How to Build a Bookcase – The Complete Guide {Houseful of Handmade }

Sketches showing how to build a custom bookcase.

Design and build the perfect bookcase for your home with this complete DIY bookcase guide.

Whether you want your bookshelf freestanding or built-in, this complete guidebook has everything you need to build a bookcase. I will break down everything you need to know to build a custom bookcase, including how to make a cut list .
Building a bookshelf is a bunch like building your own cabinets. They are easier than you might think ! All they are is a box with a few extra pieces .
3D build drawing of a tall bookcase with face frame and adjustable shelves.

Types of Bookcases

Bookcases are thus useful. obviously they are perfect for storing books, but this easy to build cabinet can besides be used for thus many other memory solutions in your family. This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

Customize your own bookcase to use it as :

  • Storage lockers for a mudroom
  • Display shelves around a fireplace or window
  • Console under or around your TV to hold DVDs
  • Dining room hutch
  • Display cabinet with glass doors
  • And anything else you can dream up!

Straight on view of the mudroom lockers with a plant next to it.

Why Should You Build Your Own Bookcase?

There are many reasons why building your own bookshelf is way better than buying pre-fab bookcases or paying a bunch for custom-made ones .

  1. You will save a lot of money or get way better quality for the same money. Most inexpensive pre-fab bookcases are made with cheap particleboard that will not last. You can build your own cabinets with quality plywood instead.
  2. Get custom bookcases that fit your home perfectly! Make built-in bookshelves that fit perfectly or custom bookcases to store exactly what you want. 
  3. You will feel really amazing! Nothing beats the feeling of doing something yourself. And you will feel ready to take on even more projects when you are done!

3D drawing of built in bookcase plans of 2 bookshelves with doors on the lower sections recessed into the wall.

Things to Consider when Building a Bookshelf

When you are building your own bookcase, you need to figure out a few things before making your bookcase plans. Let ’ s look at the different options you have when construct bookcases so you can make some decisions .

What style of bookcase do you want?

You can build your bookcase with a face frame to cover the plywood edges or use edge band to cover the edges ( frameless bookcase ) .
The boldness frame of reference will create a wide movement to your bookcase. It besides can hide the small break on the sides of adjustable shelves .
3D Drawings of a face frame cabinet and a framless cabinet to compare.

How deep should my bookshelves be?

Because you are making your own custom bookcase, you can make the shelves any astuteness you want. That is the best part of DIY !
You will want to consider what you want to store or display on your bookcase to determine the right field depth .
here are some park shelf depth recommendations for respective bookcases .

  • Standard bookcases: 10″-12″ deep
  • Shelves for paperback books: 6 1/2″ deep
  • Shelves for DVDs: 5 1/2″ deep
  • Shelves for records: 14″ deep

Adjustable or Stationary Shelves?

Bookcases can easily be built with either stationary or adjustable shelves. stationary shelves are attached to the sides of your bookcase and offer accompaniment .
If you are building a grandiloquent bookcase, you will need to add at least one stationary shelf in roughly the middle of the bookcase. In my display cabinet, I made the stationary ledge a statement by making a second gear box inside the first
Close up of the built in display cubby inside the display cabinet.
For adjustable shelves, you can use either shelf pins added to holes drilled in the plywood or strips called ledge standards or pilaster strips .
To add holes for shelf pins, you can use a jig like this to drill holes that are perfectly straight and evenly spaced .
shelf pins typically come in 5mm or 1/4″ sizes. Make surely you use the appropriate sized drill snatch for the ledge pins you bought .
Adding shelf pin holes to the inside of the DIY display cabinet.
shelf standards ( pilaster strips ) are typically installed into a routed groove in the at heart of your bookcase. You could install them directly to the lead of the plywood, but you would want to have a large adequate boldness ensnare to help hide it from horizon .
then you use metallic clips inside pressed into the shelf standard to hold the adjustable shelves .
Close up of shelf standards installed in a groove in the side of a light painted bookcase. For face ensnare bookshelves, you can add a confront frame to the front of your shelves ( both adjustable and stationary ). This will make them look thick and hide the plywood edge .
If adding a front frame to a stationary shelf, you will want to attach it as separate of the bookcase confront skeleton .
To add face frames to adjustable shelves, make sure to cut your shelves shallow enough to allow the face frame on the shelf to sit inside the bookcase face skeleton .

Kickboard, Toe kick, or Legs?

