This is how the fireplace looked with the mantel done.
Progress. Yes. But it looks pretty lonely standing there all by itself.
So on to the bookcase building we go. Join me as I walk you through my first ever bookcase building experience. With planning and patience I learned bookcase building isn’t really so hard.
1. Design with your space’s unique needs in mind: Overcoming design dilemmas
You know what you dream your space to look like. You have spent hours imagining what you want. You have been online and searched for images to help inspire and give shape to those dreams and the beauty of DIY is you really can make dreams come true.
Yeah. It’s powerful stuff.
But. (It’s just a little but)
Almost every space has some sort of design dilemma.
There is almost always what I call the “hmm” moment.
The moment when you realize there is something impeding your plan. There is something that demands rethinking.
These hmm moments aren’t deal breakers.
They just require reassessing. Thinking. Sitting still and looking at the space in every possible angle and direction.
What is your space telling you you must overcome?
Listen and give the need your careful consideration and with patience and planning you will come up with not only a workable solution but maybe even an enhancement to your original design.
With my fireplace-bookcase project I had such a design issue to address. On the right side of the fireplace is the emergency gas shut off. For obvious reasons this shut off HAD to be accessible. So the design had to incorporate a bookcase with access to the shut off.
2. Sit down to tea with your design dilemma: Inspiration will find you
After the “oh man” that follows the “hmm” moment, I sat and thought about my problem.
And I do what I do in these moments, I went to PInterest and looked at images of bookcases flanking fireplaces.
And there it was. My answer.
By lifting the bookcases up 16″ I could build a base with a door and that would allow me access to the shut off. This base would not disrupt the original inspiration of a fireplace flanked by two bookcases. I would still have exactly what I wanted, with just a slight modification.
3. The fist pump followed by action: Pen to paper
I had my design. Now I needed to start working with how I would build it. This is when I start drawing. Crude as they may be my sketches let me start thinking in 3-D and thinking not about a pretty picture in Pinterest but about each of the individual elements that are required to make that picture a reality.
I think by drawing.
And then the crude gets more precise. (I left off my measurements in these drawings as your space will require a different size bookcase.)
Once I had a firm plan for the project, I completed all measurements, made a materials list and headed off to Home Depot for the first of what is always multiple trips.
For this project I used 2″x4″s for the base and 3/4″ sanded birch plywood for the bookcase. Rather than haul a very heavy sheet of 4’x8′ ply home, I had Home Depot make the first eight cuts for me. A few of the boards would need to be cut again with our circular saw to fit exactly but having Home Depot do the majority of the cuts made life so much easier.
4. Let the construction commence: There are materials, tools and a whole lot of problem solving going on
The first step in constructing the bookcase was to build the base. As I have said before, construction is mostly just box building, so with 2″x4″s and 2 1/2″ wood screws box building I did. To assure the box was exactly the depth I wanted, I temporarily screwed in a leveled scrap piece of drywall to both the wall and fireplace to serve as a depth guide. Once the box was built I simply unscrewed the scraps.
The base building process is very straightforward. The key steps is to measure accurately to get the right lengths so everything fits to your design specifications and, oh I can’t emphasis this enough, make sure, as you are building, you are constantly checking that the base is level.
With the base built to your measurements and level, it is time to begin constructing another box: the plywood bookcase frame. This consists of three vertical panels. The first (left most) was attached to the wall using mostly 6d finishing nails but I used an occasional 8d finishing nails just for extra strength. I am prone to over engineering. A good thing, I think.
The next vertical (right) was attached to the side of the fireplace surround, again with nails. Prior to installing the middle vertical. I installed the top framing piece to confirm it was sitting level on the left and right verticals. Once I knew it was level, I attached the top piece to the verticals being very careful to get the nail into the middle of the 3/4″ verticals.
Next I inserted the middle vertical and attached it to the base and to the top. I now had my base and frame complete.
5. Every trade needs its tricks: Finding them makes the construction process easier
With the bookcase verticals in place, the next step was preparing for the shelves. I decided I wanted adjustable shelves. It was enough to design and build the shelves, but at this point, to know where everything was going to go on those shelves… HA! So I wanted flexibility.
The most flexible shelf design was to have holes running down the verticals that fit shelf support pins. This would allow me to move the shelves up and down. There would be two vertical rows of holes running 1 1/2″ in from each edge of the vertical frame members.
Enter a piece of peg board I had in my workroom closet.
The pegboard was a perfect template for my holes.
I sat inside the bookcase, in a slightly contorted way, with one hand and one knee holding the peg board level while with my other hand I drilled all the holes. To get the 2″ gap between holes I wanted, I used every other pegboard hole. It was awkward but totally worth it because I got straight, level holes which means straight and level shelves. (In retrospect drilling the holes PRIOR to installing the vertical members would have been much earlier. But with every construction project there is a learning curve.)
6. It all comes together: Trim, caulk and paint are a girl’s best friends
With the holes finished it was time to begin installing the 1″x3″ facing on the frame. This is when it all starts coming together. Up till now it looks like a bunch of plywood. Functional yes, attractive no. But with the trim it begins to look like a piece of furniture.
Since the fireplace was faced in a shaker styled trim, I continued the look onto the bookshelves with more rails and stiles. This step was very straight forward. It just required measuring and cutting trim with my miter saw and then attaching each piece using 1 1/4″ brads in the nail gun and making sure the trim boards remained level.
I used some scrap plywood to make the top rails. They are wider than the 1″x3″ trim I used everywhere else, about 4 1/2″. I made them wider because the crown moulding will be attached to them. Once the crown is installed the visible trim was the same size as the rest of the trim.
Here is the bookcase with all the moulding installed and one coat of white paint.
Yeah, and you can see my wall color indecision here too.
Hey, indecision is part of DIY.
If I waited until every single design decision was made before I began a project I wouldn’t ever begin a project. :-) DIY is fluid, it is changing. It is seeing something come together and as it does, what you thought you absolutely knew you would do, might change.
Then, once bookcase number one done there was no time for relaxing.
it was time to blow out the back of the house and put in some french doors.
This part of the project was NOT DIY! :-)
So that’s how you build a bookshelf. Plan the look and the measurements. Build a box. Make sure it is LEVEL. Trim it out. Then caulk and paint. The entire process is incredibly rewarding and then, when you get to that day when that bookcase is filled up – Wow. It just makes all the work worth it and you can stand back and say, “I did that!”
Think about what you want to build and go build it!
Next up: This girl knows her DIY limits. Watching a professional crew install 27 feet of french doors.