Introduction: Tree Bookshelf DIY

About: My sister and I like to make things! And even more than making things, we like to share our creations! We want to create beautiful and compelling content that really helps people to get what they need!

Let's make a sweet bookshelf, one that sets a calm and natural ambiance!

The video above will walk through the the process and give you some solid tips. If you are a confident (or crazy adventurous), then that video might just be enough for you. This Instructable, however, will wade deeper into the project. It will also lay out the materials and tools that were used.

If you want to quickly skip through this Instructables, simply read through the Quick Guide sections at the top of each step.


  • 3 sheets of 3/4 inch thick 4 foot by 8 foot plywood
  • 1 box of 2" Deckmate screws
  • 1 bottle of wood glue (eg. Titebond)
  • 1 can of Paint Primer
  • 1can of Brown Paint
  • 1 pint of Polyurethane


  • Table Saw (optional if you can get home depot to cut the plywood for you)
  • Miter Saw (chop saw)
  • Drill
  • Sander (belt and/or orbital)
  • Clamps (I used 8 clamps)
  • Paint Brush or Roller
  • Disposable Brushes (for polyurethane application)
  • Pre-drill bit
  • Countersink Bit

Rough Cost Estimate: $150.00

Step 1: Cutting and Glueing the Plywood Together

Quick Step 1

  • Cut 2 sheets of plywood into 7" X 96" strips
  • Glue 3 strips together to form one 2.25" X 7" X 96" strip
  • Glue 2 strips together to form one 1.5" X 7" X 96" strip (repeat once to create two 1.5" X 7" X 96" strips)

Quick Step 1 Explained

Cutting the plywood down to size -

One of the sheets of plywood will act as the background and backbone for the tree, leave this one whole. The other two pieces need to be cut lengthwise (long strips) into 7 inch wide by 8 foot long pieces. This will yield 12 strips of 7" X 96" pieces and two ~5" X 96" piece. If you are purchasing your plywood at The Home Depot, you can get it cut down in strips there and save yourself the trouble at home. The reasoning behind the 7" thickness is that most books (when stood on end) are 5"-7" wide.

The tree branches are divided into three thicknesses:

  • 3/4 inch - single strip of 7" X 96" piece
  • 1 1/2 inch - two strips of 7" X 96" glued together
  • 2 1/4 inch - three strips of 7" X 96" glued together

Glueing the plywood together -

We want to create the three different branch thicknesses, so we need to glue a few of the sheets together. For the double thick branches (1.5" thick), take two strips of plywood, lather one side of one of the sheets with wood glue, press them together so that their front edges are flush and clamp them for at least 2 hours. Make sure that the glue is evenly spread across the surface of the plywood so it doesn't gap as the wood shrinks and expands over time. Repeat this process to create two strips that are 1.5" X 7" X 96".

For the main stem, you will need to glue three sheets of plywood together. This is done in the same way as above, except, glue is applied to either side of one of the strips and two strips are clamped on either side of it. Again, make sure that the front end of the branch (the side that will be sticking out) is relatively flush. This will minimized the amount of sanding required later.

Step 2: Measuring and Cutting the Branches

Quick Step 2

  • Cut Branches according to schematic above (blue: angle) (red: numbered branch)

Quick Step 2 Explained

The schematic above depicts the 37 branches and their angles. The angles are measured looking down at the tree just as the image depicts. It is important to note which side of the branch the angle is measured from since the measurements are always less than or equal to 45 degrees.

Branch Number - Branch length (inches) - Branch Angles (lower angle, upper angle)

The first number corresponds to branch number (red in the picture above).

The second number corresponds to the length of the branch in inches.

The third pair of numbers corresponds to the angles of the branch. The angles are formatted as follows: (lowest/closest-to-connecting-branch, highest/farthest-from-connecting-branch). For example take branch number 16 whose angles are (0, 10). The 0 degree angle refers to the side that is closest to the trunk, while the 10 degree angle refers to the side farthest from the trunk.

