Step 1: Cut the legs, shelves, and supports

CUTTING SHELVES, LEGS
Photo: Kolin Smith
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Have the lumberyard rip your plywood into boards to the width that matches your bookcase depth. Before you cut and assemble any parts, sand all the wood. Stain or prime it and allow it to dry.

Measure the height of the space where the bookcase will go. Cut two bookcase legs to this measurement from the ripped-down plywood

Measure the width of your space in three places. Subtract 1½ inches from the smallest measurement. Cut the shelves to this length from the plywood. (Make sure you also cut a piece for the top.)

If you want your shelves to be different heights to accommodate different sizes of books, you must mark the legs where the supports will be. Hold one leg against the wall and mark where you'd like the bottom of each shelf to fall. Try to line up the shelves with nearby architectural details, such as baseboards, windowsills, and mantels.

Lay both legs on a table, butted evenly next to each other. Use a framing square to transfer the shelf marks from one board to the other. Then place a plywood scrap on edge at each line and mark the width of each shelf.

Measure between the lines to get the sizes of the support pieces. Use a circular saw guided by a Speed Square, ABOVE, to cut the supports from the ripped-down plywood. Cut the topmost supports ¾ inch short.
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    Tools List

    • circular saw
      Circular Saw
    • speed square
      Speed square,
      to guide circular saw as you cut support pieces
    • scribe
      Scribe,
      for transferring irregularities of the wall onto the trim so you can cut it to fit snugly
    • mallet
      Mallet,
      to coax tight-fitting shelves into slots
    • studfinder
      Stud sensor,
      to find where to attach bookcase to wall
    • jigsaw
      Jigsaw,
      to cut scribed trim pieces
    • 16-foot tape measure
      Measuring tape
    • hammer
      Hammer
    • nailset
      Nailset
    • four-foot level
      Level
    • drill
      Cordless drill
    • utility knife
      Utility knife

    Shopping List

    1. 3/4-INCH VENEER PLYWOOD

    Calculate how many 8-foot-long boards you can get from one sheet and use that to figure out how many sheets you will need to get enough board feet. (A plywood sheet is 4 feet wide, but keep in mind that a saw blade takes off 1/8 inch per rip.) You’ll need at least 3 sheets for a 4-by-8-foot bookcase.



    2. 5/4x4 TRIM

    for masking plywood edges around the perimeter of the bookcase front. Measure the length of the two legs, plus the width of the case, then add 10 percent for waste.



    3. 1x TRIM

    to make nosing for the front of the shelves. For more support, use thicker stock. Take the length of one shelf and multiply it by the number of shelves (including the bottom shelf). Add 10 percent for waste.



    4. YELLOW WOOD GLUE

    5. 1-INCH DISPOSABLE BRISTLE BRUSH

    for applying glue neatly to plywood edges



    6. 1 1/4-INCH (3D) FINISH NAILS

    for nailing the supports in place



    7. 2-INCH (6D) FINISH NAILS

    for nailing trim in place



    8. 1 5/8 and 2 1/2-INCH WOOD SCREWS

    9. SHIMS

    or leveling the bookcase



    10. WOOD PUTTY OR WAX PENCIL

    in a color to match the wood, to fill nail holes



    11. STAIN OR PAINT

    12. BUTCHER'S WAX OR POLYURETHANE