Last Updated on April 3, 2022 by Kristi Linauer
Today I have a fun and relatively easy project for you. I want to show you how to build a bookshelf in about two hours. And while this one is small, it can be scaled up to fit any size you need for your room.
I built this bookshelf for the space between the window and the original closet in the condo bedroom. I had originally tried a chair and side table in that space, but the chair took up way too much space and looked cramped in the room. So using leftover wood scraps that I had from past projects, I decided to build a bookcase to fit that space perfectly.
How To Build A Bookshelf From Scraps!
I decided to build a bookshelf using only scrap materials. So this project didn’t cost me even one single penny out-of-pocket. Here’s how the bookshelf looked after the basic build…
Not too bad for something made completely out of scraps in a couple of hours, right? 😀
Here’s how I did it:
1. Prepare the back of the bookcase using tongue-and-groove boards
I started with some tongue-and-groove pine paneling boards that I had leftover from this bathroom makeover, and I cut them the height that I wanted my bookshelf, minus the top. So I cut them to 33 inches long, and I used nine of them. These would be used as the backing to the bookshelf. (If you don’t have tongue-and-groove pine boards, you can use a solid piece of thin MDF, plywood, beadboard, etc.)
Then I placed a thin bead of wood glue in each groove, and glued the pieces together. I set it aside to dry while I moved on to the other steps.
2. Cut pieces for the sides of the bookshelf
Next I used my circular saw to cut the two sides for my bookshelf. My sides measured 33 inches by 11.5 inches. I used a measuring tape and pencil to mark the placement of the shelves. The first (bottom) shelf would be five inches from the bottom, so I measured and marked that on both sides of each side piece.
3. Cut pieces for shelves and assemble
Next I used my circular saw to cut two shelf pieces. Those measured 30 inches by 11.5 inches. Then I placed a bead of wood glue along the end of the first shelf piece…
…and placed it along the guide line that I drew. I used the guide line on the other side of the side piece to know exactly where to shoot my nails to hold the shelf in place. I nailed from the outside of the side piece, through the side piece, and through the edge of the shelf, as shown by the placement of the nail gun below. Before shooting the nails, I used my framing square to be sure that the side piece and the shelf piece were sitting square with each other.
I repeated that process on the other side, and my first shelf was in place.
Then I lined up the second shelf with the second set of guide lines and glued and nailed it into place in the very same way.
4. Attach the backing
Next I added the backing to the assembled sides and shelves. I first placed a bead of wood glue on all of the edges (side pieces and shelf pieces) and carefully placed the backing on so that everything was perfectly square. I nailed the backing into place along the two sides, and then carefully measured and marked the placement of the shelves so that I could nail the backing into the edges of the shelves as well.
With the backing glued and nailed into place, the bookshelf was very sturdy, so I could stand it up, and use a wet rag to wipe away any excess wood glue.
5. Attach top support piece
One last supporting piece was needed before I could move on to trimming out the bookshelf. I cut a piece of 1″ x 2″ to go at the top front of the bookshelf, and glued and nailed it into place. This would not only give the bookshelf added structural support, but would also give me something to nail the top rail to.
6. Trim out the front of the bookshelf
With the sides, back and shelves assembled, it was finally time to start trimming out the bookshelf. Remember my advice from a couple of weeks ago — it’s fine to build something like this out of MDF, but I strongly suggest that you use real, solid wood lumber to do all of the trimming. Real wood lumber is much stronger than MDF boards, and will give your piece much more strength and durability than MDF boards will.
I started with the stiles by cutting two pieces of 1″ x 3″ lumber to the height of the bookshelf, and I glued and nailed those to the front along each side.
Next I added the rails. I used 1″ x 3″ lumber for the top and middle, and then 1″ x 2″ lumber for the bottom one. The only reason I did this is because I was using scraps, and I ran out of 1 x 3’s, and I knew that the bottom would be covered up on the finished bookshelf. However, you can choose to leave off the bottom decorative pieces that I added, and just have the two stiles as the “legs.” In that case, you’d need to use the same width of wood for all three rails.
Because I did want a decorative base, I cut three pieces of 1″ x 3″ MDF board, mitered on the front corners, and attached them to the front and sides of the bookshelf.
And then to cover up the gap, and to add a bit more of a decorative touch, I added quarter round on top of the 1″ x 3″ pieces.
Once I got that solid piece on the bottom, I decided that I wanted to use my jigsaw to cut a decorative edge on the bottom pieces similar to the ones on this bookcase…
7. Build and attach the top
Just about any wood can be used for a top of the bookshelf — plywood, MDF, boards, etc. — and I had just enough cedar 2″ x 4″ lumber in my scrap pile for a top. I cut them to the width of my bookshelf, plus two inches, and then glued them to each other and to the top of the bookshelf. I would normally use my Kreg Pocket Hole Jig to make a top like this so that the boards are securely fastened to each other, but since this project was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, I didn’t have my Kreg Jig with me.
Since it’s cedar, it needed quite a bit of sanding, but cedar looks great once it’s sanded and finished. Cedar is what I used for the top on the built-in bookcases in the living room.
At this point, the basic build was pretty much finished. Then it just needed a little wood filling, sanding, priming, and painting.
The build took me almost exactly two hours to build, but one reason it took that long is because I was using scrap MDF (this was MDF that was used on the first closets that I built in here and ended up taking out) that had nails and construction adhesive on it. So I had to spend time removing all of the nails, and scraping off the construction adhesive. So it could certainly be done in less time if you’re using new materials that don’t require those extra steps.
And once the whole thing was primed and painted, and with the detail cut on the bottom trim piece using my jigsaw, this is what the finished bookshelf looks like…
So that’s how to build a bookshelf in about two hours (minus the priming and painting, of course). I’m so proud of this little bookshelf, not because it’s just oh-so-beautiful, but because it was completely made of scraps. Instead of tossing them into the dumpster, I made them into something useful.
This room is finished! Here is the bookcase in the finished room…
Addicted 2 Decorating is where I share my DIY and decorating journey as I remodel and decorate the 1948 fixer upper that my husband, Matt, and I bought in 2013. Matt has M.S. and is unable to do physical work, so I do the majority of the work on the house by myself. You can learn more about me here.
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