Introduction: Narrow Bookshelf for Behind the Door Storage
My wife and I love reading books for my son, but he has a very small room and there wasn't a very good spot for a bookshelf. The only spot with an open area was behind the door. I designed this bookshelf to fit nicely behind the door and not interfere with the opening and closing of the door. Due to the narrow nature of the bookshelf, I added paracord to the front of the shelf to stop books from falling off.
In this article I will take you through the steps to make this bookshelf. It is a very simple build that even the beginner woodworker can tackle.
If you enjoy this bookshelf idea, I would appreciate if you head over to the contest and vote: https://www.instructables.com/contest/shelving2019/
Below are links to tools and materials I used in this build. It is either the exact tool/supply or something very close.
Wood - I used reclaimed butternut that had been planed to 3/4" thick. As 3/4" is a standard thickness, you can get the wood from any big box store.
Table Saw Blade: https://amzn.to/34DXVit
Orbital Sander: https://amzn.to/2ReVLmt
Sanding Disks: https://amzn.to/2ReVLmt
Flexible Sanding Pad: https://amzn.to/35pHN51
Drill Press: https://amzn.to/2ZeYuyb
Cordless Drill: https://amzn.to/2ReVLmt
3/8 Plug Cutter: https://amzn.to/2ReVLmt
Countersink Drill Bits: https://amzn.to/2ReVLmt
Corner Clamps: https://amzn.to/399fUky
2" wood screws
Wood Glue: https://amzn.to/36UwgeJ
Chisel Set (optional): https://amzn.to/2RfigI4
Flush Cut Saw (optional): https://amzn.to/38ZlzcU
550 Paracord: https://amzn.to/2ReVLmt
Speed Square: https://amzn.to/2PIoWx5
Tack Cloth: https://amzn.to/35LmknJ
Foam Brushes: https://amzn.to/34Fwe9e
Finish (I used water based polyurethane, but you can use anything you want)
Note: The links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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Step 1: Cutting the Wood to Width
The wood I choose for this project used to be a shelf in someone else's house. Therefore it was already planed to 3/4" thick and had some holes in it (we will get to that later).
As with many woodworking projects the first step is cutting the wood to the correct width. In my case I chose to go with 3", but you should adjust according to the space you have behind your door.
A table saw is really the best way to do this, but I have seen people rip lumber with a circular saw and of course the old way was with a hand saw. I will be showing how to do it with a table saw.
First set your fence to 3" then get to ripping. To make the project you need around 190" of material that is 3" wide. Just keep ripping until you reach the amount of material you need.
You will also need a piece of wood 24" long by approximately 2" wide. So reset your fence to 2" and rip some timber! This will be used to make the french cleat.
And don't forget safety first, which is why I use my trusty push-stick named Sharky!
Step 2: Cross Cutting the Wood to Length
The shelf is made up of mainly two different lengths of material. The sides are 36" long and the top, bottom and shelves are 24".
I first cut two lengths of wood that were 36". Something my father always taught me is to start with the longest cuts first. You can always cut more off and make it into a smaller length if you need to, but it is really difficult to make it longer again!
Then I made four lengths of wood that were 24".
After all that I was left with two bits of wood that were around 14" long. These will be used as dividers and I will be cutting these to the right length in a later step.
Step 3: Sanding
As I was using reclaimed wood that already had a finish on it, I choose to do the majority of sanding up front.
I grabbed my random orbital sander and went to town. Started at 60 grit and worked my way up to 80, 120, 180 and then 220.
If you don't enjoy sanding, sorry to say that this won't be the last time you will see sanding in these instructions!
Step 4: Fixing Imperfections in the Wood - Part 1
Because my wood was reclaimed it already had drill and nail holes in it (in places I didn't want) In order to rectify this, I pulled out my 3/8" countersinking drill bit and 3/8" plug cutter.
Basically anywhere that there was a hole (or other imperfection) I drilled into it with the countersinking bit.
I then cut out plugs out of scrap bits of the same wood. I ended up cutting more than 80 plugs for the entire project, but you will probably be lucky and have to make less!