The bed ledge of your bookcase will need to be lifted off the floor slenderly. The penetrate will need to be finished off with either a kickboard, toe kick or leg. Which one is up to you .
A kickboard is a piece of wood around the al-qaeda of the bookcase, similar to a baseboard on your wall. It covers up the area below the penetrate ledge. I used a kickboard on this bookcase that I built for the mudroom lockers in our home .
DIY mudroom storage lockers with natural wood tone on the inside and gray-blue painted outside in an entryway filled with coats and backpacks. A toe kick is traditionally used under cabinets. It allows room for your feet to be under the cabinet alternatively of hitting the battlefront of the cabinet .
You can use a smaller version of a toe-kick to finish off the penetrate of your bookcase. Set a man of plywood inside the bookcase sides and under the bed. You only need to set it back 1/2-1 column inch .
Frameless bookcase with a small toe kick on the bottom. last, you can use legs to raise the bottom of your bookshelf off the floor. Your legs can be built in like this hutch that I have in our dine room. They are part of the face skeleton around the buttocks shelves .
Or your legs can be added under the bottom of the completed bookcase. That is what I did with this DIY display cabinet .
Bottom view of the dining room hutch raised up to allow for the air return vent on the wall.

Trimming out a Bookcase

You can leave your bookcase dim-witted or you can add trim to the lead, bottom and/or sides to create a more intricate man of furniture .
You can find lots of different types of snip at your local home improvement store. Use whatever trim you like to create the expect you want for your bookcase .
If you are staining your cabinet, make sure to pick trimming in the lapp wood species or a organize forest species to the wood you build the bookcase out of .
Woodworking sketch of tall bookcase trimmed out on the top, bottom and sides to add character.

Adding Doors to a Bookshelf

You can create capital storage by adding doors to all or part of your bookcase. Learn how to make DIY cabinet doors here ( 3 options from novice to pro ) .
If you want to add doors to good region of your bookcase, you will need a stationary shelf as the top of the sphere with doors .
Doors can be added to both a face frame and frameless bookcase. And you can either inset or have your doors overlay the front of the bookcase .
Learn everything you need to know to add doors to your bookshelf hera : understand Cabinet Door Sizes and Hinges .
Black display cabinet with raw wood interior, gold hairpin legs, and glass doors next to a plant.

What Kind of Wood Should you Use to Build a Bookshelf?

The base of your bookshelf will be built using 3/4″ thick plywood. The type of plywood you use will depend on the end use of your bookcase .

  • For painted bookcases, use a smooth plywood.
  • For a stained bookshelf, use a cabinet-grade plywood with the wood veneer you want.
  • For utility bookshelves, you can use a lower grade plywood.

The expression frame of reference of your bookcase ( if you chose to add one ) will be built using 1x fabric ( 3/4″ thickly ). You can use whatever width of 1x that you want for the count you want. Face frames are typically made from 1×2 boards that are 1 1/2″ wide .
A thick face frame board will give your bookcase a chunkier look. But it can make putting in adjustable shelves harder since you will have a smaller opening to insert them through .
You can use any wood you want for your side frame. If you plan on staining your bookcase, you will want it to match or coordinate with the facing on your plywood .
Close up view of the side hooks in the center compartment of the mudroom storage cabinet.

DIY Bookcase Plans

once you have answered all the questions above, it is clock to create plans for your own bookcase ! I will walk you through how to create plans for your customs bookshelf so you will be cook to start building .
Each bookcase will have the succeed parts :

  • 2 side pieces
  • 2 top/bottom pieces
  • 1 back piece
  • Shelves
  • Kickboard (3 pieces to wrap around the base), toe kick, or legs
  • Optional: face frame
    • 2 face frame stiles
    • 2 face frame rails

3D sketch showing the individual parts of a DIY bookcase exploded and labeled.

How to Figure Your Cut List

now that you know the style and components you need for your bookcase, it is time to create a cut number !
For your cut number you will need to know the exact measurements for the bookcase you want. You will besides need the measurements for the wood you plan to use .
Use the formulas in the charts below to turn these measurements into cut lists for your newfangled DIY bookcase .

Face Frame Bookcase Cut List

Use the be chart to figure out the dimensions for your all the while of your face skeleton base cabinets .
Chart with formulas to figure out the cut list for a face frame bookcase. significant notes for face frame bookshelves :

  1. The face frames hang over the inside of the bookcase 3/4″ and up (depending on the width of the face frame boards). You will need to have enough space between fixed shelves/top/bottom to insert adjustable shelves at an angle to get them inside the face frame.
  2. The back panel measurement is for a panel that is recessed into the back in a groove. This hides the pack panel from view. For bookcases built into a nook, you can just nail the back on since it will not be visible, so you do not need to subtract the 3/4″ from the measurements for the back panel.

once you figure out the dimensions for all you pieces, you will need to cut them out .

