Built-in Bookshelf




Introduction: Built-in Bookshelf

About: A guy with a passion for playing guitar, engineering and of course DIY... and beer too.

My living room was originally divided up in two seperate rooms. The wall had been knocked out long before I bought the house, but there were still two doors right next two each other. There was a little hallway or passage in front of one of them. Since I don't need two doors, I figured I could turn it into something more useful by creating a built-in bookshelf!

I've always loved built-in bookshelves, they look much nicer than their more mobile counterparts, mainly because they really blend in with the room. They must be custom made to fit the space perfectly, and getting a carpenter to do this for you would set you back a serious amount of money. Doing it yourself is not only very satisfying, it also adds some value to the house if you do it right!

Step 1: Design

I wanted a very simple but clean looking design. I decided to use the same type of thick board for the entire thing, which gives it a very consistent and sturdy look. It is basically a rectangular frame, with shelves hanging from slots cut into the vertical frame boards. Cutting slots means you can't change the position of the shelves later on, so the spacing must be chosen wisely! However, it does give you a very simple and strong construction that looks super clean.

Note that this design does not include a baseboard yet, which will be added later.

Step 2: Buying Wood

I bought a bunch of boards 20 cm wide and 2,5 cm thick. Try to find a good lumberyard instead of a hardware store. The are usually more boards to choose from and both the price and quality is better. You want to pick out straight boards of the same thickness and width (double check with calipers). Check for nasty knots, especially on the edges of the boards. Make sure the boards aren't cupped, this will ruin the fit. Try to avoid boards that have growth rings that were near the center of the tree (these boards will cup), try to find boards with reasonably parallel growth rings instead.

Step 3: Slotting Jig

In order to cut the slots for the vertical boards, we need to make a simple jig that allows us to cut these slots with a circular saw. I could give you a lengthy explanation, but Matthias Wandel makes it perfectly clear in this short video. Please have a look.

Before you try it out on the actual boards, make sure you try it out on a test piece. My second notch sure turned out a lot better than the first one!

Step 4: Building the Frame

Sure about your design? Lets go then! Take two boards and cut them to (equal!) size. I went for 45 degree miters at first, but decided it was too much of a hassle so I cut them off again. Just stick to 90 degree cuts, it's much easier and you wil hardly be able to tell the difference once it's all done.

Once you've cut your boards, lay them side-by-side and clamp them together. This was the cuts will line up perfectly on both sides. Make sure to do this at a nice working height because the slot-cutting process will take some time, and you don't want to ruin your back while doing it. Measure where your slots are gonna be. Double check all the distances between the slots! You really want to avoid making mistakes here.

Once you're absolutely certain about your measurements, line up the jig for the first cut and clamp it down. Make sure you clamp it firmly, use 4 clamps if you can. Use a square to make sure the jig is perfectly perpendicular to the board, and that both sides of the jig are parallel.

Take your circular saw, and set the depth to a little under half of the thickness of the board. Put the saw up to one side of the jig, and make the first cut. Do the same thing for the other side. Cut away the middle part by making several passes. Do some clean up at the end and make sure the slot is clean. Do NOT remove the jig until you are completely done with the circular saw! The jig prevents you from making mistakes. The final removal and cleanup part can be done with hand tools.

You want to check the depth lock on your saw frequenly. The one on my saw has come loose once or twice in the past, and you do not want your saw to dig down into the board while doing your final notch cut!

Congratulations, the hardest part is done! Now take the drill, and drill two holes on either side of each slot in the boards. These will be used to screw the boards to the wall. Make sure to countersink them properly!

All we're missing now is the top and bottom part of the frame. Measure the width of the space where the top board is going to go, and cut a board to that size using the miter saw. Do the same for the bottom board. Don't just assume they have to be the same size, your walls might be a little crooked.

Step 5: Installing the Frame

I have to apologise for the lack of pictures of this step. The only picture I have was from the mock-up phase, before I decided to ditch the 45 degree miters.

