Nomadic Life 2: Mediacase




Disclaimer: I am not a professional/certified carpenter of any sort and by no means an authority on carpentry. This tutorial is the documentation of a perpetual amateur taking a stab at yet another craft. Therefore, whatever I state here is just an opinion on way method of constructing a bookcase based on personal experience. That being said, I will be more than glad to give you my take on this tutorial and answer all questions in the comments section as long as you regard it as just that: my take. And even more so, I would love to receive some constructive criticism just as long as it is just that: creative criticism. All other comments I will not delete (this is a free country), but I will not give them the satisfaction of a response, either.

This tutorial will teach you how to construct a Nomadic Media Bookcase similar to below. This bookcase has shelves designed to hold the maximum amount of CDs, DVDs, and VHS possible. In addition, as will be the case in all of my designs, there will be one allotted display shelf. 

What is a "Nomadic" Bookcase, you ask? Well, it's really anything utilizing Nomadic Technology. That is, primarily, technology of easy dissassembly,/reassembly, construction, & durability. Think if you were a nomad and had to have your stuff on the go for the Zombie Apocalypse. There are greater explanations out there for those curious ( 

Nomadic technology seems to primarily rely on Nail-less technology or Irish Carpentry. That is, Mortise & Tenon style. See my last post for an explanation (here). You have 3 components of this design:

1. Mortise - the piece that will run through.
2. Tenon - the piece doing the running through of.
3. Peg - the piece that pins it all together.

Step 1: Tools/Materials Required

1.Workhorse - $38 
Any table you have can work for this. I find having tables devoted solely to construction projects (that were made for construction projects) helps. 

2. Jig Saw - $30

3. Clamps (2) - $4
C-Clamps really work best.

4. Various Files - $10
Make sure they work on wood. I also highly reccommend that of these wood files, you have a half round. It seems to work best for this project.

5. Power Drill - $20
Cordless is best. You'll already have the jig saw plugged in and will want to walk around freely with the drill. Keep it on the charger in between drills. It won't lose a charge easily, but boring holes as you will be through this thick of wood is taxing even to the greatest of power drills. 

6. Huge Ass Drill Bit - $4

7. Cardboard Scraps (2) - $0 These are to be cushioned in between your clamps and wood, to keep the clamps from leaving dents in your wood).

8. Mallet - $4 You'll want a mallet vs. a hammer to not dent your wood.

9. Angle Square (Large) - $7 

10. Rubber Sanding Block - $6 This just makes your sanding infinitely easier.

11. Hard Sand Paper - $2

12. Medium Sand Paper - $2


13. Mitre Saw -  $90. This can be avoided if need be. It just makes it incredibly easy to cut the pegs.
Worst Case Start-up Cost = $127-$217
You really don't need fancy materials for this project. Borrow them from friends or buy them cheap. Look at my tools: they're nothing fancy. The blade that I use in the jig saw is the same one that came with it when I bought it. 

-Pine 2X8X16 (2) - $22
-Pine 2X4X8 - $2
Materials Cost = $24

3. OVERALL COST = $24-$241

Step 2: Blueprints

Step 3: Prep Materials

1. Cut wood into individual lengths. You can do this yourself; however, I find that where corners can be cut, they should. While I was already at the Home Depot purchasing the wood, I had the employee back in lumber cut my pieces down to the lengths necessary. Fortunately, the employees at my Home Depot are very patient (mainly because they know me so well from all my projects; I bring my blueprints in to show them like they're baby pics). However, if your Home Depot isn't as kind, they can still make each cut for a really cheap price (25 cents at most). If you can do this, you should: it will save a lot of time. 

2. Outline your cuts. Take your time here & I cannot stress enough: triple check. Sure, it's not the most exciting part of the project. And you will think that you're perhaps better than the rest of us and one pass at the lines will suffice. But you'll make an ass of yourself later; for the initial outlining can make or break your project as all of your cuts depend on a relatively form factor (pieces fitting fairly tightly into each other. I suggest making sure that when you butt the ruler up against the side of the wood, you always take your measurements from the same side. Also, make sure to do all of this with a pencil. You'll make a mistake and discover that pen is cruel friend. 

