Two-hour book cases

Posted by jerry on January 6th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

Whether making one book case or several – as I am doing – there are a few tricks to make it a quick and painless process – remember we’ll be building this book case in under two hours.

bookcase construction

Firstly, when making the sides (the uprights), cut them in pairs – that way they will always be level with each other. You will need for each book case a pair of sides of equal length – the size is up to you. For floor-to-ceiling book cases they are likely to be a fairly standard 2.4 metres. The ones I am making today are designed to fit under a window, so mine are 830mm tall – which will leave a 20mm gap for a final smooth top to be fitted along the length. But the principle is the same, whether tall or short.

For each book case you will need at least four shelf-length pieces – in my case about 750mm. These will comprise the fixed elements of the book case. They will be used as follows:

  • a top for the book case
  • a kick board at the bottom front
  • a bottom shelf; and
  • a middle shelf

All other shelves will be adjustable to allow for different height books.

Measure once, cut many times

In contrast to the old dictum about ‘measure twice and cut once’, we’ll reverse that for this project! Even for one book case you will have several pieces that need to be of the same length. The trick is to measure one (carefully!) and clamp a stop-block to your saw bench – after that, forget measuring and just slot each new one up to the stop block and cut away. Providing the block doesn’t move they will all be be the same length.

saw bench stop block

Fit around the skirting board

When all your uprights are cut, the next thing is to cut a notch to fit the bookcase around the skirting board – that way the back will be flush with the wall. To do this we use a contour gauge – there are several types, but all use the same principle – a collection of stiff wires trapped between two flat straps. When you press it against an irregular object, the wires deflect, leaving an imprint of the contour – in this case, a skirting board

contour gauge

Then you transfer that shape with a pencil to the lower back part of your book case sides

contour gauge

Now cut out the shape with a hand saw

contour gauge

And the shelf sides will now fit your wall

contour gauge


With all the pieces cut to size it is time to assemble the bookcase. Find a large flat surface – in this case a couple of sheets of melamine placed across the saw bench extension.

Lay the two sides face downward so that the skirting board cutouts are facing up. Now place the kickboard and the bottom shelf in position.

bookcase construction

Assembly is with screws – you can glue the joints as well for added strength. Pre-drill right through the side into the kickboard. Then countersink the hole and finally screw in the screw – I use chipboard screws for just about everything!

Here are the steps in pictures – I use quick-change drill bit, countersink and screwdriver bit – they save a heap of time 🙂
bookcase construction

bookcase construction

bookcase construction

Once the bottom shelf is on, make sure the bookcase is square and add the top shelf using the same procedure. You can make it easier on yourself by using a mitre clamp to hold the pieces together while you drill and screw them together.

Adjustable shelves

Now you should have a bare bookcase carcass. Place it on one side and using a template – I use a length of pegboard to guide the position of the holes. In this case I had a part of an old bookcase where I had drilled all the way through the side – so I used that as a template this time.

Note that I have used masking tape on the drill to give me a depth guide to ensure I don’t drill all the way through the side!

bookcase construction

Now insert some shelf supports and add the centre shelves. And aside from the varnish – that’s all there is to it!

bookcase construction

For a tall bookcase I would make a fixed shelf about halfway up to prevent bowing. With practice you can build one in about two hours 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll finish off the other bookcases and and then we can look at how to make built-in bookcases using this construction technique – the secret is to build in modules and hide the joins with some 40mm beaded trim 😉


No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment