Picture of Cheap secret compartment!
This will show you how to make a secret compartment that can be built into a bookcase, or some other piece of furniture. It uses a sneaky lock that doesn't expose any hardware to the surface. If you can keep from showing all your friends (I couldn't), this would actually be a useful place to store valuables. This design is very flexible to all sorts of shapes and sizes. It can also be installed vertically.

You will need:
  • A bookcase. I built my own, but virtually any sort of furniture will work: bookcases, china cabinets, dressers, whatever. Just be sure there is a clear amount of space underneath, and the surface for the hatch is at least half an inch thick.
  • Magnetic Child Lock
  • Concealed Hinges

I know these pieces can be found at most hardware or home improvement stores as well.

UPDATE 1/9/08:

WOW! Thank you so much to everyone who has commented and checked out my instructable! I had no idea people would find it this interesting! Keep experimenting and sending me your thoughts and variations on my design!

Also, Cousin Eddie wanted to see if neodymium magnets could open the lock, instead of the key, here are his findings:

"Anyway I checked to see if I could open a latch with simple neodymium magnets & found that it took at least 3 small (watch battery size) neod. magnets to open it. BUT you have to have the polarities of all the magnets (including the one inside the latch) lighted up.... otherwise it wont work. Simple to do though. Think I will mount the magnets in my own "key". "

Thanks for the findings!

UPDATE 1/27/08:

I received a request for some pictures of what my bookcase looked like as a whole. I put it them in at the end.
19freemans1 year ago

could this work on a wall?i am making an arsenal of airsoft guns and want a good place to put them so if there is a break in no one will steal them.

kbs22447 years ago
When I did it I made the whole bottom shelf so it would lift out. It is set down behind the front panel so the front edge is not exposed. I finished it real smooth and use a suction cup to lift it. I made 5 built in bookcases that are 5 feet wide. Bottom shelf has things like encylopidia on them. Compartments full of real emergency type stuff.
Alpvax kbs22445 years ago
clever, put the heavy stuff on top of the emergency stuff :P lol
are shure that the book them selfves arent hollowed out as well.
stuzz7 years ago
If you wanted to make it more concealed, you could make a few false doors beside the real one, to blend it in as a natural pattern. That would make it less obvious there was something to notice. Very cool article!
And you can organize you drugs or what have you as well!
fortneja (author)  swolleneyeball5 years ago
I really didn't intend this to be a hiding place for drugs or other such contraband. I was thinking more along the lines of cash, documents, jewelry, etc.. ;)
drugs would fall under the etc... part..........
"If you build it, they will come."
What do you think they were talking about? If you build something to hide things, drug users will come (not that they should have to).
chuckr447 years ago
I roll a d6 to check for secret doors!
You notice nothing unusual....
Re-roll a D20 for more accurate results the DM says
roll twice an take the better results. and dont fail your disable checks.
you roll a 13! you find a latch, but nothing is behind it. you think there might be another compartment.
only if yr a dwarf or elf.
twighahn2 years ago
this would be a great place to put the handle for the secret door/book case and i could hide the compartment better too so thanks for the ideas
My friends dad asked me to make a hidden door used coldduck22's floor thing to hide their bunker door :)
Tantrax3 years ago
Im kind of late but I was looking aroung on the internet and i saw one where you unscrew an eletrical outlet and there is a sectet compartment further inside. It was quite a nice idea
ganglion4 years ago
I met someone once who built individually crafted doll's houses, and every one had a secret compartment for hiding jewelry, similar to this.
Why did you not just put the entire shelf on two door hinges (concealed of course) and put the baby lock on the back of the shelf. Great Idea though.
fortneja (author)  Robotic_mage7 years ago
If the entire shelf is a hatch, then you must completely empty the shelf in order to access the compartment. Just a thought.
How about making the front piece below the bottom shelf the hidden door.

