the second pic because of our plans to get the other units done soon -- we knew we'd have to have space to move what we DO have on the other wall somewhere while we build)

Sorry for the long description...we're just so excited to have finally done this and how very well it works for us!

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randomray made it!(author)2013-08-27

Very helpful additional info . Another book lover too , we just moved and pared our collection down to about 8,000 books .

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aeray made it!(author)2013-03-05

This may be the best comment I have ever received on one of my projects. Thanks, and thanks for the photos. Good for you for sticking to your guns; see what I mean about everyone wanting to over-engineer everything?

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jzampaglione made it!(author)2012-06-27

Made this bookshelf with a little alterations. I made it 8'x8'. There was no cutting involved because I bought 8' 1x3's. There are 8 shelves of slightly varying heights. If I did it again I would have about 12 shelves on the 8' but we will stack on this. I stained it using a poly-stain. Thought this would take less time. I will never use this again. It left drips all over the place..even though I was being careful. I would have been better off using stain then polyurethane. I also made the mistake of bying oil based (rushing in the store). Didn't realize until I went to wash my hands. If you ever do this...I found out that cooking oil followed by dishsoap works great to take oil based paints off your hands. I also used 5/16" rod because there wasn't any flex and I was making the shelves so big (used a 5/16" drill bit too so the fit was a little tight :) . Couldn't find the acorn nuts after 4 stores so I ordered them on Ebay ($10 inc shipping for a box of 50). Only put them on front because I needed 64. I also put metal cable on the ends (drilling two holes at the end of each shelf and x'ing it) so the books wouldn't fall off (got this idea from the poster who used clothesline). It cost a little over $200 when done (CT prices are high) but it is much sturdier than a Melemie shelf that would have been this price. My husband did not not believe it wouldn't "rack" but it is VERY sturdy. Will be making more.

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jzampaglione made it!(author)2012-06-27

oops...forgot photo

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aeray made it!(author)2012-06-27

Looks good, and like it fits the space well. Thanks for the photo. I tried the poly/stain combo stuff once, years ago, and decided that it was junk. I've been having good luck recently with stain conditioner, stain, and Sherwin-Williams Fast Dry varnish. The varnish is good stuff and lays down nicely.

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teamyoyo made it!(author)2012-01-07

Just built a bookshelf with your method. 1800mm high and 1200mm wide. It was easy. 2 and a half hours and $170 worth of materials. Glued strips of wood to the back of the shelves to stop books going through. It's incredibly sturdy but I live in Christchurch so we'll see how it survives through a few earthquakes.

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aeray made it!(author)2012-01-08

Thanks for the photos, and the prospects of field testing. The town I live in was destroyed by earthquakes in the 1930s, but we haven't had anything significant since then.

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teamyoyo made it!(author)2012-01-25

So far its survived a couple of 5's, several 4+'s and dozens of 3+'s and it's still as solid as the day I put it together. Hasn't budged an inch. Hugely satisfied with the design.

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scallywag_ak made it!(author)2011-11-15

Here is the one I built. Had to sand my lumber & decided to stain it. Hardware store did not have acorn nuts so I used regular nuts & will order acorn nuts. Hardware store was out of 1 1/4" washers so I used 1 1/2". Simple, cheap, sturdy, & useful. I like it! Thanks for sharing the plans.

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Xpyd3r made it!(author)2011-06-01

This worked like a charm and I love the simplicity. I'll definitely continue using the design, Thanks for the great instructable.

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aeray made it!(author)2011-06-02

Thanks. Excellent corner application. What are the specifics? Are the shelves themselves joined in any way? Mitered? Butted? Splined? Pocket screwed?

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leander37 made it!(author)2011-03-14

here's my 6x6 version build with #2 pine. shelves are 1x10 and threaded rod upsized to 5/16" to allow for extra width. center upright spaced at 1/3 side to side. this is very complex structurally - all the commenters who don't believe it should build it to really feel how it works. it is basically like a post-tensioned high rise. i think i'd like to paint the uprights and stain the shelves.

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aeray made it!(author)2011-03-14

Good analogy, and thanks for the pics. I'm a big fun of the judicious and appropriately proportioned use of asymmetry. Looks good.

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narayas made it!(author)2011-02-28

Made a nice set of shelves (30" tall x 8 ft) over 2 weekends. Home Depot cut the lumber, and I borrowed a hacksaw to cut the all-thread.
Sanding and staining the pine was more of a hassle than I thought it would be. I lost patience so it ended up kind of blotchy but the functionality is still fine. Didn't have a 9/32" drill bit so just used a 1/4" and it was a tight squeeze on the allthread but still worked fine. Nice & sturdy, glad to get all my books off the floor and organized.
Thanks for the very nice instructable.

