The first step is to round up the tools and materials you’ll need to build this project. We used birch plywood because it provided the closest grain match to our bedroom furniture. If you’re planning to stain the shelves to match your furniture, try to find plywood that has a similar grain pattern. For less common plywood like cherry or walnut, check with a local hardwood supplier, cabinet shop or full-service lumberyard.
If you plan to paint, you can build the shelves out of any plywood with tight grain (birch is a good choice). We used a 2-in. cove molding along the top. You probably won’t find this molding at a home center, but you can special-order it or choose a similar profile. The birch plywood, maple boards and trim for these shelves cost a total of about $300.
We’ve kept the construction simple to allow you to build this project even if you don’t have a shop full of tools. All of the plywood is joined with trimhead screws and there are a few spots where the screw head holes are visible. If you own a biscuit joiner or doweling jig, you could eliminate visible fasteners by joining the plywood with biscuits or dowels.
Photos 1 and 2 show how to cut the plywood parts using saw guides and a circular saw. Use the Cutting List/Cutting Diagrams and Figure A as a guide. This plan is sized for a queen-size bed. If your bed is wider than 64 in., you’ll have to build the center shelf unit wider. We’ve added 1/16 in. to the length of part H to compensate for plywood that’s only 23/32 in. thick. If your plywood is a full 3/4 in. thick, cut these parts to 24-3/4 in. long instead.
For help with building the saw guides, check out How to Use a Circular Saw: Long Cuts. Make sure to use a top-quality, 40-tooth carbide blade in your circular saw to reduce chipping and tear-out. A table saw, along with a crosscutting sled, would be a good alternative to a circular saw for cutting the plywood.
Cut the brackets (N) from a solid 1x10 board. Using Figure C as a guide, mark the shape on the 1x10 board. Photo 3 shows how to draw the curve. Cut out the brackets with a jigsaw. Then sand the curves to get rid of saw marks and smooth them out. Use the first bracket as a pattern to mark the rest.
Cut iron-on edge banding about an inch longer than you need. Center the strip on the edge of the plywood and iron it on. Keep the iron moving. As soon as you’re done applying heat, rub over the entire surface with a small chunk of wood to ensure good adhesion. Trim off the overhanging ends with a sharp utility knife.
Using iron-on edge-banding veneer is an easy way to finish the plywood edges. You’ll find birch and oak edge-banding veneer at home centers, but if you need cherry or some other species, check online or go to a local woodworking supplier.
Photos 4 and 5 show how to apply the edge banding. You only need to apply edge banding to the edges that show. Parts A, F, L, M and E require edge banding on one end as well as the long side. Buy a cheap iron or find one at a garage sale, but don’t use your clothes iron. Set the iron to a high setting like “cotton.” Practice on a scrap of plywood to get the hang of how fast to move the iron. You want to melt the glue without burning the veneer. Immediately after you iron on the edge banding, slide a small block of wood from end to end while pressing down firmly. This will ensure good adhesion. Trim off the overhanging ends with a sharp utility knife. Then trim off the overhanging veneer from the edges (Photo 5).
We show an edge-band trimmer that trims both sides at once, but you can also use a single-edge trimmer. You’ll find edge-band trimmers at woodworking stores and online. The FastCap trimmer shown here costs about $20. Learn more about edge banding. Finish up by carefully sanding the edges with 120-grit sandpaper to create a perfectly flush, smooth edge.
For easy assembly, join the sides to the tops and bottoms with trimhead screws. Drill 1/8-in. pilot holes first. Then drive the screws until the heads are slightly recessed. After the first coat of finish, fill the screw head recesses with soft wood putty to match the stain and cover with a final coat of finish.
With the parts cut and edge-banded, it’s time to start building. Photo 6 shows a simple right-angle jig you can build to help hold the parts in position as you screw them together.
Make light pencil lines across parts A and F to indicate the centerline of parts B and G to help you place the screws accurately. Drill 1/8-in. pilot holes 2 in. from each end and in the center to guide the screws. Then drive the 2-in. trim-head screws until they’re slightly recessed (Photo 7). Don’t worry if the shelves are still a little wobbly. They’ll be held firmly in position when you mount them to the wall. While you’re at it, screw the pairs of brackets (N) to the cleats (E).
