How to Build a Simple Bookshelf

Bookshelf

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 3 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 3 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $150 to $250

Building this bookshelf by yourself is very easy because it uses prefabricated melamine-faced MDF boards that are already sized for your purposes. The only cuts required are easy cross cuts, never difficult lengthwise rips. Another feature that helps you finish this project in less than a day is that the melamine-faced side boards are already pre-drilled with holes for shelf support pegs. Nickel support pegs rated for 20 lb. fit by hand into the holes, four per shelf. Each shelf rests on top of a four-peg array. Over time, you can change the shelf layout simply by moving the pegs up or down. You should be able to finish this bookcase fairly easily with just a few hours of work.

Before Getting Started

This projects calls for standard melamine-coated MDF boards stocked by most home improvement centers. Prefabricated boards are available in several widths; our design calls for 15 3/4-inch-wide boards, although there's no reason you can't adapt the design to produce a bookcase of different dimensions—12 inches deep, for example.

Our design uses two 94 1/2-inch-long side panels (easily trimmed down from 8-foot-long stock boards), top and bottom panels that are 4 feet long, six interior shelves that are 46 1/2 inches long, and a 4 x 8-foot back panel made from melamine-coated hardboard.

Melamine-coated boards and panels are available in white, black, and sometimes wood-grained finishes. There are also different grades of board stock, based on the quality of the MDF core. For a bookcase, it makes sense to buy the best quality boards you can, as good-quality MDF will be less prone to sagging over time.

Safety Considerations

The bookshelf will need to be anchored to the wall to prevent it from tipping. Serious injuries to children are possible if a heavy bookcase tips over. Do not screw through the particleboard backing, as this is not strong enough to hold the bookshelf. Instead, anchor the bookcase's top panel to the wall with L-braces attached to studs.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Carpenter's square
  • Circular saw or power miter saw
  • Cordless drill with driver bits and twist bits
  • Six-foot stepladder
  • Tape measure
  • Carpenter's pencil
  • Hammer or brad nailer

Materials

  • 2 Melamine-coated boards, drilled for pegs, 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 96 in.
  • 8 Melamine-coated shelf boards, 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 48 in.
  • 24 20-pound capacity Nickel shelf pegs, 1/2-inch
  • 1 Melamine-coated particleboard panel, 3/8 x 48 x 96 in.
  • 2 2 1/2-inch L-bracket
  • 2 1/2-inch screws
  • 2-inch screws
  • 1/2-inch screws
  • 1/2-inch brads
  • Peel-and-stick or heat-activated melamine edging tape

Instructions

This bookshelf is 8 feet high and 4 feet wide. Depending on your needs or on the height of your ceiling, you may need to reduce the height of the bookshelf. If that's the case, adjust the two side boards to the required height.

  1. Trim the Side Panels

    The predrilled melamine boards that will serve as the sides of the book case will need to be trimmed down to a 94 1/2-inch length. The reason for this is so that the 4 x 8-foot melamine back panel will fit flush on all edges of the bookcase. (If you are making a shorter bookcase, then trim the boards down to whatever height you've chosen.)

    Use a circular saw or power miter saw to trim one end of both boards to the desired length.

  2. Measure the Top and Bottom Panels

    The top and the bottom boards of the bookshelf will run a full 4 feet in length, so it's likely that the stock lengths you purchased will work just fine. But it's a good idea to measure the stock boards to make sure the factory length is correct. These boards are sometimes slightly oversized, so it may be necessary to trim them down to an exact 48-inch length.

  3. Cut the Shelves

    Measure and trim six shelf boards to a 46 1/2-inch length. This usually amounts to simply trimming off 1 1/2 inches from one end of each stock 48-inch-long shelf board.

    These shelf boards need to be slightly shorter than the top and bottom panels, since the shelves fit between the side panels, while the top and bottom panels run the full width to sit flush with the outside edges of the bookcase. Use a circular saw or power miter saw to make these cuts.

  4. Assemble the Bookshelf Frame

    Assembling the bookshelf frame is easiest if you work with the pieces laid across the floor, set upright on edge. It will be helpful to have an assistant to help hold the pieces as you drill and screw.

    Set the two long side panels parallel to one another, on edge, with the drilled holes facing each other and aligned in the same way. Position the top and bottom panels across the ends of the side panels, so that their outside edges are flush with the edges, forming a large rectangular box.

    Use a cordless drill and 1/8-inch twist bit to drill four pilot holes through each end of the top and bottom pieces, into the ends of the side panels. Then, drive 1 1/2-inch screws through the pilot holes to secure the top and bottom panels to the sides. Make sure the screw heads are countersunk slightly so the heads do not protrude.

    Done correctly, you should have a 4 x 8-foot rectangular frame to which you will now attach the back panel.

  5. Attach the Back Panel

    The 4 x 8-foot melamine coated particleboard panel should be exactly the right size to fit over the back of the bookcase frame, flush at both sides and at the top and bottom. But here, too, it's a good idea to measure the stock panel to make sure it's exactly 48 x 96 inches; if necessary, you can trim it to precise dimensions with a circular saw. (If you have altered the dimensions of the bookcase, you will of course need to trim down the 4 x 8 panel to the correct size).

    Position the sheet over the assembled bookcase frame, adjusting it as needed to square up the edges. Use wire brads or an electric brad nailer to drive brads around the perimeter of the back panel, securing it to the side panels and to the top and bottom panels. Space the brads no more than 10 inches apart around the entire perimeter. A good deal of the bookcase's stability will come from the back panel, so it's critical that it is well secured.

    Tip

    If you are driving brads with a hammer, it will be easier to penetrate the melamine coating if you first drill 1/16-inch pilot holes. An electric brad nailer, however, is a much easier method for doing this work.

  6. Cover Exposed Edges With Edging Tape

    You may have exposed end grain where the ends of the top and bottom panels meet the side panels. If so, this exposed MDF can be hidden by applying color-matched edging tape. Some edging tapes are peel-and-stick, while others are activated by heat, using an iron or heat gun.

    Measure and cut edging tape as needed, and apply it to cover the exposed edge grain.

  7. Erect the Bookshelf

    With an assistant, tip the bookshelf upright. Move it into position against a wall. Depending on the configuration of your baseboards, the bookcase may need to be set out a small distance from the wall.

    Tip

    If your floor is not perfectly level, it may be necessary to shim under the front edge of the bookcase to make it sit level on the floor. Make sure the bookcase is not tilting forward, away from the wall.

  8. Anchor the Bookshelf

    Using a stepladder and stud finder, locate two wall studs behind the top of the bookshelf. Anchor the bookshelf with two metal L-brackets attached to the top panel of the bookshelf and to the wall studs. Use 2-inch screws when attaching to the studs, 1/2-inch screws when attaching the brackets to the bookcase. This reinforcement will prevent your bookshelf from tipping over if it gets too top-heavy—an essential safety measure in homes with small children.

  9. Add the Shelves

    Insert pegs to the drilled holes inside the side panels, then position the shelves at the desired heights.