How to Build a Custom Bookshelf

  • Advertise with us

« back to Designing Woodworking Projects forum

Forum topic by Will Merrit posted 01-09-2021 04:36 AM 1348 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Will Merrit's profile

Will Merrit

89 posts in 2355 days

01-09-2021 04:36 AM

Topic tags/keywords: bookshelves how-to how to confused price plywood pine question tip resource joining

Good Afternoon,

My wife has found a particular type of bookshelf that she wants me to build for our home library. And yes, its from Pinterest, I just do not know how to economically pull it off. We need about 25 of the verticals explained below. Budget of about $400.

She does not like the look of face-frame shelves and likes the look of random shelves. I will handle the shelves with shelf pins at her specific points, thats not the problem.

The issue I am having is how to make 12” deep vertical standing (from ceiling to floor, 8’) supports for the shelves. I thought about plywood but the $300 worth of plywood I bought is simply too warped for this. 2×12x8’ lumber is quite expensive.

And true to form I am attaching the image below from the ones she really likes with arrows pointing to the verticals that are stumping me. Any suggestion is appreciated.

18 replies so far

View Desert_Woodworker's profile


9839 posts in 2676 days

#1 posted 01-09-2021 04:45 AM

Your budget $400—I am out

-- Desert_Woodworker

View Madmark2's profile


3444 posts in 2050 days

#2 posted 01-09-2021 06:33 AM

Plywood unsupported can be wavy. The trick is to hide the support.

One way is to router a tongue on the back of the verticals. Attach the back in sections between the verticals. Tie to top and bottom together to prevent spraying. If the shelves are tight fitting they’ll contribute to stability.

1×12 stock might work better than plywood. Else you’re going to have to put trim on the cut ply edge to make it look nice.

2×12 is overkill.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View Robert's profile


4989 posts in 2942 days

#3 posted 01-09-2021 11:25 AM

Plywood would be the material if choice you can find good plywood at a commercial supply.

@ $50-60/sheet you do the math.

The open ply at the top is jus another example of design without concept of wood construction. That said there’s no reason to think good plywood is going to warp.


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

View splintergroup's profile


6952 posts in 2684 days

#4 posted 01-09-2021 03:16 PM

Another consideration is you probably want do design in some sort of a short base/pedestal. Having a large assembled object (shelves) that are the same height as your ceiling makes it impossible to tip up to install. If you assemble in place, you open up another can of worms.

The base allows the shelves to be a bit shorter so they can be tipped up and clear the ceiling. The shelves are then lifted up while the base is slid in underneath.

25 2”x12” uprights will eat your budget and then some. You might get by with construction lumber, but without any left over funds for the shelves and finishes.

Plenty of plans and design ideas here and on line. Have a go at searching and reading up, this is a large scale project and should be thoroughly planned out.

View Lazyman's profile


9619 posts in 2849 days

#5 posted 01-09-2021 04:37 PM

In the picture at least, it looks like the ceiling is vaulted which probably allowed them to pre-assemble and lean it up into place. If your ceiling is flat and you want it to go floor to ceiling, you will have to assemble in place. In the picture, it looks like the verticals are probably 1.5” thick so with plywood you would have to double them up to get the same look and put edge strips on to hide the plies. If you did not purchase cabinet grade plywood that may be one reason why you are seeing the warping you describe. Take it back and buy cabinet grade (or at least a better grade). You may not find that at Home Depot.

I don’t think it is a good idea to use shelf pins for the random shelves for this design. I would cut dados for the shelves and fix them in place in the “random” pattern. This will help keep the verticals flat by forcing everything to be parallel and make the entire structure into a single, solid unit instead of just several boards attached vertically somehow. Without internal structure, the long verticals will flex, making the whole thing sketchy, IMO. I would probably attach a top and bottom on it so that the ends stay straight, though that will change the look a little. Attaching shelves near enough to the top and bottom may be enough.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5368 posts in 5422 days

#6 posted 01-09-2021 04:46 PM

Will, it is good to hear from you. Hope all is well.
I bit the bullet recently when building a project for family. Had to build from cabinet grade, quality ply that would be stained. No voids, two good sides, flat, and straight. Darned stuff was expensive but, in the end, has proven to be worth the expense. I even used heat set edge banding on the exposed edges.
It will certainly blow your budget, but ya might wanna check with a local cabinet shop/supplier for availability.
Just a thought, and happy new year.