  1. 12 (0, 0)
  2. 10 (30, 30)
  3. 16 (0, 0)
  4. 7.5 (15, 30)
  5. 12 (5, 5)
  6. 6.5 (30, 30)
  7. 19 (20, 45)
  8. 10 (30, 30)
  9. 17 (0, 0)
  10. 14.5 (45, 0)
  11. 8 (45, 0)
  12. 7.75 (45, 0)
  13. 9.75 (0, 0)
  14. 6.5 (15, 45)
  15. 8.5 (15, 45)
  16. 8 (0, 10)
  17. 5.5 (20, 0)
  18. 9 (0, 0)
  19. 6 (10, 30)
  20. 9.75 (30, 10)
  21. 9 (30, 10)
  22. 7 (10, 30)
  23. 10 (15, 15)
  24. 10.5 (15, 0)
  25. 6.5 (0, 45)
  26. 11 (45, 45)
  27. 9 (45, 45)
  28. 8 (30, 45)
  29. 14 (30, 15)
  30. 6.5 (45, 0)
  31. 12.75 (30, 0)
  32. 5.5 (0, 45)
  33. 5 (10, 10)
  34. 12.5 (10, 0)
  35. 9 (10, 45)
  36. 14.75 (30, 45)
  37. 7 (30, 0)

Step 3: Prepping the Background

Quick Step 3

  • Lightly sand the background 4' X 8' sheet of plywood
  • Apply primer coat
  • Apply background brown color

Quick Step 3 Explained

Lightly sand the full 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood to remove any irregularities. Wipe done the plywood to remove any dust. Plywood will soak up your paint, that is why it is important to first apply a thick coat of primer to seal the wood and act as a base for the finish coat. Once the primer is dried (usually 30 to 90 minutes depending on brand, temperature and air movement), apply one or two coats of brown paint. We chose a deep brown so as to contrast the light color of the unstained plywood branches.

Step 4: Attaching the Branches to the Background

Quick Step 4

  • Lay out the pieces according to the schematic
  • Mark the edges of the branch you are attaching with rulers
  • Remove the branch (leaving the rulers exactly in place)
  • Pre-drill through the background and in-between the rulers
  • Remove any dust
  • Replace the branch back between the rulers
  • Pre-drill from the backside of the background into the branch, using the holes you just drilled as guides.
  • Drill countersink holes so the screw will sit flush against the back of the tree.
  • Screw into the branch from the backside of the background, through the holes you just pre-drilled.
  • Repeat this process for every branch

Quick Steps 4 Explained

Now it's time to attach the branches to the background. Start by laying out the entire tree, starting with the trunk, on the background according to the schematic.

Starting at the trunk, place a ruler on either side of the first trunk piece. Holding the rulers in place, remove the trunk piece. Drill at least 3 holes along the rulers using the pre-drill bit. Remove any dust and replace the trunk piece exactly between the rulers. While the piece is held in place and using the pre-drill bit, drill into the branch from the backside of the background. This is required so that the screws don't split the plywood branches. Use the countersink bit to make shallow wells where you pre-drilled. Using the Deckmate screws, screw into the branch from the backside of the background and through the holes you just pre-drilled. This is where it is important that all the sides of your branch are square, otherwise, the screws will pull them at angles.

This process must be repeated for each branch. In some cases, it maybe necessary to glue the pieces to each other AND screw them to the background. This was done with several of the smaller, 3/4" thick branches. Try and make the gaps between branches as small as possible, but don't worry too much about it because it adds character and is easily overlooked when the entire tree is assembled and sealed.

Step 5: Sanding and Staining

Quick Step 5

  • Sand the front of the tree branches (the grain lined side that faces outward)
  • Wipe down with a damp cloth. Ensure no dust is left on the tree
  • Coat the Branches and Background with Polyurethane
  • Let dry for at least 24 hours

Quick Step 5 Explained

Now that the tree is fully assembled, its time for the clean up. Take a sander to all the surfaces of the branches careful not to scuff up the painted background. It is best to use several different grits, for example, I used 36 grit to get the front of the tree all level, then 80 grit to smooth it out, and finished with 120 grit for a really smooth finish.

After you are finished sanding, wipe down the entire tree, including the background, with a damp rag. Make sure that there is no dust left on any surface. Allow the tree to air dry for an hour.

Get out your disposable brushes and Polyurethane. Coat the entire tree including the background. This will make the background assume a sheen that complements the dull coat on the branches.

Allow the Polyurethane to cure for at least 24 hours. Once it has dried, you will notice that it has raised rough burs on the branches. Take care of that by lightly sanding the branches (ONLY the branches, NOT the background) with a 120 or 150 grit orbital sander. Take care not to touch the sander to the background or it will scuff the sheen.

Wipe the tree down again with a damp rag to remove any Polyurethane dust. NOTE: during the sanding and wiping parts it is imperative that you wear a dust mask and Polyurethane dust is none biodegradable, meaning that it might not come out of your lungs if it gets in there.

Homemade Gifts Contest 2015

Runner Up in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2015