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How To Build a Freestanding Bookcase

Building a bookcase is an excellent project for anyone wanting to build a functional piece of furniture. It is a good starter project for someone wanting to gain experience, while an experienced woodworker can find a challenge in it too. There are many different ways to build a bookcase; the design, joinery, moulding and details can range from basic to elaborate. In this article we'll present a basic project that requires only a few, common tools. We will also suggest some variations and more advanced techniques.

For this project you will need a straight edge, circular saw, hammer, combination square, tape measure as well as glue, wood putty, nails, sandpaper, boards and a sheet of plywood. Our bookcase's dimensions are 10.75" deep, 48" tall and 31.5" wide. You can vary the dimensions, although, if you make it wider, you should add a center support to avoid sagging shelves.

First a word about material selection. Not all wood is created equal. Boards can warp, twist, bow, split, leach sap or have other flaws. When selecting wood, look down its length to spot bows or twists in the wood. Good straight boards will simplify building. Furthermore, boards are not necessarily the dimensions they are sold as. For instance a 2x4 is usually closer to 1.5" x 3.5". The true dimensions of boards differ because as the wood dries, it shrinks. So a 1x10, like we will use in this project will be closer to .75 " x 9.25". This is an important detail to be aware of when planning a project.

For this project, we'll use pine, although you can use any solid wood you like. Now for the cut list; this is the list of the boards we will be using and their final cut lengths. However, since board sizes may vary and construction is unlikely to be dead-on precise, don't cut the pieces until you have measured first.

  • 1" x 10" x 47.25"
  • 1" x 10" x 30"
  • 1" x 10" x 28.5
  • 1" x 2" x 9.25"
  • 1" x 2" x 48"
  • 1" x 2" x 27"
  • 1" x 4" x 31.5"
  • 1" x 4" x 10.875"
  • 47.875" x 29.875" x .125"

(1) 45° miter cuts
(2) 45° miter cut

This bookcase will be assembled in five steps. First we'll attach the cleats to the sides; the cleats support the shelves. Second, we'll fasten the shelves in place. Next, we'll install the back, which also helps to square the cabinet. In the fourth step, we'll install a face frame. Finally, we'll install the base moulding. Below is an exploded view of the shelf unit.

Our bookcase has four shelves. We will space the shelves equally, although you can space them however you like. The shelves must be level from left to right and from front to back. An easy way to level the shelves is to lay the side pieces edge to edge with the inside facing up....Continued

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