Modern Bookshelf




About: I like to create stuff, whether it's art, music, food, or more functional items. I am constantly looking at the structure and design of things and wondering "could I make that?"

I was looking for a funky but sleek modern bookshelf to hold all of my girlfriend's trinkets and curios, and found some that I liked, but unfortunately, they were all WAY overpriced, and most were made of MDF and/or other junk. I refuse to pay hundreds of dollars for particleboard furniture, no matter how cool it looks. One shelf in particular caught my eye from a particular store named after a compass direction and a deciduous tree (can you guess?), but it had a few problems - too expensive, cheap materials, no longer available, not big enough. Cue my thriftiness and desire to DIY.

I would like to preface by saying that I have built a few skate ramps and tree forts in the past, but this is my first foray into furniture design and construction, so YMMV

Step 1: Materials & Tools

For this project, you will need the following:

4 - 1x10 boards @ 10' long
1 - 1x6 boards @ 8' long
1 - box of #8 1 1/2" wood screws (75 were in my box)
12 or more 2" finishing nails
Sandpaper in varying grits 80,120,240,320

wood filler or plugs (I used filler, but in the future I think I'll try plugs) or you could just leave the screws exposed if you wanted to?
Pre-stain wood conditioner
Wood stain
Loud music to keep you motivated.

Tape measure
Speed square (got mine for 3.99, best tool ever)
Saw ( i used a chop saw, but pretty much any wood cutting saw will work I suppose)
Power drill
#8 Countersink drill bit (if you plan to countersink your screws)
Regular 5/32" drill bit 
Electric sander (unless you want to sand by hand for days, or leave it kind of rough and rustic?)
Brushes/rags for your stain/finish

Total cost for this should be around $100 or less. I ended up spending ~ $140, but I bought more boards for another project, and way WAY too much pre-stain, stain, and poly ( I have enough for 2 more of these shelves...).

Step 2: Cut List

The cuts we need are broken down in the images, and minimize waste, while taking into account the "kerf" of the saw blade. Work from left to right when cutting per the references, and ALWAYS "measure TWICE, cut once." You may to view the pics full size to better see the measurement breakdown. 

From the 1x10 boards we need
6 @ 54"
9 @ 12"
6 @ 5 1/2"

From the 1x6 board we need
3 @ 25 1/2"

A note about lumber sizes: In the past I thought 2x4s were 2 inches by 4 inches, and 1x10s were 1 inch by 10 inches, boy was I wrong. I won't get into the details as to why the industry does this, but I will point out that the 1x10s are actually 3/4" by 9 1/4" and the 1x6 is actually 3/4" by 5 1/2". I found a webpage that I use to quickly reference the actual lumber sizes at the following: 
I don't endorse them , or really know much about the purveyors of that website, I just know that it's a nice reference chart.

Step 3: Pre-drilling Your Screw Holes

I've learned that it is usually a good idea to pre-drill holes for your screws. It prevents the wood from splitting, and keeps the screw kind of straight when you're putting stuff together. Just be sure to drill straight! With the #8 countersink bit, you can adjust the bit length with an included allen wrench; I adjusted mine to just go through the board. Make sure to go in far enough with the countersink part to either just fit your screw heads flush, or to leave enough room for wood filler or plugs.

Pic 1
For the 54" main shelf parts we will be drilling 3 holes at 3/8" in from the edge, so that they center over the side boards.
I came in 1' from each side and put one at the center which was 4 5/8". Do this for 5 of the 6 shelf boards, and only do the end drilling for the top board.

Pic 2
Next, I drilled 2 holes 13 7/8" from the end and 2" in from either side. These are where the base and mid pieces will attach.

Pic 3
Third, I drilled a hole in the center of the board at 27" from the end and 4 5/8" from the edge. This also attaches to the mid/base pieces. ( you may want to instead do 2 equidistant holes instead of the one for a flusher fit, as I did have a paper thin gap in a couple places after construction, but it still looks fine)

Pic 4
For the mid/base pieces I drilled the  5 1/2" boards 1 1/2" from the top and bottom centered at 4 5/8"

Step 4: Base Construction

The assembly includes some pushing, pulling, a few curses if your lumber isn't perfectly straight, squaring, and a little more drilling. Also, I don't own any clamps, so I had my girlfriend hold pieces while I drilled/screwed, or I would hold it while she drilled screwed if it needed to be muscled a bit into square. If you have clamps, AWESOME, if not, get a helper.

