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:
For a similar dining table see:

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.

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cattyb1 year ago
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!

randomray cattyb7 months ago
Very helpful additional info . Another book lover too , we just moved and pared our collection down to about 8,000 books .
aeray (author)  cattyb1 year ago
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.
oops...forgot photo
aeray (author)  jzampaglione1 year ago
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.
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.
Xpyd3r2 years ago
This worked like a charm and I love the simplicity. I'll definitely continue using the design, Thanks for the great instructable.
aeray (author)  Xpyd3r2 years ago
Thanks. Excellent corner application. What are the specifics? Are the shelves themselves joined in any way? Mitered? Butted? Splined? Pocket screwed?
leander373 years ago
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.
aeray (author)  leander373 years ago
Good analogy, and thanks for the pics. I'm a big fun of the judicious and appropriately proportioned use of asymmetry. Looks good.
narayas3 years ago
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.
aeray (author)  narayas3 years ago
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".
llmadigan3 years ago
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...
i said "totally solid" twice [blush]. i guess i'm excited :)
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
aeray (author)  mhendrickson3 years ago
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.
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!
aeray (author)  a.tyler.nelson3 years ago
Pics would be great.
Here are a two views of the 6x6 shelves I built. Thanks again!
demxod83 years ago
Thanks for posting this. I've been looking for a simple solution like this for years. It's brilliant.
laturb3 years ago
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.
aeray (author)  laturb3 years ago
Post some photos when you're done.
Avasar100003 years ago
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.
aeray (author)  Avasar100003 years ago
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.
mkslocomb3 years ago
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.
aeray (author)  mkslocomb3 years ago
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.
aeray (author)  aeray3 years ago
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
piiopah made it!1 month ago

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.

shleves full.jpgempty shelves.jpeg
califazen made it!2 months ago

I've made two versions of this, tweaking the legs, one tall one and this short one. Wood will shrink: be sure you re-tighten your bolts after a couple weeks; probably especially true for four-leg versions and where you've jiggered the spacing as I've done. I put some stuff on top of this one after a couple weeks and there was a minor furniture malfunction. Its a snap to build, though.


The dirty sock on the floor adds a real classy touch. lol

biomedjake2 months ago

I made a 6ftx4ft model. Works perfectly, I stained it. Looks great. Appreciate this.

aeray (author)  biomedjake2 months ago
Thanks for the feedback. Please feel free to post a picture.
kayquobad2 months ago

can this shelf be made out of MDF ???

aeray (author)  kayquobad2 months ago
Yes, actual 4'x8' sheets of MDF, ripped to width, not the preprimed MDF boards. You also need more uprights, spaced not more than 24" apart.
moseph3 months ago
could these be done, as your dad did, with 2x4s or with 1x3s as the uprights?
Nikiniku moseph2 months ago

Thanks for those comments. I was going to have to ask about the proper rod length for 10" shelves, but now I don't. I do have another question, though. What about tipping? Is there any reason why these shelves should be less likely to topple over than other shelves? I'm a woodworking tyro but this will the third set of shelves for me. The first one was the easiest. It started with fastening 2x3 horizontal rails to the garage studs to be used for shelf support on the back side. Then, I just had to attach the shelves to those rails and to the horizontal 2x3 rails on the 2X3 vertical supports on the shelf front side. Even for me, this was extremely easy. The second project just required fastening horizontal 2X2 rails to 2X4 freestanding vertical supports for the front and back. Finally, the two sides were fastened together by attaching the shelves to the horizontal rails on both sides. Another easy one. The fourth shelving arrangement, if I do it, will require skill that I may not have. It involves cutting notches into the shelves and the vertical supports and interlocking them together without benefit of screw or nail. I'll be a proud man if I pull that one off. Finally, I have to admit that there is more afoot here than just building shelves. Sure, I need the shelves, but it's also fun and very satisfying. It may even have some therapeutical value.

aeray (author)  moseph3 months ago
Nikiniku2 months ago

Something's wrong with this site. I first noticed that what I printed was not what I saw on the screen; then, I noticed that the pictures on the screen are all messed-up. Take a look. You'll see pictures superimposed over the text in several places. You can't print that is not shown on the screen because it is covered up with a picture. I have been planning to build some bookshelves for some time, and I have a collection of plans, but this is the one for me. It's cheap and it's easy. I like what the author says about overbuilt and over-engineered projects. My first project was an 8-foot long set of shelves. The instructions called for eight 2X4 vertical posts. It also required the plywood shelves to rest on 2X2 horizontal rails front and back that were attached to the 2X4s. I thought that was excessive, but it was my first project, so I followed the instructions to the letter. However, now that I've gained some experience, I believe that 2X4s are overkill. They might be required if I were to use the shelves to store a collection of anvils, but such is not the case. Anyway, since I like your plans so much, I'll be back in a few days to see if you've fixed your article. I hope you do, because I don't want to waste any more paper trying to print what is unprintable.

aeray (author)  Nikiniku2 months ago
This is not my site, I am merely a contributor, and have no control over how my content is displayed on the site. I am glad you like my Instructable, though. I have noticed a lot of bugs with the site while using mobile devices, perhaps that is the problem. Also, a pro membership seems to solve some of these problems, particularly printing and downloading problems. However, I am no expert on this kind of thing. I am a carpenter. Luckily, other folks here are experts, and quite willing to help. Please post about your problem  here, and I'm sure someone can fix it or otherwise help you out.

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