By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:December/January 2013
There's nothing I
like better than
spending weeks on a
project. But I
rarely have time for that. So instead, I
take shortcuts that produce handsome
results but simplify the whole process of building a bookshelf.
This little bookcase showcases some of
my favorite shortcuts: Some save time,
some minimize mistakes and others are
low-effort paths to high style. It all adds
up to a project you can build in a day,
though finishing will add a few hours
after that. You’ll find all the materials in
stock at most home centers.
Holding corners together while driving screws is clumsy. So tack the
corners together with a brad nailer first when you build the bookshelf. The nails will hold the parts in
position while you add screws for strength.
Adjustable shelves are easier to make and
finish than stationary shelves. A scrap of
pegboard is a perfect template to
position the support holes. Mark the
pegboard holes you want to use
and label the end of the
template that goes against
the bottom shelf.
A brad point bit
when drilling shelf
holes. Wrap the bit
with a masking tape
“flag” to mark the depth of
Spread a light bead of glue over the front edges of the shelves. Set
the screen molding in place and “clamp” it with masking tape. Pull the
tape tight as you apply it.
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).
32-1/4" tall x 37-3/4" wide x 11-1/8" deep
For Cutting List, see Additional Information, below.
Start with corner stile parts (E and F) that are about an
inch longer than their final length. That way, you don’t have to
worry about aligning the ends as you join them. Then trim the
ends to length.
Traditional rails and stiles require clamps and time-consuming
joinery. A brad nailer eliminates that whole
process. Just glue and tack the spacers into place, then
glue and nail on the rails and stiles. Use only enough
nails to hold the parts in place while the glue sets.
Common cove molding gives the sides a classic
frame-and-panel look. Miter one end of each piece and hold it in
place to mark it. Cut the piece a hair long and test the fit.
If it's too long, take it back to the miter saw and shave off
The base of the shelf unit is just boards topped off with
cove molding. Glue and tack on spacers, then add the
baseboards. Sand the joints flush and add the cove molding.
“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.
Follow this diagram to make the most efficient use of the 3/4-in. plywood.
For the complete material list, see Additional Information below.
A wide slab of solid wood is expensive, so take extra
steps to avoid mistakes when you build the bookshelf. To prevent splintering at the front
corner, make a reverse-direction “climb cut.” Screw blocks
to the back corners to prevent gouging as you begin and
The square-cut butt joints at the corners of the frame make cutting and
joining the parts a lot easier. (The same goes for the baseboards shown in
Photo 7.) Assemble the frame with glue and nails, then center the assembly
and screw it to the underside of the top.
Round over both edges of a 1/2-in.-thick
board, sand the edges and then cut the
completed moldings off the board.
Trim the frame with cove molding and
homemade bead molding. Then glue in
two layers of plywood filler blocks. The
blocks allow the top to be screwed to
the shelf box.
Mount the top with screws only—no glue. That way, you can remove it
for easier sanding and finishing. Center the top and drive screws through the
box lid and into the filler blocks.
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).
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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