Introduction: Secret Bookcase TV
We have a pretty rustic cabin, and while we wanted a big TV, we didn't want to be looking at that huge black screen 100% of the time. We also had a crappy bookcase that we wanted to replace, and my wife casually said, "wouldn't it be nice if we could hide the TV behind the bookcase?" That seemed like something I could do, little realizing that I was starting down a journey that would take me two years to complete. But honestly I couldn't be more thrilled with how it turned out.
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Step 1: Hardware From Murphy Door
The critical hardware (hinges, tracks, etc.) came from Murphy Door. You can buy complete doors from them, but I chose to just buy the hardware and build the bookcases myself. This was selling for $199, and I had to buy two of them in order to have it open from both sides.
Step 2: Baseline Bookcase Plans
The Murphy Door kits come with plans and a cut list for a pretty basic plywood bookcase. But within some key parameters you can really build any book case you want. I specifically wanted to make some key modifications:
- Solid wood construction (though if I had to do it again I may have used plywood)
- Face frames
- Deeper shelves - The standard Murphy Door plans call for 8" deep shelves, I wanted to go to 12"
This is in addition to the significant modifications required because I've got two doors instead of one.
I found this instructable from @makend0, which I really liked. He similarly made cosmetic modifications to the standard Murphy Door plans, and I actually used his as my baseline. Many thanks for all his help!
Step 3: Modifications for My Specific Plans
I had to do a TON of planning and modeling to make this work, including re-teaching myself high school trigonometry. The key thing to realize is that, since the doors are pivoting on hinges, they move in sometimes surprising ways. I had to account the following motions when the bookcase was opening/closing:
- Back of the bookcase gets closer to the wall - Needs to be factored in to the gap you leave for the TV
- Outside front corners move out - Can't put the side of the case right against a wall
- Inside front corners extend as it opens - Need to leave a gap between the doors
- Face frame silimarly extends - Need a way to get the face frame "out of the way"
Each of these issues took me a ton of figuring to get right, and a lot of sketchup time. I've described each modification below, but yours will depend on your bookcase measurements, your room, and your specific TV/mount thickness.
I've included my sketchup file here. But I definitely recommend making your own plans rather than just following this.
Step 4: Buffer Between the Wall and the Bookcase
My bookshelves are 12" deep (11 1/4" shelf, 1/4" plywood back (rabetted), and a 3/4" thick face frame). But the whole unit actually sticks out another 4 1/2" from the wall to account for the TV, mounting bracket, the movement of the case, and a bit of buffer just in case.
The easy part is your TV and mounting bracket. I found a super low-profile mount - it doesn't pivot or swing, but it only sticks out 0.4" from the wall. My TV itself was 2.510" thick, so I had a little less than 3" to deal with.
The slightly harder bit to figure is the swing of the case. The picture (birds eye view) shows how that one corner moves left, toward the TV/wall. How far will depend on where the pivoting pin is located. On my picture the white rectangle represents the pin position. The extension is the difference between the distance between the pin and the bookcase back (the long side of the rectangle) and the distance between the pin and the corner (the diagonal of the rectangle). In my case this was 0.574". Adding that all up I had not quite 3 1/2", and I gave myself 4 1/2" so I'd have plenty of buffer.
To fill that space, I added a little "wing" to the outside edges of each case, which you can see in the picture. This just cosmetically fills the space between the bookcase and the wall. This too has a tiny bit of motion on opening so it can't be flush with the wall, but a 1/2" gap was more than enough to accomodate.
Step 5: Gap Between the Bookcases
As the door first starts to open, the two sets of bookcases actually get closer together before they get farther apart. The picture doesn't do a great job here, but you actually get three things happening.
Let's call the "bottom" bookcase, which is the leftmost in the room, Case A. Attached to Case A is Case B, which is basiclaly identifcal but a mirror image.
As the bookcases first starts to open, Case A rotates, and the corner with the hinge moves right. This pushes Case B, and the pivot point moves to the right along the track. At the same time, Case B is rotating as well, which further moves the pivot point to the right. Finally, as Case B rotates, its rightmost corner is moving further to the right. The trick is to figure out the rotation at which the sum of these three is at its maximum. For me, that was at 14.5 degrees, when the total movement was 1.954". In the end, the only way I could figure this out was to make a spreadsheet that tracked each of the corners of Cases A and B for any rotation angle, and just brute force it. But the upshot was I had to account for nearly 2" of motion, plus I added a 1/2" buffer.
