Illustration: Gregory Nemec


The main box and both adjustable shelves of this bookcase are cut from ¾-inch birch-veneer plywood, with lightweight ¼-inch plywood covering the back. “Birch plywood is an excellent choice for bookcases,” says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, “because it accepts paint or stain.” It’s also relatively affordable compared to solid lumber, ranging in price from about $39 to $98 per 4x8 sheet, depending on grade. Cabinet-grade birch plywood, used in this project, runs on the high end of that range. To cover the hidden back of the bookcase, ¼-inch plywood is an economical choice. The thin panel fits into a groove rabbeted into the back edges of the bookcase sides. Birch-veneer edge banding hides the exposed edges of the plywood in the front of the box. The back of the banding is coated with a heat-sensitive adhesive, so the only “tool” you need to adhere the veneer is an ordinary clothes iron.

Pocket screws fasten the outer case of the piece together. These hidden fasteners, screwed into angled holes, leave no exposed screw heads.To drill the holes, you need a pocket-hole jig, which comes with a specially designed step drill bit and a depth-stop collar, but not the pocket-hole screws. You must purchase these specialized pan-head screws separately; a box of 100 coarse-thread, 1¼-inch-long pocket screws costs about $5. Pocket-hole jigs and related supplies are available at any well-stocked hardware stores and most woodworking suppliers, such as woodcraft.com.

Although this bookcase is simple to piece together, it does have a bit of style. Gently curving arches are cut into the front toekick and each side panel to create “feet,” which help make the piece appear visually lighter and less bottom heavy. And the top of the bookcase is trimmed with decorative molding, which casts shadow lines while adding a little architectural interest.
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    Tools List

    • 100-foot tape measure
      Measuring tape
    • circular saw
      Circular saw and guide
    • hand clamps
      Spring clamps for holding saw guide
    • plunge router
      Plunge router fitted with 5/8-inch-diameter guide bushing, ball-bearing-piloted rabbeting router bit, and ¼-inch-diameter straight-cutting router bit
    • speed square
      Speed square
    • hammer
    • jigsaw
      Jigsaw for cutting arches in toekick and side pieces
    • iron
      Iron for adhering iron-on birch veneer edge banding to plywood
    • j-roller
      J-roller for adhering iron-on veneer
    • Double-sided Veneer Trimmer
      Double-sided veneer trimmer
    • utility knife
      Utility knife
    • drill
      Drill/driver fitted with 5/8-inch spade bit
    • pocket hole jig
      Pocket-hole jig for boring angled holes for pocket screws
    • miter saw
      Miter saw (or miter box with hand saw)
    • paintbrush
      Paint brush

    Shopping List

    1. 3/4-inch cabinet-grade birch veneer plywood for the case and shelves. One 4x8 sheet will make the whole bookcase

    2. 1/4-inch-thick birch veneer plywood for the backing. One half-sheet will cover the back of the bookcase.

    3. 8-foot piece of pine bed molding to trim around bookcase top.

    4. 1¼-inch pan-head pocket-hole screws

    5. 6d finish nails to attach the bed molding.

    6. 3d box nails for fastening the plywood back.

    7. 1/4-inch-thick x 3-inch-wide hardboard strip used to mark arches onto toekick and side pieces.

    8. 7/8-inch-wide heat-activated birch veneer edge banding, used to conceal edges of plywood.

    9. 1x pine, for making hole-routing template for shelf pegs.

    10. 8 metal shelf pegs

    11. 120-grit sandpaper

    12. Primer and paint,
    or stain and varnish