Built in Bookshelves

Introduction: Built in Bookshelves

My wife and I have "vaulted" ceilings in our small home, which created a small ledge in our living room that was not useful for much.  We used this space to display various chiotchkies for the past few years, until recently when we had the idea of built in bookshelves!

In addition to the shelves, which are currently a little hard to access, we are going to be making and installing a rolling ladder.  That, however, is another instructable for another time.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Miter saw (Chop saw)
Drill - both for drilling holes and driving screws
Tape measure
Stud finder
Square or Straightedge (a ruler is fine)
Countersink drill bit, #8 (to match the screws)
Putty knife

Melamine shelving, 3/4" x 11 3/4" x 97"
MDF board, primed, 1" x 2"
Screws, #8 x 1"
Screws, 2" drywall
Liquid nails (or other construction adhesive)
Caulk, interior grade
Paint, interior grade
Painters putty

I was able to find everything I needed in one trip to my local home improvement store.  I have occasionally had trouble finding a source for the primed MDF boards, but there are a lot of alternatives out there.  Base moulding works great (used upside down), or 1 x 2 pine boards, or even 2" strips of 3/4 plywood would be fine, really, whatever you like.

I also spent a little time clearing off all our stuff and cleaning the ledge off.  It was pretty dusty up there!

Step 2: Layout

This took a little time because the space we were using is not square, but just a few suggestions to keep in mind.

I don't want the shelves to sag, so I planned them to be 30" to 32" wide.

I tried to keep my shelves to one of three heights: 7", 10", or 14".  The 7" shelves work great for paperback books, and the 10" shelves are great for most of our hardbacks.  The 14" shelves were made for a few of our taller books like yearbooks, dictionaries, a few photography and artwork books, binders, etc.

I ended up having two 14" tall shelves that are both 32" long, and it is WAY more than we needed.  If we could do it again, the majority would be 10" because they have been the most versatile, and the first to fill up.  We could really use a few more.  While the goal was for 7", 10", or 14" shelves, I did make a few adjustments to that to take the overall aesthetic into account, so there are a few "odd" sizes mixed in.

Step 3: Cut Your Support Strips

Now onto cutting strips of the MDF boards that will support the sides and back of each shelf.  The sides are all the same length, and you need two per shelf, so I ended up needing 30, but I cut a few extra just in case some of them split as I was drilling and screwing them down.  I also cut off the Front at 45 degrees to give them a slightly smaller profile and make them less prominent.

I chose for the support along the wall to be full length, so the side pieces each need to be 3/4" shorter than the depth of the shelf they support.

Step 4: Install Vertical Dividers

I started by cutting the vertical dividers, and dry fitting them one at a time.  Because of the pitch of the ceiling, I had to cut the top of each vertical shelf at a 14 degree angle.  Dry fit it in place and take some measurements to get the exact length of horizontal shelf you will need, and it wouldn't hurt to mark the location so that you can get your divider back where it should be when we finally install it permanently.

Once you have a good horizontal measurement, take the shelf down and install the shelf supports which will control the height between shelves.  Start by carefully laying out and marking lines where the supports should be attached.  If you aren't careful, you could end up with shelves that aren't level, so measure twice, install once.

Set your countersink drill bit to match the length of your screws.  Lay your support strip on the melamine shelf, line it up with the layout marks, and drill two holes.  I placed one near the front and one near the back, but exact placement is not critical here, and finally, drive your screws tight.  Be careful not to counter sink too deep or drive your screws too far and have a screw stick through on the other side.

Put the vertical divider back in place and use the side supports to help hold the long back supports in place while you fix them to the wall.  I use a small bead of construction adhesive along the back, then screw into any studs you can find.

To install the dividers may take a little patience.  Make sure you go back and line up with the dry fit marks (or your shelves won't fit), and set the dividers in place.  Put a thin bead of construction adhesive on the back edge of the divider, where it will meet the wall, and use shims to get the dividers to sit perfectly vertical.  This is important so that your shelves don't slope from front to back.

The dividers should not move very much, but they are not really well fixed in place just yet.  They won't be super stable until you get the shelves set in place, so be gentle as you work with them.

Step 5: Shelf Installation

Once your supports are all in place, you are ready to put in the shelves.  As you cut the actual shelves, be sure to label each group so you can keep track of where they should be installed.  If you can, use a new blade in your saw to minimize chipping the melamine surface of your shelves, and make your cuts slowly.  You could also use a strip of tape to help support the melamine as you cut.  A few small chips and a little roughness will be covered when we caulk, so this isn't critical, but bigger chips will be harder to cover, so do be careful.

Place a shelf on top of the supports, then countersink and screw it down tight.  You could put a small bead of adhesive under the shelf, but I don't think it makes a big difference, and I didn't do this to my shelves

Step 6: Finish Work

So you have shelves, But they don't look too great yet.  Take the painters putty and using your puttyy knife, fill all the holes from your screws.  Just put a small bit on the end of the knife, and scrape it over the hole.  It may take more than one pass, and the putty will contract as it dries, so you may have to go back and add a second coat depending on how deep the hole is you are filling.  Give it a few hours, or overnight, to dry, and sand it smooth.

Once the putty is smooth and sanded, caulking is in order.  Put a thin bead anywhere you have one surface meeting another.  shelf to divider, shelf to wall, divider to wall, etc....   Also run a bead at the bottom and top of the vertical dividers where they meet the ceiling or the base they are sitting on, and don't forget under the shelves.

Again, any place where you have different surfaces meeting each other, you want a bead of caulk to ease the transition.  You can use a caulking tool to smooth out your bead, but I prefer to use my finger as I have a little more control.  Just run your finger along the bead, squishing the caulk into the gap between surfaces and leaving a uniform concave caulk surface behind.  The most challenging spots are inside corners where you have three caulk lines converging.

You can see from the pictures that I actually putty and caulk as I go, not wait until the end, but either way works just fine.

Step 7: Paint and Done

Once you have caulk and putty, you are ready to paint.  The melamine doesn't need to be (can't be?) painted, so I got some Behr 8050, un-tinted high gloss white paint, which was the best color match I could find.  I only needed one or two coats on the primed part of the MDF boards to make them match, but four or five coats on the raw cut MDF sections.  Give it a day or two to dry, then, go ahead and load up.  You have books, and now you have a place to put them, get busy filling your shelves!

Be the First to Share


    • Woodworking Contest

      Woodworking Contest
    • Stick It Challenge

      Stick It Challenge
    • Origami Speed Challenge

      Origami Speed Challenge



    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    We actually built a ladder. Originally planned for a rolling ladder, but decided against it because of the space they take up. I've added a small bar along the front edge of the top of the wall, and the ladder has some small recesses that hook into the bar for stability.

    I've planned to do another instructable just for the ladder, but it probably won't be really soon.

    Thanks for the look and the comment!