To cover this gap, I added a "center gap filler" face frame. This had to cover the 2 1/2" gap, a 3/4" case wall on each side, plus I wanted it to overhang a little bit. So the whole thing was 4 1/2" wide. But figuring out how to install it is a beast. You'll see here that this piece needs to "get out of the way" - I've got a step later on describing my solution.
Step 6: Design Valance and Track
Once you know the gaps, you can design the valance. I really just used the plans from Murphy Door, but:
- Doubled the length
- Added length for the gap between the two shelves
- Added depth for the gap between the shelves and wall
I really can't recommend enough careful planning here. Even with all my modeling I still screwed up - forgot to account for the thickness of the face frames so my valance was 3/4" too narrow. I was able to fix it by laminating a board to the back, but was a pain.
If you're like me and you added depth to the case, you won't be able to use the reinforcements included with the murphy door. I don't have a good picture of this but I just added some wood cross members and glued/screwed it in place.
One piece that you DO need to include is the brace with the metal hole for the pivot pin. You'll need to be very careful to get this in the exact right spot.
For the track, you should just be able to adjust the length, and adjust the distance from the wall based on your gaps.
Step 7: Build and Finish the Shelves
I won't go step-by-step here - Makendo did a great job and the Murphy Door instructions are fine.
First, make four identical carcasses . Makendo and Murphy Door use adjustable shelves, while I decided to make all mine fixed. I used pocket hole screws (and glue) for all my case construction, but if I had to do it over again, I would have used dadoes for my shelves for the extra stability. I was just learning my tools though and wasn't confident enough yet!
Once you start adding face frames, you need to do each case individually. The outside cases (A and D) are easiest - You can add the face frames now. You'll see that I chose to make my vertical face frames the same width - 3" (except the center which was 4 1/2"). The outside edges on cases A and D are flush, so since the carcass wall is 3/4" thick, there's a 2 1/4" overhang. At the next joint (between A/B and C/D), I'm covering two 3/4" carcass walls, so I've got only a 3/4" overhang on each side. And the vertical piece is only attached to one side to allow it to open (see picture). I just glued the vertical face frames on since it was easy to clamp. For the horizontal pieces I couldn't clamp since I'd already added the backs, so I used pocket holes. Its not the best (even after I plugged the holes), but you really need to have your face in the case to see them so I didn't worry about it. The only one you'd be able to see easily is the top shelf, but I put those holes on top so they're invisible.
The face frames on the inside cases (B and C) are harder, since their length and placement depend on the motion of the vertical frames you attached to A and D, and more importantly, the center filler. I chose to wait to put those on until the cases were actually on the wall, just to be sure everthing fit. That means I did all my sanding and finishing without the B and C face frames attached. The downside is you can't sand them perfectly flush.
If you're going to glue, just be sure to leave the future glued edges unfinished (glue doesn't bond with finished wood). Also be sure to have a plan for the top and bottom face frames on B and C - I had planned to use pocket holes here too, but once I installed the cases, the holes were completely inaccessible.
So after finishing, you can install all the bushings and hardware on the cases, valance, and track. I didn't put the hinges on until just before I was ready to install, just because the cases are a LOT harder to move around once they're on.
When you do put the hinges on, spend some time to make sure they're perfectly aligned. I also added a wedge to the back of my cases so they can't "open" all the way, to avoid stressing the hinge. I made this more complicated than I needed to - I cut two 5 degree wedges, put a magnet on one side and a washer on the other. In theory that would help it stick "open". In reality the mechanism is stiff enough it didn't matter. But it can't hurt, particularly if your floor isn't level. Sorry I don't have a picture of this.
One other note here. It's important to lubricate the pivots and wheels, particularly the lower wheel, but it's nearly impossible to do so once you've got it installed. So do it now before the cases are up. Murphy Door recommended lithium grease which worked well for me.
Step 8: Install the Track
Again the key here is to get the track the right distance from the wall. You should be focusing on the distance to the center of the pivot, or the center of the track. Also be very careful if your wall has a baseboard. You need to measure from the wall, NOT the baseboard.