Step 4: Create Bookcase Sides/Mortises

Preface: it would behoove you greatly to set up a work area and keep it that way. I cannot tell you how invaluable this has been. I used to just toss everything into some boxes on my back porch. However, due to parents coming to visit, I invested a weekend into cleaning the back porch and setting up a system of organization, including a few purchase (such as the storage closet in the back for only $70). If you think you're going to get into heavier duty projects like this, it would be very wise.

1. Clamp down wood. Clamp your side board down to the the table using the cardboard as a cushion between the clamp & board.

2. Drill your holes. I would suggest doing everything in mass. I did each step to the board all at once. Attach your big-ass drill bit to your drill and bore a hole in the middle of your outlined square, which will eventually become the slot to run the shelf through. This is to allow the jig saw a place to start cutting into the wood. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BORE THE HOLE WITH YOUR JIG SAW. You will be a very sorry fellow/fellowess.

3. Cut your slot out. Cutting your slot out is much more complicated than it first seems. You can't just start in a corner, or else you will seriously fuck things up. Insert your jigsaw blade into the holes you just bored and follow the pattern illustrated in the pictures. Basically: make your way to one corner and spiral out back to the same point. Make sure you stick to the outside of your pencil lines. The reason for this is simple. You will cut all your inner pieces (shelves) on the inner side. That way, you don't get to the end of cutting, realize your shelves are too big for your slots, and then spend days filing. Yes, it technically produces a little bit of wiggle room. However, in my experience, given the weight of these boards and the tension that will be provided for by the pegs, this won't be a problem.

4. Trim the slot edges. You'll notice these holes aren't perfect. Go back with your jig saw and clean up the edges. Follow the straight edges you established as guides.

5. Trim the other side. Unclamp your board, flip it over, & take a look. You'll note how uneven everything looks. This is quite easily the most demoralizing part of the project to neophytes. Do not worry. Simply clamp that sucker back down, and trim it until satisfied. Quite honestly, this is my favorite part of the project. It is my moment of zen. 

6. Repeat for other bookcase side. 

Step 5: Create Shelves/Tenons

1. Repeat steps 3.1-3 from creating the bookcase sides. In my humble opinion (as my priest says), I suggest you do so in the order I suggest (cutting the slots before the tenons) because you will have more stability at this point unlike if you were to cut the tenon then try to cut the holes. It just makes sense. These will not be slots, however. They will become your peg holes.

 2. Cut your tenons. Next you will create your tenons, the second part of the mortise/tenon method. The tenons will fit through the slots on your bookcase sides. The most important thing to remember here is to cut inside the lines, as explained in the last step. Cut an L-shape out of the sides of your shelf ends. First from the sides, then from the top. 

3. Repeat 15 more times. You're gonna be at this for a while. Might as well have a drink handy. 

Step 6: Create Pegs

Pegs are incredibly simple, whether you have a mitre saw or not. You don't want to make the peg too tight, or it will damage itself, crack the tenon (as a result of forcing it down into the hole), and damage any stain you might apply to the piece. This is why you cut the pegs into slants: to allow for variance and adjustability.

1. Mark off 11/4" along the bottom of the peg.

2. Mark off 1 3/4" along the top of the peg.

3. Use a jigsaw or a mitre saw to cut across from one to the other.

4. If you have a little chunk still attached, just break it off with your hands.

5. Use whichever half fits best in your hole. If you notice, your peg holes are 1 1/2". So this allows a little bit of play for getting the peg in & out. When installing the pegs in the next step, you want to get them all reasonably through the tenon. But each tenon will not be exactly even with all the other pegs. Each has it's "niche" so to speak. Good design allows for this variance. 

Step 7: Assembly

1. Stand one bookcase side/mortise on it's edge. Make sure your display case slot (largest shelf, 3rd from the top) is pointed upward.

2. Insert tenon (tab) of bookshelve into bookcase side/mortise. Push it all the way through. 

3. Repeat step 2 7 more times.

4. Stand remaining bookcase side on edge.

5. Line up remaining bookcase side slots with corresponding tenons on other side of bookcase shelves. Make sure your display case slot (largest shelf, 3rd from the top) is lined up with display case slot on the first bookcase side/mortise.

