Introduction: Tree Bookshelf DIY

Let's make a sweet bookshelf, one that sets a calm and natural ambiance!

The video above will walk through the the process and give you some solid tips. If you are a confident (or crazy adventurous), then that video might just be enough for you. This Instructable, however, will wade deeper into the project. It will also lay out the materials and tools that were used.

If you want to quickly skip through this Instructables, simply read through the Quick Guide sections at the top of each step.


  • 3 sheets of 3/4 inch thick 4 foot by 8 foot plywood
  • 1 box of 2" Deckmate screws
  • 1 bottle of wood glue (eg. Titebond)
  • 1 can of Paint Primer
  • 1can of Brown Paint
  • 1 pint of Polyurethane


  • Table Saw (optional if you can get home depot to cut the plywood for you)
  • Miter Saw (chop saw)
  • Drill
  • Sander (belt and/or orbital)
  • Clamps (I used 8 clamps)
  • Paint Brush or Roller
  • Disposable Brushes (for polyurethane application)
  • Pre-drill bit
  • Countersink Bit

Rough Cost Estimate: $150.00

Step 1: Cutting and Glueing the Plywood Together

Picture of Cutting and Glueing the Plywood Together

Quick Step 1

  • Cut 2 sheets of plywood into 7" X 96" strips
  • Glue 3 strips together to form one 2.25" X 7" X 96" strip
  • Glue 2 strips together to form one 1.5" X 7" X 96" strip (repeat once to create two 1.5" X 7" X 96" strips)

Quick Step 1 Explained

Cutting the plywood down to size -

One of the sheets of plywood will act as the background and backbone for the tree, leave this one whole. The other two pieces need to be cut lengthwise (long strips) into 7 inch wide by 8 foot long pieces. This will yield 12 strips of 7" X 96" pieces and two ~5" X 96" piece. If you are purchasing your plywood at The Home Depot, you can get it cut down in strips there and save yourself the trouble at home. The reasoning behind the 7" thickness is that most books (when stood on end) are 5"-7" wide.

The tree branches are divided into three thicknesses:

  • 3/4 inch - single strip of 7" X 96" piece
  • 1 1/2 inch - two strips of 7" X 96" glued together
  • 2 1/4 inch - three strips of 7" X 96" glued together

Glueing the plywood together -

We want to create the three different branch thicknesses, so we need to glue a few of the sheets together. For the double thick branches (1.5" thick), take two strips of plywood, lather one side of one of the sheets with wood glue, press them together so that their front edges are flush and clamp them for at least 2 hours. Make sure that the glue is evenly spread across the surface of the plywood so it doesn't gap as the wood shrinks and expands over time. Repeat this process to create two strips that are 1.5" X 7" X 96".

For the main stem, you will need to glue three sheets of plywood together. This is done in the same way as above, except, glue is applied to either side of one of the strips and two strips are clamped on either side of it. Again, make sure that the front end of the branch (the side that will be sticking out) is relatively flush. This will minimized the amount of sanding required later.

Step 2: Measuring and Cutting the Branches

Picture of Measuring and Cutting the Branches

Quick Step 2

  • Cut Branches according to schematic above (blue: angle) (red: numbered branch)

Quick Step 2 Explained

The schematic above depicts the 37 branches and their angles. The angles are measured looking down at the tree just as the image depicts. It is important to note which side of the branch the angle is measured from since the measurements are always less than or equal to 45 degrees.

Branch Number - Branch length (inches) - Branch Angles (lower angle, upper angle)

The first number corresponds to branch number (red in the picture above).

The second number corresponds to the length of the branch in inches.

The third pair of numbers corresponds to the angles of the branch. The angles are formatted as follows: (lowest/closest-to-connecting-branch, highest/farthest-from-connecting-branch). For example take branch number 16 whose angles are (0, 10). The 0 degree angle refers to the side that is closest to the trunk, while the 10 degree angle refers to the side farthest from the trunk.

