Picture of Modular bookshelf
I wanted to build a good-looking and practical bookshelf for our new apartement. Since the apartement is on the top floor, the ceiling is angular and the bookshelf had to be fitted to the wall. I decided to design it in a modular way, so it can easily be adapted to different circumstances. It took some thinking and tweaking, but I came up with a solution that works rather nicely.

There are some big advantages (in my opionion):
- You can rearrange the whole thing whenever you get tired of looking at it
- It's easily expandable (by either rearranging or building more modules)
- It creates a "living" wall of books (and/or other things)
- The modules are very light and are easy to move around, plus they take up very little space (for example in a moving van)

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design
The modules come in different sizes (either quadratical or oblong).
The width is in every case a multiplate of the height (up to 5:1 in my case), so that the modules are stackable. There are 3 different module-heights to accomodate either paperbacks, hardbacks, binders, big books, and so on. The different sizes of books/binders demand different depths for the modules, too, which gives a really nice look to the complete bookshelf.
The longer modules (3:1 and more) need a middle panel, to distribute the weight of modules on top of them evenly.
In order to combine all these different heights and widths, I had to build 2 customized modules which have different sizes (to adjust for the height), but besides that, everything is standardized.

I wanted to build the modules as low-key and sleek as possible. There is almost no hardware needed, since all the joints are glued. The mitred joints allow for a very elegant construction (although its harder to build) and keep the whole design very simple.
To assemble the whole bookshelf I made aluminum-clips out of a U-profile. Lined with textile tape, they clamp together the modules, making the whole bookshelf stable and sturdy.
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bo88y2 years ago
What you've made here is a sophisticated-looking set of shelves. The prefinished birch plywood leaves a nice contrast between the edges and the surfaces.
-- I've done something similar in principle, but as a carpenter, I worked with scraps of 1/2" CDX structural plywood that I got for free, and left them "rustic." My boxes are 12" x 12" x 17" outside dimensions. And my boxes have backs (or bottoms, depending on the orientation) which are set into the four sides-- these provide extra stability, and allow me to use the boxes as moving crates.
-- A few points I learned from years of experience with these cubes.
-- First, it's good to have some white cedar shingles around to use as shims, in order to level the base. White cedar shingles have a long taper that allows for precision in leveling, and some of them have very thin tips, for very minor adjustments. Leveling the base can compensate for sloping floors in older buildings or for the so-called "tackless strips" used by carpet installers that make wall-to-wall carpeting thicker around the edges. I usually tilt mine slightly back toward the wall, aiming to touch the wall at the top, despite the width of the baseboard at the bottom. This makes for a more stable setup. I use no attachments between boxes other than gravity.
-- I decided to use butt joints, because they're stronger in compression. With pre-finished material, there's some reason to maintain the clean look of miter joints, but butt joints, if the edges were finished well, would provide a different, not altogether unattractive look. With unfinished plywood, I used galvanized cedar shake nails, which are thin, about 2-3/4" long, and have rings on the shaft for greater holding power, along with carpenter's glue, and my oldest ones have held up well through about 18 moves since the 80s. I predrilled for the nails only near the front edges of the boxes, where the danger of visible splits was greatest.
-- I discovered that the flexibility of the system was vastly improved by having an assortment of "planks" made of the same plywood, cut to widths equal to the depth of the boxes (12" in my case), and some narrow fillers cut about 2"x12". When I wanted to go floor-to-ceiling in a wall space 4'5" wide, I placed a couple of boxes on the floor spread to the outer edges of the space, and then laid a plank across the gap, covering, say, the left box entirely and extending onto the right box however far it would reach, and then stuck a filler on the right end of the right box, so that the next layer would have a level base. These gap-filling "planks" allow me to fill up a wall space that's 4'5" wide with two stacks of 17" wide boxes instead of three, and to fill it precisely. This allows more shelf space with less work building boxes. About 50% more shelf space.
-- I've since begun to make crates that are 9-1/2" deep x 10-1/2" high x 17" wide. When I first began, I made them 12" deep for the sake of stability in tall stacks, but they were so much more stable than I expected that I decided to cut down on the wasted space in each box. Besides, with the planks, I can use a layer of boxes vertically oriented for taller books, and it integrates fine with the rest. And I've begun to paint them, too.
-- Your system is a lot slicker and more attractive (though I still think putting backs on them would make them stronger). My priority is capacity and flexibility, because I have about 8,000 books to shelve and to move occasionally. One aspect of milking 50% extra shelf space out of my crates is that when it comes time to move, the number of boxes I have fits the number of books, because packing for moving crams a lot more books into a box than shelving books for residential accessibility.
-- I made my backs/bottoms fit within the 4 sides of the box, and assembled them first as "U"-shaped units consisting of a bottom with two short sides nailed to it, and then the long sides covered the "faces" of the "U." Since the boxes are mostly laid horizontally, this makes the strongest box with the most stable platform for the next layer in a stack.
-- Sorry for the length of this comment.
Luegg (author)  bo88y2 years ago
Thank you very much for this input! It's always nice to hear from a fellow carpenter. ;-)

