Introduction: Hardwood Shelves

Picture of Hardwood Shelves

When you graduate from milkcrates, but cannot bring yourself to buy disposable Ikea furniture for ethical, environmental, or repressed-childhood-memories-of-parents-who-loved-the-Swedish-crap reasons, build some hardwood shelves. Woodworking is often relaxing, and you'll end up with hand-made furniture you can be proud of.

Step 1: Get Lumber

Go to a nice lumber store and get some hardwood. In the Bay Area I go to PALS and buy certified hardwood. Certified means that the wood was grown and harvested in a sustainable way.

The wood will be measured in board feet. Roughly, a board foot is a measure of volume equal to 144 cubic inches; however, as with any trade specific measurement, it's not quite that simple. Rounding errors need to be dealt with properly.

Step 2: Straighten the Lumber

The wood will be bowed and crowned. You can fix this with a jointer. Next use a thickness planer to make all the pieces the same thickness. I skipped this step because I don't have these tools.

Step 3: Rip the Lumber to the Same Width

Picture of Rip the Lumber to the Same Width

Rip the wood to the same width using a table saw. Make a smooth flat cut on one side of all the pieces. Set a stop just thinner than the thinnest piece and rip all the pieces to the same thickness cutting on the opposite side.

Step 4: Cut the Pieces to Length

Picture of Cut the Pieces to Length

I like lots of low, narrow bookshelves. I usually aim for two shelves 23 inches wide, 12.5 inches tall, and around 8 inches deep. This yields an overall shelf 28 inches tall and 25 inches wide.

Use a miter saw with a sharp blade. A blade in nearly any condition will cut pine from Home Depot, but hardwood is much easier to burn.

I like to hide the end grain on my shelves, so I cut the outside pieces on a 45 degree angle.

Step 5: Layout

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Layout the shelves to check all the dimensions and mark attachment points. You can connect the piece with wood screws, but I prefer using a biscuit (or plate) joiner because there are no external marks.

Step 6: Cut Slots

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Cut the slots for the biscuits.

Step 7: Pre-assembly

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Put in the biscuits and pre-assemble to check all the joints.

I use a set of tie-down clamps to avoid damaging the corners of the wood.

Step 8: Back-stop

Picture of Back-stop

I like to be able to see the color of the wall behind a bookshelf, so instead of a solid back, I put a 2 inch high back-stop, which is also attached by biscuits.

Step 9: Sand

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Sand all the faces of the pieces, but not the edges. Save the edges until after it is assembled, so you can smooth corners that are not quite a perfect fit.

I use 100 grit paper with a pad sander.

Step 10: Glue and Clamp

Picture of Glue and Clamp

Glue and clamp the back-stop first.

Use a piece of scrap wood to prevent the clamps from damaging the wood surface. When these are dry, glue and assemble the whole shelf.

The tie-down clamps come in very handy here. Again, be really careful not to nick or dent the wood. It?s a lot harder to fix once glued.

Make sure you have all the necessary clamps, tie-downs, paper towels, and scrap wood ready before you put glue on the biscuits.

Step 11: Sand the Edges Smooth

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Sand the edges smooth with 100 grit paper paying special attention to the interfaces.

Step 12: Hand Sand

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Hand sand the entire project using 220 grit.

Step 13: Test Stain Choice

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Test your choice of stain on a scrap piece of sanded hardwood.

Step 14: Remove Dust

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Remove all dust from the shelves.

Step 15: Stain

Stain the wood according to the stain's directions. Typically you brush the stain on and let it sit for a period of time before wiping it off with a rag.

Step 16: Polyurethane (or Otherwise Protect)


johndmcclure (author)2013-02-28

Anyone else read the word "Biscuit" and think these people are just wanting something to snack on while building these shelves? Great Instructable though. If you're more advanced in the woodworking area

rapidprototyping (author)2010-07-04

Hear is a good well built book shelf set your standards high

pfred1 (author)2006-11-27

You should have gone with rabbits and a dado for the center shelf it'd have aided you greatly in your assembly. Both joints are self aligning. You wouldn't have ended up with that gap in the center of the shelf like I see in step 11 with a dado either. Proper joint selection is the most important step in any woodworking project to me. Oh, and as for dented wood try wetting the spot, then heating the spot with an iron it should steam the absorbed water expanding the cells and raise the wood. Your router is your friend, leave that biscuitter for kitchen cabinet carcasses like it was intended to be used for!

Those joints would compromise the appearance, though. To keep the same clean look but use self aligning joints would require stopped dados on the shelves (easy enough but still much more work than the biscuit) and a mitered mortise and tenon for the corners -- much harder to do! More work + more opportunities to mess up.

Severious (author)2006-07-24

Wait, let me get this straight... You have a Powermatic tablesaw with extension table, but you don't have a tickness planer?? Wow...

