Build the box and the shelves
To get started building the bookshelf, cut the 3/4-in. plywood
box parts as shown in the cutting diagram
on (see Fig. A and B, and Additional Information, below). The grain on the box lid
(B) runs the “wrong” way, but it's well
below eye level and only your pets will
see it. To avoid splitting the plywood,
drill pilot holes before you screw the box
together (Photo 1). No need for glue;
three screws at each joint will make the
box plenty strong, and you won't have to
deal with glue squeeze-out.
Drill holes for adjustable shelf supports
(Photo 2). I made
two shelves, used only one and tucked
the other away in a nearby closet—better
to have a second shelf than to wish for it
later. When you edge the shelves (Photo
3), cut the strips of screen molding a bit
longer than the shelves and trim off the
excess after the glue sets. To complete
the box, add the back (D). Make sure to
cut the back perfectly square so you can
use it to square the box. After cutting the
back from a half sheet of 1/4-in. plywood,
you'll have more than enough left
over to cut the spacers you’ll need later
(see Photos 5 and 7).
Figure A: Shortcut Bookshelf
32-1/4" tall x 37-3/4" wide x 11-1/8" deep
For Cutting List, see Additional Information, below.
Add rails, stiles and trim
“Rails” are the horizontal parts that
frame the outside of the shelf box;
“stiles” are the vertical parts. Cut solid
wood boards to the widths given in the
Cutting List (see Figure A and Additional Information, below). Nail the corner stile
parts (E and F) together with 1-1/2-in.
brads (Photo 4). Next, cut the spacers that go behind the side rails and stiles. I
made all my spacers 1/8 in. smaller than
the parts that go over them. The purpose of
the spacers is to make the rails and stiles
protrude an extra 1/4 in. from the sides of
the shelf box. Without them, the 3/4-in.
cove molding (see Photo 6) would be flush
with the faces of the rails and stiles—and
that would look bad.
Glue and nail the spacers with 1/2-in.
brads, then switch to 1-1/2-in. brads for the
rails and stiles (Photo 5). Trying to fit a rail
between stiles that are already fastened is
difficult, and you won’t get tight joints.
Here’s how to avoid that: Nail on one of the
corner stiles, followed by the side rails (H
and J) and then the rear side stile (G). Note
that the lower rail overhangs the box by 1 in.
Next, lay the box on its back, set the front
rails (K and L) in place and check the fit of
the other corner stile. Shorten the front
stiles if necessary and nail them into place.
Then nail on the second corner stile, followed
by the side rails and stiles.
With all the rails and stiles in place,
you're ready to install the cove molding
(Photo 6). To avoid tedious work later, sand
all the molding before you start cutting it.
Installing the molding is the slowest phase
of building a bookshelf because cutting it to the right
length on the first try is almost impossible.
Instead, you’ll cut each piece, test-fit it and
shave it shorter until it fits. Don't nail any of
the moldings until they're all in place. Then
attach the baseboards (Photo 7) and add
cove molding above them.
Figure B: Plywood Cutting Diagram
Follow this diagram to make the most efficient use of the 3/4-in. plywood.
For the complete material list, see Additional Information below.
Back to Top
Crown the box with a fancy top
Don't be fooled by the large number of
small parts that make up the top
assembly—it's showy but not difficult. Start by
rounding the edges of the top (P) with a
1/4-in. round-over bit (Photo 8). Then
assemble plywood and solid wood parts of
the frame with nails and glue. When you
drill pilot holes to screw the frame to the
top (Photo 9), mark the depth with masking
tape on your drill bit so you don’t poke
through the top.
Shape the bead molding with a 1/8-in.
round-over bit (Photo 10). Keep in mind
that the 3-ft. length of molding is just
barely enough for the front piece; there’s no
room for error. To complete the top assembly,
add the cove molding and the filler
blocks (Photo 11). Fasten on the top with
2-in. screws (Photo 12) and you’re ready for
finishing. I used General Finishes Mission
Oak stain (rockler.com) followed by three
coats of Minwax Wipe-On Poly (satin).