Introduction: Building a Bookshelf Onto Existing Furniture

In this instructable, I will explain how I added a small bookshelf to an entertainment center. The shelf's dimensions were constrained by the entertainment center's location in the room, the dimensions of the "salvaged" wood I used, and an awkwardly large Historical Atlas of the United States by National Geographic, Centennial Edition no less. This collectible collection of information about the history of the U.S. claims a conflicted attraction to me and has plagued my amateur book keeping since my acquisition of the book in 2007. In the picture, the atlas towers over a small fiction paperback, a "citable" non-fiction and great read I would recommend to anyone ("citability" determined by length of bibliography which in this case is approximately 40% of the pages in the book!), and the largest scholarly textbook I could muster. The height of the atlas is about 21". I digress.

I will provide my dimensions. Hopefully, they will scale to your needs if you build something similar. More importantly, hopefully by me providing dimensions and explanations of my errors you can build more efficiently and thoroughly. Some time did pass between the creation of this project and the instructable. I will be as accurate as possible, but as a disclaimer, I may cheat and say: "I measured and cut."

As always, safety first. This project was planned and constructed at my skill level, which is about as proficient as a dolphin. Any recommendations or insights to improve my labor are welcome; Instructable formatting-wise recommendations are welcome as well. Have fun!

I entered this instructable in a contest. If you find it worthy, please vote for it. Thank you.

Step 1: Planning!

The problem was: too many books, limited space, and an excessively large book. I scratched out an idea of what fit our needs (top right quadrant). Next, I got the dimensions of the largest books I needed to accommodate. The atlas from nat geo stretched me to at least 21" high, some children's books to 12" deep (the maximum depth possible was 18" - the depth of the entertainment center), the position of the entertainment center left me with 14" width to the wall*. Figuring based on dimensions of material in top left quadrant.

* the width gets cut slightly.

Towards the bottom right quadrant of the paper, I drafted the size and quantity of each piece I needed. In the bottom left quadrant, I ordered what I thought would be the most efficient cuts and assembly. Some changes occurred, I will note these as available. These plans are the guidelines for this instructables. Not all changes made it to the paper.

My base material

3 - 2"x4"x72" (actual size 1.5"x3.5"x~72")

1 - 5/8" plywood 44"x44"

Tentative material list

(If any math does not adding up, drop a comment and I will fix to the best of my recollection/ability).


2 - 70 1/4"x 0.75"x 1.75" - far legs

4 - 14"x 14" 5/8 plywood* - shelves

4 - 14"X 2" 5/8 plywood - front shelf valance

4 - 12"x 2" 5/8 plywood - rear book stop

4 - 12"-14" scrap 5/8" plywood - side book end

7(+1) - 14"x 0.75"x 1.75" - shelf rests (top rear brace)

1 - 14"x 0.75"x 2" - bottom E center rest

1 - 14"x 2"x4"(nominal) notched - top E center rest

1 - 15.5"x 2"x4"(nominal)notched - top leg brace

1 - 14"x 2"x4" (nominal) - top front brace

Tool list

(Some tools optional as your operation may vary.)

tape measure

marking device - pencil/chalk line

circular saw

table saw



power sander

various grades of sand paper

pneumatic brad nailer

5/8" brad nails

pre-drill bit (3/64")


drill with bit for screws

wood glue





Step 2: Plywood Cuts

My plywood comes 5/8" thick and 44"x 44",

My shelves are 14" wide, so that was my first cut on the table saw. I was ended with 2 strips 14"x44" and 1 strip about 14.47". A circular saw will also work to cut the plywood, or a jig saw or hand saw if you have the patience.

My shelves are 14" deep. That was the next cut. The two strips 14" wide, I cut 14" long with some excess pieces.

From the 14" wide excess pieces you will need to cut 8 pieces 2" wide. 4 of those you will cut down to 12". These pieces will stop the books on the back of the shelve and cover the front of the shelve.

From the scrap I cut the book ends. The length at least 13" and width varying width depending on available scrap pieces - split between 4 book ends (I had 1 4", 2 3", and 1 1.5")

Step 3: Cutting the Legs

To cut the legs, set your table saw to half the width of a 2x4 (0.75") or mark with a tape measure and chalk line. Make the cut.

The shady, poor-man photoshop pic shows splitting a 2x4 propped on a truck bed. Use safety and multiple/ different angles if needed to make a safe cut.

The main legs I cut to the maximum workable height (top of entertainment center), for my shelves - 70 1/4".

Split another 2x4 for the shelf rests.

The shelf rests I cut to the width of my shelves - 14". You will need 8 of these pieces. (all from 1 2x4).

Yet another 2x4 I cut (not split):

1 14" x 2"x4"

1 15.25"x 2"x 4"

1 16.25"x 2"x4"

1 14"x 1.5"x 1.75" (this one is actually split if capable)

Some of these pieces will be notched.

