a ladder bookshelf
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How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Assemble a custom tiered storage unit. Modify the height and width to vary your shelf space

A ladder bookshelf provides the perfect storage solution for an old home. Leaning against a wall, it conveniently sidesteps baseboard moldings and receptacles, and with just two feet to level, it's not so easily upset by those charming warped floors. Maybe best of all, unlike closed bookcases, the open, airy design helps the room feel more spacious—all for not much more than the cost of a few feet of floor space.

Delicate as it may appear, the notched hardwood frame at right is plenty sturdy, and with its balanced design, it won't topple. To mimic the look without having to cut notches, we sandwiched two layers of 1x3s together for the uprights.

There are plenty of some-assembly-required options out there if you'd prefer to buy a ladder bookshelf. Or you could follow our plans and knock one out in an afternoon, probably in less time than it would take to choose from the thousands of variations available online. Either way, you're sure to appreciate the unobtrusive new shelf space.

Shown: Leaning Bookcase in Java by The Container Store, about $140; containerstore.com.


Steps // How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf
1 ×

Overview

 
Step One // How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Overview

exploded view of a ladder bookshelf
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Modify the height and width to vary your shelf space.

CUT LIST
Download a printable cut list here.

¾-inch poplar panel for shelf A: one @ 21 by 4¾ inches
¾-inch poplar panel for shelf B: one @ 21 by 6¾ inches
¾-inch poplar panel for shelf C: one @ 21 by 8¾ inches
¾-inch poplar panel for shelf D: one @ 21 by 10¾ inches
¾-inch poplar panel for shelf E: one @ 21 by 12¾ inches
1x3 poplar shelf backs: five @ 21 inches
1x3 poplar shelf sides: two @ 5½ inches, two @ 7½ inches,
two @ 9½ inches, two @ 11½ inches, two @ 13½ inches
1x3 poplar uprights: two @ 6 feet from point to point.
Cut the ends at parallel 10-degree angles.
1x3 poplar top cleats: two @ 3½ inches from point to point.
Cut the ends at parallel 10-degree angles.
1x3 poplar bottom cleats: two @ 8 inches from point to point.
Cut at parallel 10-degree angles.
1x3 poplar spacer cleats: eight @ 12 inches from point to point.
Cut at parallel 10-degree angles.

 
2 ×

Cut The Pieces

 
Step Two // How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Cut The Pieces

exploded view of a ladder bookshelf with parts highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Download a printable cut list here and follow it to make the assembly pieces. First, make all the straight cuts for the shelves. Then set the miter-saw blade to 10 degrees and cut the uprights and cleats at parallel angles.
 

 
3 ×

Build The Shelves

 
Step Three // How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Build The Shelves

exploded view of a ladder bookshelf with shelves highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Run a bead of wood glue along the back edge of a shelf, butt the shelf into its backpiece, and tack it in place with 2-inch brad nails. Glue and tack the sidepieces onto the shelf in the same manner, making sure they're flush at the back and bottom. Wipe away any excess glue.

 
4 ×

Attach The Cleats

 
Step Four // How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Attach The Cleats

exploded view of a ladder bookshelf with cleats highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Starting at the bottom of the uprights, glue the cleats in place, using scrap 1x3s to block out space for the shelves. Secure the cleats with 1¼-inch brad nails. To make the tops of the uprights sit flat against the wall, trim ¼ inch off their back edges, perpendicular to the 10-degree end cuts.

 
5 ×

Join The Shelves

 
Step Five // How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Join The Shelves

exploded view of a ladder bookshelf with uprights highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Stand up the tiered shelves on their backs, arranged shortest to tallest, on a level work surface. Dry-fit the shelves into the notches on the uprights. Make sure that the trimmed wall-side edges of the uprights rest flat against the work surface. Now glue the shelves to the uprights and drive two 1¼-inch screws through each shelf's sidepieces and into the uprights. Fill the fastener holes, then sand and paint. To finish, add nonskid foam pads to the feet and the wall-side edge of each upright.

 
 
 

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