How To Build a Custom Bookcase

Custom bookcases can be installed in two ways. First, the case can be assembled and stained or painted in a workshop or in a work area, then installed at the desired location. Second, the case can be built in place, that is assembled, pieces fitted, in the desired location and no transportation is needed. The finishing, staining or painting will then be done with the case installed.


Selection of a medium to hard density lumber is the choice of the owner. For novice craftsmen, a #1 grade of pine in 3/4" thick stock is easy to work with and relatively inexpensive. Select 12" material X 3/4" thick wide for bookcase sides, top and shelves and 1-1/2" wide X 3/4"thick for ledgers and 3-1/2" wide X 3/4" think for the toe kick across the face at the bottom.

  1. Measure the width of the opening or area where the case will reside and deduct 1/4". This will be the overall width of the case.
  2. Repeat this for the height as well, or select a desired width and height based on personal choices.
  3. Begin by cutting the (2) sides to the calculated height, minus 3/4" width for the top shelf. Since this shelf will overlap the top and be flush on the edges.
  4. Cut the top piece base on the width measurement, minus the 1/4" of course.
  5. Stand one side on its edge, align one corner of the top to flush, apply glue to the top edge of the side and nail or screw the top to the side piece. (Your building a box)
  6. Now, stand the other side opposite, apply glue and attach the free end of the top.
  7. You now have a U shaped, 3 sided box, that lays on its side without assistance.
  8. For the shelves, measure the with INSIDE the shelf box, from one side to the other side.
  9. This will be the width of the shelves and bottom.
  10. The number of shelves depends on the desired shelving height. Standard is 14" between shelves.
  11. Stand the case up with the open bottom edges on the bench or floor.
  12. Cut 2 pieces (ledger and toe kick) of the 3-1/2 wide pine to the same width and install these at the bottom, standing on their sides, one across the back of the case, flush with the back edge and one across the front, recessed from the front face 2-1/2". This is the toe kick. Apply glue to all contact surfaces and attach.
  13. Cut one shelf to the inside width, lay it on top of the toe kick/ledger and attach.
  14. Lay the shelf unit down, face up as if looking into an open box.
  15. Cut the shelves, apply glue to the edges and install, applying fasteners from the outside, through the sides and penetrate mid shelf.
  16. Finally, with the unit on its back, cut  a 1-1/2" ledger piece and install under the top shelf, spanning the back and on edge, so you can drive fasteners through this into the wall and attach the case.

Finish, stain or paint the case and set it in place. Attach at the sides and back ledger.

Custom trim may be selected and applied per the owners choice.
Layout and mark shelf heights on the inside of each side.

Cut your first shelf, apply glue to the top edges of the toe kick and back ledger.


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