-- [email protected]

View Newbie17's profile


170 posts in 1922 days

#7 posted 01-09-2021 05:55 PM

+1 for dado shelves for support. I make my own edge banding with strips of wood I cut myself and a little glue.

It costs what it costs. Add it up and let her know. Then ask if she still wants it.

View LesB's profile


3471 posts in 4904 days

#8 posted 01-09-2021 06:43 PM

Collection of thoughts.

Because it is floor to ceiling you will either need to build it in place or make a separate toe kick that can slide in after the shelves are installed.

To keep the uprights straight and supported you need to put in at least one permanent shelf dadoed into the upright. Two over a 12 foot height would be better.

The face frame will help keep the plywood straight on the uprights and per MadMark a back panel attached to the uprights will add additional strength and stability. It isn’t clear from the photo if the shelves have face frames on them but that would help strengthen them against bowing and you could use plywood for them because the face frame covers the plywood edge. Even if it is only as wide as the plywood. Veneered plywood is less expensive than solid wood.

-- Les B, Oregon

View sras's profile


6701 posts in 4591 days

#9 posted 01-09-2021 06:47 PM

As I look at the photo, it is possible that the unit has a back on it. Not enough of a view to know for sure. The addition of a back would help with the structural issues.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Jared_S's profile


496 posts in 1421 days

#10 posted 01-09-2021 07:23 PM

Not sure how you can make $400 work. You would need 7 sheets just for the uprights. At $60 per sheet for cheap 3/4 c3 grade birch or maple cabinet plywood you are already over budget.

Decent plywood won’t warp. Use 3/4 ply for the uprights and shelves. At least 3 fixed (permanently)shelves per vertical section with a 1/4” back and some 3/4 nailers. As stated the bottom will need a seperate 4” base or so to be able to tilt it into place.

2×12 construction lumber would be worse as far as warping.

3/4 or 1” poplar would be as cheap as possible if you wanted to go for solid wood that (should) be stable.

View JAAune's profile


2134 posts in 3778 days

#11 posted 01-09-2021 07:35 PM

Two layers of particle board (1.5” thick) edged in 1/8” thick solid wood all four sides then veneered is one option and will be the most stable.

The other is to carefully select 2×4’s that can be ripped into 1.5×1.5” strips of rift lumber then glue that into slabs that can be jointed and planed.

The cost limitation and the need to have flat and straight pieces doesn’t leave many options.

-- See my work at

View LeeRoyMan's profile


2731 posts in 1188 days

#12 posted 01-09-2021 07:56 PM

You do have a limited budget, but it is doable if you want to make some sacrifices.

I would use 3/4” woodgrain melamine for the uprights and shelves.
2 1/2 – 3” wide 3/4” hardwood for the faces of the uprights. 1 1/4” – 1 1/2” wide for the shelves.
Your choice of species to be cost effective, I would use alder.
I would groove the back of the faces for the melamine uprights to go into.

I agree that in each section you need to fix the upper and lower shelves.
On the fixed shelves I would attach backrails to screw the unit to the wall.

View SMP's profile


5316 posts in 1367 days

#13 posted 01-09-2021 09:57 PM

Could probably do it with 1×3 for the fronts, with 2 grooves in the back, buy 3/8 or 1/2” ply, rabbeted to fit into the grooves in the front. Some solid whitewood to fit into the back between the 2 ply sheets. That whitewood would then have keyhole brackets so that each upright would just need to be 1-2” shorter than ceiling to lift up and drop onto screws, like how it looks in picture.

View Will Merrit's profile

Will Merrit

89 posts in 2355 days

#14 posted 01-11-2021 03:52 PM

I appreciate all of the helpful points! I think in the end I am going to either buy 1×12x8’ Dimensional Pine or cabinet grade plywood…

If you had to choose and budget was not an issue, which would you go with?

Thanks guys! ! !

View AlaskaGuy's profile


6876 posts in 3771 days

#15 posted 01-11-2021 04:17 PM

I appreciate all of the helpful points! I think in the end I am going to either buy 1×12x8 Dimensional Pine or cabinet grade plywood…

If you had to choose and budget was not an issue, which would you go with?

Thanks guys! ! !

- Will Merrit

Quality plywood would be my choice.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

showing 1 through 15 of 18 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics