How to Build a Bookshelf

Build a DIY bookshelf and customize it to match your home

2-4 hours

This standard, six-shelf bookshelf is a great project for DIYers ready to tackle larger projects. This video and guide will teach you how to build the bookshelf as well as customize the backing to match its room's style.

What You Need



Mark and cut the lumber
Mark and cut the lumber

Mark the lumber according to the following cut lists:

• Cut the ¾-inch x 8- x 4-foot plywood:
       • 2 sides – 72 x 11 ¾ inches
       • 5 shelves – 28 x 11 ¾ inches
       • 1 top board – 29 ½ x 11 ¾ inches 

• Cut the three 1- x 2-inch x 8-foot common boards:
       • 2 face frame sides – 66 ½ inches
       • 2 face frames (one top, one bottom) – 29 ½ inches
• Cut the 1- x 3-inch x 8-foot common board:
       • 1 toe kick – 28 inches 

• Cut the ¼-inch x 4- x 8-foot underlayment:
       • 1 backer board – 72 x 29 ½ inches

Use a table saw to cut along all of your markings and set aside the lumber, labeling each board with your pencil so you can remember its intended purpose.

Measure and mark side panels
Measure and mark side panels

• Lay the two side panels side-by-side, flush against one another. Check that they’re even on top and bottom.
• Mark both sides from the bottom to the top at the following measurements:
       • 3 ¼ inches
       • 14 3/8 inches 
       • 28 13/16 inches
       • 43 3/16 inches
       • 57 5/8 inches
• These markings indicate where you will install the shelves.
• Place side panels aside once marked.

Prepare shelves
Assemble bookshelf

• Use the jig and clamp to drill a ¾-inch deep pocket hole near each corner for all five shelves. Do not add pocket holes to the top board.
• Repeat until each shelf has four pocket holes.

Tip: Use the outer edge of the jig as a spacer and then drill using the innermost hole of the jig.


• Attach the shelves with wood glue and screws, starting with the top and bottom shelves first.
• Remember: the top shelf will lay on top of the bookshelf frame, and should be nailed into the side supports from above. The rest of the shelves will be screwed in at the pocket holes.
• Use a carpenter square to make sure the top is square and edges are flush.
• Apply a bead of wood glue to the top edge of the side panel, then clamp into position.
• Drive screws through the pocket holes.
• Repeat this process for the bottom shelf, then the remaining three interior shelves along the guidelines you previously drew.
• To attach the other side of the bookshelf, apply a bead of wood glue to the un-attached edge of each shelf.
• Place the remaining side panel into position and loosely clamp.
• Use a level to check that each shelf is straight, adjusting the position of each shelf as necessary with the rubber mallet.
• Secure by drilling screws into the pocket holes.
• Attach the toe kick by drilling pocket holes into the sides of the toe kick, then using the rubber mallet to tap the toe kick into place. It should be mounted three inches in from the front of the bookshelf.
• Drill in pocket screws to secure.

Add the face frame
Add the face frame

• Assemble the face frame pieces you previously cut and attach to the bookshelf using wood glue followed by finishing nails.
• Use a nail setter for a more finished appearance.

Tip: Use clamps to hold the frame in place while driving the nails. The longer sides of the face frame are sandwiched between the top and bottom frame pieces, while the outer edges of the frame should be flush with the top and sides of the bookshelf.

Add moulding (optional)
Add moulding

• For a more formal look, trim the top of your bookshelf with moulding.
• The moulding is joined around the left, front and right sides with simple 45-degree miter cuts.

Tip: If you plan to stain your bookshelf, use wood moulding. MDF moulding won’t properly wold the stain, making it appear to be a different color than the rest of your wooden bookshelf. Either wood of MDF moulding can be used if you plan to paint the bookshelf.

Insert pocket plugs
Insert pocket plugs

Conceal pocket holes and screws by inserting pocket hole plugs and secure with wood glue.

Apply finish and attach back panel
Apply finish and attach back panel

• Fill any pocket holes or cracks between pieces with wood filler.
• Sand the entire bookshelf with 220-grit sandpaper.
• Wipe down your bookshelf before painting or staining as desired.
• Allow to fully dry.
• Get creative with your backer board! Paint or stain to match the bookshelf, or pick a contrast color for a pop of personality. You could also wallpaper the backer board or attach fabric or wainscotting.
• Position the backer board to the back of the bookshelf, double-checking that all edges are flush. Secure to the frame with finishing nails screws, depending on the backing’s weight.

Tip: If you stain your bookshelf, we recommend using staining pads. They won’t leave brush strokes, giving your new furniture a clean, consistent finish.