About this bookcase
This solid oak built-in bookcase has plenty
of room for displaying your favorite books
and collectibles plus lots of hidden cabinet
space below. And it's easy to build. Just cut
the 2x4 framework
lumber and screw it
together. Then cut
oak plywood and
solid oak trim and
nail them to the
make the paneled
cabinet doors with
an ordinary table saw and join the face
frames with an easy-to-use pocket hole jig.
Another plus is that you can pick up
wherever you leave off at any time. You can
prebuild most of it in your garage or shop
and assemble the pieces as you go.
Figure A: Bookcase construction and details
Figure A: Bookcase Details
Figure A shows a cutaway of the complete bookshelf, along with some of the details. More details are shown in the steps and photos below. For large-size, printable PDFs of Figure A and Details, see Additional Information below. Also see Additional Information for the Cutting List and Shopping List.
Customize it to fit your room
The bookcase measurements we give are based on our
room, which has an 8-ft. ceiling and measures just a
skosh over 12 ft. wide. If your room is a bit wider, just
move each middle column away from the side walls by
one-third of the difference. The columns near the wall
stay where we've located them. For example, if your
room is 12 ft. 9 in. wide, just move each center column
one-third the difference of 9 in., or 3 in., farther from
each wall than the measurement we give in Photo 4. If
your room is taller, you'll need to stretch out the section
of the bookcase above the cabinet doors; your columns will taper more gradually, but not enough to notice.
Our bookcase cost about $1,500, including the hardware
and finish. That's not a lot of money compared
with the price of a quality store-bought bookcase. If you
shop around at local lumber suppliers, you may be able
to save money. We used special rift-sawn oak, which we
ordered from a local supplier. Its long, straight grain
keeps the project from looking too busy and helps disguise
glue joints like those in the center of the columns.
The effect is a wide, evenly grained board. You can, however, sort through pieces at a
home center and find nice-looking
pieces that will match well. Whatever
wood you choose, figure on
spending about 40 hours or more
to build and finish this project.
You'll need a table saw and a
circular saw for this project, and we
suggest using a pocket hole jig for the face
frames (Photo 10) and the cabinet
top extensions (Photo 21). If you've
never used a pocket hole jig, you'll
find it easy to use with the instructions
provided. It's a slick way to
firmly hold wood joints without
gluing and clamping. A doweling jig, however, is a good substitute for
this part of the project. If you don't
have an air-powered finish nailer,
here's a good excuse to buy one!
You can buy inexpensive finish
nailers at home centers or rent them
when you do the major assembly
work. We recommend an 18-gauge
brad nailer for the smaller
pieces of trim and a 15- or 16-gauge finish
nailer for nailing the
columns and baseboards in place.
You'll also need a screw gun, a belt
sander and a finish sander along
with your basic carpentry and
Study Fig. A carefully for
construction details, then read the
text for added information and tips
on building the doors, columns and
cornice details. Follow the how-to
photos as a step-by-step guide to
the building process.
Tip: Sand plywood sides,
columns and door assemblies
before you install
them. You'll do a better job
if you avoid working in
difficult, strained positions.
Measure carefully as you lay out the room
The design of this project is forgiving
for rooms that are a bit out of
whack. If one of your side walls is
out of plumb slightly, the taper of
the columns will disguise it. If your
floor slopes slightly from left to
right, it's best to split the difference
and make it flow with the room
rather than trying to level the whole
project. Just be sure to install the
2x4 verticals plumb.
The odd measurement of 11-7/8
in. for the depth allows you to cut
four sides (Photo 7) from a single
sheet of 4 x 8-ft. oak plywood. We found that even oversized books fit comfortably on the
bookcase, especially on the cabinet tops just above the
doors. Here the depth increases to nearly 14-3/4 in.
Follow Photos 2 – 6 to get your layout lines in the
Buy good framing lumber
It's essential to use straight 2x4s and 3/4-in. boards to get
the skeletal part of the bookcase correct. Bows and twists
will make your job more difficult. Buy a couple of extra
pieces and store all your lumber in the house for about a
week to acclimate it. Central heating has a way of taking
a reasonably straight piece of lumber and quickly turning
it into a banana. If you buy lumber at a home center
where the stuff is reasonably dry and stored inside, you
can usually assume it'll hold its shape.
upper apron and
Measure the room width
at the top, middle and
base of your room. Take
the narrowest measurement
and subtract 3/8 in.
from that. This will give
you just the right amount
of maneuvering room to
get the apron assembly
(Photo 3) off the floor and
up to the ceiling without
having to use a sledgehammer.
