Built-in Bookcases

A Mission Oak classic—engineered for easy construction

This built-in Mission Oak bookcase features loads of shelf space, vertical grain wood, solid oak construction and a design that can be easily altered to fit your room.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

TIME

Multi-day

COMPLEXITY

Complex

COST

Over $500

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 from standard lumber and screw it together. Then cut oak plywood and solid oak trim and nail them to the framework. You 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 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.

Figure A: Bookcase construction and details
Back to Top

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 layout tools.

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.

Back to Top

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 right spots.

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.

Undersize the upper apron and base assemblies 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 (Photo 4).

Detail 2: Base Assembly

Follow this plan to build the base assembly. A PDF version of Detail 2 is in Additional Information.

Detail 2: Base assembly
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.

Back to Top

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

Follow this cutaway to build the door and frame. A PDF version of Detail 3 is in Additional Information.

Detail 3: Door and frame assembly
Detail 4: Column Assembly

This detail shows the dimensions of the column assembly. A PDF version of Detail 4 is in Additional Information.

Detail 4: Column assembly
Back to Top

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 keystone angles.

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 8: Cornice assembly
Detail 9: Extension Assembly

This detail shows a cutaway of the extension assembly. A PDF version of Detail 9 is in Additional Information.

Detail 9: Extension assembly
Back to Top

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Clamps
  • Miter saw
  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Circular saw
  • Belt sander
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Combination square
  • Level
  • Dust mask
  • Orbital sander
  • Pocket hole jig
  • Safety glasses
  • Self-centering drill bit
  • Table saw

You'll also need a 15 or 16 gauge finish nailer.

For a complete Material List and Cutting List, see Additional Information