How to Build Plywood Bookshelves

Written by keith allen
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How to Build Plywood Bookshelves
Use hardwood veneer plywood to make bookshelves. (Perry Mastrovito/Pixland/Getty Images)

Using plywood rather than dimension lumber for a bookshelf offers additional options for size and available wood. The plywood is cut to the dimensions needed for the uprights and shelves of the bookshelf before assembly. The final step covers the exposed edges of the plywood with trim pieces, hiding the laminated inner layers of the plywood.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 3/4-inch hardwood veneer plywood
  • Router
  • Table saw
  • Wood glue
  • 1-1/2-inch drywall screws
  • 3/4-by-3/4-inch hardwood trim
  • 1-1/2-inch finishing nails
  • 1x3 board or 1/4-inch plywood sheet

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  1. 1

    Draw a plan for the bookshelf. Decide where you want the bookshelf in your home and how much space you need it to take up. This will determine its height and width. Most paperbacks will fit on a shelf 6 inches deep, while hardcover books require a depth of 8 or 9 inches with coffee table books requiring even more space. Shelf spacing is also determined by the type of books. Space each shelf at least 9 inches apart for paperbacks and 12 to 14 inches for hardcover books. The shelf uprights will be the height of the whole bookshelf and as wide as the shelf depth. The shelves will be as long as the bookshelf is wide, minus 3/4 of an inch. Write down the height and width of the two shelf uprights and the number, length and width for the shelves.

  2. 2

    Cut the plywood to the appropriate sizes for the bookshelf project. Use a table saw or a circular saw fitted with a guide to produce straight cuts. Commonly, 3/4-inch plywood with a hardwood veneer such as oak or birch is used for bookshelf projects.

  3. 3

    Cut dadoes in the upright pieces of the bookshelf. Dadoes are wide shallow grooves, in this case 3/4-inch wide and 3/8-inch deep cut perpendicular to the length of the shelf unit uprights, that will hold the shelf end after assembly. Cut dadoes into the sides at the planned location of each shelf. Use a router and a 3/4-inch bit to cut dadoes for each end of each shelf in the appropriate spots of the upright.

  4. 4

    Assemble the bookshelves. Place a bead of wood glue in each of the dadoes and fit the shelves into each of the dadoes. Fasten the shelves in place with 1-1/2-inch drywall screws. This assembles the frame and shelves of the bookshelf. Wipe away any visible excess glue around the dadoes.

  5. 5

    Add a back. You can either attach the bookcase directly to a wall or nail on a separate back. This step will greatly improve the stability of your bookcase. To attach the bookshelf to the wall, cut a hanging rail from the 1x3 to fit between the case sides, and attach it to the top of the shelf with glue and screws. After the glue has dried, screw it into the studs in your wall with drywall screws. To add a separate back, cut a sheet of 1/4-inch plywood to cover the open back, the same height and width as your bookcase. Glue and nail it into the case.

  6. 6

    Add trim pieces to the front of the book shelf. Commonly, 3/4-by-3/4-inch strips of the same hardwood that makes up the veneer of the plywood is used. Place a bead of wood glue on the edge of the plywood before placing the trim on the shelves and uprights. Nail the trim in place using 1-1/2-inch finishing nails. Wipe away any excess wood glue.

Tips and warnings

  • Use wider and more ornate trim pieces to add a little flare to the bookshelf. Any form of trim that is at least as wide as the plywood is thick will work. Place masking tape over the plywood where the cuts will be made to prevent splintering.

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