Do the same for
the 2x4 base assembly
Detail 2: Base Assembly
Follow this plan to build the base assembly. A PDF version of Detail 2 is in Additional Information.
Use 1/4-in. Pegboard as a Drilling Guide
Getting precise holes into the
3/4-in. plywood sides for your shelf
supports is a must for a project like
this. To make a foolproof template,
rip a 3-in. wide strip from a sheet
of pegboard (use the rest of it to
organize your shop space). Label
the top and bottom, then use small
brads to temporarily tack it to each
panel. The holes on the Peg-Board
are spaced every 2 in. Tape over the
holes you won't be using. Then drill
1/4-in. holes 1/2 in. deep into the
panels (J and L). Buy a stop collar
and a new brad point bit to get clean,
unsplintered holes. We left 8 in. free
of holes on the bottom of each side
panel, since it would be useless to
position a shelf any lower. Reuse this
same strip for each piece. Don't be
sloppy here or you could widen the
holes of your template and pay the
price with uneven shelves.
Make sure you buy 1/4-in. pegs. Other sizes are also sold but need different drilling templates.
Make the doors with your table saw
You won't need a router or a shaper or even a dado
blade for your table saw to make these simple doors.
A standard carbide blade set at the correct height and
some careful fence adjustments will give you great
results. The key to success here is to use sacrificial scraps
to get your settings just right. It usually takes a bit of
tweaking to get your setups just right.
Start by cutting the grooves. Set the fence just a hair
over 1/4 in. from the blade, then lower the blade below
the table. For safety, place a 1/2-in. piece of plywood
over the blade area and against the fence and clamp it
to the saw table (Photo 11). Start your saw and raise the
blade until it comes through about 3/4 in. Shut off the saw and lower the blade until it's
1/2 in. above the plywood surface.
Now, start the saw and run the
scrap piece through the blade on
edge as shown in Photo 11. When
you've made the cut, flip the piece
end-for-end and run the other side
of the board through the blade,
keeping it tight against the fence.
Now test the groove by slipping in a
piece of 1/4-in. plywood. It should
slide into the groove without your
pushing it firmly. If the fit is too
loose, move the fence slightly away
from the blade. If the fit is too tight,
move the fence closer to the blade.
Now cut all the inside edges of the
rails and stiles.
Make your tenons by setting the
fence exactly 1/2 in. from the blade
(don't use the 1/2-in. plywood on
top of your saw for this). Raise the
blade 1/4 in. Make sure your miter
gauge for your saw is set at 90
degrees. Push your scrap piece
through the saw, keeping it firmly
against the miter gauge and the
fence. After one pass, move it away from the fence about 1/8 in. and send it through again.
Continue until you've completed that side of the tenon.
Then flip it over and do the other side. If there are some
saw marks, scrape them off with a flat file. Test-fit your
tenon in the groove you've just made. If it fits too tightly,
raise the blade just slightly and recut the piece. If the fit is
loose, lower the blade slightly and try another test piece.
When you've got it right, cut the ends on all of the door
rails as shown in Photo 12.
When you glue up your door pieces, apply
glue both to the sides of the tenon and in
the groove where the tenon will fit. Don't
use too much glue or you'll have extra
scraping and sanding to do when it oozes.
A good glue job will force only tiny beads
from the joint as you clamp it.
Detail 3: Door and frame assembly
Detail 3: Door and Frame Assembly
Follow this cutaway to build the door and frame. A PDF version of Detail 3 is in Additional Information.
Detail 4: Column assembly
Detail 4: Column Assembly
This detail shows the dimensions of the column assembly. A PDF version of Detail 4 is in Additional Information.
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Make your cornice blocks from built-up strips
You could special-order thick slabs of wood for the
cornice detail at the top of the bookcase (Photo 20), but
that's impractical when you've got plenty of small scrap
left over. Cut three
strips to size from
3/4-in. oak for the
cornice blocks and
the keystone. Glue
and clamp them. When the glue is dry, belt-sand
them smooth on each side and
then finish-sand them. Use your
jigsaw or a miter saw to cut the
Detail 8: Cornice assembly
Detail 8: Cornice Assembly
This detail shows a cutaway of the built-up cornice assembly. A PDF version of Detail 8 is in Additional Information.
Detail 9: Extension assembly
Detail 9: Extension Assembly
This detail shows a cutaway of the extension assembly. A PDF version of Detail 9 is in Additional Information.