Carpentry Projects
Comments 13

How To Build a Bookcase, Part One

When I last wrote about my family room redo project I had just finished building the fireplace surround. To catch up, you can read these posts about how to frame, tile, and trim a fireplace.

This is how the fireplace looked with the mantel done.

before bookcase.jpg

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.


Gas shut off.jpg

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.

inspiration bookcases.jpg

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.

Bookcase sketch.jpg

And then the crude gets more precise. (I left off my measurements in these drawings as your space will require a different size bookcase.)

bokcase design.jpg

Bookcase materials.jpg


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.

plywood cuts.jpg

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. 2x4 framing.jpg

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.

Bookcase frame.jpg copy.jpg

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.

Bookcase Vertical Panels.jpg.jpgAh, but to drill all these holes in straight rows and the two columns of holes level to one another. Therein lies the rub. But, as I said earlier, with every dilemma there is an answer.

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.)

template for holes L&I.jpg

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.

mess L&I.jpg

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.

painting L&I.jpg

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.

As I built I played with color and art.
bookcase 1 almost done.jpg

Then, once bookcase number one done there was no time for relaxing.

No ma’am.

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! :-)

there goes the back.jpg

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.


  1. first- congratulations on such a wonderful job done. The book case along with the fire place is looking just beautiful. Second- hats off to you for doing it yourself. you may realize I say this because we Indians are not very DIY people. I would feel daunted just by the thought of doing something like this on my own. Even though I’ve experienced the joy of creating something on my own( when I painted my daughter’s room) I cannot bring myself to believe that I can accomplish something like this. Inspired by you !! :)

    • Thank you my friend! I think, no, I know you can do it! I am interested in what you said about “we Indians are not very DIY people.” Is that the culture? That you hire people for such jobs? Do you have many home improvement stores available to you where you can get materials for building and can wander around in and get ideas? Or is home improvement a world that seems unavailable to you even if you were interested? I walk around Home Depot like most women I know walk around clothing stores! :-) Interesting how varied we are in what we do and don’t do.

      • Its true that we Indians as people are not very Diy people. Maybe its a part of our culture that work is compartmentalized. the beginings of the caste system in Vedic India was rooted in the occupation. The ‘Brahmins’ read and taught and passed on the wisdom from generation to generation. The ‘Kshtriyas’ were the warriors, the ‘Vaishyas’ were the traders and the ‘Shudras’ were the menial workers. Later on these castes came to be fixed by birth and then were overridden by many bad and inhuman practices like ‘Untouchability’. This is a huge topic. But getting back, I think its in the psyche to let respective people do their work and earn their living.
        And then we don’t have big stores where you get all things needed for doing up your home under a roof. So we go to different stores for different needs, order the supplies and then get the work done by hired personnel. And if I were to suggest that I do all the wood, paintwork and masonry, I’m sure people here would think me to be a bit out of my head!! :) :)

      • Thank you for such a thoughtful response to my question. Fascinating, isn’t it, our cultures, our history and how they shape our worlds. You mention, and I like the idea you stated, “I think its in the psyche to let respective people do their work and earn their living.” Not only do I like your statement but I am touched by its irony. I say this because I got into DIY only after spending 7 months calling 8 contractors to do a job for me and I could not get a SINGLE ONE to even call me back. I tried to hire someone to do the job and it was because I could not get them to respond that, if I wanted to finally get the job done, I was left with no choice but to learn the work myself. And learn I did. I sure hope when you call, the professionals call you back! :-)

      • Here, thankfully, they do respond and once things fall in place get to work, immediately. The only little problem is if they say the work will complete in 10 days, we know its going to be 30!! :)

      • We get the same thing on how long the project will be, at least your people start immediately! Send some of that our way!!! Wishing you the best my friend! :-)

  2. Wow! I am so impressed with you and your talent! This is just AWESOME! I would love to have something just like this in my living room, but even with all of your wonderful instruction, this is not a project I could EVER do myself. I showed the your handiwork to my husband, and he said, you know, we could build something like this in our LR, (and by “we” he means “him”, because I’m just there for moral support)! So, maybe…after the bathroom and family room is finished, we can build some bookshelves too!
    The final look of your project is just stunning. I would love to hire you as my interior decorator…you really have a gift and talent, my friend. Well done…stand back, and be proud…YOU did it! :)

    • YAY! Becky is getting bookshelves… and a new bathroom… and a new family room! I just got an idea. You can come to Camp Charlotte. It can be a DIY camp and we build stuff and do all those things that we think we can’t and then, after the day is done and all the power tools are safely put away, we can break out the gin and tonics, sit on the porch and celebrate our building successes! Your husband will then have to be relieved of his building duties because you can take over and well, I guess he’ll just have to spend more time on the golf course instead! :-) Thank you for all your kind words, you brought a huge smile to my face and thank you too for liking my quirky house full of colorful fun. You’re awesome! :-)

  3. Louis says

    You wonderful and absolutely beautiful ladies have inspired me by your conversation and accomplishments. Just the thought of DIY is wonderful in itself. Get after it!!! Mostly all true accomplishments are the residue of well thought common sense ideas. Just take enough time to think them through, write them down to visualize them, then ACT!!!! Congratulations!!!

    • Why thank you, Louis! Sorry for the delay in my response but I have been busy with the DIY projects and haven’t been on the computer much! Oh I hope to be able to get photos up as yes indeed so much has changed since those early shots. It just takes this ole girl awhile to get ‘er all done!!! Thanks again for stopping by and your comment. I sure hope the new year has been treating you well. :-)

    • Oh it has indeed! Soon I hope. Your message is inspiring me to get with the blogging program again. “I think I can. I think I can…” :-)

Talk to me...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s