Picture of How To: Build A Custom Bookcase
We have fun with woodworking no matter what the project is, but the most rewarding thing for us is making our own furniture. Let's say you wanted a solid oak bookcase but didn't have the four to six hundred bucks a retail store would want for one. You can achieve the same effect for less than half the cost, using a bit of solid oak trim and some veneered ply.

Note: As this is a Craftsman-sponsored project, you'll notice a number of Craftsman tools in the photos. But here's a secret: we already owned 'em all. You can, of course, attack this project with tools of your choice.

After a bit of figuring, we decided to make our bookcase 34"x12"x92" with eight shelves in it. Though we strongly urge you to design for what suits your needs best, in our case we wanted a tall bookcase with a maximum of storage space. We calculated that this setup will hold about twice as many books as most units on the market, so that was a big bonus.

Vibra-Free Sander (Craftsman)
Drill, Multi-Saw, and Worklight Combo (Craftsman)
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Layout and Cutting

Picture of Layout and Cutting
Based on a quick layout, we made a breakdown of the lumber we'd need: two sheets of 3/4 4'x8' oak-veneered ply, four 82 sticks of 33x3/4 solid oak trim, four 8' sticks of 3/4 decorative trim, and one sheet of 1/4oak-veneered ply. Even paying retail this totals to somewhere in the neighborhood of $190 plus the rail system which will run about $8. Figure around $200 for the entire stock list.

Smaller bookcases will of course be cheaper, but this is about as large as you'd want to go, so we're giving a worst-case scenario here. Note, however, that this is still $200 cheaper than the next best solid oak candidate.

A bookcase is basically a five-sided box with the front part open, so to begin constructing one, first cut the pieces for the first four sides. With the first piece of 3/4" ply laid out, mark out the first 11"x92"piece which'll serve as the sides and cut it out. Then do the same for its mate. Measuring and cutting them out separately may seem like a pain, but unless you're really good at figuring kerf, this way is much safer.
ooh I like
Ahma5 years ago
I love this instructable, but I'd like to add something to it I learned years ago from a very accomplished woodoworker.  When you cut or buy boards for the shelving *not the frame* you should note which way the warp bends the wood.  In many cases the warp may SEEM straight, but you will most often find that there is a slight curve to it. 

My friend always looked for the curve in the wood by laying it on a reliably flat surface to discern the direction of the curve.  He positioned his shelves so that the curve was toward the top.  In this way, the weight of the books, tchotchkies or other items resting on the shelf would bear down on the upward curve and give the items a straight surface to rest on.

Just something to keep in mind. 

If your wood is "straight" as far as you can tell, be prepared to reverse (turn the shelf over) when it begins to sag.  It's not the fault of the builder or the quality of the wood that will do this.  It is the weight of the items we place on them.  Especially books.  I tend to want my shelves to rest on a support that will let me turn them as I notice sag developing.  I got LOTS of BIG HEAVY books.
HailDanzig Ahma3 years ago
Laying supports certainly adds stability to a unit, but the looks does not work as well in classic settings as it can in a modern or industrial setting. I know that the rails used in this instructable aren't as appealing as having the panels line-bored, but if you have access to a CNC take advantage of it! Otherwise, using a jig, you can bore an additional row of holes in the backing to provide the additional support for shelves wider than 36''. The additional support goes a long way, limiting the need to rotate the shelves.

@Toolmonger: Great instructable! Very easy to read and good pictures.
These are nice shelves, built with a minimum of tools. That takes planning and ingenuity. Good job. I would like to suggest one thing though, if you do use the random orbit sander, I'd use a higher grit, say 220, unless you've dinged them up or something. Also, going over them with a scraper to take out the swirl marks is a good idea. No matter how good the random orbit or one's technique, there are always swirl marks that show up when you stain. Or do it by hand, going with the grain. Just a thought.

80 grit is a carpenter's bread and butter, which is why I quit shopping at Home Depot. For a long time they quit stocking 80 grit. I asked why and they told me that they sold more 100 grit and not enough 60 grit. I shook my head and said, "Okay, buy why did you quit selling 80 grit?" He just stared at me. Needless to say, it was Lowes for me after that. Man, do I miss a decent lumber yard.

