It doesn't take an avid reader long to accumulate a large library of books. If you're tired of digging through stacks of books in your closets and corners trying to find that special title, maybe it's time to build some bookshelves. The simple approach shown here delivers a very strong shelf that won't sag, even under a load of the heaviest books. It uses a couple recent developments in woodworking, which put the project within the grasp of beginning woodworkers. While the project dimensions yield an overall case width of 90 inches, you can vary that a few inches either way to customize the project to your space.
Things You Will Need
Plywood projects intimidate many beginners because they require a lot of shop space and heavy duty equipment. Now several companies deliver accurate cuts using an economical hand held circular saw guided by a rail, making space and equipment less of an issue. Pocket-hole joinery also makes it easier for beginners to tackle larger projects, reducing the need for bar clamps and speeding the assembly process. To build this built-in bookshelf you'll need 3 sheets of hardwood plywood, 7 one-by-threes 8 feet long, 4 one-by-ones 8 feet long, 2 one-by-fours 8 feet long, a rail saw, a pocket-hole jig, a power drill and pocket-hole screws in lengths 1 1/4 and 2 inches.
Build the Toe Kick
Cut two strips of plywood 3 1/2 inches wide. Miter the ends of the two strips to a length of 89 1/2 inches. Cut two pieces 7 1/2 inches long from one of the one-by-fours, with miters on both ends. Build a toe-kick base 7 1/2 inches deep and 89 1/2 inches long. Assemble the toe kick, reinforcing it with blocks spaced evenly creating three sections. Carefully cut and remove the baseboard from the wall. Hold the toe-kick in place and use it as a guide to cut carpet (if present).
Install the Toe Kick
Paint the toe-kick before installing. Screw the toe-kick base in place with pocket-hole screws spaced every 12 to 18 inches. Install carpet tack strips along the toe kick and use a rented carpet stretcher to tuck the carpet tight to the toe kick base.
Rip Plywood and Make Sides
Cut 11 pieces of plywood 9 1/4 inches wide. Cut 4 of them to a length of 90 inches. Measure 11/8 from the bottom and scribe a line square across the panel. Adjust that measurement down if your plywood doesn't measure a full 3/4 inch. For example, the plywood in the sample is 11/16 inch thick, so the mark was made 1 1/16 inches from the bottom. Working from that line, scribe lines every 12 3/4 inches along the board. Separate the 4 boards into two pair, align the bottoms and mark one left and one right.
Edge Band the Sides
Drill pocket holes at each scribed line on the left edge of one board and the right edge of its mate. Use the pocket holes and wood glue to attach one-by-one edge banding to the panels. With the spacing given, the shelves will hide the pocket holes when you assemble the shelves. You will need to add another hole a couple inches down from the top, which will have to be filled. Alternatively, you can use a clamp to secure the top of the edge banding as shown, eliminating the need to fill a pocket hole.
Cut Shelves and Rails
Cut 14 shelf panels 29 inches long out of the 9 1/4 inch panels. Drill three pocket holes across both short ends and 5 across one long edge of all the shelf panels. Cut 14 one-by-twos to the same length as the shelves. These will be the front rails of the shelves. Drill one pocket hole in each end of the rails, centered 3/8 inch from the bottom edge.
Assemble each shelf by clamping a rail on edge to a work surface. Align a shelf panel to the rail flush at both ends and screw them together with 1 1/4 inch pocket hole screws. Two of the shelves need to be made with the pocket holes on the top side, rather than the bottom. They will be less noticeable that way on the top shelves.
Join Shelves to Side
Scribe a line across the panel located above the bottom of the panel by the thickness of two pieces of plywood. Align a shelf panel to that line with the front surfaces flush. Clamp in place. Screw the shelf to the side with 1 1/4 inch pocket hole screws. Make two spacers 7 inches wide and 12 inches long (adjust the length if your plywood is less than 3/4 inch, adding the difference). Place a spacer above the shelf just screwed to the side. Align the next shelf snug to the spacer. Screw the panel to the side. Repeat for the other 5 shelves.
Add Second Side
Note in the photo that the shelf with the pocket holes on top is put in as the top shelf. Place the mating side on the work surface and carefully invert the shelf/side assembly onto the second side. Repeat the assembly procedure, using the spacer block to keep everything aligned. Repeat with the second set of sides so that you end up with two identical units.
Locate Studs in Supporting Wall
Locate the studs in the wall closest to the center of each shelf. Snap a chalk line indicating the center of the studs
Form two bases for the towers from some of the left over plywood. The "H" pattern base is sized 9 1/8 inches by 28 7/8 inches, an eighth inch narrower and shorter than your shelf panels. Align bases on open sides so that the sides overhang the toe kick by 1/2 inch. Align bases so that sides against a wall can easily drop over the base and have a small amount of room for adjustment. Attach the bases to the toe kick with nails or construction screws.
Attach to Stud
Stand the two towers on the bases. Adjust each tower so that it is level. Working above the top shelf, drill a pocket hole in the shelf aligned to the chalk mark for the stud. (Your pocket hole jigs should have instructions for drilling holes in place.) Attach the shelf to the stud with a 2 inch pocket hole screw.
The Two Towers
With the two towers level and plumb, the space between the two should be exactly the same as the shelves in the towers. However, houses move, settle and shift. Carefully measure, cut and install each middle shelf one at a time. Measure and cut the bottom shelf and rail. Make an "H" base for it, as you did for the towers. The pocket holes in the bottom-center shelf cannot be hidden underneath. More on that later. For now, place the "H" base and the bottom shelf on the toe kick without attaching.
Install Middle Shelves
Measure, cut and assemble the next shelf up, using the same procedure used for the shelves in the towers. Using the two spacers made earlier, position the second shelf. Use playing cards as shims to make small adjustments so that the rails align straight across. Screw the shelves to the sides. Repeat, measuring and cutting each shelf individually for a precise fit.
Build and Install Top
Cut the top panel 11 1/2 inches wide and 90 inches long. Drill pocket holes along one long edge and across the ends if the mating side is not against a wall. Miter one-by-four material to fit around the top panel. Attach the one-by-four trim with an offset of 3/4 inch toward the bottom (use plywood scraps to create the offset). Install the top, attaching it to the vertical sides with nails or construction screws.
Secure Shelves to Studs
When the top is attached and everything is plumb, drill pocket holes in each shelf (except the bottoms) aligned to the studs. Drill upper shelves on the top and lower shelves on the bottom so that the pocket holes are least noticeable. Attach each shelf to the studs with 2 inch pocket hole screws.
You have two options on the bottom shelf. You can drill the pocket holes on the top surface and install it like the rest, then fill the holes with plugs. The other option is to leave the shelf and the "H" base loose, with the rail attached to the sides. The shelf will be perfectly functional and fully supported, but you have also created a secret hiding spot. Just reach under the rail and lift up on the shelf and you can use the space in the toe kick to hide valuables.
Sand and Finish
Sand all surfaces and paint to match or contrast with the wall behind the shelf.