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We have fun with woodworking no matter what the project is, but the most rewarding thing for us is making our own furniture.  Let’s say you wanted a solid oak bookcase but didn’t have the four to six hundred bucks a retail store would want for one. You can achieve the same effect for less than half the cost, using a bit of solid oak trim and some veneered ply.

Note: As this is a Craftsman-sponsored project, you’ll notice a number of Craftsman tools in the photos. But here’s a secret: we already owned ‘em all. You can, of course, attack this project with tools of your choice.

After a bit of figuring, we decided to make our bookcase 34″x12″x92″ with eight shelves in it. Though we strongly urge you to design for what suits your needs best, in our case we wanted a tall bookcase with a maximum of storage space. We calculated that this setup will hold about twice as many books as most units on the market, so that was a big bonus.

Based on a quick layout, we made a breakdown of the lumber we’d need:  two sheets of 3/4” 4’x8’ oak-veneered ply, four 8′ sticks of 3″x3/4” solid oak trim, four 8′ sticks of 3/4″ decorative trim, and one sheet of 1/4” oak-veneered ply. Even paying retail this totals to somewhere in the neighborhood of $190 plus the rail system which will run about $8. Figure around $200 for the entire stock list.

Smaller bookcases will of course be cheaper, but this is about as large as you’d want to go, so we’re giving a worst-case scenario here. Note, however, that this is still $200 cheaper than the next best solid oak candidate.

A bookcase is basically a five-sided box with the front part open, so to begin constructing one, first cut the pieces for the first four sides. With the first piece of 3/4″ ply laid out, mark out the first 11″x92” piece which’ll serve as one of the sides, and cut it out. Then do the same for its mate.  Measuring and cutting them out separately may seem like a pain, but unless you’re really good at figuring kerf, this way is much safer.

Now our top and bottom pieces, each 11″x32-1/2”, will come from the leftover sheet.  There should still be a little of the first sheet left, leaving you enough stock for the important fixed middle shelf and one removable shelf, both of which should measure 10″x32-1/2”. From the second 3/4” sheet you can also cut up to eight 10″x32-1/2” removable shelves.

You’ve now cut the basic building blocks for your bookcase box — but before we move on to assembly of the box, we need to add our shelf-hanging system in the sides.

There are any number of ways to fix shelves in your bookcase, but for this project we chose the method that gives you the most flexibility in shelf positioning:  adjustable rails.  To install them you just need to rout a few 3/4” slots in each side piece.

For that task we set up our trim router with a 3/4” straight bit and side guide attachment. We got the slot where we wanted it by using a small piece of scrap to align the guide and the bit to run a 3/8” slot about two inches from the side on the inside — though whatever looks and feels good to you will work just fine. A quick test-fit of our rails put our minds at ease;  we’d gotten the right width and height for the rails, and the screws that fasten them weren’t going to stick out of the slots and play havoc with the removable shelves.

Once the router is set up, mark the six-foot area on the board where you’d like the two rails to go, and do the same for the other sideboard.

Rout the two rail slots into each board. Take your time here — there’s no need to rush.

After the routing you might notice that the slot has rounded ends from the router bit.  To remedy this we grabbed a 3/4″ chisel and squared off each edge to make the slots square, so they’d fit the rails.

Next we attached the rails to the boards, which was short work with a few 5/8” wood screws and our Craftsman drill. Take care not to strip the screws out when tightening them, or your shelves won’t carry much weight.

You won’t have this kind of access to the inside of these sideboards again, so now might be a great time to hit them with a bit of sanding. Palm routers like this Craftsman Vibra-Free sander are made for this sort of thing. With 80-grit and a little time, we gave each piece we’d cut a good once-over to get rid of the pencil marks and rough spots.

Read on to page two of our project.

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11 Responses to How-To: Build A Custom Oak Bookcase

  1. Scott Dallesasse says:

    You should post this on instructables.com . This would be a great instructable!

  2. Sean O'Hara says:

    Actually look for it on Instructables very soon 🙂

  3. Kurt Schwind says:

    Good job, Sean. And I’m glad to see the cross-posting to Instructables (another great web site). I need to build a bookshelf and I’ll be cribbing a few ideas from here for sure.

  4. Old Coot says:

    Nice job.

  5. Dave says:

    Thanks for the nice explanation. You have also given me an idea about a plasma TV desk/bench..the retail ones are way over priced!!!!

  6. grrk says:

    those levels are bowed and shouldn’t be used as a straightedge. that’s what straightedges are for.

  7. Zathrus says:

    @grrk – what on earth are you talking about?

  8. Chuck says:

    You could do the layout manually, but cultist pro is a great tool, and free for something this small. I used to to build my built-ins.

  9. Rob R. says:

    What kind of profile did you rout on the shelf trim?

  10. Sean O'Hara says:

    I did a Roman Ogee on the shelf trim with a bull nose top Rob. 🙂

  11. Rob says:

    Thanks for this article, I’m almost done with my second bookshelf of this design. The first one was a great learning experience, the second one is much better 😉

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