I chose the miter joints not only for aesthetics, but also because I'm used to them. I used to work in a carpenter's workshop where everything had to be miter joints (no matter what angle). Time will tell if I'm over-optimistic, but I have no worries about the stability of these modules.
I spent quite some time thinking about backs/bottoms, but I really enjoy the look of these "empty" boxes with the plaster behind them. True, it would be great for moving (and the stability), but I have to say, i prefer this look and so I just won't move anymore! :-)

I would be interested in a picture of these gap-filling "planks", since I'm not sure if I'm imagening it accurately.

Thanks again and have a nice weekend! Luegg

PS: www.roethlisberger.ch (I used to work there; for me it is probably the coolest carpenter's workshop on earth ;-) )
well,I like it
bo88y Luegg2 years ago
The "planks" are just twelve-inch wide strips of 1/2" plywood of various lengths, from about 20" long to about 48" long. I also have a bunch of 2" cutoffs of these strips, which serve as shims. See the diagram, which is the front view of a stack of boxes. The plank on the bottom row of boxes runs from the far left to the left end of the right-side box, while the shorter plank on the second row up is just long enough to sit on the inside corners of the two boxes, and two shims are required, one at either end.

--- The planks serve as additional bookshelf space, spanning the large gaps between the spaced-out boxes. I could have cut the planks so that they'd run from the far left to the far right and emiminated the shims, but then, I'd have to re-cut them or get new, longer ones whenever I moved and had different wall-spaces to fill. This approach leaves little (1/2" high x however wide) gaps between the ends of the planks and the shims, but I can live with that, and the system is flexible. I can stack the boxes tall and narrow, or low and wide, to fit whatever width of wall I'm filling with books.
Luegg (author)  bo88y2 years ago
Ok, i got it. That is more or less what i imagined. That way you can arrange the boxes really efficient. Cool! I try to use the spaces between the modules too, but it was my intention to break up the "lines", so the whole bookshelf has as few continuous horizontal or vertical lines as possible. But of course, that means less available space for books.
bo88y Luegg2 years ago
Your approach has a lot of visual texture and variety, and looks more finished. Mine is more a lazy man's approach motivated by desperation about having too damned many books and, for a while, moving too often. I did get sick of making boxes at one point, and being able to put 90 boxes worth of books in 60 boxes (plus planks) was a relief. Someday, perhaps, I'll get around to painting them. That's about as finished as mine will get. Raw CDX is a pretty "rustic" look, but in the end, when they're filled with books, it's mostly just the edges that show.
白色黑鬼8 months ago
Wopke2 years ago
love it
Luegg (author)  Wopke2 years ago
thanks a lot... I'm working on my next instructables... ;-)
jadyoh2 years ago
That is really nice I like that a lot. Thanks
Luegg (author)  jadyoh2 years ago
thank you! I'm happy, there are people who enjoy this instructable and design...
dana-dxb2 years ago
awesome just today i was trying to billed some like this and was in a lose so thanx for the great and remarkable share
chuckyd2 years ago
I have always liked modules for furniture, and this looks good.

I noticed in the first few photos that some of the units are beginning to sag. This is becase material as thin as 9mm will only span about 12 inches under load. A rule of thumb is that on average a shelf of books weigh 50 pounds per linieal foot. To span some of the distances I see the thickness should be up to about 20 mm. There are variants of this joint, but take more time and more accurate tools.

Also, I am quite impressed that the wood glue holds to that plastic surface, where the panels are glued in mid-span. I would have made a dado joint where the middle panels are. That way wood would be glued to wood, and the dado will capture the ends of the brace securelt.

The joints are under a great deal of stress, considering that the horizontals want to sag under load. An easy but strong joint is a spline joint. Just cut a dado in the faces of the joining boards, about 6 mm deep. The joint looks ilke the photo
Luegg (author)  chuckyd2 years ago
Thank you for these comments. Yes, there are some units that sag a bit. I was considering to build the bookshelf with 18mm thick material, but for my taste, it would have been too massive. Since we own mostly paperbacks I decided to go this way, but there are some issues that have to be resolved the next time I expand this project.

