Introduction: Inset Bookcase

This is a simple MDF bookshelf inset into a pine surround with a shadow gap for a simple design with character.

The overall size was 850 x 190 x 900mm (WxDxH), with 3 bookshelf compartments.


9mm 1220 x 2440 (4” x 8”) MDF sheet

16mm 607 x 1800 (2” x 4”) MDF sheet

2 No. 190 x 20 x 1800mm redwood, planed

34x34mm 1200 pine, planed

Wood glue

Wood primer

Wood paint (I chose orange)

16 No. 1" x 8 screws

Panel pins


Table saw

Mitre saw

Radial Arm Saw

Screw driver


Sand paper and block

Paint brush


Rubber mallet (or a block to protect shelves when knocking into place)

Step 1: Step 1: Cutting List

2 No. 850 x 180mm pine

2 No. 900 x 180mm pine

4 No. 752 x 140mm 18mm MDF (Horizontal shelves)

2 No. 820 x 140mm 18mm MDF (Vertical supports)

1 No. 832 x 882mm 9mm MDF (Unit back support)

4 No. 150mm 34 x 34mm pine blocks (For the corners) Although I found it easier to leave as a single length and cut down later as will be explained.

Step 2: Step 2: Cutting the Pine Surround

The surround will use mitre joints with internal blocks to secure the corners and support the shelving unit.

The redwood planks were cut down to roughly 950mm lengths using a hand saw, choosing sections that ensure knots in the wood are not going to interfere with the joints.

Then, using a mitre saw the sections were clamped into place and the mitres cut. This could be done using a radial arm saw but I didn't have one available at the this stage in the project.

I then set the table saw to a height of 9mm and the guide to 9mm from the outer edge of the blade so that a rebate could be cut for the MDF back that will be fixed to keep the unit square. Each of the pieces were run through at this setting.

The pieces were then all sanded to remove any rough edges.

Step 3: Step 3: Cutting the Internal Block Corner Supports

This stage was a little complex as I wanted the blocks to be slightly hidden and fade back.

Initially the table saw was set to cut 14mm and then the 34mm sq pine was passed through on both sides of one corner to leave a groove.

For the angled fade I set the table saw blade to 45 degrees with the bottom corner 106mm from the table guide, then built a 45 degree jig that was 106mm wide using an MDF offcut so that the blocks could be cut to fade from one corner.

This was done 4 times to create a block for each corner.

Counter sunk pilot holes were then pre drilled into the blocks in order to make fixing easy and ensure that the screws didn't protrude, which would effect how the internal MDF unit sat. As these will be hidden they do not need to be perfectly aligned but i recommend trying to center them along the groove.

Step 4: Step 4: Cutting the Bookshelf Back

The shop I bought the MDF from were actually able to cut this down almost exactly to size in store as I need the sheet cut down to fit in the car, so investigate this as they can do it quite accurately.

The table saw was used to cut the final edge down to size (832 x 882mm).

Step 5: Step 5: Glueing the Surround and Back

In order to keep the unit square at this stage I built a cross jig with half lap cuts, using offcuts from the 9mm board used for the back.

Sitting the pine sections on previously cut shelf back and applying wood glue to each of the mitres, the surround was positioned around the cross jig. In true DIY style, as I don't have large enough clamps, I used roof straps around the unit in order to tighten the joints into place.I also cut blocks for the outside corners to prevent the straps leaving indents as they were tightened.

Excess glue was then wiped off and the unit flipped over (don't worry about the back falling out we will fix this in the next stage) and any other glue wiped. Using a square and rubber mallet the frame was also adjusted to be square.

I then left the unit to dry over night but 6 hours would be enough time before you could remove the straps/clamps in my opinion.

The back was then fixed, applying wood glue to the rebate and then using panel pins to further secure the back into place. At this stage i used the straps again here in a cross formation to pull the sides in.

The internal corner blocks were then screwed into place, with the flat end of the blocks against the back of the unit.

Step 6: Step 6: Cutting the Internal Frame

Unfortunately I seemed to forget to photograph most of this stage, partly because I had to go to a friends to borrow their radial arm saw.

However, the MDF sheet was cut down to 140mm strips length ways. Then each of the pieces were cut down to size as per the cutting list using a radial arm saw.

The rebates for the shelf supports were then cut by setting the radial arm to cut to a 9mm depth, cutting out the ends first and then working up from the bottom with 250mm intervals.

Step 7: Step 7: Painting MDF

As I don't like the look of MDF I had decided to paint the MDF.

For this I recommend using a primer first followed by two coats of the paint. Best to follow instruction of tin at this point though to be sure.

A little tip here is using masking tape 8/9mm from the ends and in the slots to protect the edges that will be fitting in the slots, just to ensure they still do when it comes to be fitted later on! This also helps with dribbling paint at the ends too.

I also ignored painting the sides that would be hidden by the shadow gap facing the pine, so it is only the middle shelves that required painting both sides (and even these could be done just the one side if you are lazy!).

I then sanded down any excess paint at the joints to ensure a good fit.

Step 8: Step 8: Fixing/fitting Internal Frame

Using a rubber mallet (or tent mallet) and a roof strap again I formed the internal frame.

The joints were then pinned at the ends using panel pins to secure the frame.

The internal frame was then knocked into place within the pine surround, using a rubber mallet again.

And there you have it! An inset bookcase.