How to Build a Bookshelf


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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 hrs, 30 mins
  • Total Time: 6 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $140 to $180

Building a bookshelf for your home is highly rewarding—both the finished product and the process itself. A bookshelf holds books, of course, but it's also a great place for displaying favorite crafts, paintings, or photos. A bookshelf is a blank slate that takes on whatever style and idea you apply to it, and it's a great addition to any home.

Basics of Building a Bookshelf

Building a bookshelf by yourself is made easy with melamine-faced MDF boards pre-ripped to the perfect width: 15-3/4 inches. The only cuts required are always the easier width-wide cuts, never difficult length-wise rips.

Another feature that helps you finish this project in less than a day is the use of melamine-faced side boards pre-drilled with holes for shelf pegs. Twenty-pound-rated nickel pegs fit by hand into the holes, four per shelf. The shelf rests on top of a four-peg array. Over time, you can endlessly move shelves up or down simply by moving the pegs.

Four boards form the two sides and the top and the bottom. For rigidity, a thin particleboard sheet is tacked to the back.

Safety Considerations

The bookshelf will need to be anchored to prevent it from tipping. Do not screw through the particleboard backing, as this is not strong enough to hold the bookshelf. Instead, anchor with the two L-braces specified in these instructions.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Carpenter's square
  • Circular saw or electric miter saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Six-foot step ladder
  • Tape measure
  • Carpenter's pencil
  • Hammer


  • 6 melamine white shelf boards, 3/4-inch by 15-3/4-inch by 8-foot
  • 2 melamine white shelf board drilled, 3/4-inch by 15-3/4-inch by 8-foot
  • 24 20-pound capacity nickel shelf pegs, 1/2-inch
  • 1 white melamine finish particleboard panel, 3/8 inch by 4 foot by 8 foot
  • 2 2-1/2-inch L-bracket
  • 2-1/2-inch screws
  • 2-inch screws
  • 1/2-inch screws
  • 1/2-inch finish nails


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 is the case, cut the two side boards to the required height.

  1. Cut the Shelves

    Because the shelf board size will help you determine the sizes of other boards, these should be cut first. Measure the boards with the tape measure, then use the electric miter saw or circular saw to cut three of the undrilled melamine white shelf boards in half, producing six boards each 4 feet long.

  2. Cut the Top and Bottom Boards

    The board at the top and the board at the bottom of the bookshelf will run a little longer than the shelves. Cut two of the melamine white shelf boards to 4 feet, 1-1/2 inches. You can double-check that this is correct by standing two of the shelf boards on end (on their sides) and placing two of the 4-foot shelves between as spacers. Then, measure the actual span at the top and bottom. If your board's common thickness truly is 3/4 inches, then the cut length for the top and bottom is verified to be 4 feet, 1-1/2 inches.

  3. Build the Bookshelf Frame

    Two 8-foot drilled melamine boards form the sides of the bookcase, with the two 4 foot, 1-1/2 inch boards forming the top and bottom. With the cordless drill, drill four evenly spaced pilot holes on each end of a 4 foot, 1-1/2-inch board (eight per board). Then drive 2-1/2-inch screws to connect the top board to the two sides. At the bottom, also drive 2-1/2-inch screws (eight total) to connect the bottom to the sides.

  4. Cut the Back Panel

    Turn the bookshelf over. Square up the bookshelf with the carpenter's square. Lay the particleboard panel across the back of the bookshelf. Reach underneath and, with the pencil, trace the side of the bookcase frame. Remove the panel and cut it to size with the circular saw.


    After squaring the bookshelf, it helps to have an assistant hold the bookshelf in position until you are able to add the back panel.

  5. Attach the Back Panel

    Lay the resized panel back onto the bookshelf. Nail the back panel to the back off the bookshelf with the 1/2-inch finish nails. Use at least 10 finish panels per side, for a total of 40 or more nails.

  6. Set up the Bookshelf

    With an assistant, tip the bookshelf upright. Move it into position against a wall.

  7. Add the Shelves

    Add the pegs to the side panels for the bookshelf shelves. Make sure that all four pegs for one shelf are of the same height.

  8. Anchor the Bookshelf

    Mount the six-foot step ladder to access the top of the bookshelf. With the stud finder, find two studs behind the bookshelf. With the cordless drill, attach the two L-brackets to the studs with 2-inch screws, then to the bookshelf with 1/2-inch screws. This will prevent your bookshelf from tipping over if it gets too top-heavy.