Frameless Bookcase Cut List

Use the pursue chart to figure out the dimensions for your all the slice of your frameless ( plywood alone ) bookcase :
Chart with formulas to figure out the cut list for a frameless (plywood only) bookcase. significant notes for frameless bookcases :

  1. Plywood is not actually 3/4″ thick, it is slightly smaller. And not all plywood is the exact same. I would recommend you tightly press two pieces of the plywood you are using together and measure it. This will give you more exacting bookcase widths.
  2. The back panel measurement is for a panel that is recessed into the back in a groove. This hides the pack panel from view. For bookcases built into a nook, you can just nail the back on since it will not be visible, so you do not need to subtract the 3/4″ from the measurements for the back panel.
What Size to Cut Adjustable Shelves?

For adjustable shelves, how much smaller you cut the plywood than the inside of your bookcase will depend on what type of ledge pins or ledge standards you choose .
I prefer to install the pins/clips into the completed bookcase, then measure the space to get an accurate measurement for the shelves .
DIY Curio cabinet with two glass front doors shown open and 4 shelves inside.

How to Assemble a Bookcase

Since there are so many different types of bookcases, this post will be a general overview of how to build one. I will try to cover all aspects of all types of bookshelves. If I missed anything, leave a comment and I will answer it there.
Supplies :

  • Wood products:
    • 3/4″ plywood
    • 1/4″ plywood
    • Optional: 1x boards for face frame cabinets
    • Optional: Plywood edge banding for frameless cabinets
  • Wood glue
    • If using pre-finished plywood, use melamine glue to get strong joints
  • 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws
  • 1 1/4″ & 3/4″ finishing nails

Frameless bookcase with inset doors covering the bottom shelves and open top shelves.

Tips for Perfectly Square Bookcases

If all your pieces are square and stinger at perfective 90 degree angles, you will have perfect bookcases .

  1. Before cutting any wood, make sure the blade is set to a true 90 degree angle to the bed/plate of the tool. Even being off by 1 degree can cause you boxes and face frames to be wonky and un-square.
  2. Square off the raw edge of your plywood or board before cutting. They do not come from the factory perfectly square which will result in not-square pieces.
  3. You cannot measure out all the pieces and then cut them. The blade will remove a section of the plywood (known as kerf) when you cut, making your cuts slightly short (resulting in non-square cabinet boxes). Instead, measure out the first cut and cut it. Then measure from new edge to the next cut line and cut. Also, make sure the edge of the blade is on the outside edge of the cut line so the full amount measured is left behind.
  4. Quickly check all cut pieces for square by measuring from the top right corner across the piece to the lower left corner. Note the measurement. Then measure the opposite two corners. If the measurements are exactly the same, your piece is square. 

STEP 1 – Assemble the Bookcase Carcass

For confront skeletal system bookcases, you can attach the face frame with pouch holes ( set for 3/4″ chummy material ) drilled on the presence of the slope and top/bottom pieces or with finish nails .
pocket holes will leave no visible holes on the movement of the face frame, but you may have visible holes on the inside of your bookshelves. pouch holes are besides a stronger reserve than the nails .
For confront frame bookcases : if using pocket holes, set your scoop hole jig for 3/4″ chummy material and drill pocket holes in the front of the side boards .
For frameless bookshelves : add boundary banding to the front of the side, top/bottom, and stationary ledge pieces before fabrication. Trim off excess .
Sketch of the side pieces of the bookcase cut out with pocket holes drilled in the front. If using shelf standards : router out grooves on the side pieces where you want them inserted immediately. It will be much harder former .
If using ledge pins : I prefer to drill them into the sides once assembled. The jig makes it easy to line up inside the completed bookshelves .
Sketch of side pieces for the bookcase with grooves for shelf standards. Drill air pocket holes set for 3/4″ slurred material in the sides of the top/bottom pieces and any stationary ledge pieces .
For face skeleton bookcases : if using air pocket holes to attach the face frame, besides drill air pocket holes in the fronts of these boards .
Attach the bottom piece so the top of the shelf is at the altitude you want the bottom of your bookcase to be. Attach the circus tent firearm so it is affluent with the top of the sides .
If you are adding a kickboard to the base, make sure the bottom is slenderly higher than the spare you are putting around it .
impregnable these pieces with 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws and glue. Use squares to ensure your box is public square as you assemble .
Sketch of bookcase top and bottom attached to the sides. If you are building a grandiloquent bookcase, you will need to add at least 1 stationary shelf. Attach it the same means you attach the top and penetrate pieces .
secure with 1 1/4″ pouch hole screws and glue and use squares to ensure your box stays square as you assemble .
Sketch of a tall bookcase with a stationary shelf attached between the top and bottom pieces. If adding a toe gripe : drill pocket holes in the ends of your toe kick board. Attach it below your penetrate ledge so it is set back at least 1/2″ .
fasten it with 1 1/4″ screws and glue .
Sketch of the toe kick attached below the bookcase bottom shelf.

