How To Build a Classic Floor-To-Ceiling Bookcase

Ornate styling, but simple to build.

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Recreate the mid-19th century, Greek Revival period of American architectural history with this floor to ceiling hardwood bookcase.

Tools Required

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Belt sander
  • Brad nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • Framing square
  • Hacksaw
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Nail set
  • Orbital sander
  • Paintbrush
  • Punch
  • Safety glasses
  • Sawhorses
  • Scribing tool
  • Stud finder
  • Table saw
  • Utility knife

About this Bookcase Project

The classic Greek Revival styling of our library is reminiscent of traditional bookcases built more than a hundred years ago. The bookcases look ornate but are relatively simple to build. There’s no complex joinery like mortise-and-tenon, or even doweling, so if you’ve hung a new door or trimmed a room with new molding, you have the expertise to handle this how to build a bookshelf project.

We measured our bookcase for standard 8-ft. Ceilings.

We sized the bookcases to fit into a typical room with an 8-ft. ceiling and at least 8 ft. of wall space, something like a typical bedroom you may want to convert to a library or home office. It can also be expanded by adding standards (the upright partitions; see Fig. B).

This Project Will Work in Any Room.

We’ve engineered this project to work even if your room is a bit out of kilter. The moldings are applied after the main standards are installed to cover any gaps resulting from uneven floors or walls. At the end of this article, in “Additional Information,” you’ll find lists of the tools and materials you’ll need to complete this project. Even though this project isn’t complicated, it’s still going to take you at least 40 hours to build.

A bookcase or shelf is an extremely useful home storage system. In this collection, you’ll discover 33 project plans and learn building tips to maximize your bookcase or shelf’s storing capacity.

Video: DIY Hiding Place From Old Books

Project step-by-step (25)

Step 1

Plan Ahead and Measure Your Location

measure bookcase locationFamily Handyman

As you can see, the center section of our bookcases is 6 in. wider than the two outer sections. This establishes a focal point, and the two side sections provide symmetry. However, this exact design may not work for your room. To check, carefully measure the height and width of the wall of your selected site. Take into consideration the height, width and any obstructions unique to your room. Note the locations of all receptacles, switches and vents. They may require you to modify our design. Keep in mind, you can move the standards (Fig. B) closer together or add another standard or two to fit a longer wall.

Like we said above, as you plan, note the location of your electrical receptacles and heating ducts. They may dictate where you place the standards. Your only other absolute is that the ladder support rod should not span more than 36 in. between brackets. Use a level to check for irregularities like a sloping floor or an uneven wall. If your walls and floor aren’t exactly straight or level, you’ll be able to scribe the standards on the backside and bottom, and then cut along your scribe for a perfect fit (see How to Scribe for a Perfect Fit for more on scribing).

If you Include a Ladder in Your Design:

If you decide to include the ladder in your design, be aware that it could take several weeks for delivery. This shouldn’t slow you down—you can get started with the project and install the ladder when it arrives.

What Type of Flooring is in Your Room?

Our bookcases were built onto a wood floor. If you have carpeting, you’ll need to pull back the carpet and pad and reinstall them later around the base of the bookcases. And yes, the ladder will roll on carpeting as well.

Step 2

At the Lumberyard

Rough Sawn lumberFamily Handyman

With the exception of the rolling ladder, the maple fluted casing and the plinth blocks, all the materials are available at lumberyards and well-equipped home centers (see “Shopping List” in Additional Information, below). We made the four vertical standards and shelves from birch-veneer plywood sandwiched around ordinary 2x4s. The only hitch is finding really straight and dry 2x4s. They must not have any bow, but they can have a slight crook or crown. And since the 2x4s will be completely hidden, some rough edges are acceptable. Even if your 2x4s feel dry to the touch, let them dry inside the house for at least a week. Too much moisture will cause problems because the wood shrinks as it dries.

We used birch-veneer plywood and maple trim for our project because it complemented the existing maple woodwork. Whatever wood you choose, be sure it has a “plain-sawn”veneer, which has a straighter, less wild grain pattern. Plain-sawn hardwood plywood is available at woodworking stores and cabinet suppliers,but may have to be special ordered at lumberyards and home centers.