  1. 12 (0, 0)
  2. 10 (30, 30)
  3. 16 (0, 0)
  4. 7.5 (15, 30)
  5. 12 (5, 5)
  6. 6.5 (30, 30)
  7. 19 (20, 45)
  8. 10 (30, 30)
  9. 17 (0, 0)
  10. 14.5 (45, 0)
  11. 8 (45, 0)
  12. 7.75 (45, 0)
  13. 9.75 (0, 0)
  14. 6.5 (15, 45)
  15. 8.5 (15, 45)
  16. 8 (0, 10)
  17. 5.5 (20, 0)
  18. 9 (0, 0)
  19. 6 (10, 30)
  20. 9.75 (30, 10)
  21. 9 (30, 10)
  22. 7 (10, 30)
  23. 10 (15, 15)
  24. 10.5 (15, 0)
  25. 6.5 (0, 45)
  26. 11 (45, 45)
  27. 9 (45, 45)
  28. 8 (30, 45)
  29. 14 (30, 15)
  30. 6.5 (45, 0)
  31. 12.75 (30, 0)
  32. 5.5 (0, 45)
  33. 5 (10, 10)
  34. 12.5 (10, 0)
  35. 9 (10, 45)
  36. 14.75 (30, 45)
  37. 7 (30, 0)

Step 3: Prepping the Background

Picture of Prepping the Background

Quick Step 3

  • Lightly sand the background 4' X 8' sheet of plywood
  • Apply primer coat
  • Apply background brown color

Quick Step 3 Explained

Lightly sand the full 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood to remove any irregularities. Wipe done the plywood to remove any dust. Plywood will soak up your paint, that is why it is important to first apply a thick coat of primer to seal the wood and act as a base for the finish coat. Once the primer is dried (usually 30 to 90 minutes depending on brand, temperature and air movement), apply one or two coats of brown paint. We chose a deep brown so as to contrast the light color of the unstained plywood branches.

Step 4: Attaching the Branches to the Background

Picture of Attaching the Branches to the Background

Quick Step 4

  • Lay out the pieces according to the schematic
  • Mark the edges of the branch you are attaching with rulers
  • Remove the branch (leaving the rulers exactly in place)
  • Pre-drill through the background and in-between the rulers
  • Remove any dust
  • Replace the branch back between the rulers
  • Pre-drill from the backside of the background into the branch, using the holes you just drilled as guides.
  • Drill countersink holes so the screw will sit flush against the back of the tree.
  • Screw into the branch from the backside of the background, through the holes you just pre-drilled.
  • Repeat this process for every branch

Quick Steps 4 Explained

Now it's time to attach the branches to the background. Start by laying out the entire tree, starting with the trunk, on the background according to the schematic.

Starting at the trunk, place a ruler on either side of the first trunk piece. Holding the rulers in place, remove the trunk piece. Drill at least 3 holes along the rulers using the pre-drill bit. Remove any dust and replace the trunk piece exactly between the rulers. While the piece is held in place and using the pre-drill bit, drill into the branch from the backside of the background. This is required so that the screws don't split the plywood branches. Use the countersink bit to make shallow wells where you pre-drilled. Using the Deckmate screws, screw into the branch from the backside of the background and through the holes you just pre-drilled. This is where it is important that all the sides of your branch are square, otherwise, the screws will pull them at angles.

This process must be repeated for each branch. In some cases, it maybe necessary to glue the pieces to each other AND screw them to the background. This was done with several of the smaller, 3/4" thick branches. Try and make the gaps between branches as small as possible, but don't worry too much about it because it adds character and is easily overlooked when the entire tree is assembled and sealed.

Step 5: Sanding and Staining

Picture of Sanding and Staining

Quick Step 5

  • Sand the front of the tree branches (the grain lined side that faces outward)
  • Wipe down with a damp cloth. Ensure no dust is left on the tree
  • Coat the Branches and Background with Polyurethane
  • Let dry for at least 24 hours

Quick Step 5 Explained

Now that the tree is fully assembled, its time for the clean up. Take a sander to all the surfaces of the branches careful not to scuff up the painted background. It is best to use several different grits, for example, I used 36 grit to get the front of the tree all level, then 80 grit to smooth it out, and finished with 120 grit for a really smooth finish.

After you are finished sanding, wipe down the entire tree, including the background, with a damp rag. Make sure that there is no dust left on any surface. Allow the tree to air dry for an hour.

Get out your disposable brushes and Polyurethane. Coat the entire tree including the background. This will make the background assume a sheen that complements the dull coat on the branches.

Allow the Polyurethane to cure for at least 24 hours. Once it has dried, you will notice that it has raised rough burs on the branches. Take care of that by lightly sanding the branches (ONLY the branches, NOT the background) with a 120 or 150 grit orbital sander. Take care not to touch the sander to the background or it will scuff the sheen.