Base pieces
Attach the 5 1/2" pieces to the ends of the 1x6 boards that we cut to 25 1/2".
I found it helpful to mark a line on the back of the side pieces at 4 1/4" to line up the edge to the middle pieces.
Square it up with your handy speed square, and drill using the skinny bit through the existing hole and into the next piece, you want to go about 1/4" to 1/2" into the next piece.

Screw the pieces together, then square it up, drill and screw the second hole.
Repeat for the other side, and do all three.

Step 5: Shelf Construction

Main boxes
Take one of your pre-drilled 54" boards and a 12" side board, and square them up at the end. 
Starting with the center hole, I used my finger on the outside edge to feel that it was flush, and then drilled and screwed as before.
I followed up at each corner hole, and as I mentioned before, it took a little bit of force to get it square because my wood was a wee bit crooked. 
Repeat at the other end, so that you have a U shape like the image.
You will need 3 of these.

Step 6: Assembly

Now that you have your base/mid pieces and your U shaped shelves, it's time to start sticking the bad boy together. Follow along with the pics, and it's pretty simple, if a bit tedious.

Pic 1
Attach your U shape to your base piece. Set it on top and line it up with your pre-drilled holes.
From the outside edge of the U piece to the outside edge of the base piece should be 13 1/2".
make sure that everything is nice and flush then start at one end and square, drill, then screw as before, 1 screw hole at a time.
Make sure to flush and square as you go.

Pic 2
Next attach a base piece to the top of a shelf board. You will need 2 assemblies like this.

Pic 3 - 6
Just build it up in sequence.

Pic 7
Attach the top board. We're getting close people!

Step 7: Adding the Partitions

I decided that I would add the partition pieces with finish nails since it was easier, and created less screw holes to be filled. 

Pic 1
The partitions line up with the base/mid pieces to make a nice straight line. Measure 12 3/4" from the inside face of the side of the shelf and make a little mark. Do this for both sides, and then ease in the partition piece (or you can just eyeball it which is what I did). You may need a helper to pull out on the upper and lower shelves so you can slide it into place without having to force it and mess up the wood.

Pic 2
Use your speed square to make sure it's square and have your helper hold a piece of flat scrap wood across the back, so you don't knock it out of flush. Hammer in your finish nail at a 45ish degree angle up through the end of the partition and into the shelf. Be careful not to miss and smash your wood (which I may or may not have done more than once) and keep it straight so you don't come out on the side. Once it gets most of the way in, you can use a small philips head screwdriver on the head of the nail, and hammer it just below the surface. There's a tool for this, but I don't have one, hence the screwdriver.

Pic 3
Repeat at the bottom, then do the same on the back side.

Pic 4
Repeat for the remaining 2 partitions. I ended up with it not being quite flush on one side, and was able to fix it by laying a flat scrap piece across (as I had my helper/gf do) and gently tapping with a mallet.

Marvel at your amazing skills!

Step 8: Almost Finished!

The only picture I took before it was finished. Looking pretty good eh? 

So now you need to sand it. The roughness of your boards will determine what grit to start with.
Since I used boards with a pretty good face I was able to start at 120 grit; however, I did use a little bit of 80 grit to flatten out the areas where my edges weren't quite flush. Then went to 120, 240, and finally 320.

Step 9: Finish?

As far as finishing the shelf, I wasn't thrilled with how my finish turned out, so I've decided to leave this part up to you.
My finish consisted of 1 coat of pre-stain conditioner, then 2 coats of Minwax oil-based ebony stain, followed by 2 coats of polyurethane. Although my finish wasn't bad, I've decided that I don't like the look of ebony on pine, and should have opted for walnut or something else a little lighter.

Some notes on what I learned making this shelf:

If I were to do it over again, there are a few changes that I would make.
Firstly, I would have gone with a different finish, the dark ebony stain highlighted my little mistakes. The stain also created a bit of a contrast on the "butt" joints that I used in the construction due to the exposed end grain. What looked fine in a light color, ultimately disappointed me once it was so dark.
Secondly, and as a result of the previous, I would have used mitered joints for a cleaner look. I also would have used dowel plugs instead of the wood filler over my screw holes which would have helped both aesthetically and logistically, as I could have stained/finished my boards, then assembled and covered my screw holes. I didn't choose miters to begin with though, because it seemed above my current skill level.
Finally, since I normally prefer a dark stain, I probably would have used a different type of wood. This was a first project, however, so I went with pine because it was the least expensive.

I hope that you enjoyed my first instructable. If you use it, or take inspiration from it, please share so I can see yours. Also, I appreciate any constructive criticism and/or tips with regard to the shelf. Thanks.

