How to Build a Small Bookcase
How to build a small bookcase with more than 10 square feet of shelf space
These days, everyone seems to have more stuff than places to stuff it. We've heard complaints of a house-wide shortage of nooks and crannies, and a dearth of handy bins and baskets. Fortunately, we've got a stylish solution: Build a compact, adjustable-shelf bookcase.
The great thing about this freestanding piece of furniture is that it's suitable for any room. You can paint it to match your decor, or stain it to look like natural woodwork. And even though it provides over 10 square feet of shelf space—counting the top surface—it takes up less than 3 square feet of floor space.
You don't need to be an accomplished cabinetmaker to build this bookcase. As This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shows here, all you need are some skills with a saw and a router and the patience to be exacting with your measurements and cuts. Following Tom's expert guidance, you'll be able to put this piece together just in time to clear the junk off the living room floor.
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.