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How To Build A Bookshelf In Two Hours (Or Less!)

Today’s fun topic is “How To Build a Bookshelf” when you’re tired of tedious project stuff!

I was working at the condo again yesterday, and I reached a point where I had my fill of doing the non-fun stuff, like scraping wallpaper (which I finally finished!), painting walls, caulking baseboards, painting interiors doors, etc.  So I decided to work on a fun, creative project.

I’ve been thinking that the area between the window and the original closet in the bedroom needs a little something.  I tried a chair and side table, but those just didn’t look right because the chair stuck out too far and got in the way of the original closet.  Then I realized I had a ton of leftover wood scraps from past projects, so I could just build something!

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.  I still have to sand, caulk, prime, and paint (and I’ll be taking my paint sprayer over there next time so that the priming and painting will go very quickly), but here’s how the bookshelf looks after the basic build…

How to build a bookshelf in two hours or less

Not too bad for something made completely out of scraps, right?  😀

Here’s how I did it:

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.)

Let's start with some tongue-and-groove pine paneling boards...

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.

These will make the back panel for the bookcase

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.

Next I cut the side panels for the bookcase

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…

Then I cut the two shelf pieces...

…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.

Be sure to square up the panel when nailing them together!

I repeated that process on the other side, and my first shelf was in place.

Side panels attached to the bottom shelf

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.

And with the second shelf attached it's already starting to look like a bookshelf!

And then I added the backing.  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.

Adding the backing to the framed piece

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.

And now we have a good start on our how to make a bookshelf tour!

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.

This cross piece at the top will add structural support

Then it was finally time to start trimming everything out.  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.

Time to start trimming out the bookshelf

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.

How to build a bookshelf in two hours - continued :)

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.

Using MDF board to easily make a decorative base

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.

A piece of quarter round to cover the gap above the MDF baseboard

I’m still considering using my miter saw (oops! I meant jigsaw) to cut a decorative edge on the bottom of these pieces, but I wanted to wait until I got home and could search online for some inspiration.  I found this one that I really like, so I’ll probably end up using this to make a pattern that I can use to cut a similar design into my bottom pieces.

bookshelf from Yankee Drawl blog

via Yankee Drawl

And the last step was adding a top.  Just about any wood can be used for a top — 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 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.

I used cedar lumber for the top. It'll look great when it's finished!

Since it’s cedar, it’ll need quite a bit of sanding, but it’ll look great when it’s finished.  I know because this cedar is also what I used for the top on the built-in bookcases in the living room.

Just about any wood can be used for the top. I love the look of this cedar.

I’m so proud of this little bookshelf, not because it’s just oh-so-beautiful (although I do think it’ll look very nice after I’ve caulked, primed, and painted it), but because it was completely made of scraps.  Instead of tossing them into the dumpster, I made them into something useful.

How to build a bookshelf in two hours! Isn't that cute? And all made from scraps!

This bookshelf 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) 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.

I’ll be sure to take a picture of the finished bookshelf once I have it all painted, and I’ll show you how it turned out when I finish this room and give you the whole before and after tour.  It shouldn’t be long now.  Now that I have the floor grouted, all of the wallpaper removed, the other two walls patched and painted, and the rest of the baseboards installed, my “to do” list for this room doesn’t feel overwhelming anymore.  I just have a few small things left, like adding a bit more shoe moulding, painting the remaining trim, giving the door a second coat of paint, plus a few more small things.


I finished painting/staining the bookshelf!  I also went ahead and used my jigsaw to cut a design in the bottom.  And here’s how it turned out…

Build your own bookcase - the finished product. I love it!

And that’s how to build a bookshelf in your spare time! Not too shabby for a free, made-from-scraps bookshelf, right?  🙂

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  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Lisa E
    December 4, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Nice job! My hubby is always threatening to burn my scraps. He just doesn’t get it!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      December 11, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      I am a 61 yr. old female that suffers severe depression and have a stroke which has put me on disability. I have a hard time with memory. This is something that I have always wanted to do. Your projects bring a smile on my face and hope for me. I believe that I can make some of these projects but can’t afford the equipment, mainly the saws that you need. Do you know of a place that will sell cheap used saws? I live in Fl. so it would have to be on line and my income is very low. I would like to buy a saw that I can just get started in something small. Thank you so much for posting these projects, this gives me something to look forward to everyday, thank you…. Ms. Ball

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Kristi Linauer
        December 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm

        You might try looking on Ebay. You might be able to find used tools at a very low cost.

