I Built That!

How to Build a Bookcase to Fit Your Space

Back in January,

while the rest of the world was

cleaning, organizing, and purging….


closets, cabinets, kid’s rooms, and basements…

I had one thing on my mind.


……To get rid of all the scrap lumber hiding throughout the house.


I don’t know where it came from,

but over the years…

it had multiplied…

like guppies…

behind doors, under beds, and in tight-fitting crevices.


Nearly every room had a little stash…

and now….

 I was determined that it had to go.

ALL of it.

And, so a campaign began…

…affectionately known as…

The Great Lumber Purge of 2015.


During this same time,

I ran across a great tutorial by Kristi at Addicted 2 Decorating.

It seems she has had a similar problem,

but instead of tossing her scrap lumber…

she wanted to make “something useful.”

So, she whipped up this sweet little bookcase.


And, with her amazing directions and encouraging words …

I was totally inspired.

From the piles of wooden trash… I declared…

 treasures would arise…

like little decorating phoenixes…

and they will be “useful” …….



Well, maybe it wasn’t THAT dramatic,

but you get my point.

I was stoked.  Big time.

So, over the course of the next few weeks,

I made it my number one priority to turn THIS horrifying image…


into this…


and eventually……..



Pretty amazing, right?

Well…….really……not so much.

Especially when you see how it came together…

It’s just three simple boxes….

put together in a series of steps…

and with a whole lotta glue. 🙂


Step 1:  Make A Plan

Yes.  You need a plan.   Preferably a fancy, high-tech drawing…..like the one I have here.


I developed this design by sitting in the space with a tape measure and playing around with the measurements until I got one that looked natural and balanced.  If it helps, tape out the measurements on the floor with masking tape.  Then, I applied Kristi’s basic design, but expanded and multiplied it…..times three.


Yes….that’s right.

Kristi’s basic frame worked very well, but wasn’t exactly what I needed.

And, so….I modified her great idea so that it would fit my space.

And, you can, too.

Just like I did…

….. One step at a time.

Step 2:  The Break Down

If I was even a semi-experienced bookcase builder, I would have gotten every single piece of wood cut at one time at the home improvement center.  Then, I would have come home and assembled the pieces…like a giant bookcase kit from IKEA.

But, I’m not a semi-experienced bookcase builder (this is my first), so I had to break down the cutting and assembling into steps that I (and my helper) could easily manage.

The only real problem we faced was that it was sometimes too cold to use the table saw in the garage, so we had to haul some of the scrap lumber to the home improvement center for cutting.  Trust me….this was actually easier.

To make this work, I carefully calculated what I wanted cut in that particular trip and marked the lumber pieces for correct cutting size BEFORE we left for the home improvement center.  Trust me….this was also easier.

If you are buying new wood, just have the desired dimensions written on a piece of paper and then tell the person working the saw.  In either case, watch the cutter like a hawk.  When that saw is whizzing through your carefully chosen building products, there can be no confusion.

Remember, measure twice.  Cut once.


Step 3:  The Center Section

The first section assembled was the center section and it needed to be 48 inches wide by 12 inches deep.  This frame (all of it made from 3/4 inch MDF) consisted of the three lower shelves and the sides, but no top (more on the top later).  And, it had no molding.  It was just a raw frame made of two sides and three shelves.  To assemble, simply insert wood screws through the side panels INTO the shelves.  The number of screws depends on the width of the shelf.  I added two screws on both ends of every shelf —  the 12 inch and 8 inch sizes.  I usually use a bit of wood glue, too…. on the end of each shelf.  And, remember…to countersink your screws.


Step 4:  The Right and Left Sections

Then, the right and left sections were built.  Separately.  Each measured 14 inches wide and 8 inches deep.  They looked just like the center piece, except smaller.  At this point, all three of the pieces could have been finished into individual bookcases.  I chose this pattern because building three identical frames is easier than building patterns that keep changing.


