Introduction: Build Your Own Hardwood Built-In Bookcases!

About: My love of making things started young, with a mom who was always coming up with projects and a dad whose tool collection still gives me envy. I got my love of bright colors from mom and my love of working wi…

We turned an awkward, useless space our master bedroom into the ultimate reading nook by building these amazing hardwood built-in bookcases. A home improvement project like this would cost many thousands of dollars to have done professionally, but that’s not necessary at all! We don’t have any professional training in carpentry and were still able to DIY our way into stunning built-ins made completely out of poplar using relatively few tools. This woodworking project was made so much easier thanks to having high quality, pre-drilled bookcase boards that we picked up at Lowe’s.


Poplar bookcase boards

1x12 poplar for shelves

1x8 poplar for top facing

1x6 poplar for bottom facing

1x4 poplar for vertical facing

1x2 poplar for shelf facing

2x4s for extra support

2x2s to support corner shelves

Trim / baseboards (optional) to match current room

Latex Paint (we used Sherwin Williams Infinity)

Painting supplies -

Wide painter’s tape -

Wood filler -

5mm shelf pins -

Miter saw:

Drill –

Pneumatic nail gun -

Air compressor -

Random Orbital Sander –

Measuring tape -

Prybar -

Safety glasses -

Ear protection -


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We bought all of our materials at Lowe’s pre-quarantine; however, since social distancing is recommended right now, we encourage you to either shop online and pick up in store or order what you can through a delivery service like Amazon.

Step 1: Make the Frames for the Straight Bookcases

Making the frames for the standard/straight bookcases is really easy!

Gather the following materials: hardwood bookcase boards (2 for each bookcase), carpenter’s square, 1x2’s, 1x12’s, 2x4’s, power saw (we used a miter saw, but a table saw or circular saw would be appropriate substitutions), measuring tape, straight edge, nail gun, air compressor and clamps.

Follow these steps:

1. Determine the height you want your bookcases to be.

2. Measure & mark both the right & left side of Hardwood Project Bookcase Boards.

Tip: We put some of the shelf pins in the top and bottom holes and used a straight edge to measure from there. That way, the shelves were sure to be level.

3. Use a power saw to cut both boards to length.

Note: Even if you want to keep the bookcases the full height of the board, we recommend truing up the ends by cutting a small portion off the top and bottom. You should true up any piece of wood you work with when precision is important.

4. Determine how high the bottom bookshelf should be from the bottom of the bookcase.

5. Cut a cleat out of a 1x2, ensuring that you leave enough room on either side for a 2x4 to fit when stood on its short side.

6. Clamp cleat in place, ensuring that it is centered.

7. Using a nail gun, fasten cleat at desired height of the bottom bookshelf.

8. Determine desired width of bookcase, and then cut 1x12" boards for the top and bottom.

Tip: Do not exceed 42" in width.

9. Fasten bottom shelf onto cleat on both sides with the nail gun.

Tip: Ensure that you are working on a level surface or use shims to level everything. Also, a carpenter’s square can help ensure that you have clean, 90 degree angles.

10. Cut two pieces of a 2x4 to the same length of the bottom shelf.

11. Insert one 2x4 under shelf on the front of the unit and nail into place.

12. Flip the unit over and repeat, inserting a 2x4 on the back of the unit, underneath the bottom shelf.

12. Move to the top of the unit and put top board in place.

13. Fasten top board on both sides with the nail gun, ensuring both bookcase sideboards are level with each other.

14. Repeat the steps above for the second bookcase.

Step 2: ​Make the Frame for the Corner Bookcase

The steps for the corner bookcase are nearly identical to the straight bookcases. The only difference is that your bottom shelf and top board will have a 90 degree turn in them.

Gather the following materials: drill with drill bit, dowel pins, glue, hardwood bookcase boards (2 for each bookcase), 1x2’s, 1x12’s, 2x4’s, power saw (we used a miter saw, but a table saw or circular saw would be appropriate substitutions), measuring tape, straight edge, nail gun, air compressor and clamps.

Follow these steps:

1. Repeat steps 1-7 in the previous section to attach the cleats to each sideboard.

2. Determine desired measurements of the corner bookcase.

3. Use a power saw to cut four pieces of 1x12 at a 45-degree angle for the top and bottom.

4. Glue the 1x12 pieces at a 90 degree angle

5. Use two scrap pieces of 1x2 to create braces for the boards by screwing them into place.

Tip: Ensure that the 1x2 brackets are on top of the top board and on the underside of the bottom shelf. We've included close ups of the top and bottom in the photos for reference.

6. Cut four pieces of a 2x4 to the same dimensions of the bottom shelf, one for supporting the front and one for the back.

7. Screw the 2x4s together to form the "L".

Tip: If your 2x4s will not touch the floor when secured in place, add a small support block to make up the difference.

8. Hang one side of the bottom shelf off of your workbench and fasten bottom shelf onto one sideboard, nailing into the cleat and then from the outside with the nail gun.

9. Secure the 2x4s in the front and back of the bottom shelf. It will be helpful to clamp them in place.

10. Stand the unit up to attach the other sideboard.

11. Lay unit down again and fasten top of bookcase together on both sides with the nail gun.

Step 3: ​Secure Frames in Place

Now that your frames are made, you’ll want to secure them together and to the wall!

Gather the following materials: pry bar, clamps, drill, wood screws, stud finder, and brackets.