Yes, that PUR-glue really is impressive. :-) Since the surface is not glossy (it is a little bit rough), there is enough adhesion for these middle panels.

espdp22 years ago
I love it! Very nice appearance, and more ethical than stolen milk crates. :-)
vincent75202 years ago
I already left a comment, but I can't help it !
This is not the only "Modular Bookshelf" instructable on this site.
But I find it rather distinctive by the visual quality of the design : proportions and volume are excellent. This can be seen on the 1st picture of step one where we can see the structure without books. It is an excellent design. Pure, simple no frill… 
Viewers shouldn't forget the the simplest designs are the most difficult to built to a certain level of perfection as the slightest flaw is clearly obvious.
The only thing about this instructable that bothers me is 1) the use of a router bit : myself I woul have thought that it would have been easier to make 45° angle cuts with a router. Then again I didn't make it and obviously Luegg managed to get good cuts, so who am I to make such stupid objections ?
2) the use of polyurethane glue such as 1K-PUR seems somewhat too much to me as the quality of the joint will ensure a tight fix with simple vinyl wood glue which is much less messy than polyurethane. The latter is great for gluing outside or in wet environment such as a bathroom or kitchen. But then again Luegg made it !…
Again Bravo !!!…
Luegg (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Thanks again. I prefer to make these 45° cuts on a circular saw bench if possible. It takes some time to get everything set up and the result depends on the sharpness and quality of the sawblade. But it is much easier to get the exact same lenght for various parts and it is a lot quicker (especially if you want to build 30+ modules).

What I like about this kind of glue is the fact that it will "correct" some minor faults in the joints. If the angle is a (little) bit off, or the cut is uneven, the expanding glue will correct this to a certain amount. But yes, it is messy and not very eco-friendly. By now I'm really used to working with this stuff and I rarely get black stains on my hands that last for 4 days! And the pictured "container" of glue will last for at least 60 modules. :-)
jkingsbury2 years ago
To make an even sturdier joint, use a lock miter bit in a router to cut the 45 degree profiles. Some bits like el-cheapo Yonico 15122 from Amazon fit so well, that you don't really even need to clamp, but clamping makes the joint even stronger... There are other fitments that aren't the standard 45 joint also, like curves or zigzag, but they are trickier, but not impossible for the newbie, to setup with a few pieces of scrap to practice on. Stained edges that show these profiles really look nice, and add a custom touch without worrying about the table saw walking off the 45 degree mark.
Luegg (author)  jkingsbury2 years ago
Here is the mentioned picture. Sorry.
Luegg (author)  jkingsbury2 years ago
This is very true! Thank you, I never thought about this. I was thinking about producing these lock miter joints on a "kehlmaschine" (I cant find the translation for this machine, so I attached a picture to this reply), but since I don't have such a machine, I neglected this idea. I totally forgot that there are bits like this for routers.

Thank you, I'll definitely give this a try! Luegg
barista2 years ago
Brilliant! What's a phenolic raisin?
Not dry grape of some sort … but I guess it spells rather like "resin" !
Luegg (author)  vincent75202 years ago
exactly... now it is corrected! :-)
ajft2 years ago
Love the "raisin-coated" plywood. Where do I get phenolic raisins?
Luegg (author)  ajft2 years ago
oops, yes... I'll change that right now, we can't have people coating their plywood with dried fruit! haha

Thanks for the hint! As we say in switzerland: "my english is not so good! (yet)" Luegg
vincent75202 years ago
Great job !!!!…

But it beats me why someone finds the use of a book an "Vector geometry" in such a nicely designed bookshelf !!!… LOL
Luegg (author)  vincent75202 years ago
haha, this book is my reminder for what I can't do! lol

Thank you!
Icy132 years ago
This is an excellent idea, the modular bookcase, but in the spirit of moving friendliness, I would think some ability to disassemble the modules would be useful. Perhaps screwed joints with countersinks would allow this?

However, if you are going with bullet proof non-disassemblable, I would shooting six nails into each joint (3 each way) to prevent any concern about shear strength for the units on the very bottom when the top loads may (probably, actually, given the asymmetric design) vary.

All in all, awesome solution!
Luegg (author)  Icy132 years ago
Thank you. The modules can easily be disassembled. These aluminium-clamps on the back hold them togethere, but they can be removed and all the modules be transported one by one. At first I wanted to make a system with pretty inox-screws and countersinks. But then the whole idea of putting it together any way I want would become really complicated. So i opted for these clamps which work out nice.

I'll keep everybody posted about the stability of the whole bookshelf, but the joints are very robust and up until now (18 months) there has been no issue with stability of the modules.

Thank you very much, Luegg
you made your own ikea furniture!
no, really, this is wicked awesome. great job!
Luegg (author)  domestic_engineer2 years ago
Thank you! I'm happy about all these positive and constructive comments! Luegg
Very neat. Thx for the tips on the tape (foreasier glue cleanup).
Luegg (author)  David Catriel2 years ago
You are very welcome. Yes, that trick with the tape saves quite some time!
sousap2 years ago
Luegg (author)  sousap2 years ago
thank you!
Very nice look!
dc0de2 years ago
Very nice instructable. I'm now inspired to do this myself, once I'm moved into my new apartment!
ajft2 years ago
Is that raisin coated plywood or resin coated? AFAIK raisins are a type of dried fruit.
drbromm2 years ago
Awsome idea. Nice how the more you make, the less time it takes. Simple, yet beautiful!
Nice job!
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