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          January 16, 2015 at 3:20 am

          Amazon is also a good place to find a bargain. Good luck Marlene!

          Kristi, I found your web site yesterday just by chance and can’t stop reading :). Everything is so interesting and looks great! Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I find it hilarious that you actually think anybody – apart from you – could finish this bookshelf in less time than you just did if they didn’t have to get rid of nails and glue before actually buidling the thing 🙂 At least I cannot picture myself being that quick, but I’m in awe that you accomplish tasks like this in so short a time – you’re definitely the DIY superwoman!!!

    I thank you for the encouragement you again project that your readers can duplicate your tutorials (I apologize about being doubtful about the time frame – esp. to those co-readers who might be able to match you). I’m really really tempted by this one again! It’s very sweet and looks fantastic thanks to your knack for trim. I might tackle it in the near future, as I do have a place where something like that could perfectly go – but I guess my timeline will differ greatly from yours 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 11:38 am


  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Love the project, but being someone who has all the bookshelves filled to breaking point I have an objection – the trim on the shelves is decreasing the height available for books and I know it would drive me nuts.

    Other than that, I too find it funny that you think others should be able to finish faster than you! 😀

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi Linauer
      December 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Ha! I had a feeling someone would point that out. 😉 If had purchased brand new materials for this bookshelf, I would have used smaller lumber so that it wouldn’t steal so much room. But I was determined to use only scraps, so I was kind of limited in my selection. 🙂

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      December 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      The trim is this case serves as more than just decoration, it adds strength to the shelves so they don’t sag over time from the weight of all those books!!

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Kristi Linauer
        December 4, 2014 at 12:50 pm

        That’s true, and a very important point to make. Thank you! I do think on a bookshelf this small, I could have gotten away with using 1″ x 2″ lumber (real wood lumber!) for the trim. But bookcases in the living room, which were much bigger, wider, and also made with 1/2-inch MDF, the 1″ x 3″ lumber trim was necessary. Before I added the trim to the shelves in the living room, the MDF shelves bowed under their own weight, without even adding anything to the shelves. After adding the 1″ x 3″ lumber to the front edges, those shelves were so strong I could have hung off of them like on a playground jungle gym, and they would have been just fine. 😀

        All of that to say…you’re right, those are very crucial pieces to the strength and integrity of the bookshelf, and not merely decorative. 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Awesome!! What a great detailed tutorial! Love it!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I love that little bookcase. It would make a great size for a bedside table, too. What color will it be? I would love to see it painted navy blue and staged with white and gray so that it contrasts with the curtains. You are such an inspiration.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi Linauer
      December 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      It probably wont’ be blue, because if I’m being totally honest, the whole reason I wanted something right there (bookcase, or chair with side table) is because I bought a navy blue lamp that I just HAD to use in that room., in that particular corner. 😀 Yep, it’s all about a lamp. And it’s not even a particularly special lamp, but for some reason I just wanted it in that room. So it’ll need to be a color that will complement the navy blue lamp.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    IMO this is more useful than a tutorial on making a bookshelf from all new stock. This one explains where you need some strength & where to think about the decorative touches that can make a huge difference. Terrific!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Linda Napier
    December 4, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I think you should paint the bookshelf, except stain the top. Would look awesome.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi Linauer
      December 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Oh good! That’s what I was planning. I love the way the cedar looks when it’s sanded and stained, and I love the warmth that stained wood adds to rooms.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        C.B. McDuff
        December 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm

        Yay – so glad that you are leaving the top natural – cedar is breathtaking when used right. I love that you mad it out of scraps and it looks professional — AND it was a spur of the moment ‘wing it’ design! You must have been a carpenter in a past life and your old projects are coming back in your new DIY life!

        The staging of the condo is looking remarkable! PLUS since you are not planning on using any of the items again – you can use it as a selling point that everything comes with the condo! When we sold our house, the buyer actually asked if we would be willing to sell it with all of the furniture in it – alas because it was brand new – we declined. But, in your case, I think its a good selling point!

        Keep up the great work Chicka! It looks Marvelous!