Same idea with the the hidden hinges and child locks, but a bigger door would make for easier access to the entire space. You could leave the visible screws, but cut them off so they don't actually bite into anything, and reinforce it on the inside with a skeleton instead of a solid board for the structural bit.
Also, instead of hinges, you could add some small rails to keep it in the correct position and use two child locks, one on either end, and then it would pull out like a drawer, and be a bit more secure as well, because someone mught accidentally find one og the mag locks, but probably wouldn't think of there bing two.
Very good point, that is why you make it a Curio Shelf, and move the 'Correct Curio' into place to unlock the panel. Remove one or two curios, the rest are fixed mounts.
Now that is a cool idea. Curios with the key being one of them.
sounds like something they did in national treasure 2. aligned desk drawers in the proper fashion which unlocked a secret compartment. does this sound right or am i mistaken?
lol thats exactly what I was thinking when I read that! and great instructable, Id do this in a heartbeat if: 1) if I cut a hole in any of my furniture id probably be in huge trouble 2) about a week ago I got one of those hidden book safes that lockes with a key and all. shame, this is way cooler.
smtgr14 berky936 years ago
Uhhh... buy a used bookshelf to do this, then who will yell at you? You bought it you can break it.
fortneja (author)  MadMechanicMike7 years ago
Stay tuned! This is my next project!
awesome i cant wait, i really want to make one
that sounds suspiciously like a puzzle in an adventure game. . . but very cool instructable! I used to hide stuff under the bottom of my desk cupboard - the board would just lift off and you put things right on the floor, but it worked.
Diabloscope4 years ago
That is an Excellent Idea !! which turns into another Idea !! adding an additional 3 to 4 " in a middle shelf compartment for Items not needed on a daily basis like firearms , money , personal items , passports kinda like a safe but not !
.... Thanks !!!!!
ilpug4 years ago
Well done, although i would hide the compartment better. might do this in a wall. i like the magnet lock idea.
Abbylynn4 years ago
THIS IS SO COOL!!!!!!!!!!
I LOVE IT!!!!!!
fortneja (author)  Abbylynn4 years ago
Why thank you. :)
TechDante5 years ago
would the clild locks work vertically. i have an idea for something similar to this but mounting a small two/three shelf bookcase on my wall and having the hidden compartment inside the cavity of my wall. the bookcase will be on runners that are built into a backboard.
fortneja (author)  TechDante5 years ago
I double-checked with a spare lock I have, and yes, it works fine at any angle. There is a spring in the latch to keep it normally closed, unless the magnet opens it. Have fun! Your idea sounds great!
nuckthebuck5 years ago
maybe just dont screw on inside base of cabinet area and just slide it out? just a thought less materials of locks and stuff no hinges needed just keep stuff in there like movies to keep people from trying to look there then its just less work when making your stash area?
LeFrog5 years ago
An even simpler way to add a secret compartment, that is totally hidden. Take an existing bookcase or dresser, with an open bottom at least 2 inches high, you make a drawer the size of the case, add drawer rail supports on the sides of the drawer, and finally you add a push release lock with earth magnets. The drawer will look like a decorative curtain across the bottom of the piece and a simple push will open the secret compartment. You just have to make sure you don't kick it while people are around.
this is the really cool. ive always loved the idea of secret compartments. i cant attempt one yet since im 15 and live with my mom
i wounder how many people would use this to hide their drugs
Really, people shouldn't have to, but there you go.
Honestly your right. People shouldn't need to, but there's the American government for you, taking the fun out of everything.
not only are they taking the fun out of it but they are taking my drugs
homedogalex7 years ago
can i ask how you connect the hinge to the actualy shelf
heathbar646 years ago
secret hidey hole good!! Lots on cool idea's presented in comments too. If you read hardy boys and nancy drew as a kid, you should know that the edges of secret doors should be disguised with something that would naturally be expected to have a seam. like if you wanted a door in a paneled wall, you would make the door edge fall right on the edge of a piece of panelling,cuz you would expect to have a crack there. Now I'm, gonna have to start making secret passages and stuff, and it's all your fault.
fortneja (author)  heathbar646 years ago
Get out while you still can! Once you get started, building secret compartments into your furniture/house is very addictive.
tristantech6 years ago
i know the first place i'm looking if i rob your house!! :-) (just kidding)
Another way would be if you made the whole bottom the secret latch. those three screws could go into a stick for which the only purpose is to make it look like it's a support beam. then maybe to add some REAL support where there only appears to be, you could separate the compartment into four quadrants and screwing from the inside outwards. this way you wouldn't have to worry about it being plush with the rest of the cabinet.
hmmm... when i looked at the related ibles section of merijnw's cryptex instructable, it showed the bomb bag ible and this one right adjacent to each other... gives me an idea for the use of this :D great instructable! I love it!
Cool! Love it! It would be cool if you hollowed out a book and put the magnet in the book so it would only open when the right book was on top of it. Great instructable!!
awesome Idea
fortneja (author)  joejoerowley7 years ago
hmm... interesting idea!
smtgr146 years ago
Would it be possible to make a bottom for the shelf and have it and the cover lift up so you can access it?
sleepydog7 years ago
Great job!!! I love the magnetic lock. What is the pulling strength of the lock? (I imagine more than a determined toddler could muster) Nice simple pivot hinges too. I found a few other nice hidden hinges here: http://www.homedecorhardware.com/r.html
fortneja (author)  sleepydog7 years ago
You're right, a moderately determined adult could probably rip the lock off without too much difficulty, assuming there was a handle! With this setup, there's no way to get a grip on the lid (other than magnetism), you couldn't even get a crowbar between the seam, so oddly enough, a plastic lock is really quite sufficient. Also, careful installation of the lock will help increase it's strength. In the end though, it's still made of wood...
What if you used a book attached to some sring and pulleys to unlock it?
astrosapien7 years ago
Sweet, a place to hide my pot stash! Uhhhh........ Pretend you didn't read that.... Jk! Nice instructable!
Read what??? *Spin dizzily* i have no clue what you said
To busy smokin all my drugs to have any to hide
But Weapons of mass destruction welll that's another story Got my last warhead thru the little biddy hatch but I cain't get it back out agin.any suggestions...
Move the whole thing to detonation location and set it off. then build a better one that can fit the stuff.
ekulmeekul6 years ago
Wooooo hidden alcohol stash from parents!
Hells To The Yeah! Come over cuz i hid the wine there!! Just kidding, but seriously is there a way to put some kind of button in a bust of shakespeare that will unlock the hatch???
paganwonder6 years ago
I also can't resist showing off my cleverness when I come up with a good 'secret' panel! I like the magnetic lock in the book idea- secret but also easily moved about- I'll make one. The really weird thing is how easily things are 'hidden' in plain sight- I lose things in my shop ALL the time!
Mr. Rig It7 years ago
Would love to see you add this to my new group.
Hope to see you there.
Home Repair, Refurbishment, and New Projects
fortneja (author)  Mr. Rig It7 years ago
dually noted, and done.
HammyHavoc7 years ago
Great instructable, I can see myself keeping precious backups in this.
gmbatman7 years ago
Good post buddy.
homedogalex7 years ago
Fantactic instructable, thanks very much
chuckr447 years ago
Neat idea. You could also drill a 1/2 inch hole to open the hatch, instead of using an obvious knob. Cover the hole with books to hide it.
fortneja (author)  chuckr447 years ago
Actually, I just used a nail so the magnetic key could pull it open. Depending on how thick the shelf it, the magnet should have enough grip on the lock to pull open the shelf on it's own, no knobs or holes required.
if you wanted to make it more conceald i rember this peice of furniture my parntes had that had these wood grain stickers over the screws i'm sure they sell them at hard where stores and such the only thing is you would have to rember where the screw was but then it would be alsmost inposible for some one to see the screw thats in such an odd place as the middle of the shelf or you could just paint it over or maybe puting a small thin peice of metal on it hatch and sanding under neath it so that it's flush with the wood and then painting it the small metal peice i would imagine being easier to find than the head of a nail and after being painted no one would be able to tell just thought i'ld put a few ideas out there
I made a hidden compartment out of a shelf in my bed's headboard similar to that.