When assembled, the frame would be 80.5 inches wide and I still had some PLANNED wiggle room because molding would also need to be added.

And, yes.  I realize that my plan drawing says the bookcase is 76 inches wide, but the TOTAL assembled width is 80.5 inches.


Psssst…..Come Closer…..Let Me Tell You My Very Important Little Secret

I actually had two plans going.  The cut pieces plan that went with the wood to the home improvement center AND the plan that was churning in my head of total measurements after assembly.  I just didn’t want to confuse my helper with those details.  The only plan he ever saw was the plan that went to the home improvement center.  And, this is why we went multiple times.

Moving along in steps and with very clear and very simple directions is the best disaster prevention technique I know.

And, after the center section was assembled, I remeasured the area all over again before cutting the wood for the right and left sections.

Yes.  I did.

I’m Type A.

It’s sometimes a blessing…..and sometimes…….well….not so much.

But, this time……..I’m thinking………..blessing.  😉

Measure twice.  Cut once.

Step 5:  The Top

To my great amazement, I had a piece of 3/4 inch birch plywood that was big enough to cut the top in one solid piece.


Once cut, it was placed on the top of the assembled frame and screwed into each of the frames with a total of eight wood screws.  Two at each end (into the right and left-wing sections) and four into the center frame.


 Of course, the total overhang was determined before the piece was cut and included the face molding on the birch and the birch itself.  On this piece, screen molding (not birch veneer tape) was glued onto the raw edge of the birch.  The width added by the screen molding is only about 1/4 inch.  This made the total overhang exactly one inch.


Step 6:  The Molding

Three different kinds of molding were used for a combined total of 86.75 linear feet.


That’s a lotta molding!

Yep……for two reasons.  It’s a BIG bookcase….and ….well……I like a lotta molding.  🙂


Now.. the nitty gritty…..and sorry….but this next photo…..gets pretty gritty.

Remember, screen molding covered the edges of the top shelf.  Then, corner round was used under the overhang and inside the shelves.  Select pine 1 by 2s (made by Claymark) faced the entire front.  Wood filler (shown in a sample spot here) covered ALL of the crevices, was sanded, and then painted.


 A combination of mitered and butt joints were used.  The decision about how to cut the wood was made as we progressed through the assembly.  All of the trim molding was cut in the garage as we inched along.

Notice, too, from the picture ……the order in which the molding was attached.  First, the select pine and the screen molding.  Then the corner round was attached over the pine.

One key point about the molding….. No screws were used to attach the molding.  Wood glue was smeared on the back of each piece, then put in place and held until the glue begin to set (a few minutes).  Tape was added to support the molding until the glue was fully set.  This way, nail holes were avoided….which greatly helped in creating a flawless front.


 Step 7:  The Backing

Leftover beadboard was attached to the back of the frames.  It works great and paints like a dream.  The caution here is to make sure that the shelves butt up against the beadboard as tightly as possible.  It isn’t easy to caulk beadboard so it is best avoided if possible.


Step 8:  The Finish

After all of the prep work was complete, the entire piece got a coat of Zinsser Primer 123 (water-based) with a brush.  The backing was painted with Americana Decor chalky finish paint (color-Relic) and the rest of the case received two coats of slightly diluted Behr semi-gloss (my trim paint color).  If any cracks or crevices occur, just repair them with a little caulk and then touch up with the paint.

The case was allowed to cure for two weeks before accessories were added.

Step 9:  Add Accessories

Most of the accessories were made or remade as upcycles.  For details on how to make any of the accessories, please click the post here.


Materials list – All quantities depend on the size of your project.

3/4 inch MDF

Backing – I used beadboard sheets.

Top – I used 3/4 inch birch plywood, but MDF can be used.

Screen molding

Corner round molding

Claymark Select Pine 1 by 2’s

Base board molding – I cut mine from leftover MDF.

Wood screws – Please consult an expert at the home improvement center.