Hopefully the pictures show the progression of the material.

Step 4: Preparing the Shelves

On the 14"x 14" shelves I marked the legs to be notched out. These notches are on the same side to accommodate for the legs on that side of the shelves.

I used a jigsaw to make the notches. Shout out to guyzo35 who Inspired my jigsaw conversion.

I sanded each piece of the shelf with 80 grade - good enough for me.

Fill up your air compressor and load your brad nailer!

Next we will be assembling the shelves. Perhaps too late, nevertheless, think about the pieces with knots and imperfections you don't want showing.

Drop a bead of glue on front and back of shelf before squaring and nailing.

The 12"x2" book stops go on the back oriented up for practical reasons, and the 14"x 2" pieces are oriented down on the front of the shelves for aesthetics.

I used the pneumatic brad nailer set-up and glue to secure the stops and 'covers'.

Step 5: Prepping the Supports

*Design changes occurred here. I mention my recommendations first over my process.

On the legs, I measured and cut and chiseled half grooves for the shelf rests. I measured the locations for the shelves - top and bottom based on the final width of the shelf rests [I mention this for the width could vary depending on how square the split of the 2x was]- and made a series of grooves with the jig saw (removed from the "scroll saw" mount). After the grooves were cut, I used a chisel and hammer to remove the pieces.

The bottom of the shelves started at 2", 26", 41", and 53" measured from the ground.

Next, I measured and grooved the spots for the book ends. I decided I wanted each book end to be 6" above the shelves. I did the math, marked, and used the router to make a groove the appropriate width 6" above the notches for the shelf rests. The appropriate width was dependent upon the width I was able to cut the scrap pieces in the plywood cut step. I think I ended up with 1 piece 4" wide, 2 pieces 3" wide and 1 piece 1.5" wide. I used a 1/2" straight flute bit with the router. I had to widen the groove a bit - given my shakey hands, that was required just to make it half symmetrical.

I aimed for a router depth of 1/2" on each leg. Check router depth between cuts - I Didn't tighten enough and had to adjust during the operation.

Step 6: Sanding

I spared the pics of sanding. Not my best moments. Do your best to smooth rough surfaces. I used a handheld power sander, controversly, in order to sand somewhat acceptably. I hand sanded in the grooves I made with the jigsaw and router. Treat your wood as you want to be treated. I started some pieces at 40 grit and worked to 120 as that's what I keep on hand. I often read about 220 and finer being used for interior pieces. Your preference will vary.

Step 7: Stain and Polyurethane

I stained every piece with basic stain advertised as English Chestnut.

As I worked, I followed the recommendation that was provided. After so long, flip a piece and cover the other side with stain


Again, skipping some pics. I attached some eye bolts and hung some pieces when polyurethaning in order to cover all parts.

Step 8: Assemble and Polyurethane

With the leg pieces, first prepare the book ends. Drop some glue in the grooves, put the book ends in. Add glue to the opposite sides of the book ends and affix the opposite shelf leg. Make sure the legs are 14" apart. After a short setting time, you can add some glue into the grooves for the shelf supports. Place the shelf supports in the grooves. I needed to pre-drill holes for the screw, from the outside of the shelf legs. Screw in the shelf rests from the main legs. The outer shelf should be assembled which includes the legs and shelf support.

Let the glue set.

Once set, I applied a polyurethane finish as required. Most pieces I mounted to the ceiling in order to apply a uniform first coat.

One coat of polyurethane is all I could apply before I needed my home space back.

Step 9: Polyurethane

Once the bulk of the shelf is assembled, apply the finish to the remaining pieces.

I had to hang most of the pieces to apply a uniform finish.

Step 10: Assemble

Mark where you need your shelf supports to mount to the existing entertainment center. In this case I marked with a faint blue colored pencil- inside and out.

First, however, I added the 2" shelf rest to the bottom shelf. the third picture.

Next, I eyeballed the entertainment side shelf rests with the previous measurements. Some marks were made to level the shelves - measurements from the bottom of the shelf to level to the ground.

The shelve mounts were mounted from the inside of the entertainment center. The shelf rests were squared with the back of the entertainment center. You may need to predrill the holes in order to mount the shelf rests.

The top pieces were mounted to square the shelves. One in the back not pictured.

Step 11: Shelf Assembly

In order to assemble the shelves, they need to be applied at an angle and dropped in. Some miscellaneous screws were drilled to secure pieces and secure shelves to the entertainment enter as needed.

Step 12: Assemble and Enjoy!

Fill with books, then realize your shelf is not nearly large enough! The last pic is what I planned to fill the shelves with. However, the shelves are already full!

I put this instructable in a contest. If you fell it is worthy, please vote.

Thank you!