We moved into a new house in April, but the trouble with moving is that a new house needs to be made into a home. We want our spaces to feel personal, to reflect our personal desires and needs.
This house was pretty much turn-key, but one main thing we needed was a library space for Beckett’s hundreds of books.
So we hit up a local Lowes and got the lumber, screws, paint for the wall behind the shelves, and paint for the shelves themselves.

How to make built in bookshelves:

1. Start by measuring the wall (w x h) then make a detailed drawing.

As you can see below most of the heavy thinking needs to happen before you even go get your wood. This plan took a few days to ferment in my mind before I felt confident enough to put it into action.

Planning Tips:

  • Make a detailed drawing even if you aren’t good at drawing.
  • Each shelf should be no longer than 36″ in order to support the books.
  • You’ll be building each self individually so you’ll need to determine how wide you want each shelf.
  • Consider outlets and other obstacles as you plan your spacing.
  • To figure out how many bookshelves you can fit into the room evenly, you’ll have to play with the numbers a bit, but keep in mind that you’ll need a little wiggle room between each shelf so you’ll subtract about 2 inches per shelf.
  • I knew I wanted a lot of wider shelves instead of making a ton of shelves. So I took my total room width (181″) and divided it by 36.” That got me the number 5.027777, which told me I could almost make FIVE 36″ bookshelves fit perfectly in the space.
  • Then I subtracted 2″ from each shelf width (so now each shelf is 34″ wide) because I wanted some extra room for installation and trim.
  • Take your ceiling height and subtract at least 2 inches (if you have somewhere tall to erect the bookshelves), take off 4 or more inches and plan to add trim to the top if you don’t have a vaulted ceiling in a great room or entry way. If you don’t subtract enough height you won’t be able to stand your shelves up when you bring each one into the space.
  • Then add in enough 1×4″ planks to go across the length of the wall horizontally. You’ll fasten this under one shelf on each bookcase and then screw it into the studs so your bookcases don’t tip on anyone (see pictures below for more info).
  • Once you have the plan, look online at standard sizes of wood you’ll need and figure out the measurements and how many pieces of wood you need.
  • It’s always a good idea to check pricing and size options before staring a project like this. I think lumber alone cost around $250 for this project.
  • If you don’t have super high ceilings you could use plywood and have Home Depot or Lowes rip it down to the dimensions you need. That would be a lot cheaper than using these 1×10′ pieces of lumber. I used this wood because our ceilings are 9.”

2. Cut the shelves all the same width.

Cutting tips:

  • Measure twice and cut once.
  • If you don’t have a table saw, don’t sweat it. Use a circular saw and stabilize it using a huge clamp and a 2×4.
  • Mark your measurements right on your tape measure with a dry erase marker, that way you can easily see where you need to measure to.
  • Take your time and do a good job. You’re putting a lot of effort into this either way so you may as well be a perfectionist about it. 😉

These are all of my supports. I laid them out on the driveway to measure them before I cut them.

Use a smaller width of wood to fasten to the shelf itself that goes under a shelf on each book case. You’ll use it to screw into when you anchor the bookcase.

3. Measure and mark lines for your shelves:

Measuring tips:

  • You don’t want your books sitting on the ground so measure up a few inches (based on your trim) and put the first shelf 2-3″ off of the ground.
  • From that first shelf, divide the remaining length by the number of shelves you intend to have per bookcase. You’ll have to mess with the numbers again here to get the spacing you want.
  • Each bookshelf is about 1′ tall.
  • Draw clear, even shelf lines horizontally (and at a 90 degree angle) across the vertical supports.

4. Drill holes and screw shelves together.

Assembly Tips:

  • Use big clamps to hold the vertical supports in place as you drill holes and screw each shelf into the vertical supports.
  • Use a 90 degree angle to make sure everything is square.
  • Make sure the vertical supports are properly aligned.

5. Paint your shelves.

  • This process is pretty straightforward. Make sure to do a few coats.
  • You really only need to paint the parts that will be seen.
  • My paint color

Optional painting step 5.5:

  • paint the wall behind the bookshelf a cool color or add special wallpaper as an accent!

6. Place your shelves and screw into studs.

Placement tips:

  • Space them evenly, adjusting as you go. Measure the spaces between.

  • Use a level to ensure the shelves are completely vertical.

  • Double check spacing between tops and bottoms of shelves to prevent uneven gaps.

  • You should have about 2″ between each shelf (not counting the vertical support).

  • Check to be sure the trim will fit and is straight enough to cover any gaps between the shelves.

  • Screw each shelf into the studs… then add trim!

7. Trim: measure, paint, cut, then install.

  • Now that you have the shelves in place you want to add trim to make them look built in
  • Paint the trim.
  • First re-measure where the crown molding, base trim pieces will go.
  • Cut the crown and base trim first, install it.

  • then measure the vertical sections

  • Install vertical trim pieces

  • Touch up paint if needed (especially over nail heads) and you’re done!


So that is how I made my built-ins! Look for another post soon with more detailed pictures of the final product 🙂



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