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aeray made it!(author)2011-02-28

Looks good. Thanks for the photos. With pine (or other species with inconsistent density) using a pre-stain conditioner really helps to even out the "blotchiness".

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llmadigan made it!(author)2010-12-20

thank you, thank you, thank you!! the lumber that i had in the garage wasn't exactly what your plans called for (2x4s and 1x10s), so i adjusted the length of the all thread to accommodate the depth. also, one of my 2x4s was kind of wonky and i was worried it would jeopardize the stability of the set - but it's totally solid! the shelves are level and aren't going anywhere!! :) (i threw all of my body weight against it, and it's totally solid!) it's approx. 4' wide by 7.5' tall.

oh yeah, and buying a bunch of cap nuts is not so easy unless you order ahead of time. i went to two hardware stores (one family owned and one big box) and they kind of laughed at me when i said i needed 32. so i got regular nuts, tightened them so they were flush with the all thread on the front side, hammered it against the board and tightened the back side while holding the front one in place with a wrench. so, some of them have a little bit of overhang on the back side, but i don't have to worry about gouging skin while walking past it. for my next set, i'll order the cap nuts in bulk from ebay ahead of time...

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llmadigan made it!(author)2010-12-20

i said "totally solid" twice [blush]. i guess i'm excited :)

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mhendrickson made it!(author)2010-11-17

Dear Aeray,
First thanks so much for your instrucables. So enjoy them. I've done the bed and will send pics later. Most recently did the bookshelves. Had about 20 boxes of books after a move and nowhere to put them. Did 3 sets of your shelves and emptied the book boxes in a day. Pics included. THANKS!
- MaryAnn

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aeray made it!(author)2010-11-17

Extensive! Thanks for the pics!
Something about very long/low or very high/narrow bookshelves has always intrigued me but I haven't yet had the opportunity or space to build any.

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a.tyler.nelson made it!(author)2010-10-19

Just build a 6'x6' version using the techniques in this 'ible. It looks great and works great! I used 6 lengths each of 1"x10" and 1"x4", both 6' long, and spaced the shelves to get on 18" shelf, one 16" shelf, and three 12" shelves. Mine cost a bit more (~$100 lumber and hardware), but the shelves went from concept to finished in only a few hours. Thanks a lot!

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aeray made it!(author)2010-10-20

Pics would be great.

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a.tyler.nelson made it!(author)2010-10-22

Here are a two views of the 6x6 shelves I built. Thanks again!

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demxod8 made it!(author)2010-10-19

Thanks for posting this. I've been looking for a simple solution like this for years. It's brilliant.

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laturb made it!(author)2010-10-17

Tks, Aeray. I was scratching my head trying to convince myself that I must build a tools/nails/equipment shelf unit in our basement.
Your instructions seem idiot proof so within the next two weeks I should be able to place all my bits and pieces on shelves and more importantly, be able to find them when I need to.
Bravo!

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aeray made it!(author)2010-10-18

Post some photos when you're done.

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Avasar10000 made it!(author)2010-10-18

Would 2x2 material be strong enough if used as the upright supports? I did not see any mention of adding grooves that will ride over the all thread to keep the shelves in place. Is that not needed? My initial plan is to use 12" wide boards with 2x2 uprights and to make the bookshelf 5' to 6' tall by 60" wide.
I had also thought about adding some moulding to "jazz" it up a bit.

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aeray made it!(author)2010-10-18

The 2x2s would be strong enough, but there might not be enough contact area between the upright and the shelf. The uprights clamp the shelves in place, and the friction between the shelf and upright is what keeps the whole unit from "going rhombus" (as starwalk put it). If you use 2x2s, there will be less surface area in contact, and less friction. And no, no grooves are necessary in the shelves, for the reasons mentioned above.

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mkslocomb made it!(author)2010-10-17

have you tried this with 12" shelves, or just the 8"? this looks like a good replacement solution for my "milk crate shelves" (at least if it will hold 12"). also, very nice 'ible. looks easy duplicatable.

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aeray made it!(author)2010-10-17

Thanks. 12" shelves should work fine, even with 1x material. If you need to dramatically increase the spans between uprights, or really dramatically increase the load-carrying capacity (like to hold bricks), you could use 2x material, but it shouldn't usually be necessary.