For adjustable-height shelves, we drilled a series of 1/4-in. holes to accept shelf pins. If you don’t think you’ll adjust the height of the shelves, just drill four holes at each shelf location. It’s easier to make sure the holes are aligned if you drill them after you’ve assembled the shelves. We positioned the shelf pin holes so that a shelf can be centered in the middle unit, and approximately evenly spaced in the two outside units. We also offset the holes in the two center dividers (H) so the pins don’t run into each other. Most of the holes are 1 in. from the front and back edges. The holes in the center of the middle unit are 1-1/2 in. from the front and back edges.
Photo 8 shows how to use a 1/4-in. pegboard jig as a guide for drilling the shelf pin holes. To avoid confusion, we made mirror-image jigs to use on the right and left sides of each upright. Make an arrow pointing up to keep the guide properly oriented and mark the holes you intend to drill. Cut a 3/4-in. square scrap of wood or dowel and drill a hole in it to use as a drill stop (Photo 8). Practice on a scrap to get the correct hole depth. Drill all the holes in the taller outside units first. Then cut off the pegboard guides and use them for the middle shelves. Reposition the stop to drill the offset holes for the center shelves.
Level the ledger (L) and attach it to the wall studs with trim screws. Rest the center shelf unit on the ledger, aligning the sides with the ends of the ledger. Make sure the sides are plumb. Then drive screws through the hanging cleat into the studs to hold the shelf in place. Drive trim-head screws down through the bottom shelf into the ledger.
We stained and varnished the shelf units and the moldings that go on top before installing them. If you need help with this part of the project, there’s a ton of good information on staining and painting wood. Whether you’re staining or painting the shelves, plan to apply a final coat of finish after they’re installed and the moldings are put on. That will allow you to fill the nail and screw head holes and cover them with a coat of paint or varnish.
To get ready for the installation, mark the center of the bed with a piece of masking tape. If you have a headboard, mark the height. Then move the bed out of the way. Use a stud finder or some other method to locate the studs and mark them with tape. Then determine how high you want the center shelves to be. We chose to position the shelves a few inches above the headboard, which in our case was 60 in. above the floor. This is a good height to allow headroom for sitting up in most beds. Draw a level pencil line at your chosen height. Align the plywood ledger (L) with the mark, center it on the bed location and fasten it to the studs with trim-head screws. Now it’s easy to install the center shelf unit by resting it on the cleat. Before you screw the center shelf unit to the studs (Photo 9), make sure the ends are lined up with the plywood ledger and the sides are perfectly plumb.
Next install the two outside shelf units by lining up the tops and screwing through the hanging strip (D) into the studs (Photo 10). Connect the shelf units with 1-1/4-in. trim-head screws.
Snug the brackets (N) up to the bottom of the outside shelves and screw through the hanging cleat (E) into the studs.
The final step is to cut and nail on the 1x3 cap and 2-in. cove molding that fits under it (Photo 11). Start by cutting the cap pieces and nailing them onto the top of the shelves. We used a finish nailer. If you’re hand-nailing the cap and moldings, drill pilot holes for the finish nails to avoid splitting the cap or moldings. Hold the back edge of the 1x3 cap flush to the back of the plywood and cut 45-degree miters at the corners.
Install the cove molding (Q) after the cap is done. Miter the outside corners. Since the inside corners will be perfectly square, you should be able to miter them rather than cope them. But you can use whichever method you prefer. Take your time and expect to spend several hours on this part of the project. There are a lot of little pieces to cut. Keep your fingers a safe distance from the blade by cutting the small pieces of cove molding from long lengths.
When you’re done mounting the shelves and installing the moldings, nail and screw head holes will be showing. If your shelves are stained, fill the holes with soft wood putty to match. You can even blend colors to get a closer match. For painted shelves, fill the holes with lightweight spackle, let it dry and sand it. Then apply the final coat of finish.