I really find with the plug cutter that a drill press is required. If you don't have a drill press or a plug cutter, you can use 3/8 dowel to fill the hole, it just won't have the grain running in the same direction as the rest of the board. (and maybe that is something you can call a "design feature")
Step 5: Fixing Imperfections in the Wood - Part 2
I like to put a bit of wood glue in the hole first, then add a bead around the edge of the plug. I try my best to line of the grain pattern and then use a mallet to hammer the plug in place.
Repeat this step until you have run out of holes to fill.
Step 6: Fixing Imperfections in the Wood - Part 3
Now that all the glue is dried (or for you impatient people, now that the glue is pretty much dry) it's time to cut off the plugs and give them a good sanding.
I used my bandsaw this time for cutting the plugs. Don't worry if you don't have a bandsaw just keep on reading I will show you two more ways of cutting the plugs, using less and less expensive tools in each one.
Any way you do it, you are going to have to sand the plug to make it perfectly smooth and to remove any excess glue. As I was only sanding a small spot, I just went straight to 180 grit. If you are a real stickler (or a glutton for punishment) then start at 80 and work your way through the grits.
Step 7: Drilling the Perimeter Butt Joints
As I only have two hands, I used a corner clamp to keep the perimeter pieces square while I drilled into them.
I first tightened down the corner clamp to one of the short boards with a long board hanging over (as seen in picture one). It is important to get this in the correct position or else the two middle shelves will not fit.
I then slid the long board until it was flush with the short board and tightened down that clamp. I use my finger to feel if the joints are flush as I have found this to be accurate enough for most work (at least at my level)
Then I threw the countersink drill bit into my cordless drill and drilled two holes.
Repeat this for all four corners.
Step 8: Gluing and Screwing the Perimeter Butt Joints
After you have taken the corner clamps off, spread some glue on the boards. Try to get it only in the spot where the two board connect, but if you get a bit to much you can always clean it off with a wet rag.
I use my finger to spread glue as its fun to peel off the glue once its dried to my finger, but if you have better things to do with your time, you can use some kind of commercial glue spreader.
I used 2 1/2" wood screws in this project. It might seem like overkill, but because the screws are going into end grain I wanted something long enough to have some good holding strength. I switched out the countersink bit for a screwdriver bit and screwed the boards together. Don't go to tight as it is very easy to strip end grain wood (don't ask me how I know)
The last step is to check the joint for square. I used my speed square, but any good square will do. If it isn't square than that means something went wrong in an earlier step, but now is teh time to catch it before the glue dries.
Step 9: Adding Shelves
I wanted to add shelves at different heights as books for kids come in some many different sizes.
I first measured up 16" from the bottom and made a mark, and a second mark at 16 3/4". I made two marks here so that I could easily tell where the board would go.
I measured up 11" from the 16 3/4" mark and drew another mark.
I made up all these measurements up, but they seemed to work out for my collection of books. I suggest you measure your books and see what would work for you.
In a similar fashion to the previous steps, I added the two shelves. I attached the corner clamps to hold the board square and in place. Then I drilled using the countersink bit. I took off the corner clamps, added glue and screwed the shelves in place.
Step 10: Adding Dividers
The hardest part of adding dividers is getting to the right size. I first marked the board by holding it in the place I want it to be on the shelf. I then mark the length. I take it to the table saw and cut it to length.
I always cut it a bit too big on the first try. I then go back to the table saw and take very light passes until it fits perfectly.
Then, just like adding the shelves: corner clamp, drill, glue, screw.
Step 11: Pluging the Holes (Again)
Take some of those plugs you made earlier and fill all the screw holes you just made. As I noted earlier, I like to add a bit of glue into the hole first and then add a bead of glue around each plug. Then hammer them in place.
If you are like me, you underestimated the amount of plugs you needed, so head back to the drill press and make some more.
This time, after the glue has dried, I used my Japanese pull saw to cut the plugs off and then sanded using my random orbital sander.
Don't have a Japanese pull saw, that's ok, just about any hand saw will work. If you don't have a hand saw, just hold tight in a later step I will show one more method for dealing with the plugs.
Step 12: Drilling Holes for the Paracord
Now comes the fun part. After filling so many holes with plugs, you get to drill some holes that won't be filled!
In order to keep the books from falling off the shelf, I added some paracord along the front of each shelf. I felt that two rows of paracord on each level would be the perfect amount, but if want you can add more!