Wood glue

Wood Filler

Caulk – I used the home improvement center’s generic brand.

Heavy duty masking tape

Sandpaper – medium and fine grit

Paint and primer

Paint brushes


And, there you have it…

a very long-winded explanation

of how to make a bookcase to fit YOUR space.

Since every space is different…

my hope is that this outline is a great blessing to you

in the planning and execution

of your bookcase project.



Until next time,

Happy, happy building,




#recycle #recycled #green #easy #color #cheap #fun #ecofriendly #upcycle #repurpose #ontheblog

SHARING WITH:  Cedar Hill Farmhouse , What Meegan Makes , Remodelaholic ,

Canary Street Crafts , Designer Trapped in a Lawyer’s Body , Penny Love Projects


  • Reply Feral Turtle April 10, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Awesome! Looks fantastic.

  • Reply Beverly Roderick April 12, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    This is incredible! What a great tutorial, too! I wanted to let you know I’ve included you in the Very Inspiring Bloggers Award. The post is up on my blog today.

  • Reply Crystal @ Pennyloveprojects.com April 20, 2015 at 2:23 am

    Thanks so much for linking up at our feature friday party!! I LOVE how they turned out! I’ve got some bookshelves I’m working on in our family room.

  • Reply Amanda Rinehart April 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    This looks AWESOME! You did so good! Seriously love it. 😀

  • Reply Feature Friday Link Party! | Bye, Comparison. April 24, 2015 at 2:19 am

    […] bonus for Chelsea, because I also love her custom DIY built-in bookshelves. Who doesn’t love those? No […]

  • Reply Feature Friday Link Party, April 24th - {Welcome to PLP} April 24, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    […] I was so excited to see this bookshelf from The Chelsea Project Blog! […]

  • Reply Crystal @ Pennyloveprojects.com April 24, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Chelsea! You were featured THREE TIMES!! on the Feature Friday Link Party!!

  • Reply mona May 2, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    You’ve given me an idea about building a unit for my living. Thank-you so much for showing what you did and how. I’ll let you know how it goes when I do it.
    Again thank-you for your idea.

    Mona S.

    • Reply thechelseaprojectblog May 2, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      Yay!!! Go Mona!!!! Thx for your kind words…and yes…do let me hear how it turns out.

  • Reply Clay Vase to Faux Ceramic Vase in 3 Easy Steps | The Chelsea Project May 13, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    […] accessorizing the bookcase that was built from scrap lumber (here), it occurred to me that not every painted item in this bookcase should have a chalk paint finish. […]

  • Reply thechelseaprojectblog June 2, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    Thx so much! Appreciate!!!

  • Reply Kathy Owen September 11, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Wow, That is amazing. I envy your talent!

    • Reply thechelseaprojectblog September 11, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks, Kathy. Such an amazing comment…coming from you!!! Appreciate so much.

  • Reply Steph October 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Chelsea, can you tell me what color was used on the hallway walls?

    • Reply thechelseaprojectblog October 8, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      Sherwin Williams Bittersweet Stem. 🙂

      • Reply Steph October 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

        Thank you so much! You did an amazing job!

  • Reply DIY Vintage Plate Rack | The Chelsea Project November 14, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    […] How to Build a Bookcase to Fit Your Space […]

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    […] #3 – How to Build a Bookcase to Fit Your Space  […]

  • Reply artsandclassy January 22, 2016 at 12:53 am

    I am loving this project Susie!!! Your site is looking amazing by the way! Way to go girl!

    • Reply theChelseaProject January 25, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Thanks so much! It’s beginning to come together.

  • Reply Pantry Makeover: How to Find More Light and Create New Storage Space – The Chelsea Project February 9, 2016 at 7:07 am

    […] how to attach the trim, this technique was also used on a big bookcase I built last year (link here).Once the glue was dry, any gaps or nail heads on the frame were filled in with wood putty or […]

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