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aeray made it!(author)2010-10-17

You should also double-check the length of your all-thread rods. I'd dummy one up and try it out before cutting all of them. It needs to be just long enough to catch a couple of threads and snug down without punching out through the cap nut. The actual "cap" portion of cap nuts is fairly thin, and if the all-thread is even a bit too long it will punch through the end when you snug it up

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Rowzar made it!(author)2017-06-01

Question: if I wanted to make this with shelves that are 16 inches wide, do you think that Edge Glued Finger Joint Pine Board would be alright to use? If not, how would you recommend making shelves that are more than 12 inches wide?

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aeray made it!(author)2017-06-01

As you go wider, cupping becomes more of an issue, but then, cupping is an issue with all boards. FJP will help with this, and is a good choice for the application. Edge-banded plywood would be a better choice, and if looks don't matter, MDF would work as well.

Depending on your application, using two narrower 8" boards per shelf, and three uprights instead of two (like this: |-|-| in cross section) is also an option.

Let me know how it goes.

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AaronB279 made it!(author)2017-05-11

Beautiful, sturdy and affordable design. Built mine to be 4 foot tall with additional shelf. Applied a nice dark stain to top it off.

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aeray made it!(author)2017-05-12

looks good. Thanks for the photo.

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wasorrell made it!(author)2017-05-05

I have a narrow space I'd like to put these in, with a target width of 54". Do you think I could get away with just 2 uprights or would it be too unstable and maybe sag in the middle when loaded down with books? I'd like to have as much clear book frontage as possible. Should up up the shelves to 2 by's maybe? Or, maybe use 1x4 uprights on the side and a 1x2 or 1x3 in the middle?

I'm definitely building these, even if I have to find a new spot to put them, but I'm hoping to make that spot work if I can. Great job with this instructable - any advice you can give is much appreciated.

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aeray made it!(author)2017-05-06

The sag will be noticeable, about 3/16". I'd either use 2x shelves or use the 1x2s in the middle. You may also be able to just switch wood species and be fine.

I'm a fan of The Sagulator (http://www.woodbin.com/calcs/sagulator/) for calculating this kind of thing.

I input 1x8 lodgepole pine with 40lbs per lineal foot load, and got 2/10" deflection.

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wasorrell made it!(author)2017-05-08

Thanks again for the advice. You should consider adding a Donate button, I'd definitely support you! I've decided to use 2x10 shelves, 2x4 uprights, 3/8" threaded rod, and basic steel hardware. Should be able to hold bowling balls when I'm done, so books will be no problem! I'm in North Carolina and with tax the whole build comes to $89 and change. That doesn't include finishing so add a few bucks there, but overall dirt cheap and just what I need! I'll post pictures when done, thank you, thank you, thank you!

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avere made it!(author)2017-04-27

I know this Instructable has been on line for a long time, but I really wanted to say thank you! I am a mom of three and have never, ever done any type of wood-working. But I was able to build two of these shelves, custom-sized to fit at the foot of each of my sons' beds. The instructions were so clear and everything was so well explained that I was never confused. Thank you so much!! Now I'm tempted to build some bigger ones for my books.

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aeray made it!(author)2017-04-27

Thanks for the compliment and the photos. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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AMC2803 made it!(author)2017-04-27

Would this remain sturdy if it was disassembled and reassembled once or twice a year? (Think dorm or college apartment) Thanks

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aeray made it!(author)2017-04-27

Yes. I've taken mine apart 5 or 6 times to move it.

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stickmop made it!(author)2017-04-22

I've made three of your platform beds now and this past week I made a variation of these bookshelves (my third set of these). I wanted some 1x8 shelves to fit along one section of my garage in my latest house and I wanted them flush with the wall. So...I cut the threaded rod around 12" long, found the studs and drilled 7/32nd" holes a couple of inches into the studs at the height I wanted for 7 shelves. Then I "screwed" the threaded rod into the studs with my drill. They snugged up nice and tight in the holes.

Once that was done, I held each 1x4 support up to the row of rods and tapped them with a mallet to mark where the holes should go, knowing that my stud drilling didn't follow my plumb line. Then I drilled holes for the 2 or 3 longest rods, and repeated the tapping process, trying to keep each rod pretty level. Once the supports were up, I snapped the shelves in (toward the supports) and tightened the nuts. Instead of using cap nuts, I used regular nuts and cut them mostly flush with my saws-all. Looks and works good!

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aeray made it!(author)2017-04-23

an interesting variation that I hadn't considered. Thanks for the photo.

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LauraL143 made it!(author)2016-11-18

Built this bookshelf using 1x8" redwood boards for the shelves. It is 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The outside supports are 1X4s and the inside ones are 1x2s. I am probably going to add some L brackets for additional support as well as anchor it to the wall.

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Bio: Craftsman of fortune. Less is more, and simpler is better.
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