Ask somebody to hold the top board in place all the way up to the ceiling... or use a bit of tape. Now take the first vertical board, put it up to the wall and slide it all the way up until it meets the top board. Use a spirit level to check that you're actually holding the board vertical. Now screw down the board with thick screws. Depending on the type of wall you might want to predrill and use wall plugs. You don't have to put all the screws in yet, make sure you do the top two and a few more further down. Do the same for the other vertical board. Put a spirit level against the top board to ensure that the whole thing is level.

Remove all screws again and lower the vertical boards until they stand upright on the floor. Put some wood glue on the top ends of the vertical boards. Push up the boards again so they press up against the top board. Put back the screws and tighten them firmly. Tap some thin wooden wedges between the ceiling and the top board to increase the pressure a little bit if needed. This will not be very strong joint, but it doesn't have to be since it will not be bearing any weight. Add the other screws.

The bottom board can be put in with a bit of glue as well. Again, not a strong joint, but don't worry, we will create additional support for the bottom board later on. The frame is done!

Step 6: Adding Shelves

It's time to add some filling to the frame. Take a tape measure and measure the space between two slots on either side. Now, the trick to a nice tight fit is to only make it fit perfectly at the front edge. In other words, we're going to cut the board in a slight trapezoidal shape. The miter saw is your best friend here. I used a 1 or 2 degree angle to cut both sides of the board. Take your board, put it in the slot and gently tap it in. If it gets stuck trim it a tiny bit more. Go gently and you'll end up with a perfect fit. Don't tap them all the way in, it will be hard to get them out!

Repeat this process until all shelves are done. Remove the shelves, put a bit of glue in each slot and tap them back in. Looks like a bookshelf already!

Step 7: Lower Support and Baseboard

The bottom board of the frame is used as a shelf as well, but it can't hold the weight yet. I simply cut a piece of board roughly to length, and then trimmed the width until it fitted tightly between the floor and the bottom board. I pulled out some floorboards to allow the support to stand directly on the concrete floor. I had to tap the support with a hammer to get it in, which shows it's a good fit I guess. I glued in two blocks from the back, attached to both the support and the bottom board to make sure the piece would stay upright (no picture of that unfortunately)

After putting back the floorboards I cut the last one to size to accomodate for the support. I then took a thinner piece of pine and made a little faceplate which would give it a nice look. You can glue the faceplate in place or screw it down from the back if possible.

P.S. If somebody is wondering what that cable is for; that is the TV cable running underneath the floor. Nicely hidden away from view ;)

Step 8: Painting

Sand all surfaces down a little and remove the dust. Use woodfiller to fill up any holes. Put on a coat of primer, then 2 to 3 coats of paint. You'll be surprised by how much surface area it has, and it takes quite some time to paint it!

After you've put on the last coat of paint, let it dry for at least a week before you put anything on top of it.

Step 9: The Backboard

Since I've built my bookshelf in an open doorway, I have to put in a backboard. I bought a sheet of 18 mm MDF which had both sides coated with a layer of thin plastic, which servers as a layer of primer. I decided to give it a nice coat of blue, which matches another wall in the house. I got it cut to size at the hardware store, and I actually made them cut it into two smaller panels. A single solid piece is heavy and very hard to maneuver. The panels meet right behind one of the shelves so from the outside it looks like a single backboard.

The panels are mounted with screws, which go down into the frame boards and shelves. Don't forget to put some pencil marks on the walls to indicate where the shelves are before you put the panels in. This will allow you to pinpoint the shelves from the back of the panel. It felt pretty scary putting the screws in from the back, but I managed to do it without any failures luckily!

As you can tell I still have a lot of room behind the backpanel. I'm going to turn this into a storage space which can be accessed from the hallway. That's my next project!

Step 10: Feed Her Some Books!

It's done! Put books in it, put other things in it, put it to good use!

I'm really happy with the way it turned out. It looks nice, adds character and can house a surprisingly large amount of stuff!

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    2 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Great job! Beautifully done :)


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks! Glad you like it :)