How To Build Built-in Bookshelves

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Do you have an overflowing bookcase and even more books running around the house? If so, you’re not alone. One in four people has at least five books they haven’t read yet and two out of three Americans have more than 10 books they still need to read. But don't worry. This article will show you how to build built-in shelves that work for any space so you’ll always have your books looking great at just an arm’s reach.

Keep reading to find out more. 

Measure the space you want to build your bookshelf in

You need to measure the space first before you can decide what size and how many bookshelves you want. Measure off each wall of the area. Then, add two inches for every shelf, along with a couple of inches of room around the outside edge and on top for air circulation.

This will help your cabinets last longer if they don’t have to deal with an overly humid area. Measure down from the ceiling by 6 feet (for most bedrooms). Add that measurement to your length measurement to get how tall your bookcase will be.

To get the width of one side, divide that number by three. For example, if you are building a bookcase 9 feet high, you can divide its width by three to get the width which will be 3 feet.

The Affordable Way to Build Built-In Bookshelves
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Mark a rectangle on the wall where you want the bookcase

Start marking out your rectangle (the outer edges of the space). Use painter’s tape and mark it off as accurately as possible. If you aren't sure, measure both up from the floor and down from the ceiling to make sure that your measurements are perfect. For every shelf, add two inches on each side for air circulation and around three or four inches of space on top and bottom for storage. Since this area is hard to reach once everything is built, having an extra room at either end allows easier access when trying to reach items in the back or empty boxes away.

Cut the plywood with a circular saw and two pieces of cardboard 

After you have marked out your rectangle, it's time to cut the wood. Use two pieces of cardboard as a guide when cutting the board to make sure that there are no gaps in between each board. You can also use this method to achieve straight cuts on both sides if you don't own a proper tool. Cut along one edge at a time until you get all four edges.

The rule for this step is simple: measure twice, cut once. It'll save you from lots of headaches later. Mark where you want your nails or screws according to the size of your boards (usually 1-inch thick). If while nailing or screwing, you notice a gap or difference in the direction of the boards, switch to the other side. The air can escape more easily through gaps here than on top.

After you are satisfied with your cuts and markings, cut one last piece for the back of your bookshelf (this is optional if it does not need a back). This will keep all of the nails and screws from poking out into your hands when touching them..

circular saw cutting plywood
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Constructing and mounting your new built-in bookcases

Now that you have chosen where to place each shelf, markdown where they should go. Each shelf needs to be flush against its neighboring shelves so that there are no holes between each board. Use scrap wood as a base for your bookcase when nailing or screwing it into the wall.

After you have completed constructing both of the bookshelves, line up one with a piece of scrap wood against it and place the other on top. Place heavy objects inside to make sure that there are no loose joints or any other problems with construction. After everything is placed, don't forget to leave enough space between them so that you can still grab whatever book is in the back without having to move another shelf out of the way.

Viola. You're set. 

When you're finished, stand back and admire the results of your hard work. You can always hang up posters or picture frames on the sides to add a pop of color and some art for your room as well.

Safety Note

Use caution when handling tools. Always wear safety glasses, work gloves, etc when using any power tools or equipment. Safety first.

Where can I get plans for built-in bookshelves? 

When looking at the process of building built-in bookshelves, it is not very hard to see that there is a lot of work involved and you would probably have only limited access to the bookcase before it's completely attached. This means that you will need some plans for your new shelves so that they are going to be built exactly how you want them. There are plenty of different places to get these kinds of plans but finding a reliable source (whether it’s online or from someone who’s done this before) is crucial to achieving success.

You might also consider looking for plans that involve decorating your kitchen island by building a small bookshelf on top of it – this is something that quite a few people are looking into in this day and age.

How much should I expect to pay someone to build the shelves for me?

The good news is that it's possible to build your built-in bookshelves at home. The bad news is that the cost could easily run into hundreds of dollars for simple projects if you don't know what you're doing.

There are, however, ways to make it cheaper, which include finding someone who’s an expert at  building bookshelves. Your costs could also vary based on which tools you already have around the house and how many new ones are needed. However much time and effort you put into creating your built-in bookshelves, the ultimate cost you will pay depends largely on whether or not you use pre-made shelves, shop around for plans and materials, or hire a professional.

Where should I get my materials? 

Searching online is probably the fastest way to find what you need. There's also a chance that local stores might have some of the items necessary for this project, but it's better to be safe than sorry. In many cases, woodworking projects are specifically designed with pieces of plywood and other pre-cut boards — this makes them easier to put together by beginners or pros who want to reuse existing pieces instead of buying new ones each time they start something new. Getting all of the material you need for the project is also important, as this can be a big financial strain if you're not careful.

Building your built-in bookshelves might seem like a daunting task at first glance, but if you take everything one step at a time and work slowly and carefully, then the process will go by much faster than you think. Choose which materials are best suited to your particular situation and get started on this DIY project today. 

Now that I have the bookshelves, what are some good ways to store things on them?

The best ways to store things on your shelves are by placing them in boxes that you can tuck on certain shelves. Some people might even find that they have enough shelf space for a wide array of different things, including toys like cars and dolls, books, magazines, stuffed animals, or other decorative items.

If you're trying to be a minimalist in your life, then a cabinet based storage solution (like built-in bookshelves) could even help out with that.

Can I paint or stain the shelves? 

Yes. You can do this right away when you build them (or before), but if it's something that you'd prefer not to do yourself, it might be a good idea to give professionals a chance and let them handle things for you. 

How to Build Easy Built-Ins bookshelves
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Otherwise, just make sure that you clean the shelves before applying any kind of topcoat and use a clear piece of tape or something similar to cover up any areas that you don't want to be painted.

On some pieces, you might find that a coat of stain on the wood is enough to do the trick, but other types of shelves or furniture will require much more work than this. You'll just have to experiment and see what works best for you.

Final thoughts on how to build built-in bookshelves

In conclusion, building bookshelves is something that can be done either on a tight budget or even on a bigger budget. It all depends upon how much room you have and what your tastes are.

There are many different ways of doing it; some bookshelves are kept apart from the wall, while others aren't. Some people like big shelves, which offer more space for storage, but they don't look nice when decorating modern spaces that aim at saving most of their spaces and having everything organized and clean-cut.

At the end of the day, it’s all about you and your preferences so keep those in mind as you follow along this process.


Kevin Farrugia

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin is a household and appliance enthusiast and loves to follow the latest trends in kitchen and house decoration. He also loves to walk the isles of Home Depot and Lowes to review products and materials in person. Before joining Kitchen Infinity, Kevin owned a handyman company.

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