How to Make Built-in Bookshelves

Build a corner bookcase that will serve as a focal point for the room. For more great project ideas go to Rip & Renew.


After: The new bookcase unit, which doubles as an entertainment center, provides a contemporary flair to the room.

After: The new bookcase unit, which doubles as an entertainment center, provides a contemporary flair to the room.

Materials and Tools:



Before: This old bookcase was functional, but it wasn't making the best use of the space.

Before: This old bookcase was functional, but it wasn't making the best use of the space.

circular saw
utility knife
pneumatic brad nailer
table saw
miter saw
40 feet House of Fara cherry crown molding
Stainmaster paint Jeff's Java
Stainmaster paint Turkish Towel
paint brushes and rollers
seven sheets of 3/4-inch birch plywood
carpenter's glue
ten 1"x6"x8' poplar boards
six 2"x4"x8' boards
two sheets of 3/8-inch birch plywood
wood filler


The bookcase consists of six modular sections:

• Corner unit
• Two end pieces
• An L-shaped counter that goes over the three base modules
• Two upper shelving units

1. First measure the area where you want to build the new bookcase. Using tape measure and level, measure the birch plywood for a template for the top, middle and bottom shelf bases.

2. Use the level and a utility knife to score the wood so it does not splinter when sawing. Attach a guide or fence to the plywood to keep the saw on track.

3. Measure 1/2 inch in from the fence. Start the saw before you reach the wood. Then cut the plywood to your measurements. Attach the guide/fence and cut another piece, which will be for the corner section. Put two 2x4s under the plywood to keep the cut piece from falling. When you reach the internal corner, use the jigsaw to cut the plywood.

4. Use the template to mark the measurements on the opposite end of the plywood. Use the circular saw to cut out the second piece. When you reach the corner, use the jigsaw.
Then use a table saw to cut the plywood pieces.

5. Use construction glue and nails to attach the pieces, making sure the sides are flush and keeping the nail gun in line with the lumber. Sand the edges if necessary. Continue adding the birch plywood sections until the frame corner unit is assembled.

6. Put glue on the top of the plywood corner. Carefully line up the top piece so the glue doesn't smear. Secure the glued pieces by nailing the top of the corner unit.

7. Once all pieces are together for the bottom section of the bookcase, build the two end pieces to go on either side of the bottom section. The corner middle shelf will be the top of the bottom unit.

8. The side units will be built the same as the other shelves. We cut the top and used it as a template for the other tops and bottoms for the side shelves. We repeated this process for the four sides of the upper units, using the first side as a template for the other three. Cut the sides by ripping down 4x8 sheets of plywood to width, and then cutting them to length. The shelves are built the same way: the same width as the side pieces, ripped out of 4x8 sheets of plywood and then cut to the appropriate length.

9. We then cut the middle shelves to fit inside and cut down strips of poplar that we nailed to the inside edges of the cabinets to hold the shelves.

10. Once you have all your pieces cut, take the side pieces and mark where the top of your shelves will start on each one of them. Make sure your measurements are the same on all four sides, or your shelves will be crooked. Take two of the sides and one shelf and nail the shelf into the sides at your mark. Continue to add shelves to the sides until you have them all nailed in. Then measure the back of the unit after all the shelves are nailed in.

11. Mark that measurement on a piece of the 3/8-inch plywood and cut it to fit, forming the back piece. Glue and nail this piece to the back of the sides and shelves. Be careful when nailing to avoid going right through the back piece and into the open part of the unit. Repeat for the other top unit. After you have both shelves together, set them on top of the base units and nail them into the wall behind.

12. For trim, rip strips made from 1x6 poplar on the table saw to cover the front of the unit. Attach the strips with glue and the nail gun. Paint the unit with Turkish Towel paint and let dry.

13. Nail pieces of 1x6 to the top of the shelving units to provide something to nail the crown into. We used one 1x6 flat on each side and each front, mitering the outside corners.

14. Before installing the crown molding, prime and paint it with Jeff's Java. Nail the molding flush to the 1x6.

15. For the toe kick, measure and rip down two more pieces of 1x6 poplar and nail them to the bottom of the unit. Apply wood putty to any areas needing touch ups, repaint and let dry.

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