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Photo 1: Measure the room
Measure the width of your
room and the height of the ceiling.
Also check the window placement.
Our room was almost 12 ft. wide with an
8-ft. ceiling, and the window was very
close to the center. If there's no window,
just build shelves into the center section.
You would have loved the library in my old hometown.
Its beautifully paneled wood bookshelves
were as inspirational as the books they held. This
handsome bookcase features those same classic elements—the curved brackets, column-like partitions and crown
molding. Now you can add
them to your living room or
study with this simply
designed bookcase project.
You can build this built-in bookcase by following our clear drawings and step-by-step
photos, or use these techniques
to modify the dimensions
for your own space.
The partitions shown in
Photos 8 and 9 can be placed
wall to wall as shown or can
stop halfway into a room and
then finish off on the open side. Or you can extend the
length by building additional partitions and shelves.
This project is made from hardwood plywood, 2x6s,
hardwood boards and standard moldings available at
home centers and lumberyards. We chose birch boards
and plywood along with maple moldings and then used a gel stain to give the project a cherry wood appearance. You'll notice we've also rubbed away stain to create highlights for an antique look. The materials we used are
listed in the Shopping List (see Additional Information) and illustrated in Figure A. You can preassemble nearly all the parts of this
modular-type project in your garage or shop and carry
them into your room for assembly.
Figure A: Bookcase details
Figure A: Bookcase Details
This cutaway drawing of construction details shows how to construct the built-in bookcase. See Additional Information for a printable PDF of Figure A, along with a complete Cutting List and Shopping List.
The sandwich-style partitions
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Photo 2: Assemble the sides
Glue and nail the
(B) to straight 2x6s
(A) ripped to 4 in.
wide. Leave a 2-in.
gap at the back and
a 3/4-in. gap in the
front. Next, glue and
nail the front 3/4-in.
plywood piece (C)
so it's flush with the
sides. Make all four
alike and be sure
the pieces are all cut
1-1/4 in. less than
your ceiling height.
Let the glue dry for
a couple of hours
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Photo 3: Drill shelf pin holes
Measure 12 in. down from the top of
your partition and drill 1/4-in. holes, 1/2 in.
deep, every 2 in. to accept the shelf pins.
Ensure accuracy by making a drill guide from a
steel strip, available at your hardware store. Mark one end with paint so you always know which end goes up, then drill three 1/16-in. holes
evenly along the length so you can use brad nails
to attach the guide to your work surface. You can also buy predrilled guides at homecenters or woodworking stores, or simply use strips of pegboard.
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Fasten the steel drilling guide 12-in. up from the bottom.
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Shelf pin drilling guide
Mark and drill the strip with a 1/4-in. twist bit and
you've got a great jig you can use for future projects.
Cut your plywood lengthwise to the dimensions in the Cutting List (see Additional Information) to
make your exterior partition skin. Equip your circular saw with a new,
thin-kerf 40-tooth carbide blade. Use a long cutting guide
clamped to the plywood sheet to guide your saw for
straight cuts. Also rip straight 8-ft. 2x6s to 4-in. widths with your table
saw for the core of each partition. NOTE: Buy your 2x6s about a week in
advance and bring them inside to dry out and adjust. You may have
some that'll warp or twist as
they adjust to the dry environment
inside the house, so
buy a couple of extra pieces
just in case.
Assemble the partitions
on a flat surface as shown in
Photo 2 and then set them
aside for the glue to dry.
Once the glue is dry, drill the
1/4-in. holes for the shelf pins
as shown in Photo 3.
Notice the 2-in. gap at the
back of the sandwich. This is
crucial. It'll allow you to slip
the partitions over cleats
attached to the wall with
room to spare, as shown in
Photo 7. TIP: The extra
1/2 in. of space between the
cleat on the wall and the recess in the partition is convenient
for running wiring for low-voltage
lights in the soffits of the bookcase.
