Introduction: STAX, a Modular Bookshelf Design

I have been asked to make a bookshelf for my granddaughter. I wanted a design that will function for all the different stages in her life. It should fit in a back of a car when she goes go off to college. Each unit needs to be movable without being emptied. The units should be rugged to hold up to the abuse of travel and of being young. Lastly they should be inexpensive and easy to make. I believe this design meets this criteria.

A PDF of the plans is included that gives the dimensions for units with a 16", 14", 12", and 10" clearance height for books. From these dimensions it is easy to calculate the dimensions for a different height unit. These units are 30" wide but, of course, you could change that. They are made from whitewood 2x6s, available at your home center, milled to 1" by 5 ¼". At this thickness they should not bow even under a full load of books. They are easy to cut out and assemble with either nails or screws.


Step 1: Rough Cut Wood

I will be making a 16", 14", two 12", and a 10" unit. Also there is to be a top unit. The units are 30" wide and, when all stacked, 75" Tall. It requires nine 2x6s at least 92" in length and one 2x4 at least the same length. Rough cut the wood. The PDF includes a layout guide for this combination of units. Making some different combination will require you determine the most efficient layout yourself. The rough cut dimensions are at least ¾" oversized. This will give enough room for final cutting after the wood is milled. I usually collect wood a month before I want to start and stop by the home center frequently to find the best boards in the pile. Something I only buy a single board at a time.

This is construction wood and will need to be put aside to dry. I like to give it a couple of weeks. Stack the pieces with sticks spacers (called stickers) between the layers. Each piece of wood should have at least a ½" air space between it and other boards on the top, bottom and sides.

Note in the second photo that the 2x4, cut into three pieces is of the bottom. So is the one 2x6, however it has also been ripped in half to give six pieces.

Step 2: Resaw the 2x4s and 2x3s

After about a week of drying, I take the boards on the bottom of the stack (2x3s and 2x4s) and cut them lengthwise (rip or resaw) to get 12 1x3s, and six 1x4s. Restack everything and continue to let the stack dry. This cutting can be done with a band saw however I really suck at resawing so I used my table saw. I use a thin blade with a 7¼" diameter. On my saw it will raise to 1¾" or enough to clear 3½". The blade has a kerf less than 1/16" (0.059"). It leaves a nice finish and is cheap.

Thin Kerf Blade..

Step 3: Finish Milling Wood

After allowing the wood to completely dry, finish milling the pieces. The sides and shelf material are 1" by 5¼". The back slats are ½" by 3" and ½" by 2½.

Step 4: Cutting Fixture for the Side Pieces.

The side pieces will need to be cut at angles of 30 degrees. I show this fixture to point out three things.

This is my cutting sled that has a internal size of 17" from front to back with 10" to the left and 20" to the right of the blade. I have tacked a piece of 1/8" MDF in place to give me zero gap between the blade and the kerf it cuts. I do this every time I have a project that require exact cutting.

The fence is a strip of 3/8" Baltic plywood. A 30/60 drafting square is used to set the angle. It is set so there is a least 3" on the left side of the blade. The reason will become apparent in the next step. There is also a small stop used to set the length for cutting (and an extra one in case the first one breaks).

To get the boards to fit in the sled I had to trim off 5" of the cradle's back fence.

Step 5: Cutting Side Pieces for Top Shelf

Top to shelf in different in that no other shelves can be stacked on it. From the drawing you will see the measurement on the inside edge is 2-31/32". Set the piece on the fence and move it until it the length is right and then nail a stop to the sled to mark the distance. Cut four pieces like this.

Step 6: Cut Side Pieces

For each of the remaining side pieces cut a 30 degree bevel on one side. Then measure the desired length and nail the stop in place to make the second cuts. Each shelf unit will need four of these side pieces.

Step 7: Assemble Sides

Each side will be made from two of the side pieces. Mark the faces that will be glued together and on each these faces make 45 degree 1/8" bevel cuts on both the top and bottom edges. This bevel allows the pieces to be glued together without any apparent gap. It will not be necessary to plane the sides flat after assembly. Glue and clamp the pieces together, Finish sand each side when complete.

Step 8: Assemble Shelf Pieces

Each shelf will be made from two of the shelf pieces. Mark the faces that will be glued together and on these faces make 45 degree 1/8" bevel cuts on both the top and bottom edges. This bevel allows the pieces to be glued together without any apparent gap. It will not be necessary to plane the sides flat after assembly. Glue and clamp the pieces together, Finish sand each side when complete. Then cut all of them to 28" in length. Also cut a scrap piece of wood to this length, This is a reference to the exact width of the shelves.

Step 9: Assemble Sides to Shelves

Take each side and mark a line 1" from the bottom. Then glue the sides into place and clamp. The shelf is on 1" spaces to keep it at the right position. After the glue has dried you will have to nail or screw the sides to the shelf. Mark the position for the screws, 1½" from the bottom, ½" from both edges, 1 ¾" from each edge, and screw or nail.

Step 10: Thoughts About Painting

Now my Granddaughter is four and the color she has requested for her shelves is a bright purple. Very appropriate for her age, but what when she is older?. So I decided to only paint the outside of each shelf unit. This gives her the color she wants now but it still will look nice when she is older. I will paint now before the back slats are attached.

Mask the edges of each side's piece , them apply paint. I am using a purple milk paint stain made from one part premixed red milk paint, one part premixed blue milk paint, and three parts water. Apply the paint with foam brush. Let the paint set for about five minutes and wipe of with a clean cloth. . After the paint dries remove tape and sand or scrape any excess paint that leaked under the tape. I then burnish (rub) the finish with a bunched up piece of liquor bag paper. (Those really thin bags.)

Now if you are not going to paint at all, or paint the whole thing then skip this step.

If you are only going to just paint the inside of the sides then I guess you would paint the them before attaching them to the shelf (The previous step.)

Step 11: Attach Slats

First finish sand all the slats. Start with the top shelf and use the reference piece to set the exact spacing at the top of this shelf. Place this unit front side down Take a 3" wide stat and place on the back and cut to fit. Now glue and nail or screw into place.

Place the next shelf good side down. Now set the shelf above it in place. This allows you the set the proper width of this shelf at its top. This will guarantee that each shelf will slip on to the shelf below. Fix slats into place. Now use this shelf to help build the shelf below it. Repeat until done.

Step 12: Finishing

Use your finish of choice. I used two coats of shellac as a sealer followed by two coats of lacquer. You could paint the whole thing if you wanted, even making each unit a different color.

Step 13: Assembly

Assemble is as easy is stacking each unit on top of another. Determine where each unit should be and go to town. These units fit very well together and if you want secure it to the wall you need only bolt the unit below to top pieces. Just drill two holes in one of its slats and bolt to the wall. We decided to make a stack of five units and a top piece. We may later decide to change it to one stack of three units and another stack of two units and the top piece.

Step 14: Options

In the future when I believe my grandchildren will no longer want to climb on it, I will add handles on the sides. With a bungee cord across the front the books will stay in place while being moved and serve as their own packing crate..