How to Build a Bookcase with Hidden Compartments

Buy PDF & Cut List High style, tons of storage — and clever hidden compartments.

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Can you keep a secret? This bookcase contains more than meets the eye. Behind the magnificent Arts and Crafts styling, there are 10 hidden compartments. Some are big, some are small, but they’re all easy to build, and most of them don’t reduce regular storage space at all. I splurged on the wood and built this bookcase with rift-sawn red oak for a total materials cost of $700. The straight-grain lines of rift-sawn oak give furniture an authentic Arts and Crafts look. But you could use rotary-cut plywood and plain- sawn solid oak and cut your costs by about $225. Either way, it’s a bargain price for an heirloom like this—even if you don’t have anything to hide.

It may look complicated, but this bookcase is mostly a collection of plywood boxes dressed up with solid wood: drawer boxes, cabinet boxes…even the columns are nothing more than tall, skinny boxes with decorative faces. The bridges, too, are just shallow boxes with arched fronts. If you can build boxes, you can build this bookcase.

Project step-by-step (11)

Step 1

Build Boxes Out of Plywood

  • Start with the column box sides (A and B).
  • Rough-cut two sheets of plywood to 80-1/4 in. with a circular saw.
  • Trim them to their final length of 80 in. using a straightedge and a router fitted with a flush-trim bit.
  • Mark the dado locations on the plywood and cut them.
    • Note: You’ll have to add your own bearing to the plywood bit.

cut dadoesFamily Handyman

Step 2

Cut Four Dadoes in One Pass

  • Repeat the procedure for the cabinet sides (C), cutting the plywood to 30-in. lengths first.
  • Cut the four sides for the door cabinets from a single width of plywood.
    • Note: The bottom dado on the drawer cabinet is lower than on the door cabinets in order to create the hidden compartment below the lower drawer.
  • With the column and cabinet sides cut and machined, the next step is to lay out and drill the adjustable shelf holes.
  • Cut the shelf parts for the columns (S and T) and cabinets (F and G) and cut the dadoes and rabbets as shown.
  • Hold off on the cabinet tops (D and E).
  • Dry-fit all the parts to make sure everything goes together right.
    • Note: We pre-finished the interior parts of the door cabinets before assembly. Tape off the dadoes to keep them free of stain and varnish.
  • Make sure the cabinets are square before you drive any screws.
  • Assemble the drawer cabinet from the inside out, starting with the shelves and dividers.
  • With the cabinets assembled, determine the final measurements for the tops and the upper compartment bottoms (D and E).
    • Note: The bridge bottoms (D and E) are the same size as the cabinet tops and should be cut at the same time.
  • With the tops cut to final sizes, lay out and cut the dadoes on the underside of the drawer cabinet top.
Step 3