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          December 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm

          Ha Ha! I think you’re right about her being a carpenter in a past life!! – that PLUS a seamstress, artist, etc., etc.!
          Kristi, I’m assuming you meant a jigsaw where you said miter saw to create the bottom decorative edge, otherwise, I’m totally confused.

          • Reply To This Comment ↓
            Kristi Linauer
            December 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm

            Oh, yes! That’s what I meant…a jigsaw! I’m not quite so talented that I can cut curvy designs with a miter saw. 😀

            • designdreamer
              December 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm

              I don’t think I’ve mentioned to you that you inspired me to BUY a miter saw myself, approximately a year ago (maybe it’s been longer?!!??).
              I’m SCARED to try to use it!!! I’m intimidated by it, and DH is NOT very encouraging. Son-in-law saw it (in the box) in the garage, and just assumed it was DH’s. Hrmmmph!!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    It turned out great. I love the wall color.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    That is a cute shelf unit and will add more storage for this room. Also, the top looks sturdy enough to hold a small coffee maker for morning coffee. Just a thought for staging…

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marcia Greene
    December 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Have never met a piece of scrap wood that I didn’t love. Unbelievable what people throw away

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sheila F.
    December 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Leave it to you to pull this off. So adorable. You are going to sell so quickly! Love this!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Amazing! and looks like it’s perfect for that spot!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Very good directions for this project! Very helpful.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    pat licek
    December 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I’m just gonna say , u inspire me. if only I had a need for something not that I have everything, just have no room for anything, and if this site was available a few yrs ago I could have great time, now I’m getting to old, LOL keep up the wonderful work and sharing. I may find something I could do,

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    You never cease to amaze me. Thank you for your for your continueing inspiration!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Perfect timing! I have been looking for a lowline bookcase to put under shelving in my pantry, but I haven’t been able to find anything to suit the space. I had just decided to make my own from scrap so this will be the berfect tute to refer to! Thanks! 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    I would love to spend a week with you, just following you around and watching you at work and helping. It would give me the courage and confidence to do turn my ideas into reality!!! You deserve your own tv show!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 5, 2014 at 12:45 am

    Really nice!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 5, 2014 at 9:11 am

    You are truly amazing – your ideas are fabulous – and very realistic for someone on a limited budget. I love your site and have learned so much from your posts. I want to be you when I grow up – and I am 68 and on my way out!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    What a treat to find such an amazing and informative site! Since moving to the country, I’ve become DIY addicted. There’s no better feeling than starting a project and seeing the finished masterpiece. I’m going to try this bookcase but with pallets and see how it turns out. 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Is it part of the staging,or will you keep it? What kind of lumber is best for a Florida home? The Fella is making a Morris chair using red oak to take to our not-bought-yet retirement home.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 7, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Hey Kristi,
    My copy cat book shelf from my scraps is about 50% complete. It’s taking much more time than two hours, but it’s ok…..Cuz if it looks like yours in the end….then I’m thrilled!! Mine is 72 W by 49 H by 12 D inches and has a 48 inches wide center piece and two 8 by 14 recessed sections on each side. But it’s all scraps and it’s your pattern.
    Merry Christmas to me! Thanks for the gift of inspiration.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      December 9, 2014 at 11:55 am

      Susie, please post a picture when you finish it!

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        December 13, 2014 at 10:31 am

        I’m happy to…but where would I post? Will this thread allow photos? P.S. I’m sitting in front of it measuring for the final trim…it looks awesome. Kristi’s pattern made it so easy.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sheri Hepworth
    December 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    My husband is going to build a set of bunkbeds for our younger son and our soon-to-be-adopted son from China. He had all the wood cut and left the scraps out for me and a daughter to use for any project we might like. I’m a handyman in my head. In real life, not so much. However, I tackled making myself a side table because of this post. It looked more like an adventure for the Griswold family but, with the help of my son and husband, I am on the way to finishing a nice little bedside table/shelf.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    January 5, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    I love this! Due to my ridiculous obsession with reading, I have been in need of a new bookshelf for months. I am most definitely going to attempt to make this. I personally think this looks just as good as the smaller bookshelves you can buy in the store!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 21, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    This turned out beautiful and your instructions are so easy to follow. I am planning to build a similar looking shelf to go at the end of a breakfast bar, under the counter overhang, and this was a huge help.