Stairway Bookshelves




Introduction: Stairway Bookshelves

About: Professionally I have been a summer camp counselor, a Draftsman/designer, salesperson, bicycle mechanic, laminate flooring machine mechanic, teacher, and designer of the OP Loftbed. Personally I am a human...

My wife loves books. She has filled a few bookshelves and we are running out of places to put bookshelves. We have four foot wide stairs, so I thought I could put some on the side of the stairs.

Step 1: Design

It is against building code to have anything on the stairs, it could be a tripping hazard or fire hazard, but I thought our stairway was wide enough. And I fastened them to the wall with screws, so we could remove them if future owners did not want them.

Not all stairs are the same, so not all stairway shelves will be the same. I started off measuring the stairs and then drawing them in CAD. There are a bunch of free CAD programs that will make designing projects much easier than drawing by hand. With CAD you can get a better idea of how it will look. I ended up making the uprights 60" long and the horizontal shelves 19 1/2" long, again these measurements worked for my stairs and should just be a reference for your project. I notched our the bottom back side of the uprights to clear the toe molding on the stairs. I practiced making this notch, on a scrap piece of wood, before cutting on the good pieces. The uprights rested on every other step, starting second from the bottom and ending second from the top. The shelf pieces were glued and screwed to the uprights using #6 x 1 5/8" long wood screws and the whole assembly was screwed into studs in the wall using #8 x 2-1/2" wood screws. All total the materials cost around $250

Step 2: Tools and Materials


Cordless circular saw, cordless drill with drill bits and phillips bit, rafter square, measuring tape,bevel gauge, coping saw, a hobby rasp, clamps, profile gauge, sand paper, wood glue, wood stain and sealer, and saw horses to work on.

Fancier equipment like a table saw or chop saw would have made this job easier. But using the tools I had worked out fine. One of the tools that makes a project like this easier was the corner clamps. They are like a third hand when it comes to holding boards together at right angles.


(11) pine boards 3/4" thick x 7 1/2" wide x 96" long.

(72) #6 x 1 5/8" long wood screws

(8) #8 x 2 1/2" long wood screws

Step 3: Measure Mark and Cut

Measure twice and cut once. I used the rafter square as a guide for my circular saw.

Step 4: Measure Mark and Drill

I drilled and countersunk all the holes in the uprights, which was tricky because some were countersunk from one side and others from the other. Using those holes, I match drilled the holes in the shelves.

Step 5: Glue and Screw

After test fitting everything together and on the steps, I went back and took everything apart and then glued and screwed it back together. I made (3) main sections, so it would be easier to put in the house and on the stairs.

Step 6: Sand and Stain/Paint

During the test assembly, on the stairs, I sanded all the joints to make them flush. We decided to stain the bookshelves to match the steps. My mom wanted to do the staining. I don't like painting and staining so I was happy that she wanted to stain. It took two coats of stain and one coat of semi-gloss sealer to get a close match to the steps.

Step 7: Final Instalation

You can see in these pictures, the three sections and how they go together. I screwed the three sections together, without gluing them, so that during the staining process, no stain would be where the final glued joints would be during final assembly. I also used some pieces of scrap ripped to 1 1/2" wide to make lips that I glued and screwed to the bottoms of the second shelf of each section. I used these lips to anchor the bookcase to the wall studs using #8 x 2 1/2" long screws. Thanks to LeslieGee for pointing out this important step that I left out of the original edit of this Instructable.

As always, Thanks and hope you enjoy.

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    40 Discussions

    I love this idea, but I have an 125+-year old house, with equally as-old plaster walls; do you have any tips for attaching these to plaster walls? There is wood-lathe underneath. Thank you!

    1 more answer

    Never hammer plaster walls. Screws are the best bet. You want screws long enough to hit the laths, or even better if you can find the studs. Good luck.

    This is such a great idea! Like you, we have more books than we do shelves. Might have to do this myself.

    That's a wonderful space saving idea! I love it :)

    How marvellous - love it! I've had to get rid of my vast collection of books now, and would not have had the space for this wonderful bookshelf anyway- yours is truly fantastic! As a mother, I thought it important for my girls to learn to use tools at an early age (with all safety procedures) - and they always had bookshelves in their bedrooms so that "their" special books would not get mixed up with the rest.

    Just love books and bookshelves!. You have my vote of course.

    1 reply

    I like it. I am always looking for hacks like these to put things in unused spaces. I am trying to sell my wife on this idea, she loves the pics. Now I just need to get my shop back in running order.

    Two thumbs up ! ! !

    1 reply

    Beautifully done Mr. Cranford, but you forgot to show one step, how you attached to the wall securely. Did you locate the studs first and then attach through the "lip" that you attached to the back of some of the shelves?? Did you also stagger the "lip" attachment on every other section or did you attach each section to the wall, or did you just use toggle bolts to attach and did not worry about the studs. Thank you for your taking the time to answer.

    2 replies

    Nice catch. Thanks for pointing out my omission. I will add it to the final step of the instructable, but for now I will answer it here. Yes the #8 x 2 1/2" long screws, that I remembered to put in the materials section of my instructable, are what I used to attach it to the studs, in the wall. I made lips out of the same material as the shelves, ripped to 1 1/2" wide and glued and screwed them just below the second shelf of each section. Some sections were attached to one stud, but my shelves were 20ish inches wide so some sections straddled two studs and were attached to both. On a couple of sections I accidentally added the lip under the top and second shelf, so they got double the screws attaching them to the wall studs. Here is a picture also: It is the bottom section and you can see the screw just barely. It is the dark circle about centered in the "lip".

    IMG_2057 (2).JPG

    Again, beautifully executed Mr. Cranford. Thank you so much for the info I might just try to do this if my stairs will accommodate the loss of width :)


    1 year ago

    Nice job, and practical! Maybe the gluing of the sections could be omitted if just a couple extra screws were added at those last joints. As you mentioned, one should foresee the eventual need to disassemble for moving out, Just saying :-)

    2 replies

    Thanks for the reply. I contemplated not gluing them, for that same reason. But I am a true believer in the power of glue. It makes joints so much stronger.

    Respect and support your judgment on this. It gives us the freedom to arrive at unique solutions In some of my shelf projects. I've dadoed the verticals. All depends on the situation. Cheers, oj3

    I love the picture of your daughter holding the end of the board you are cutting. That is how I learned woodworking 60 years ago, by helping Dad and Mom renovate our various homes. I now feel capable of tackling any project from sweating pipes to using a chainsaw to building stairs. I will use this project in my log cabin. Space is tight, but the stairs are wide and there are no kids using them. Thanks especially for training the next generation of "I can do that" kids!

    2 replies

    Thanks for the comment. You should have seen them drilling a couple of the holes in this project. I try and let them help, when safe, and they love it.

    Good luck with building these in your log cabin. Post a picture, when you get it done.

    "You can walk with a wooden leg, but you can't see with a glass eye."

    Very effective safety poster from way back.

    Love it! We have stairs down to our finished basement and there's absolutely NOTHING decorative in the whole stairwell. Shelving would be perfect!