How to Build a Bookshelf

Updated: Jan. 22, 2024

Build a traditional bookshelf, without the usual time and effort

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Multiple Days






Need a great-looking bookshelf with classic lines by tomorrow? Using clever shortcuts and standard materials, you can build a bookshelf like this in a day.

Tools Required

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Dust mask
  • Forstner drill bits
  • Framing square
  • Hearing protection
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Table saw
  • Tape measure

Materials Required

  • See Materials List in "Additional Information"
  • Wood glue

Many of us love the idea of spending weeks on a complicated woodworking project, but few of us have the time. By taking some shortcuts, you can simplify the whole process of learning how to make a bookshelf and still produce handsome results. This little bookcase showcases some of our 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.

Project step-by-step (12)

Step 1

Nail the Box First, Then Screw

  • Cut the 3/4-in. plywood box parts as shown in the cutting diagram.
    • Note: 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.
  • Tack the corners together with a brad nailer, then add screws.
    • Pro tip: There’s 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.

Step 2

Keep it Simple with Adjustable Shelves

  • Use a scrap of pegboard as 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.
  • Drill the shelf holes with a brad point bit.
    • Pro tip: Wrap the bit with a masking tape “flag” to mark the depth of the hole.

Step 3

Add Shelf Edging

  • 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.
    • Note: Pull the tape tight as you apply it.

Step 4

Assemble Corner Stiles, then Cut to Length

  • Start with corner stile parts (E and F) that are about an inch longer than their final length.
  • Trim the ends to length.

Step 5

Attach Rails and Stiles

  • Just glue and tack the spacers into place with a brad nailer.
  • Glue and nail on the rails and stiles.
    • Pro tip: Use only enough nails to hold the parts in place while the glue sets.

Step 6

Add Cove Molding

  • Miter one end of each piece and hold it in place to mark it.
    • Pro tip: 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 a smidgen.

Step 7

Use Basic Boards for the Base

  • Glue and tack on spacers
  • Add the baseboards.
  • Sand the joints flush and add the cove molding.
    • Note: The base of the shelf unit is just boards topped off with cove molding.

Step 8

Shape the Top

  • Screw blocks to the back corners to prevent gouging as you begin and end routing.
    • Pro tip: To prevent splintering at the front corner, make a reverse-direction “climb cut.”

Step 9

Assemble the Frame

  • Assemble the frame with glue and nails.
  • Center the assembly and screw it to the underside of the top.
    • Note: The square-cut butt joints at the corners of the frame make cutting and joining the parts a lot easier.

Step 10

Make Bead Molding

  • Round over both edges of a 1/2-in.-thick board.
  • Sand the edges and then cut the completed moldings off the board.

Step 11

Attach the Moldings

  • Trim the frame with cove molding and homemade bead molding.
  • Glue in two layers of plywood filler blocks.
    • Note: The blocks allow the top to be screwed to the shelf box.

Step 12

Screw on the Top

  • Mount the top with screws only—no glue.
    • Note: 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. If you’re in need of a bookcase, then this wooden ladder shelf is a great option.

Additional Information