Huh? Wouldn't a person normally get a table saw before getting a thickness planer?

ulyssespdx (author)2006-06-12

A *jointer*? a *thickness planer*? *biscuits*? those are tools for experienced woodworkers, man, not for casual readers who want to knock together a bookshelf in a day. neverind that you also need a biscuit jointer to make holes for biscuits. seriously. plywood, screws, some 1x for facing--that's a simple project.

ewilhelm (author)ulyssespdx2006-09-01

I find woodworking to be extremely relaxing. This project took me many days to complete and I built helpful tools along the way that made it even more relaxing. With some glass blocks and bull-nose MDF you can have reasonable looking bookshelves in 15 minutes (someone post an Instructable!). This project was about the asthetic.

flio191 (author)ewilhelm2009-04-15

it's so true, working with wood is so nice, and the physical effort and focus you delegate to each task makes the finished produce the more worthwhile. :]

aliceownsj00 (author)ulyssespdx2008-05-29

lol not that experienced, I took a year in set design and building in highschool and I know what those all are... just watch Yankee Workshop on PBS for a day and you'll know what they are lol But yeah, it would be hard for some of us to get those tools, they can break bank sometimes.

Austringer (author)ulyssespdx2007-12-11

You are going to so love my "how to make a stub spindle shaper cutter" instructable. You only need two tools for that. A metal lathe and a shaper. After that will be "build a front door with through tenon joinery".

camp6ell (author)Austringer2008-01-05


Darkshot (author)ulyssespdx2007-09-09

hey man it may be a little too "experienced" for some but the finished result will hold up better with heavy books and will actually look better so you have bragging rights to it dont dis it cuz of the biscuts and all that other junk you said this is really a cool project and im gonna try and make it but im gonna modify it :\

ridiciliculous (author)2009-02-21

Take your wood to the local high school, they might have a thickness planer for you to use.

mynameisjonas (author)2009-01-02

"I skipped this step because I don't have these tools." a problem that comes up all to often in my woodworking projects.

camp6ell (author)2008-01-05

this is great. it's good to have projects for different skill levels.

mixman (author)2005-11-22

hatsix - if you're on an Ikea budget but want a nice sturdy bookshelf, try down grading this project some. It's beautiful and no doubt done right but definitely a professional job done with a lot of pro tools. On a buget, I would: a) use 3/4 plywood b) upgrade your hacksaw (sorry ;o) to a decent circular saw with a metal straight edge guide and clamps to make your cuts c) blow off the the beveled edges and keep to straight cuts d) sand all surfaces with 120 grit before assembling e) use gorilla glue and trim nails before any finish is applied f) if a router is handy, I like to use a 1/4 round on plywood edges (unless using a veneered edge, that's stepping back up) to keep them from splintering as plyood tends to do important for side-to-side ridgedity is the two inch (or larger) backboards For a finish, use a thick sandable primer. This will seal the wood and the end grains. Sand to your liking and paint. It probably won't be a heirloom like the example but can turn out to be a nice solid and attractive peice of furniture if you spend some time on it. If you are or have an artist friend, a artsy paint job can make it an original. Good Luck!

Darkshot (author)mixman2007-09-09

wouldnt plywood break so darn easily?

charper (author)Darkshot2007-09-09

not really... think about your roof, it's plywood

charper (author)charper2007-09-09

oh yeah - and cheaper floors

Austringer (author)charper2007-12-11

I would steer clear of using just plywood for this. Your roof has what, two overlapped shingles on it? Whereas a linear foot of books is "beat someone to death with" massive. Shelves made from plywood will sag in no time. even if they don't fail. That being said, you can get away with plywood ( and still have something that looks good) if you put a solid cleat across the front and back, preferably with a rabbit cut out of it so you can get a face / face glue joint with the plywood. It won't be as strong as solid hardwood but won't break the bank.

static (author)charper2007-09-30

These days many roofs are deck with OSB products. But that's getting away from the point plywood is plenty strong.

Darkshot (author)charper2007-09-09

very true...and WOW are you fast at replying

ewilhelm (author)mixman2005-12-17

This is a great suggestion. Instead of trying to make it perfect, just try to make it. You'll learn a great deal in the process.

Sharad (author)2007-11-29

Can you please explain what is biscuit joint ?

ewilhelm (author)Sharad2007-11-30

The second image shows a biscuit joint pretty clearly. You cut a slot and use compressed wood disks (biscuits) that expand when glued to secure two pieces of wood together.

hatsix (author)2005-11-19

This is great for woodworkers! (however, I'm not one... any chance this could be done on an Ikea budget, since I don't have room for, and can't afford a table saw? I have a hacksaw and a strong arm! )

static (author)hatsix2007-09-30

Much Quality furniture and homes have been constructed with good old hand tools. Start attending auctions and garage sales to start filling your tool box with proper wood working tools if you desire to work with wood. Often lumber yards do have hardwoods milled to standard easy to work with sizes. Yes with even buying new handsaws etc. you should be able to do it on an ikea budget. Your tool investment should last a life time.

waka2007 (author)2006-04-04

I like the origamis how do you make them?

LostMachine (author)waka20072007-03-04

I was admiring the Polyhedra on the shelves as well.

This should help you

akathewb (author)2006-07-19

This is great! I also don't have the tools, but this was a good introduction into using them, and it gives me somthing to consider in the future. Nice bookshelf by the way!

ewilhelm (author)akathewb2006-09-01


About This Instructable




Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
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