2 People Made This Project!


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34 Discussions


3 years ago

So, I was surprised to see these EXTREMELY similar shelves on Amazon today. Have you seen them? I've always wanted to build yours, but don't have a room suitable for them (yet).


4 years ago on Introduction

please can someone explain the dimension in metres just cant do it this way


4 years ago on Introduction

Please can someone explain the dimension in metric ! cant do it this way

I am new to instructables and think I might have posted 2 comments so very sorry if I have. I love this style it's beautiful. I was actually looking for a shelf/storage for my nail polish & came across this. LOL I guess if I made it extremely smaller I could still put my polish on a similar design. I was also trying to figure out how u could design a desk area into this. I was thinking maybe a u shaped design. If u have any idea I would love to hear them. It would fit beautifully on the wall my desk is at now Thank so much for sharing. (((HUGS)))


5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the instructions! They were easy to follow. I've been wanting to replace the bookcases in my family room but not sure exactly how until I came across this page. Because it needed to fit my games, I went another level higher and used 1x12 boards. I had all the cuts done at Home Depot (huge time saver for me!) Unfortunately, the cool design does get lost in how I'm using it, but it still looks a lot better than the generic shelves I had! Thanks, again.


5 years ago on Introduction

I love this....looks like it could cost $6-700.00 bucks in the right store. This has plenty of room for various knick-knacks and books....heck, with an added drop down shelf could be a laptop desk as well....hummm....that gives me another great idea....Thanks for the great project.


5 years ago on Introduction

This is an absolutely beautiful piece that marries form and function. Congrats and thanks for sharing!


6 years ago on Introduction

Groovy!!! You saved a bunch of cash and I bet it weights 100lb less than mdf!


6 years ago on Introduction

Very cool design! The construction is very simple and straightforward, but it looks incredible. I actually just built a modular bookshelf for our apt recently.


6 years ago on Introduction

This unit has really got some visual POP! It clearly captures that 50's feel. I would like to offer some suggestions to increase the strength of the unit, having built some shelves and learned some things. As previously mentioned, add the upright yo yhe bottom section to buttress the weight. Also, enclose the backs of the long sections in the bottom and center with 3/16 paneling. This will seriously inhibit side motion that could collapse this structure. Then lastly, across the back running up the center section from you legs to the bottom of the top section, two lath strips in a crossed configuration, nailed to each shelf as they cross over them. It will be in the back and out of sight and will tighten this design right up.
Pine is a bitch to stain. And most people make a mess of it by choosing the wrong stain for the wood and the wrong color. Walnut or Cherry are the first steps to a bond fire. To really capture the 50's look get some "Pickling White" oil based stain. Lightly stain the wood. Then mix some of the stain into your varnish, but don't overdo it. It will leave you shelves looking like blonde oak...very 50's.


6 years ago on Introduction

If this is your first foray I hope you make many more! Forays & pieces of furniture, that is. Awesome.


6 years ago on Introduction

I like the work and design but I would worry about some strange bending under load. The weak point on the first picture would be around the T cross left of the power outlet.
Nice work anyway.


6 years ago on Introduction

This looks so good. I think that, with a modification in the height of the pieces between the shelves, this would look terrific on the walls of my bathroom. Congratulations on an excellent first piece.


6 years ago on Introduction

Great bookshelf AJB. I would not have known that this was your first piece of furniture either. If you plan to build more furniture in the future, check out the Kreg pocket hole jig. I love mine.

2 replies

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I've heard a lot of good things about those Kreg jigs, which one do you have? I'm considering getting one, but am also thinking about trying some old style dowel construction. Which jig do you have? I've been wondering if the $40 version is worthwhile or if I should just get the bigger one.


Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I got the one that was $99. I think it's called the Master kit. It has everything except a clamp which I'll be getting soon. Before using it the first time, I played with some scrap wood and read the very brief manual. Makes incredibly strong joints and looks pretty good too. They also sell the plugs to fill/hide the holes. Definitely worth checking out. And again, sweet bookshelf.


6 years ago on Introduction

Very sharp design, thanks for sharing. I'll be trying to copy this, but using walnut burl veneer alternating with silver birch veneer. Wish me luck!

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

That sounds awesome. I just started reading about veneers the other day. Good luck, and post pics!


6 years ago on Introduction

Nicely done, have you considered putting a veneer striping along the edges to counteract your problem with the finish on the ends.
You can purchase them in all colors and they do come in rolls.
You might have to order them from a woodworking catalog, which you can find in any of the Woodworking catalogs.
Just a though.
Let me/us know of your next project.