We were just storing books, so the
lighting wasn't necessary.
Save time: Preassemble the shelves while the glue sets for the partitions
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Photo 4: Build the shelves
strips on the
backside of the shelf
(E) and 1-1/8 in.
to the front (F). An
18-gauge air nailer
is worth buying or renting for
this task. You can
nail the molding as
you align it without
the possibility of it
shifting, not to mention
you'll be done
in less than a tenth
of the time required
for ordinary nailing.
While the glue is drying on the
partitions, it's a good idea to get
other parts cut and ready to
assemble. Start with the shelves.
From measuring the room in
Photo 1, you'll have a good sense
of the shelf length. Make them all
about an inch or more too long and
trim them later for an exact fit. By
making the shelves a bit long, you
don't have to fuss with perfectly
aligning the moldings on
the front and back of the
shelf as you glue and nail
them together. Also, save
time by forming an
NOTE: Don't make
these shelves more than
42 in. long or they may
noticeably sag. Our
shelves are 39 in. long.
The 1/2-in. anti-sag
cleat glued to the rear of the
shelf is not a stock item, but
you can make it on a
table saw. First cut
1-1/2 in. wide strips from a wider board. Then tip this
piece on end and cut the 3/4-in.
width down to 1/2 in. This step is
called resawing and can be tricky
because the workpiece gets narrow.
Use a push stick to keep your fingers
clear of the blade. If this is
beyond your adventurous spirit,
have the lumberyard folks cut it for
you for a nominal fee, and stick to
the fun parts of the project. And
don't forget, while you're resawing
(or having someone else do it),
make parts Q.
The front molding of the shelf
(5/8 in. thick and 1-1/8 in. wide)
covers the nasty plywood edge and
also stiffens the shelf. This molding
came from a local home center.
Match it with the profile shown in
Fig. A or feel free to use any similar
profile with the same dimensions.
Trace the curved brackets using the grid method
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Photo 5: Cut the brackets
grid in Fig. A and
cut them out
carefully with a
jigsaw. Sand the
Mark your first bracket (K) on a
piece of 1x8. First lay out a 1-in.
square grid on the 1x8, then mark
the shape intersections with the grid
and draw a smooth line connecting
the dots. Once the lines are drawn,
cut out the shape with a jigsaw and
use your first cutout as a template
for the rest. Smooth the curve with a
drum sander or sanding block.
The partition faces are like super-narrow face frames on cabinets
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Photo 6: Build the partition faces
Cut the long stiles (G) of the face frame and nail them with 8d finish
nails to the short rails (H and J). Use a drill bit to make a pilot hole
slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail. Set the nails and fill the
recesses with matching putty later.
Because they're so narrow and
don't have to support weight as real
cabinet face frames do, you can just
nail the face frame parts together as
shown in Photo 6 and Fig. A. Once
they're nailed, you'll need to sand
the front and back completely flat
to get them to lie nicely against the
partition fronts. The tool of choice
for this is a random orbital sander. You can start with 80-grit
paper and finish with 150-grit.
Glue and screw the partition cleats to your wall
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Photo 7: Attach wall cleats
Fasten the wall cleats to your drywall with wall anchors and construction
adhesive. We used a screw-in anchor with
a 3-in. No. 8 deck screw. Use a level to get the first cleat perfectly
plumb, then use your tape measure to place the remaining cleats.
In this article, we're assuming you
have wood or tile floors, but if you
have carpeting, you'll need to roll it
back, remove the tackless strip, and
then stretch and trim it later. We've
also assumed that most of you have
drywall over wood studs, but if you
don't, use the right anchor for your
wall, whether it's concrete, brick or
plaster. If you have drywall with
wood framing, you probably won't
hit a stud as you try to screw the
partition cleats to the wall (Photo 7).
Before fastening the wall cleats,
screw a 1x2 cleat to the ceiling so
the front edge is 10-1/2 in. from
the back wall. This cleat serves two
purposes: It helps support the
partition and works as a cleat for
the fascia (Photo 9). Our ceiling
joists ran perpendicular to the wall,
so we could get a solid connection
into the ceiling every 16 in. (your
joists may be 24 in. on center). If the
joists are running parallel to the
back wall, you'll need to use
anchors and construction adhesive.
Next, drill four 3/16-in. diameter
holes along the length of each wall cleat, plumb the cleat into position
and then drive a nail through the
holes to mark the anchor locations in
the drywall. Screw in your wall
anchors and then smear construction
on the backside
cleat and screw
it to the wall.
and bottom to
the next cleat
they'll be parallel.
rest in the
NOTE: Keep the
end wall cleats
1-1/8 in. from
Slip the partitions over the wall cleats and screw them into place
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Photo 8: Tip the column partitions into place
Fasten the partitions
to the cleats with
2-in. screws (3 and 6 in.
from the ceiling and
the floor, respectively).
They'll be hidden later
by the upper soffit and
lower base of the bookcase.
Use a framing
square to make sure
the partitions are
square to the back wall,
then fasten them to the
ceiling cleat with 2-in.
steel angle supports.
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Photo 9: Install the fascia
(P) to fit
snugly between the
partitions. Cut and
fit the cleats (N) as
well. Screw the fascia
to the ceiling
cleat with 1-5/8 in.
wood or deck
Carry the partitions into the room
and tip them up carefully to avoid
scarring the ceiling. The partitions
are fastened only at the top and
bottom, as mentioned in Photo 8,
so the screwheads will be covered by
other parts later. Once the partition
is fastened to the cleat, screw the
angle brackets to the partitions at
the top and bottom 10 in. from the
back wall as shown in Photo 9.
Use a framing square to ensure the
partitions are perpendicular to the
back wall. Once the partition is
perfectly aligned, drive a screw
through the brackets into the ceiling
cleat and then into the bracket on
Install cleats to hold the fascia, soffit and base shelf in place
Before you screw the fascia pieces
(P) between the partitions, screw a
1x2 cleat (N1 and N2) to the backside
of each fascia 3/4 in. up from
the bottom. Next, fasten the matching
wall cleats parallel to the fascia
cleat against the back wall. To finish the top of each section, cut the soffit
pieces R and nail them to the cleats.
Screw 1x2 strips (U1) to the
bottom of the partitions and make
center floor supports (V) from scrap plywood to support the lower
base shelves (Photo 15). If you have
a floor heat register, remove the
cover and install an extension boot
Dressing up the plain boxes with the right trim makes all the difference
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Photo 10: Fasten the fillets, brackets and bracket supports
Q4) on a table saw.
Sand each piece
(100 grit) to soften
the sharp edges.
Cut and nail each
piece into place with
a small finish nailer.
Glue and nail the
brackets (K) below
the fascia and fillet.
Cut the lower
(S), center them
below the brackets
and fillet, and glue
and nail them to the
partition sides with
the air nailer.
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Photo 11: Cut the face frames
Cut the tops off each face frame 5-1/2 in. from
the top to make room for the column fillets (Q4).
Make the cuts perfectly square.
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Photo 12: Add the rest of the face frame
evenly on the front
of the partitions,
then glue and
nail them to the
fronts. Glue the
fillet (Q4) in place
and then glue and
nail the top section
of the face frame
to the top of the
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Photo 13: Add crown molding
Cut and nail the
crown molding to
finish the joints
along the ceiling. Cut
and glue small pieces
of wood to fill the
gaps on the side of
each partition behind
the face frame.
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Photo 14: Crown molding tip
more safely and
accurately by positioning
upside down on the
miter saw bed. Mark
the pieces so you
can see the mark and
slowly cut through
the piece. Let the
saw fall through the
molding. Don't force
the saw or hurry
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Photo 15: Attach base molding and cleats
Cut and nail
the base molding
to wrap around
the face frame and
Note that you'll
need small fillets to
fill the gaps in the
same way as you
did at the top under
the crown molding
returns. Screw in
cleats (U) 6-1/4 in.
from the floor on
the side of each partition.
the floor cleats (V)
to the floor to support
the center of
each base shelf (R).
Start by nailing the fillet trim (Q1
and Q2) on the bottom of the fascia.
The fillet is wider than the fascia, so
center it so it extends equally on the
front and back of the fascia. Next,
glue each bracket (K) to the partition
side and nail it to the partition
and to the fillet above. Working
your way down the side, continue
with the small fillet (Q3). Glue this
small piece to
the bottom of
fillet and the
floor to support
These supports are designed to
nestle the shelves and hide the gaps
between the shelf ends and the partition
sides. Cut the center seat
(Photo 17) and fit the brackets and
fillets underneath as shown in Fig. A
(the seat height is 22 in.).
Cut the partition face frames as
shown in Photo 11 and fasten them
to the partitions. Notice that the
plywood front of the partition
becomes the background for the
face frame. It's not necessary to get
a tight fit against the ceiling because the crown molding will cover the
ceiling joint and the exposed screws
along the top of the fascia.
Crown molding can be fussy, so buy an extra piece of molding
(you can always return the unused
small pieces can be a
bit challenging if the ceiling is irregular. The
key is to cut
the pieces uniformly.
Draw a line
right on the bed of your miter saw
and always align the molding edge
with the saw. Small gaps at the joints
can be filled with putty and sanded,
so don't drive yourself nuts seeking
perfection against a ceiling that's
not. Don't bother coping the crown
pieces (Photo 13), because they'll be
tough to fit; miter them instead.
Fitting the base and making a secret compartment
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Photo 16: Build the secret panel
Assemble the “removable” secret-panel base section to create
a secret storage box under the base shelf. Keep the base panel in
place with a cabinet magnet catch fastened to the side of the
support piece (V).
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How to open the panel
Open your secret storage
by prying it with a pocket
knife or putty knife.
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Photo 17: Build the window seat
Assemble the window seat by screwing cleats (U2) to the sides
of each center partition and then nailing the seat to the cleats. Note:
The seat is reinforced below by front and rear supports
glued to the underside of the seat before it is nailed in place. Glue molding to
the front of the seat,
then nail the seat brackets
and fillets in place
as shown in Fig. A.
This project will tie in with the rest
of the room better if you replace
your existing base molding and
carry it through along the bottom of
the bookcase. We made a two-piece
base with 1x6 capped with bifold
stop for the top member. To create
a small gap between the two base
pieces (Photo 16 and Fig. A), we
chamfered the top edge of the 1x6
and the bottom edge of the bifold
stop slightly with a block plane. This lends a traditional custom
To create the secret compartment
panels, cut some 12-in. blocks
and glue them to the back of the 1x6
base pieces and nail the stop molding
to the blocks (see Fig. A). Glue a
pair of small blocks to the backside
of parts S to create a stop for the
secret panels. Install a magnetic
cabinet latch to the center base shelf
support (V) to hold the secret panel
Fill all the nail holes, then sand and finish the bookcase
Sand the bookcase with 100-grit
sandpaper followed by 150-grit.
Paint the bookcase if you'd like or
create the handsome antique finish
we did. We used gel stain and
mixed five parts cherry to two parts red mahogany to one
part special walnut.
Blend these in a separate
container and apply
them to the sanded
surface with a clean rag.
Apply enough to cover,
and remove the excess
after a few minutes.
Gently remove just
enough stain to enhance
the grain pattern. A dry
brush works to get the excess stain out
of the corners. You can rub a bit more
aggressively if you'd like to reveal some
highlights or simulate wear. Let the stain
dry and finish the cabinet with two coats
of polyurethane varnish.