Cheap, Easy, Low-waste Bookshelf Plans

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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!

27 People Made This Project!

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Questions

What if I use a 1x12 pine shelving, should I use the same size 1/4 rod? Also I would like to add at least two more shelves.

201 Comments

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

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?

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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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