A tip risk
Some parts were not labeled
Flimsy back panel
Sauder 5-Shelf Bookcase
We purchased Sauder's 5-Shelf Bookcase so our writer could put it to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.
Cicero gets the credit for saying, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” This expression may sound like fridge magnet poetry, but stylistically, bookcases filled with books and mementos can breathe life into a room. The classic 5-Shelf Bookcase from Sauder offers enough space for your unread philosophy textbooks and your complete set of well-thumbed and bunny-eared Star Trek paperback fan fiction—all at a reasonable price point. We evaluated the Sauder on its setup, stability, construction, and more. Read on to see if we found it worthy of our stacks.
Setup Process: Manageable, but barely
The bookshelf is nearly 6-feet tall and 3-feet wide, so when it arrived as a compact, hundred-pound brick, we realized we were in for some manual labor. We kept the assembly team down to one person to make sure it was doable. It took about two hours. While assembly was frequently awkward and often confusing, it is not more complicated than your average Ikea furniture unit.
The cover of the instruction manual was cheeky, admitting the bookcase is “Great for all those books you’ll never read.” The rest of the trilingual manual (English, French, and Spanish) is all business with written-out instructions accompanied by well-proportioned diagrams illustrating each step. Specific harder-to-grasp steps of the assembly process, like using a hidden cam and dowel, have helpful video instruction on Sauder’s website.
Many of the pieces are very similar, but, mysteriously, some of the slabs of engineered (compressed) wood and molding were missing a label or inked letter. At first, it seems lacking, but it turns out to be intentional. The instructions mention that only some pieces are labeled.
We needed our own hammer, a No. 2 Philips screwdriver, and a tape measure for the assembly. The majority of the composite wood panels fit together with hidden cams and cam dowels that felt wobbly during assembly but seemed to hold well once assembled with the back panels in place. The moldings slid firmly into the grooves of the unfinished shelf edges. We were delighted with this smooth, seamless step.
While assembly was frequently awkward and often confusing, it is not more complicated than your average Ikea furniture unit.
You assemble everything flat, which is ideal for a one-person assembly team. The only thing that you can’t do easily by yourself is maneuver the piece around. Assembled, it weighs about 90 pounds. The best advice is to assemble it on carpet or a drop cloth to protect the floors and the shelf’s wood finish. To make it easier for you, build it where you’re planning to place it. Otherwise, you will need help moving the piece around the house.
Design: Classic/Rustic, but don’t look too close
The unit has five shelf surfaces and three that are adjustable to five different height settings. The styling is classic and surprisingly rich-looking in the chalked chestnut finish we chose. It’s made of wood composite with a rustic printed wood veneer. You honestly wouldn’t know it “printed” unless you got out the jeweler’s loupe or closely examined it. It feels real and looks substantial.
The aesthetic weak point is the back panel, which is two tri-fold cardboard panels in the same finish. The rugged nature of the chalked chestnut finish hides a multitude of textural sins. Still, in a darker and glossier finish, like select cherry or Washington cherry, it may be more obvious that the panels are cardboard. In photos, the bowing of the panels looks more apparent in those colors.
Stability/Durability: Do not expect it to become an heirloom
This bookcase is a budget piece of furniture, so we can certainly say we would never use this bookcase as a ladder at any point. Some companies (Room and Board, for example) will add heavy iron bases and reinforced joints to their furniture to help with stability.
The maximum weight limit for each of the three adjustable shelves is about 30 pounds each. The more stable middle shelf can hold up to 40 pounds, and the bottom shelf handles up to 50 pounds. Combined, all the shelves allow for a pretty decent stack of books. We wouldn’t push the limit beyond that. After all, pins tapped into wood composite hold the shelves up, and the whole thing is backed by cardboard and penny nails. Nothing should go on the top.
The bookshelf comes with a tipping restraint kit that consists of a leatherette strap and a drywall anchor. One end of the strap screws into the top panel’s underside, the strap passes through a perforated hole in the back panel, and the other end secures to the wall with the drywall anchor. The shelf works perfectly fine without being anchored. One of the reasons we choose a bookshelf over wall-mounted shelving is to avoid additional holes in the wall. Regardless, since the bookshelf can get top-heavy, we’d recommend using the anchor, especially if you have little ones or furry friends who climb or bump into things. Empty, the shelf is pretty heavy. Loaded, it’s a legitimate hazard.
Sustainability: On the right path
The majority of Sauder’s products are particleboard and MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Solid wood furniture has a certain luxury, but the knee-jerk assumption that composite woods make a lower quality product isn’t necessarily correct.
These composite wood materials are as strong as solid wood, sometimes stronger. Since they have a nice wood veneer, they are practically undetectable. And, they are an efficient use of raw wood material—twigs and all. MDF and particle board are constructed primarily from wood fiber, wood shavings, and other wood portions that might typically get tossed out. Using these products reduces waste and also cuts down on trees harvested for building these types of furniture.
Sauder uses the sawdust and wood wastes from their furniture production as fuel for their biomass co-generation plant, creating clean, carbon-neutral power. That nod to conservation all sounds good to us.
Price: As reasonable as it gets
Sauder 5-Shelf Bookcase vs. Bush Furniture Key West Collection 5-Shelf Bookcase
Comparably priced and with similar storage capacity, this Bush model lightens the traditional design a little with rustic crossed side panels and post legs. More importantly, the sides are one long piece, which means greater stability and easier set up than the Sauder bookcase.
It was a bit of a bear to put together, and it probably isn’t going to last more than a couple of moves. If you just let it be, though, this bookcase is a winner with classic good looks, ample storage, and a reasonable price tag.
- Product Name 5-Shelf Bookcase
- Product Brand Sauder
- MPN 423033
- Price $154.99
- Weight 91.6 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 35.25 x 69.75 x 13.25 in.
- Color Chalked chestnut, lintel oak, salt oak, Washington cherry finish, oiled oak finish, select cherry finish, estate black
- Warranty Limited, 5-year
- Included Shelves, hardware components, furniture tipping restraint kit
- Not included Tools for assembly