The lower level of paracord was approximately 1" from the bottom and 1/2" from the front on all three of the shelves. The upper level of paracord was in a different spot on each shelf based on their size. The largest (16") shelf got a second level drill at 7", the middle (11") shelf at 5" and the last (7.5") shelf at 3"
In order to reduce tear-out, I clamped a sacrificial block of wood behind the spots I was drilling.
Step 13: Making the French Cleat
After setting my table saw to 45 degrees, I ripped the 24"x2" board we made in step 1 in half.
I then marked where the divider was on the top shelf. I find the easiest way of marking things is to simply lay the piece on top and mark it with a pencil. If you feel confident with a tape measure, you can use that method too.
Using my Japanese pull saw I crosscut the cleats where I made the marks.
Step 14: Attaching the French Cleat to the Bookshelf
To attach the French cleat to the bookshelf I drilled through the top of the bookshelf using the countersink bit. I then put the one side of the cleat in position and drilled a small pilot hole. I used 1 1/4" wood screws for this as I didn't want them sticking out through the cleat.
Make sure you put the cleat at the back of the shelf. If you are like me and you forgot their was a front (where you drilled holes for the paracord) and a back, you will just have more holes to plug in the next step.
Step 15: Filling Holes With Plugs (for the Last Time)
This is the third time, so I won't go into much detail. Put glue on the plug then hammer it in place.
I had seen someone on the internet use a chisel to cut a plug and I thought I would give it a go. I only have a cheap set of Stanley chisels, but it seemed to work out alright. Just make sure you have the bevel edge down that way you are less likely to dig into the wood.
Then for fun I tried sanding the plug with a flexible sanding pad. What you don't see (even if you watched the video at the top of the page) is that I quickly switched to the random orbital sander. Sometimes it's worth it to use power tools, especially when it comes to sanding!
Step 16: Preparing for Finish
After all that sanding in the previous steps, I like to go over my projects one last time with 220 grit on a flexible sanding pad. I use my hand to feel the wood and sand anywhere that needs some smoothing. This is especially important on the edges to "break" them and make them feel much nicer to the touch.
After all that I turn to my trusty tack cloth to remove and sanding dust. It is pretty simple to use, just wipe it all over the project.
Then pick your favourite finish. For this project I decided to go with water based polyurethane as I knew that the bookshelf would be getting some good use over time. When using any finish it is important to read the instructions and follow them. For the finish I had, it said to make sure you don't shake it and only stir it. I believe this is mainly because it is an enemy of James Bond, but this could not be confirmed.
Step 17: Applying the Finish
Using a foam brush I applied the finish evenly over the entire project. It is important to not over-brush the finish and to make sure there are no bubbles or drops.
After the finish dried overnight, I sanded with 220 grit on a flexible sanding pad. I used a tack cloth again to wipe up any dust and then applied another coat. I repeated this step one more time.
I have seen people apply 6 coats (or more) of finish to their projects. You can do that too, I just don't seem to have the time for that type of thing.
Step 18: Mounting the Bookshelf to the Wall
I took the loose side cleat and mounted it to the wall. I used drywall plugs to add strength as there were no studs where I wanted to put it.
I then slid the bookshelf onto the cleat and tapped it into place.
Step 19: Adding the Paracord
First I tie a stopper knot. I personally prefer the figure 8 (which I have shown loose so you can see how to make it) but any kind of stopper knot will work.
I started from the top and routed the paracord through the holes drilled earlier. When I got to the end I tied another knot. I wanted to do a really fancy knot, but because I had the camera filming me, I couldn't pull it off. Instead I put a normal knot and figured I would go back and fix it one day. Whatever you do, just make sure it is nice and tight.
Step 20: Filling the Shelf With Books - Time to Enjoy!
Last but not least is to fill the bookshelf with your favourite books and get ready to read to your heart's content!
I also added some little stuffed animals to the mix because I thought it was cute. (My son disagreed and made me move the little duck, but that's a story for another day)
I hope you enjoyed this project. If you make one for yourself I would love to see pictures as there are many different ways this can be customized to meet your tastes.
As always, I am always happy to answer any questions in the comments below.
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