Wipe the tree down again with a damp rag to remove any Polyurethane dust. NOTE: during the sanding and wiping parts it is imperative that you wear a dust mask and Polyurethane dust is none biodegradable, meaning that it might not come out of your lungs if it gets in there.


Mimosa13 (author)2015-12-17

That is beautiful! Nice work! Voted.

PatrickW51 (author)Mimosa132015-12-17

Thanks a lot!!

Mimosa13 (author)PatrickW512015-12-17

I watched your video. Man! That is brilliant work! I wondered how you knew lengths of shelves and how did you determine the angles of all those cuts? Why the recessed center lamina?

PatrickW51 (author)Mimosa132015-12-17

That was one of the toughest parts. I had my sister draw the entire tree on the background before we painted it. We then cut the pieces down to size and improvised on the angles. I made sure and cut that at increments of 5 degrees so they were easy to translate to a schematic. You mean why does the main trunk have a gab in the back?

PaulR353 (author)PatrickW512017-11-30

Hi I’m just about to start this and was also wondering why there is a ‘gab’ at the back? The instructions don’t say to have a smaller middle strip for the trunk. Brilliant job and video btw I’m thinking of cutting a tree shape into the background plywood before fixing the shelves.

tocotronic123 made it! (author)2017-11-01

my first Project from instructables :-)

krystalkrew (author)2017-08-18

Are the lengths given for the "branches" the long side, the short side, or the length of the piece before the angles are cut? Also, did you consider french cleats for hanging?

jmushlock made it! (author)2017-03-28

Loved this project, thanks for sharing! I made this for my girls' bedroom. Rather than using the 2x4's to space it off the wall and attach behind, we went with a more seamless look and counter sunk and covered screws through the front into studs. No fasteners showing anywhere. Turned out great!

JeanaB4 (author)jmushlock2017-04-27

I am working on this right now and love how you did it right on the wall. Do you feel like it's anchored in enough places to hold the weight of the books? Do you have any tips or pointers that you want to pass on?

jmanellenburg made it! (author)2017-02-03

I made this for our friends who is about to have their first baby. A few of the angles didn't turn out quite right so it isn't exactly like the template but it is definitely unique and they love it. Thank you!

seyed30 (author)2016-09-26

great work

aubrey_labuschagnea (author)2016-07-06

great work

Thank you!

lglira (author)2016-02-02

Beautiful, I want one for my room!

PatrickW51 (author)lglira2016-02-02

After putting it in my sister's room, it feels so much "homier"!!

warriorethos2 (author)2016-01-30

PatrickW51, very well made bookshelf. Your instructions were in detail and easy to follow.

PatrickW51 (author)warriorethos22016-01-30

Thank you! I'm glad you found it easy to follow, i'm always unsure how much detail is too much detail :)

warriorethos2 (author)PatrickW512016-01-30

PatrickW51, No problem, the more the better and good luck in the contest.

MaxG3 (author)2015-12-22

Hello! Where did you get 3/4" plywood and how much did it cost? Thanks! Really cool project!

PatrickW51 (author)MaxG32015-12-23

We used "cabinet" plywood that costs $30 per sheet at The Home Depot. So about $100 in plywood. If I would making this again, I would definitely go with the $45 red Oak plywood though, for a better look. Once you seal it though, it looks pretty awesome either way!!

lindapow (author)2015-12-23

How does it stay to the wall? You would definitely have to attach it to the studs.

PatrickW51 (author)lindapow2015-12-23

It is super heavy, so we attached two 2X4"s to the studs in the wall, Then we attached two more 2X4"s to the back of the tree. Then we screwed the 2X4"s together from the side. If the tree were ggone, it would like kind of like this: || ||

But since it's so heavy, we made sure and rested it on the ground, so all the 2X4"s are really doing are holding it from falling forward.

mehdi1980 (author)2015-12-20


i will make it and thank you for sharring

PatrickW51 (author)mehdi19802015-12-20

Awesome! If you have any questions/tips, I'm all ears!

mehdi1980 (author)PatrickW512015-12-20

Thank you so much dear Patrick! i will with a lot of appriciations!

PatrickW51 (author)mehdi19802015-12-20

Yea, no problem!

kessyus (author)2015-12-19

Really interesting! I might give it a try!

Thanks for sharing!!!

PatrickW51 (author)kessyus2015-12-19

If you do give it a try, make sure and share your results :D

Bryan2200 (author)2015-12-19

Hi! Thanks so much for your tutorial. I'm a little new to this and just need a bit of help in regards to the drilling. Do you think you could elaborate that a little more?

