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Project Ideas: Indoor Decor

How to Build a Small Bookshelf

Building a small bookshelf is a great starter project for a beginner, or really anyone that just needs one out of necessity.

If you have basic woodworking tools and materials, almost anyone can build a small bookshelf to best suit their needs. Since it's this small, one could argue that it could double as a nightstand or end table as well. 










 Table or compound mitre saw




Power sander or sandpaper




Paint Roller/Brush/Tray





1 sheet of 4' x 8' 3/4" plywood

wood glue



1 box of 1-1/4" length coarse thread screws



Marker and/or pencil


STEP 1: Grab all of your supplies at your local Home Depot first. Begin by marking, then cutting your 3/4" piece of plywood down into the following sizes on a table saw at your work station (or have it cut at your local Home Depot). 

  • 5 pieces cut to 24" x 14"
  • 2 smaller strips 1" height x 24" length

As the adage goes, "measure twice and cut once". For any cabinet/furniture building, this is the golden rule. Lay your pieces on the floor before assembly to ensure all are in the correct size.

The final dimensions are 24" H x 24" W x 14" D.

Midway through, I personally decided to cut the 2 smaller strips to the 1 inch height, hence the 'higher' panels shown below.

Step 2: Once you've checked that all sizes are accurate, begin to build the frame of the bookshelf using wood glue. Assemble it 2 pieces at a time, and use clamps while gluing to hold everything in place.

Using corner clamps immensely helped in this project. It not only served as a second set of hands for me during the build, but it firmly pushed frames of the bookshelf together tightly.

At this stage, wipe off any excess wood glue seeping from the joints. Glue in the middle shelf as well, allowing for at least 12 inch clearance for books to rest upright in it.

STEP 3: After the glue has dried, but the clamps are still on the frame, now use your drill and use a bit slightly smaller than the screw that it will go into that hole. 

Pre-drilling, or pilot hole drilling as it is commonly called, reduces the chances of the wood splitting once the final screw goes in. Plus, it makes the screw go in evenly and without issue.

Now during this step, it's important to make sure to work on a flat, level surface. Always check for any warps or misshapen pieces. 

Verify this using a level and install the back 2 1" high strips on the back of the bookshelf.

This is done so the books won't slide out of the back, while keeping the shelf open and still reinforcing it. 

STEP 4: Once everything is assembled, remove all clamps and set upright. Use a power sander to sand down all rough edges. Start with a rougher 120 grit, and then graduate to the smoother 220 grit to make sure any splinters and rough patches are no longer there.

Before moving onto the next step, painting, be sure any sawdust particles caused by sanding are removed. The best item to remove this is Tack Cloth, and works great for taking out sawdust in those corner spots.

STEP 5: After ensuring your bookshelf is clean, give it a final inspection to ensure it is clean and level.

Once you've done that, now you are ready to paint. Since this is an unfinished wood surface, you'll need to use an oil-based primer first.

An oil-based primer will block out any wood grains and knots, and it will make whatever top coat of paint you use look uniform and use less coats of it. 

For this bookshelf, I chose to use Zinsser Cover Stain, which works great for sealing and priming the wood. 

You can roll, or in my case, brush on the primer, and you'll allow 1 hour for it to dry. Since it is oil-based, it will give off some fumes, so be sure to have open ventilation when applying it on the bookshelf. 

The key is to block the wood from coming through via the primer. And even though it is oil-based, you can certainly use any water-based high quality and sheen top coat of your choice. 

Avoid low sheens like flat and eggshell, since this will be used frequently.

Once the primer is dry, you are now ready to paint. I chose to use a satin-based top coat. Let the top coat dry an hour.

STEP 6: As a final touch, you can add as I did and add furniture pads. These are self-sticking and work great to prevent scratching the floor during moving the bookshelf.

Now you are ready to enjoy your new bookshelf! Fill it with whatever you like. 

Since it won't go over 24" in height, it makes for a great storage solution near a work desk or living area.

In fact, the possibilities are really endless for where in the home you can place it. You can even install mounting brackets on it and have a wall shelf! 

This is one of those projects where with the right tools and materials, you can really make it your own.

Let us know if you have any additional questions regarding building this bookshelf.


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Posted 2016-01-11T22:13:56+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL Joseph_HD_ATL