6. Lean bookcase side/mortise gently forward, guiding the tenons one-by-one into their appropriate slots.

7. Insert pegs.
Narrow end first, straight face inward. First place all of the pegs then, hammer  them down on a second pass. Do not do this in rush; for though the pegs are made for the holes, they're not supposed to go down all the way. Where as nails/screws bind fast, causing eventual cracks, the wood shrinks & expands according to the season. This will result in the wood (to a very slight degree) pushing the peg slight out & slightly in each year according to the season. Again, this is a good thing, as it prevents cracking and the sort. It's why older buildings moan and groan.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

I know how tempting it is to think that you're done. Heck, after 3 bookcases, there comes that moment when even the most interested folk would like to stop here. But there's a few finishing touches do be done that will ensure your work last and does not fall prey to ruin due to sloppy work.

1. File all rough edges. Even if you're not clumsy, it's always best to do some filing. This is for several reasons:
  • Pride in craftsmanship
  • Eliminate sharp edges
  • Eliminate chance for splinters
  • Finishing out any inevitably uneven cuts that make one end of each hole narrower/larger than the other end. This can present difficulties for your pegs & by filing, you provide for a smoother fit.
2. Sand, sand, sand. Sanding mainly helps:
  • Eliminate the splinters.
  • Keeps anything that you would store on the shelf from catching on your bookcase.
  • Removes all pencil marks & stamps left by the lumberyard.
  • Preps for staining (if you so choose)
3. You're finished! Give yourself a big round of applause. This is the end of the tutorial. I however, couldn't stop here: I'm staining my pieces and my wife shall then wood-burn elvish prints onto them. Look for this soon in another Instructable. I'd wait, but I have a few users (named in the "Additional Blueprints" section that would kill me if I waited another day to this Instructable).

Step 9: Additional Bookcase Blueprints

So for a very few of you (mainly users zazaenergy, t4stywh34t, jasoncowley, carnivalesque, j626no) I owe an apology on 2 accounts:
  1. The lateness of this tutorial.
  2. This not being the same design.
I don't know if you guys really care, but I figured I'd make my other blueprints available here. Feel free to use these designs, share them with friends, and even modify them. I only ask that:
  1. You don't to credit them as your own.
  2. Cite me in any Instructable you create based off this work. I'd love to see what you do with my design.
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    54 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 8

    wow, wood-burning elvish prints -- that sounds fantastic! like, the elvish language?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 8

    Yes. It's currently way on the backburner of my wife's creative to-do list. She's a huge Tolkienite.


    5 years ago on Step 1

    Hi Zach!

    My boyfriend and I are attempting to make a nomadic bookshelf based on your examples of the bookcase and media shelf. We purchased all the wood, measured it out and then started trying to cut. We have a 3 Amp Black & Decker jigsaw, but we couldn't get it to cut well. We were going at an inch an hour rate. Did you use this jigsaw? If we bought a more expensive, high-powered jigsaw would that potentially work better? Any other thoughts? We have all the wood and are really excited about completing this project!

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 1

    Hi Jes & Doug!

    Sorry for the delay: just finished grad school. Yes, you will need a higher-power jigsaw, but not that much higher: mine is only a 4.5 AMP, and its served me faithfully the last 3 years.




    7 years ago on Step 9

    I'm really excited to start building one of these. Thanks for the plans!

    I'm a bit confused about the measurements, however. Some of them seem way off. On the part "PEGS (X8)," it looks like the measurements are way too small compared to it's neighbor, "BOTTOM PEGS (X2)." I also think there is at least one problem with "SIDES/MORTISES (x2)" (3/4" for the width of the board doesn't seem right).

    I can certainly figure out the correct measurements on my own, but I want to make sure I'm not going crazy. Some of these are incorrect, right?

    5 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    Feel free to try out your own measurements; these ones have worked for me and my wife for the past year. Keep in mind you have to account for other things when looking at this blueprint: planing, shrinkage, expansion, compression, etc.

    Good luck!


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    Ah, okay. I'll work through it, then.

    Just FYI, I attached an image showing the discrepancy I think I'm seeing. The two measurements circled in red are supposed to be the same value, right?


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    And I'll make corrections eventually. In the middle of a move. Which, as I said before, the bookcases did beautifully in the process. You really will want to have pair of these babies.

    Take a look (and pardon the mess; still moving in):


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    Ha, nice. No worries on the mess. My living room floor is a much greater mess than that; hence then bookcase hunting. :)


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    Ah. It looks like Google Sketchup's draft program ran the wrong conversion and I didn't spot it. Thanks for the catch! Go with the circled measurement on the right: it's the correct one.

    Great concept. Had a few questions about your plans (pdf); the tenon slot in your pictures looks to be off set closer to the middle of the board then the end of the board but in the plans seems centered there is no mesurement one way or the other, it also shows the width (front of tenon to back of tenon) for the peg slot to be 1-1/2 inch x Length (end to median) to be 1-3/4 inch while the peg is only 1-3/4 inch at its widest. I was also wondering if I missed something but you said you used 2 2x8x16 for Mortises and Tenons 32 feet wood length but your plans call for 34 feet. Sorry to come off as a dbag but was just wondering. Great Idea though, plan to build both of your shelves this weekend.

    1 reply

    "The tenon slot in your pictures looks to be off set closer to the middle of the board then the end of the board but in the plans seems centered there is no mesurement one way or the other."

    It is offset. I'm not a professional carpenter, nor literal by any means. I go by feel and adjust as I go along.

    What I do is I measure from the back, and allow for whatever change is left over, so yes, there is going to be a little difference on the widths.

    "I was also wondering if I missed something but you said you used 2 2x8x16 for Mortises and Tenons 32 feet wood length but your plans call for 34 feet."

    Actually, I think we're both wrong on this point. It should have been 3 2x8x16 = 32 feet worth of tenons (4ft long times 8) + 14 feet worth of mortises (7ft long times 2) = 46 feet.

    Does that help?

    Please take photos and send them to me! I will create a "bookcases made by other people" section just for you!


    7 years ago on Step 4

    here's a thought. your holes look oval, rounded at the ends. if your drill bit is the right size you can drill a hole at each end, then use your jig saw to connect the holes. voila! no turns with the jig saw!

    Saw my granddad do that many many moons ago. He built a whole house. twice. LOL

    4 replies

    Wonderful idea! I actually go back and forth between the two methods. I simply posted the technique I'm more comfortable with. Your suggestion (due to my amateur hand) results in more clean up. I want to get better at it, though, because it would produce straighter lines in the end.

    Ummm, what's your granddad's address? I'd love to glean some of his wisdom. Lol.


    I'm sorry, you'll have to find a younger person's address. my granddad's address is Heaven '72 , LOL it was always fun watching and helping him with his projects. I learned a lot I didn't even remember I knew.

    you keep practicing and you'll find it results in less clean up after you get that technique down.


    Lol. Well your grandfather has my respect. I will continue to work on that technique of his. I do always favor less clean up.


    what you're doing when you connect the two holes is going from the extreme right of the bottom hold to the extreme right of the top hole, and then turn around and do it again on the other side. there really should be no clean up at all, if you get it over far enough. it's the aiming and getting right to the edge and no further, that saves you a bundle of time.

    Try laying a straight edge on the outside of the holes to connect them, then mark a pencil line connecting them on each side of the holes so you can follow the pencil marks with your jig saw. That should do it. of course you'll still have to sand or file, but it should be much easier this way, I think.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Love the book case here is a little different way to make the mortise I like.Keep up the good work excellent instructions.

    photo (3).JPG
    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Not sure on the exact angle, not much just kind of sanded it to a slight bevel.But If you see how my shelf locks into the groove I cut into the side or leg.Makes it a lot stronger and easily done with a circular saw with the cut depth pre-set and a good chisel.I never got around to cutting a half oval or v into the bottom of the legs as well as some shaping on the top of the sides seeing yours might just get me up and making some more sawdust.Thanks