How would you join this plywood bookshelf?

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Forum topic by jwb96 posted 07-08-2016 08:21 PM 3808 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 1465 days

07-08-2016 08:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question walnut biscuit joiner router joining modern

First post – I’ve lurked for a long time and gotten a lot of great ideas. Hoping to get some specific tips for my next project.

I am borrowing a design found on the web and building it myself for about $150 instead of the $1200 it would cost to buy it and have it shipped. I’ll be using walnut veneer plywood.

What would you recommend for joinery to build a strong, stable unit? For the vertical pieces in the middle of the shelves, I plan to use dados – simple enough. For the verticals at the ends of the shelves, I’m struggling since I don’t want ply to show. I’d really like to do something like splined mitres or corner-lock routes for the look of continuous grain, but it seems to me that the forces (vertical) would work better with a butt-type joint than an angled one. Or would that be strong enough once glued (will mostly be photos, not books, on this shelf)?

Plan b is to use tape on the ends, but I’m not sure what joint to use. Would biscuits cut it? That would be quick and easy. Or a smaller dado with a rabbit on the vertical? I am trying to avoid fasteners, btw.


18 replies so far

View AandCstyle's profile


3283 posts in 3035 days

#1 posted 07-08-2016 10:09 PM

JWB, since this will be for lightweight display, biscuits should be adequate, but be careful they don’t “telegraph” through to the surface. Hide the plywood ends by making end grain veneer from solid walnut and glue it onto the exposed ends of the ply, just go easy on the glue so it doesn’t squeeze out through the end grain. You could make dadoes as you mentioned or dominoes if you are fortunate enough to have one. :)

-- Art

View mcase's profile


446 posts in 3907 days

#2 posted 07-08-2016 10:22 PM

I agree with AandC, biscuits would work fine. You might consider prefinishing the case work before assembly. I do this all the time and while it requires a bit of effort to reign in my enthusiasm to get going with assembly , it has always paid off in the long run, especially in work like your example where there will be a lot of visible interior corners. Prefinishing also makes glue squeeze out much, much, less of a problem since its a simple a matter to wipe off the glue of the finish with a damp cloth before it drys.

View paulking's profile


3 posts in 2383 days

#3 posted 07-08-2016 11:12 PM

perfect project for Festool dominos – slip tenons

View diverlloyd's profile


3927 posts in 2635 days

#4 posted 07-08-2016 11:50 PM

I did my book shelves with pocket holes just to see how they hold up and they hold up very well. And they may look neat if you used a light colored plug to give some contrast. But make sure you size it to were you can get into the space with a driver for the pocket holes. Just my 2 cents I like being different and like seeing how thing are joined together.

View JBrow's profile


1368 posts in 1698 days

#5 posted 07-09-2016 03:16 AM


Rather than a butt joint where the vertical end piece joins to the top and bottom of the shelves, the vertical pieces could be rabbeted, so that it covers the ends of the shelves. I wider rabbet would make the end of the plywood vertical panels less visible when viewed from above or below. A single rabbet would be faster than the dado/rabbet (I assume this is a locking rabbet joint). I would think the locking rabbet joint would be stronger than a single rabbet, since it offers more glue surface; just longer to make. The locking rabbet could be cut to conceal the ends of the shelf, similar to the single rabbet joint (single rabbet shown in the sketch).

The only problem with the mitre solution is getting good clamping pressure on the joint so that it ends up perfect, doable especially with biscuits, splines or dominos, but at least for me, difficult. Since this is plywood there are obvious working limits of the glued mitred to perfect the joint.

View Woodknack's profile (online now)


13397 posts in 3158 days

#6 posted 07-09-2016 05:04 AM

I would use biscuits, plenty strong enough.

-- Rick M,

View Robert's profile


3748 posts in 2258 days

#7 posted 07-09-2016 12:18 PM

Racking will be the major issue since there are no backs.

I assume this will be secured to a wall. If not, I would put a back in at least 3 of the cubes.

I would use screws and glue and but joints with edge banding. Cover screws with walnut plugs.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View 000's profile


2859 posts in 1677 days

#8 posted 07-09-2016 04:57 PM

I like JBrow’s idea.

A step further would be to do a miter at the corner and a locking joint at the bottom.

View devann's profile


2250 posts in 3470 days

#9 posted 07-10-2016 06:36 AM

Exposed dowels. I would get dowels of a contrasting color compared to the plywood. Get some good brad point drill bits, a flush cut pull saw, sander, homemade template…...

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View chiseler's profile


125 posts in 1666 days

#10 posted 07-10-2016 11:24 AM

I would use dados and rabbets of the same depth,this way all your parts are cut to the same size and makes for an easier and more accurate build and glue on 1/16”-1/8”solid on the exposed plywood edges leaving the ends proud to give an additional detail. On the rabbeted ends -glue on 1/16”-1/8” x 3/4” to give the illusion the top piece goes straight through.

I hope this helps

-- Scott.Triangle,NY Becareful and don't forget...They cut meat too! Ask me how I know

View MrRon's profile


5913 posts in 4021 days

#11 posted 07-12-2016 08:22 PM

The design crys out for rabbeted joints. If the case will be free standing, I would put a base at the bottom, about 3” high.

View jwb96's profile


7 posts in 1465 days

#12 posted 07-12-2016 11:48 PM

The design crys out for rabbeted joints. If the case will be free standing, I would put a base at the bottom, about 3” high.

- MrRon

It definitely needs a base, now that you mention it. Definitely adding that.

View jwb96's profile


7 posts in 1465 days

#13 posted 07-12-2016 11:50 PM

I like JBrow s idea.

A step further would be to do a miter at the corner and a locking joint at the bottom.

- jbay

I’m going to do some test cuts to see if I can get an acceptable rabbeted miter on the TS. My wife will shoot me if I say I need another tool, but the router bit set that can cut that is awfully tempting.

View CharleyL's profile


223 posts in 4142 days

#14 posted 07-13-2016 09:33 PM

If walnut plywood is your choice, I would use biscuits or dowels for the joinery, but cut the pieces to allow for solid walnut ends and edges to cover the exposed plywood of each piece before assembly. Standard butt joints would even look good with the solid wood edging, if they were tight joints These solid pieces could be cut 1/4” thick,and glued to the plywood ends and edges to make the piece look as if it was made from solid walnut.

I vote for a base, possibly even weighted with a heavy steel plate inside, to make it more stable. A steel plate several inches thick would add a lot of stability.


View mlipps's profile


122 posts in 1892 days

#15 posted 07-13-2016 09:58 PM

-floating tenons (i.e. dominos)
-biscuits (less favorable, but doable)
-rabbets and dados
-lock miter, miters, splined miters,

I think someone talked about racking which is a concern. Whatever you decide, and I imagine you already thought of this, you can/should/probably will, put a face frame of sorts on it at the very least to conceal the plywood edges. In that case, it’ll hide your rabbet, dados, and miter joins should you go that way.

Personally, I’d go with whatever is easiest for you. My go to for strength and speed are rabbets and dados.

showing 1 through 15 of 18 replies

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