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How to make a bookcase

Great advice on making a bookcase and give that "extra" to your living room or workarea!

The solid abundance

I am really proud to present to you my very first bookcase, designed by yours truly: “The Solid Abundance”. In this article, I will explain you how I made this and share with you the plans, so you can also use it as a base for your own projects.

large solid handmade bookcase floor to ceiling
My pride: The Solid Abundance

The inspiration

As it was the very first time I made a bookcase, it was necessary to collect some inspiration, and of course dig deep into the details of the construction. It took me months before I dared to start. You can probably guess, Pinterest was a good source. I collected and collected virtual piles of images and sometimes stumbled on an interesting website of other DIY’ers. It helped a lot! Woodshop Diaries has an interesting DIY on a bookcase.

Also Youtube has some interesting video’s. There is for example this one by ViTTEN. In Dutch I found some very pleasant instructive video’s. This one is very specific, by Evert Reitsma. The one below (the preview) makes me so joyful, it is very explicit and the presentor is great. There is no “fikfak”, no unnecessary talk.

He gives very useful advice though!

He gives very useful advice. This may even be the most useful video, despite that he uses mdf instead of plywood (multiplex). In many DIY videos the instructors cut their own wood, but he reminds us that the woodshop can cut it for you. Not having all electric utensils shouldn’t hold you back to create stuff!

The drawing, and the materials

The next step was deciding on the design. I was lucky my father made a first drawing with the right measurements, he’s a really precise measurer, so I could use that as a base. The design itself changed a lot. While making the final version, I stumbled on several practical and aesthetic problems.

base drawing with specific measurements for the bookcase
This helped a lot! Do you notice the date? We actually started thinking about it months earlier… Good work takes time.

While I was making the drawing, I kept in mind what materials I would use. On several websites of professional bookcase carpenters, I found the general use of two good materials. First was pure oak, but this fell “a bit” out of my budget range. Second was plywood (multiplex ) of 18 mm thick. That was the best option for me. You may think about mdf (as in the video above), but for heavy books, this material isn’t exactly the most solid. The first two problems with the plywood where that the standard measurements of the plates didn’t go as high as I wanted the bookshelf, and that using a modular system would lead to very thick shelves and that doesn’t please my eye.

I had to rethink the direction of the bookcase. Can you imagine the IKEA Billy design? That is a very common more vertically directed bookcase. I had to think more horizontally, and use longer horizontal shelves with smaller vertical pieces to go upwards. This allows to go as high as you may want. For large walls, using a modular system is rather popular. But by putting twice 18 mm next to one another, the view wouldn’t have been aesthetic in my opinion. This video by “frank howarth” gave me a fresh view on how to make the design and I was able to solve the problem of having too thick edges. This led to another issue: you cannot screw everything on the same line when you are working this way. So the place of the vertical parts had to shift.

problem vertical shelves with arrows indicating, electric screwdriver, level
These vertical parts can’t be on one line.

On top of the door, I really wanted the bookcase to continue, for dramatic effects. You can guess it, this also brought some problems. There was the need to attach the overdoor part somewhere, and make it solid enough. Also, the weight of the books could change the form of the shelves, they would sag. That’s why I doubled the thickness on that level. It gives much more stability. The inspiration for this change came from this video by RRR Woodworks.

The order

If you don’t have a fixed place where you can go buy wood, it is a good idea to ask for an offer in several places. Not everyone has the right saw to cut the wood, in that case, you can ask to cut the wood at the wood shop. Make a list of all the pieces of wood you need cut. It has to be clear and very specific: length, width and how many pieces, written in millimetres. To have an idea how much the price could be, sketch the plates on a piece of paper (to represent the untouched plate). For example: you get 5-6 plates from 200 mm wide if the plate is 1200 wide. Also indicate what kind of wood you’re asking for. There is plywood and there is plywood. The top layers and thickness are very diverse. A little round in the shop can help to make an image of the colours.

filling a bookcase with books, light brown, red, oak, meranti
The colour of the bookcase goes quite well with the colours of the other woods.

I chose plywood with a “meranti” top layer, but I didn’t take into account that there are many different kinds of “meranti wood”. So in my case, I went to the desk, asked for a bleak version, but ended up with a slightly red version. I liked it, so there was no need to complain in my case. Another important point is to indicate the way they should cut it: with as few splinters as possible. The person in charge of cutting the wood will know how to do this. They put the speed of the blade faster I think. If you don’t ask for this, you risk to get slightly damaged wood.

The assembly

Then came the delivery and the construction could start. My boyfriend helped me with the assembly, because there were some heavy parts that I couldn’t lift alone. And working together can be veeeery romantic and fun. I call it the next level ikea-test. The first step was organising the whole. We put together the parts of the same size, luckily they were all marked with stickers so we didn’t need to measure each piece. Staying organised and keeping the workplace more or less clean helps a lot when you’re working. It reduces the time you’re looking for pieces 😉

living room with wood for the bookcase
All the magic happened in the living room! Dionysse was satisfied with the delivery.

Then we started indicating all the place where we needed to predrill a hole for the screws. I recommend you to do that too, because it prevents the wood from splitting and you have a nicer fit. Make sure the holes are adapted to the screws you’re going to use, they should be a little bit smaller than the screw. The next step was milling (I hope this is the right word) the places where the heads of the screws would be visible or where two plates had to be stuck tight on one another. This gives a neat finish and changes the look completely.

To assemble the whole, it takes a lot of thinking on how you’re going to do it. Every made to measure bookcase is slightly different and it helps to make a raw schedule of the steps you’re going to take.

notes on assembling the bookcase
These are the notes to assemble the bookcase, but while working, certain steps had to be reconsidered.

While working, make sure you have a break on time and don’t be afraid to let it rest for a few days too. It is better to work slower than to make mistakes that you can’t resolve yourself or without having to spend a fortune on new wood. I tried to work with intermediate parts that I assembled before stacking them. On my drawing, they are defined by the double vertical shelf in the middle: second, fifth, sixth and top layer.

final drawing bookcase with last changes
With tipp-ex I deleted some unnecessary vertical shelves. The distances changed on the last moment, but that wasn’t a problem for the coherence of the bookcase.

If you want to paint your bookcase, or use a varnish, do that before assembling. It is easier and the result is cleaner. Also, from time to time standing from a distance and observing the work that is done, can reveal little issues that you’d have missed by standing too close. Bonus: it motivates to admire your work!

After you’ve assembled the bookcase, don’t forget these two steps: attaching an A-frame in front or a solid plate behind the bookcase so the form cannot change, and attach your bookcase on the wall. The last one is a safety measure that is indispensable. Remember that the wood you’ve just assembled is probably somewhere about 300 to 400 kg. If you, your child or someone else ends up beneath, it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. (this is an euphemism, to say: it is the end of your pretty life) Better be safe than sorry. To do this, you can buy simple corners and screw them with pegs into the wall. Put several spread all over the bookcase.

The result

I am absolutely pleased with the result of the bookcase. It is solid, simple and it fills a wall. All I ever wanted. Now it is time sit down and read all those books…

bookcase with cat Galipette
Galipette has approved. Or is it that her snacks or stored in the bookcase?

Do you have plans to make a bookcase yourself? Tell about it in the comments!

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