The other key is level. I had big problems here, because my floor (and wall) weren't even close. My floor was bowed, so that the center of the track was about a half inch lower than each edge. This DID NOT work. I'd made my top valance perfectly level, so the distance from the bottom track to the top track was too wide in the middle. I had to shim the hell out of the floor track to get this right. If your floor was "straight" but not level, I'm not sure you'd have as much of a problem.
Step 9: Confirm Plumb
It's important that the shelves be close to perfectly plumb vertically. My wall sloped back as you went up, such that top was a full 3/4" "behind" the floor on one side, but close to plumb on the other. I had to shim the valance extensively to get it close enough to operate.
Step 10: Put in the Book Cases
This takes two to three people to do right, plus it helps if you've got a strap to hold the cases up while you're installing. But put them in the lower track and make sure they open/close.
Step 11: Install the Valance
Since the valance is considerably larger than Murphy Door's design, you definitely need a few people to help muscle it in place.
First, add some 1/4" spacers to the top of the door. Be sure they don't interfere with the pivot pins. Then lay the valance on top, align and insert the pins.
Finally, screw it into the wall. Murphy Door includes lag bolts, but I had to supplement. Hopefully you won't have as many plumb issues as I did, but note that your bolts will need to get through the valance, through whatever shims you used, through the drywall, and into the studs. With my screwed up setup I needed longer bolts.
Step 12: Pray, and Celebrate
At this point, if all goes well, you've got fully-functioning book cases. I know that for me, there was a lot of fear before I got it to open the first time. And it still required quite a bit of fiddling to get it to open right. I recommend lubricating the pivot points which helped a lot. Also I had to sand down the back of one of my vertical face frames where it was pinching.
Step 13: Install Center Gap Filler
As you can see in the prior picture, you can't just add the face frame on there and call it a day - it would interfere with the opening mechanism. I went through a few different ideas, but eventually mounted it on invisible hinges.
I used two SOSS 100 hinges. These things are very small, so you can mount them on the edge of the 3/4" boards I was using. The face frame is actually attached at the top and bottom to the horizontal aprons. I only used two (it isn't bearing a lot of weight), though you could easily put in more hinges in the inside face frames if you wanted it sturdier. This may be a good idea, especially since the hinges are attached to the end grain on the face frames.
Now that the cases were installed, I closed them, confirmed the length of the two horizontal face frames I was attaching to the center filler. They can't be super tight - you need a tiny bit of wiggle room on both sides (after everything was installed I had to sand a few down to make it open smoothly).
I used a forstner bit and chisel to make the mortises for the hinge, but you can also use a router. Just make sure that the alignment here is perfect. Once you attach the center filler to the two/three horizontal face frames, you've got a pretty flimsy structure - try not to wrench it too much as you assemble and transport it. Then just attach the horizontal face frames and you should be good.
I had been using pocket holes for my face frames, which was a fine plan except that once the cases are installed, the pocket holes on top and bottom are basically inaccessible. So I had to use glue and brad nails. It worked fine, but if you want to do dowels or some other method, be sure to plan ahead.
Once everything is installed, confirm it all opens/closes well, and that the center filler covers how it's supposed to. I left myself about 1/8" overhang on both sides, both because it looks better, and because it gave me some buffer.
Step 14: Install Final Face Frames
Now that the center filler is in, you can measure and install all your remaining face frames. In theory you could have calculated the length of these ahead of time, but given all the leveling and shimming I had to do, I was more comfortable waiting. Do the case to which you attached the center filler first.
When you get to that frames on the last case, you're going to need to leave a little bit of space for the center filler to open. It's less than a 1/16" gap, but it's visible. After I installed mine it was binding, so I had to sand the ends of a few of the frames down - super easy to do.
Also be sure the cases "close" all the way. The last few degrees of motion really open up the space between the cases, so give it a firm shove if it's tough to close the center filler.
Step 15: Enjoy!
I had grand plans for opening and closing mechanisms. I was worried that with a non-level floor, the doors would "want" to drift open or closed. It turns out that the center filler keeps them closed quite well, and the hinges are tight enough that it stays open just fine. But if you're having problems, there are fun things you can do to lock it in place. I mentioned I put magnets on 10 degree wedges to keep it open, and makendo had a fun way to lock it closed. If anyone builds this, I'd love to hear what you do.