Follow these steps:

1. Remove baseboards around area you want to install your bookcases using a pry bar.

2. Move bookcase frames into place.

3. Clamp bookcase frames together.

4. Use wood screws to attach bookcase frames together.

5. Find the studs in your wall with a stud finder.

6. Use a metal bracket to secure the bookcase frames too wall.

7. Add additional nails in bottom shelves into the 2x4s to increase rigidity.

Step 4: ​Cut Shelves for All Bookcases

Now that your bookcase frames are securely in place, you can cut the rest of your shelves. We waited until this point to ensure that we liked the overall size of the built-ins in place, as well as to ensure that we took out any potential bends in the boards by screwing them together once they were in place. You can be creative here and have an uneven number of shelves in each bookcase. We chose a clean, symmetrical look.

Gather the following materials: power saw (we used a miter saw, but you can also use a table saw or circular saw), 1x12s, dowels, wood glue, clamps, and measuring tape.

For the straight shelves, follow these steps:

1. Determine how many shelves you would like to have in each bookcase. We cut 5 shelves (for a total of six per bookcase with the bottom shelf that is already installed).

2. Measure the width of the first straight bookcase.

3. Use a power saw to cut desired number of shelves and sand until smooth.

4. Repeat steps above for the second straight bookcase.

For the corner shelves, follow these steps:

1. Cut the 1x12s on a 45 degree angle to the desired length.

2. Line up corresponding shelf pieces with the 45 degree cuts facing you.

3. Drill three evenly spaced holes in each board, large enough to accept a small wood dowel.

4. Lay down a strip of glue on the end, as well as into all holes.

5. Insert dowel pins and join boards, creating a 90 degree angle.

6. Clamp and let cure overnight.

7. Sand along the joint to ensure that there is no residual wood glue.

Step 5: ​Attach Facing to Built-In Bookcases

For a truly upscale look, you’ll want to “face” your bookcases. We used 1x4s for the vertical facings, 1x6s for the bottom facing, and 1x8 for the top facing. We’ll hold off on the facing for the shelves until they are in place.

Gather the following materials: facing boards in desired widths, 2x4s, nail gun, air compressor, pencil, power saw.

Note before you begin: Rather than relying on a measuring tape, we cut each piece of facing to the exact width of the unit.

For the bottom facing, follow these steps:

1. Make a 45 degree cut vertically on one end of the board you will use for your bottom facing. We started on the long side.

2. Put board in place and use a pencil to mark the correct length.

3. Make a 45 degree cut vertically, ensuring that the corner points out from the unit.

4. Lay the board in place (we’ll secure all boards once they are all cut).

5. Repeat the steps above for the entire length of the bottom of the unit.

6. Once all boards are cut, secure in place with a nail gun.

For the top facing, follow these steps:

1. Make a 2x4 support to run the entire length of the top of the unit. This will serve as vertical reinforcement when nailing the top facing into place.

Tip: We joined the boards at 90 degrees and left ours in two pieces to make it easier to manage.

2. Secure the 2x4 in place using a nail gun (nail from the top board up into the 2x4).

3. Repeat steps for the bottom facing to mark, cut and secure top facing in place.

Note: As we do not have any crown moldings in the house, we opted to make the top sides flush with the bookcase boards.

For the vertical facing, follow these steps:

1. Put board in place and use a pencil to mark the correct length.

2. Use a power saw to cut the board to length.

3. Repeat for all vertical boards.

Tip: We used 1x4s which meant that we would have a larger overlap on the outsides of the built-in bookcases, and a smaller overlap where the individual units meet.

4. Ensure that outside facing boards are flush with the outside of the unit.

5. Secure outside boards in place using a nail gun.

6. Ensure that the two middle vertical facings boards are centered in front of the sideboards and fasten with a nail gun.

Step 6: ​Paint Bookcases, Shelves and Baseboards

Now your creation is coming together! Just a few final steps.

Gather the following materials: painter’s tape, wood filler and spatula, latex paint, paint brush, and paint roller.

Follow these steps:

1. Use wood filler to fill in any holes from the nails or gaps where boards meet.

2. Let filler dry and sand until flush.

3. Use painter’s tape as needed to protect the parts of your wall that you don’t want to paint.

4. Paint bookcases, shelves and any additional trim (facing for shelves, baseboards, etc.) that you plan to use as a part of your unit.

5. Follow the instructions on your paint for re-coating and dry times.

Tip: Be careful to not overload your roller with paint when painting the insides of the bookcase sideboards. Paint will gather in the holes and then make it difficult to insert the shelf pins.

Step 7: Insert and Face Shelves, Attach Baseboards

And we’re down to the final step!!

Gather the following materials: 5mm shelf pins, painted shelves, 1x2s, power saw, nail gun, air compressor, wood filler, paint, pencil, and baseboards

Follow these steps:

1. Decide the desired height of the shelves.

2. Insert 4 shelf pins into pre-drilled holes.

3. Place shelf on top of pins.

4. Repeat these steps until all shelves are in place.

Tip: To support the corner shelves, we cut 2x2 wood and painted it the color of the wall (light grey).We then cut it to the height needed in between the shelves to support them in the back corners.

5. Once the shelves are in place, cut and paint the facings for the shelves using 1x2s.

6. Attach shelf facings using a nail gun, ensuring that the tops of the facing are flush with the shelves.

7. Use wood filler and a small amount of paint to cover the holes in the shelf facings.

8. Let dry.

9. Nail baseboards around bottom, creating a seamless look with the rest of your room.

Step 8: ​Decorate and Enjoy!

Woo hoo! Can you believe what you just made? We sure couldn’t believe that we did this all by ourselves, with no carpentry training. Now you can decorate your new built-ins and stop, stare and smile at them every time you pass them by.

If you liked this project, please head over to for more tips, tutorials, back stories and more. And if you’re interested in checking out more of our video tutorials, check out our Instructables profile or head over to our YouTube channel.

Big thanks to the team at American Millwork, who sponsored the video for this project.

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