closed ... http://img79.imageshack.us/img79/7039/hidcomp1ly1.jpg

Open..... http://img79.imageshack.us/img79/612...ompcol1cc8.jpg

I currently have it closed using a bunch of standard magnetic cabinet latches, but it doesnt lock. BUT!... your magnetic child lock is PERFECT for it! Thanks for posting it!
Open... http://img208.imageshack.us/img208/8990/hidcompcolgea6.jpg

Note: the headboard had no back or bottom but I have since added one (not seen in the pics). Its big enough to keep a laptop,files, several pistols, & other small electronics etc. etc...
fortneja (author)  Cousin eddie7 years ago
Nice work! I made the box dimensions underneath the hatch about the size of a sheet of paper. It's good for documents and other stuff. I made sure to add a back and a bottom to the bookcase, so the secret isn't given away during moving. The headboard you got there is pretty tight. I used to have a headboard like that. Makes me wish I had kept it...
dchall87 years ago
On one of the cabinets I had made, the carpenter put a drawer that fits in the 3-inch elevated space above the floor and underneath the bottom shelf of the cabinet. The kickplate becomes the front of the drawer. When you pull on the kickplate, the drawer slides all the way out. If you are making the cabinet anyway, it is not much trouble to make a secret drawer.
fortneja (author)  dchall87 years ago
Very true. Like I said in the instructable, the possibilities here are endless. There are always cavities around molding in bookcases and cabinets, as well as the gaps you mentioned. A secret compartment can fit in anywhere, which is part of the beauty of them, in my opinion.
descartez7 years ago
definitely will do this for my new bookshelf.
crazy awesome
bombtech917 years ago
if you cut the sides at a 45 degree angle (kinda tough, but effective) the seams are less likely to show...
Jakevfr7 years ago
This is really cool. I think I'm going to use your idea with the magnetic lock to finish building my brother's "safe" Very nice instructable
That, my friend, is purely cool.
Wolf Seril7 years ago
Too bad I have nothing to hide... I could see a whole series of secret compartments. In fact I might make an instructable for my idea. Nice 'ible.
very smart. i might do this!