STEP 2 – Assemble the Face Frame

Cut the rails and stiles for your face frame .
Set your pocket hole for 3/4″ thick material and drill 2 pocket holes in each end of all the font frame vilify boards .
Attach the rails between the stiles. The clear rail should be flush with the top of the stiles ( sides ) and the buttocks one should be flush with the top of the bottom ledge in your bookcase .

Use side clamps to keep the confront ensnare pieces flat as you drive in the screws .

secure with 1 1/4″ scoop hole screws and glue .
Sketch of the face frame pieces for the bookshelves and how to attach them together. For tall bookshelves, add an extra rail to the face frame where the stationary ledge is. Line it up so the top of the rail is affluent with the top of the ledge .
Secure the lapp as the top and bottom rails .
Sketch of a tall bookcase face frame with extra rail for the stationary shelf. now you face frame is ready to be attached to your bookcase carcase .
Add wood glue to the front of the plywood and telephone line up the face human body so it is bloom all around. dependable with 1 1/4″ pouch holes screws or 1 1/4″ finish nails .
Sketch of DIY bookshelf with the face frame attached.

STEP 3 – Attach the Back

Set your router to router out a 3/8″ wide furrow that is the like depth as your back jury .
Since most plywood is slightly thinner than the celebrated thickness, it is a dependable theme to measure and set your router to that measurement .
If you have a stationary ledge, you can either cut 2 back pieces that fill in the two sections individually. Or you can cut the stationary ledge shallow ( to match the depth of the bookcase minus the routed groove ) before attaching it and cut 1 large back piece .
Sketch of bookcase box with groove routed out of the back for the back panel. Add the back jury to the bookcase and ensure the bookcase is square .
Attach it with 3/4″ eat up nails through the spinal column into the sides and top/bottom boards .
Sketch of the back panel attached to the finished bookcase.

STEP 4 – Finishing Touches

If using shelf pins for adjustable shelves : bore holes for pins with a jig inside the bookcase. You need 4 lines, 2 in each side, one close to the front and one conclude to the back .
If using ledge standards : install the standards inside the grooves in your bookcase sides .
Add trim/base boards around the penetrate if using. Attach with 1 1/4″ finish nails .
Trim out the lead and sides as desired .
measure for your adjustable shelves and cut out .
Sketch of tall bookcase with trim around the bottom instead of a toe kick.

STEP 5 – Sand & Finish

sand and paint or stain your bookcase. If you are making built-in bookcases, read instructions below to install .
For free standing bookcases, it is recommended that you secure them to the rampart to prevent tip over .

How to make a Built-in Bookcase

Turning a bookcase into a built-in is easier than you might think. You can do this with any bookcase you built yourself, or even turn shop bought bookshelves into amazing built-in bookcases .
For built-ins that go inside a cubby or corner :

  • Build the bookcase to fit inside the recess without a face frame attached.
  • Install the bookshelf so it is flush with the front of the recess.
  • Use trim or a wide face frame to cover the plywood edges and the side of the recess.
  • Caulk the trim/face frame where it meets the wall to make it seamless.

Bookshelves built into nook in wall with beige paint and natural wood together. For built-ins on a wall :

  • Build the bookcase to fit the wall you want (it can be the entire wall or just part of it).
  • Remove any baseboards and molding on the wall where the bookshelves will go.
  • Install the bookcase (or bookcases) so they are secured to the wall.
  • Reinstall baseboards from the wall over your bookcase.
  • Add trim to the bookcase to cover where it meets the wall and ceiling if necessary.
  • Caulk the baseboards and trim where it meets the wall to make it seamless.

And if there are any questions or things I forgot, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. I want to give you the confidence to design & build your own bookcases excessively !

-Kati with picture of blog author Kati

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