Why do you pre-drill? What is countersink?

PatrickW51 (author)Bryan22002015-12-19

Yea totally! So pre-drilling is when you take a drill bit that is just smaller than the screws you are going to use and drill a hole with that bit before you drive the screw in. When you drive a screw into wood, it forces the wood apart a little, if you have thin wood, then it can cause the wood to split. So pre-drilling is a way of preempting the split by creating a little hole for the screw.

Also, a note on how to pick the right sized drill bit. You want the drill bit to be smaller than the threads on the screw. So a good way to check if you have the right sized bit, is to hold the bit up in front of the screw and see if you can see the threads of the screw behind the bit.

Countersinking is a method to let the head of the screw nestle inside the wood. In the case of this bookshelf, we wanted the screws to rest flush with the back, so that they wouldn't poke into the wall when we went to mount it.

The way you pick a countersink bit is either to purchase an actual counter sink bit, or to just use a drill bit that is as big as your screw's head.

Hopefully that helps :D

Bryan2200 (author)PatrickW512015-12-19

Oh I understand! Thank you so much!


vineskm (author)2015-12-17

Beautiful design. I am a tree fanatic and this definitely caught my attention. Unfortunately, it takes up a large chunk of wall space and wouldn't be practical for my huge book collection. That said, it is a work of art!

lclaiborne (author)vineskm2015-12-18

I figured, I'd put up several of these through the house, and get the books distributed by subject where they might need to be. Everybody's book collections are different, but I thought distrubuting artsy tree designs around would be better than The Great Wall Of Books. That gets a bit same looking.

vineskm (author)lclaiborne2015-12-18

Neat idea!

PatrickW51 (author)lclaiborne2015-12-18

I think that would be awesome to do! The trees could be slightly different coloration and shape on each one. That would be fun!

PatrickW51 (author)vineskm2015-12-17

Ahah yes it does take a decent amount of space! We stuck it in a smaller room that had more furniture and didn't like it as much, kind of made the room feel cluttered. But in a bigger room with taller ceilings, its perfect!

And Thank you for your support!

lclaiborne (author)2015-12-18

This is fantastic! I'm building it, it's perfect! Has it held up well with plenty of books in it? The short runs of shelf look like it breaks up the load. I have a bunch of spaces where these could go, and I'm a bit tired of regular old book shelves. And the expense of straight lumber. I need to unpack a LOT of books though.

PatrickW51 (author)lclaiborne2015-12-18

It has held up really well! It is really heavy and when we were moving it around, we would use the branches to pick it up. You can add extra strength to the tree by screwing AND glueing the branches to the background. Also for the single (3/4" thick) pieces, we glued them to the piece they stemmed from, along with screwing them to the back.

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2015-12-15

Awesome bookshelf! I love the tree design.

Thank you! It was a lot of work and a lot of fun! If you are interested, our youtube channel has a few other projects on it, and we will be throwing at least one up there every week!

AZjohn (author)PatrickW512015-12-17

This BS (bookshelf) is SWEEEET. . . Thank You for the instructions

PatrickW51 (author)AZjohn2015-12-17

Lol, you are welcome!

RachaelJ (author)2015-12-17

You should try building some like these!

PatrickW51 (author)RachaelJ2015-12-17

Funny you should say that, I was totally planning on doing the one one far right. If I make it, do you want to buy it ? :D

ElijahH3 (author)2015-12-17

Awesome! I love it

raven33au (author)2015-12-17


Gyalu1 (author)2015-12-17

Brilliant idea and thank you for sharing it! I want one also!

I voted your project.

PatrickW51 (author)Gyalu12015-12-17

Awesome!! Thank you! If you decide to make one, make sure and share it! I'm interested to see people's spin on this!

cooldryplace (author)2015-12-17

This is wonderful. Going to make this one for the kiddo's room for sure.

PatrickW51 (author)cooldryplace2015-12-17

Ooh Ooh that reminds me, I wanted to do another book shelf, same style as this one, but in the shape of a rocket ship that was painted really vibrant colors and back lit with cool lights. I will be doing a video/Instructable on that as well in the future!

About This Instructable



Bio: My sister and I like to make things! And even more than making things, we like to share our creations! We want to create beautiful ... More »
More by PatrickW51:Pallet Wood Stair TreadsStanding Pallet Desk - Epoxy FinishedTiger Center Piece
Add instructable to: