Bookcase Shelf Hole Jig

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About: I'm Giles, a woodworker, kitchen fitter, anything to do with tools guy living in Lancashire in the North West of England.

I'm building some cabinets for a client at the moment and needed to drill a series of 5mm holes for bookshelf pins. You can buy all kinds of jigs that do this, but with a couple of scraps of wood, a couple of very basic tools, and a pair of 5mm drill bits, you can make your own pretty easily.

I could have just marked out a couple of hundred pencil lines and started drilling, but for the shelves to sit perfectly flat the holes need to be perfect, and I also think that the time saved more than covers the time to make the jig (and probably the second one I made to photograph for here, and the time to sit down and write this guide....)

To get the spacing identical on every single hole, I made a jig, which I used to make a bigger jig, which I used to do the job.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Some of these are optional, others are not, but to give you an idea of what you are likely to need...

  • Wood to make the jig from. I used scraps of 18mm MDF.
  • Two 5mm drill bits (or whatever diameter your shelf brackets are. Most in the UK are 5mm)
  • A drill
  • Double sided tape
  • Clamp
  • Obvious things like pencil and ruler

Step 2: Making the First Jig

The basic rule is that for these to work, we need all the holes the same distance from each other, although what that distance is makes no difference at all. This is why I decided to go for a jig to make a jig. You could measure out 10 holes on one piece and drill them out, but if the spacing between a couple is off by half a mm, it adds up over the length.

First up, find a small piece of scrap, big enough for two holes. I cut an offcut of MDF down to about 100mm long, although this measurement doesn't matter at all. Draw a line on this piece, and put two marks on the line, however far apart you want them. Punch and drill these two holes with a 5mm bit.

The second 5mm drill bit is being used as a register pin. This means that the spacing is always the same between holes. To do this just stick a 5mm bit through the hole, blunt end first. The friction should hold it firmly in place.

This is the jig that we'll use to make the jig.

Step 3: Making the Second Jig

First off I added a guide using another scrap (with a known good edge) and some double-sided tape. You could screw this down or use hot glue - the plan is to pull it off later on anyway.

Truthfully, that was attempt number two. I did attempt drawing a line to reference the jig off, but it wasn't accurate enough. It's worth spending the time getting the jig right now, rather than having 200 incorrectly drilled holes. Hence sticking down a temporary guide.

Decide where the first hole in the jig should be. Keep the holes over to one side of the piece so you have enough room to set the distance between the edge of your work and the holes. Drill the hole with a 5mm bit, going all the way through.

Now take the first jig, and put the blunt end of the drill bit into the hole you've just drilled, and the edge of the jig against the guide. Pop the drill into the second hole, and drill through. Lift up the jig, register it off the hole you've just drilled, and continue.... pretty much until your second jig has run out of space. I think I got about 8 holes on my big jig.

The last step is to pull off the temporary guide from step one, and measure out and attach a permanent guide that will register off the edge of your workpiece. I wanted my holes inset by 50mm with this jig, so I measured 50mm across from the hole at each end of the jig, and used these marks to attach a guide to the MDF. You can use screws, or double sided tape, or anything else that will hold it in place.

Step 4: Drill to Your Hearts Content

We're good to go! Mark out vertical position of the first hole (remember a shelf will have 4 pins supporting it, and they all need to start from the same height). This first hole needs to be drilled without the jig, and only needs to be about 5 - 8mm deep. Then use the drill bit to register the jig to hole number one, clamp the opposite end, and simply drill the remaining holes. Then move it along, drill another bunch. It's kind of like an exciting game, except it's tedious, boring, isn't actually exciting, or even mildly fun.

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    5 Discussions

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    QuocV7

    5 months ago

    When drilling with the second jig, won't it gradually expand/widen the holes and introduce that half mm offset that you were concerned in step2?

    1 reply
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    gpierce4QuocV7

    Reply 5 months ago

    Eventually, yes - but in practice I don't worry for two reasons.

    Firstly, I was drilling over 200 holes in 3 seperate cabinets, and if you take it easy with the drill you won't get much wear on the holes. Use an HSS bit instead of a brad point bit, which seem to be sharper along the flutes to reduce wearing. Secondly althoug you are right, about the 1/2mm offset, because the jig does many holes at once, that 1/2mm change could only occur once every use of the jig along the workpiece.

    In addition to that, as with a lot of my jigs, I make them quickly and put them to use, replacing them when I need to. I don't use shelf pins all that often, so I'm not going to spend an age building something more robust, but a couple of bits of advice I'll also give are...

    For making jigs, buy a pack of thick laminate floor. The smooth surfaces are handly, and laminate floor is generally made of HDF as opposed to MDF, and should wear better over time. Secondly, look at drill bits for drilling pilot holes for hinges - the bit is inside a collar and spring loaded, so as you push down the bit is exposed - this would eliminate wear on the jig altogether, but in my experience using these type of bits on hinges, they are prone to clogging with dust quickly and I think I could work faster by making a fresh jig for each project and not having to unclog the drill bit every 2nd hole.

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    screamingeagle

    1 year ago

    what a great idea. So simple to do and now I have seen this I will be making one for myself. Very well explained and I am very glad and greatfull that you have taken the time to share this . Thanks a million.

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    Mike Rue

    1 year ago

    Excellent tutorial! I need to make a jig for the same application as yours. Thanks!

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    Swansong

    1 year ago

    That's a neat setup, I'm about to need to replace a couple of our bookshelves soon!