I used to do things like this all the time when I lived in an apartment and didn't have the luxury of using a table saw and other equipment like that, which one can use if you have a garage or shop. I made a lot of neat things, which just goes to show you that if you have a little motivation and DIY skills there is a lot open to you regardless of your situation. Thanks for sharing this.
You are so right! I only recently started making furniture and learning about woodworking and now I can't even think about buying something without contemplating whether or not I can make it instead. :) I started with a custom desk and just recently built a platform bed. I was going to buy one but when I went to look at them I kept thinking "I could trim those legs a little bit and then do this..." which told me I should be making my own custom bed from scratch, not spending hundreds of dollars on a pre-made on I was going to alter. Best decision too. I love my bed and it made me feel so good to have made it.

I also find myself wishing there was a lumber yard instead of going to Lowes or HD. I feel like I would have more of a selection of wood. I also feel like the selection of connective hardware is less than what it used to be (kinda like how radio shack used to sell everything an electronics tinkerer could ever want and now all they sell is cell phones and pre-made crap).

I'm about to make a set of book shelves for a corner in my bedroom, a TV stand, coffee table, custom record player cabinet and recently put in a simple workstation in my recording booth (walk-in closet turned into a recording booth).
karenh20104 years ago
Absolutely gorgeous. Can't believe you can make this for $200!! What a feeling of accomplishment!! Am hoping to work my way up to this within a few years. :-) Thanks for the great instructions!
karenh20104 years ago
Sorry for the very very very beginner comment, but exactly HOW did you attach the trim to the bookcase? (i.e. nails, screws? through the side?) Thanks!
dublinrun4 years ago
Excellent instructable!  Not too complicated, but enough info to do the job.  A favorite for sure.  The extra detailing really adds a touch of class.
thewarp165 years ago
 just a little tip when sanding try to put the sand paper on a block so you dont end up sanding finger shaped grooves into your work
awang85 years ago
Very nice. But that bookshelf is HUGE!!
I don't know about you, but I actually need two bookshelves this size for all of my books!
Try 34" to 36" shelves with staggered supports between shelves.  You can use 3/8" supports at random positions between the shelves.  They can also be handy to use to separate your "series" and authors.  I like mine moveable.  I'll post a pic soon to show you my divider/supports.
Ahma Ahma5 years ago
And... when it comes time to rearrange the furniture, you'll find it's a lot easier than trying to make a big shelf fit a small wall.
Kiwi_Ed5 years ago
Finally a proper 'normal' bookcase Instructable!!

Thanks a lot, pressed the favorite button before I even started reading! Now all is left is to fill that 3.5m x 2.5m empty wall...

A suggestion if you make your shelves longer than 30 inches.

Instead of using the 3/4" decorative trim on the front of the shelves, use ~1"x1-1/2" trim boards glued to the front of the shelves.  Use the trim router (step #19) to put a decorative edge on the front to keep it nice looking like the rest of the shelving unit.

This will stiffen the shelf so that you won't get swayback shelves over time while storing those Encyclopaedia Britannicas that you got from Grandma for your 10th birthday.

A 3/4"x3/4" under the back edge of the shelves would help when showing off your decorative engine blocks and glass scupltures, or if you just have to beef things up to feel better when making things.

Advanced skill suggestion.

At steps #15 and #16, use more side trim to cover the front of the fixed middle shelf.  It'll be harder to make it look nice, but may be worth it.  If you make this change, consider making the height of this shelf the same as the window ledges in the room or at kitchen counter height.

Most important of all, start cutting wood using this wonderful Instructable!

koubis5 years ago
A nice one indeed. Can you post e-shop where I can order the rails? Thanks!
derekns745 years ago
Good instructable. You probably shouldn't make your submissions a giant sears commercial, though. Will get you a lot of spam flags.
Your comment has the only "sears" word in it (now mine too). Everyone adds some links to shops like Radio Shack etc. Its not spam.
kilroy19585 years ago
nice work.... too bad, even at 50, i'm told i need adult supervision around power tools ;) later...
seamster6 years ago
This is a great instructable. Lots of helpful information, and a very well-made set of shelves.
this is simply awesome. I can't wait to build this!
thesonofsam6 years ago
Both the finished product and the instructable are really nice looking. Good job on both. You might consider adding a list of tools and materials needed toward the beginning though. Project time and cost analysis would be cool too, but are less vital.
Phil B6 years ago
Very nice. I never thought of using a long level for a saw guide.
Schisler76 years ago
This is a work or art. I really like the design and little extras you put into it that make it so much better.
chinchymork6 years ago
Sweet Project our family made a book shelf a couple of years ago and it looks like this one. Good job!