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How Do I Build a Bookcase?

A person cutting wood for a bookcase.
A person needs screws to build a bookcase.
It's important to take accurate measurements when building a bookcase.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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One of the simplest, and most rewarding, home building projects is setting out to build a bookcase. Although quite easy to build at their most basic, one can build a bookcase at almost any level of complexity, making them ideal for people wanting to develop as home builders. At the same time, nearly everyone has books, so setting out to build a bookcase is an imminently practical project. Rather than spending a large amount of money on pre-fabricated shelving, one can simply build a bookcase with affordable timber and a few connectors.

To build a bookcase well, you’ll want some good timber, a portable circular saw, an electric screwdriver and some screws, a tape measure, and a square and rule of some sort. You may also want sandpaper, paint, glue, and wood filler, to finish out your project. Although you don’t need a great deal of space to build a bookcase, you will be cutting wood, so you want somewhere that can either be dirty, or somewhere you can easily clean sawdust from. Set aside three or four hours to build a bookcase the first time, although after you have the basics down you may find it easy to do in an hour or so.

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To begin with, decide where your bookcase is going to go, and measure the area to figure out the dimensions you want your case to be. Also, if you have the books you want to be using the case for, measure the largest of them to make sure they will fit on your shelves. Large books may have depths that make them unsuitable for a thin case, and their height may also be a limiting factor. Many people choose to build a bookcase with one or two shelves that have more space between them than the others, to accommodate a limited number of oversized books.

We’ll look at what it would take to build a bookcase of a very simple construction; a basic four-shelved bookcase. This will require eight pieces of wood, including the backboard for the case, which could be omitted if it is going to be latched to a wall. Three of our shelves will have one foot (30cm) of vertical space for books, while the bottom shelf will have one and a half feet (45 cm) of space for oversized books. We’ll use ¾ inch (1.9 cm) thick wood, and our bookshelf will have a depth of a foot (30 cm).

First, we’ll want to cut all of our wood, or have someone at the lumber yard cut it for us. We’ll need two pieces for the ends, which will be 57” long (143 cm), for our four shelves and the bottom piece. Then, we’ll need four shelf pieces, three for central shelves, and one for the bottom, each of which will be as long as we want our shelves, in this case we’ll say 36” (91 cm), and we’ll need one top piece that will be 37.5” (95 cm) long to cover the two side pieces. Finally, if we want a back, we’ll need a large piece of wood to cover the entire area, 57” (143 cm) by 37.5” (95 cm).

Once we have the wood, it’s a simple proposition to build a bookcase from it. Lay out the side pieces, and use a square to align the shelf pieces with them. Glue can be useful at this stage, to set out the shape of the bookcase without making any firm commitments. Once everything is lined up and squared off, screws or nails can be used to secure the side pieces to the shelves, with two of each going through on each side for each shelf. Finally, the back piece can be connected with glue, nails, or screws, and the entire thing can be lifted up.

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