How to Build a Built-in The Bookshelves - Woodworking

Bookshelves Are a Thing of the Past

My wife really wanted to have built-in bookshelves and who am I to say no to my amazing wife? I do, however, think that the word "bookshelves" are a thing of the past and should be called something different because they are not really used to hold books anymore. I think they would be better called accessory shelves, display shelves, look-at-me shelves or something more relatable to the content they hold!

Accessory shelves. Display shelves. Look-at-me shelves.

Accessory shelves. Display shelves. Look-at-me shelves.

Let's be honest with ourselves - we have moved away from storing our books on shelves to now reading online articles, blogs and digital books. We currently use "bookshelves" to hold our stuff or things we find interesting. These common pieces of furniture rarely happen to hold books these days. This type of space is changing and books are no longer the focal point of this space, so why do we keep calling them bookshelves? Ok enough of me ranting, I know you all want to see how I made these bookshelves.

What You Need to Make a Bookshelf

Here is a video I put together of the process. Please subscribe to my channel.

If you don't feel like watching the video I have all the info posted below.

White shaker style bookshelf

White shaker style bookshelf

Bookshelf space

Bookshelf space

I was quite surprised when I found that the bookshelves were the easiest component to make for the built-ins. The reason why, was because everything else was really hard and I apparently saved the easiest for last. I knew I wanted the bookshelves to have the same clean square look as the fireplace and cabinets so I first had to measure the inside space of where I was going to install the bookshelves. I discovered that this was slightly different for each bookshelf. I used 3/4in birch plywood and cut the height and width of the sides of the bookshelves. Next, I used my Bosch Router with a 3/4 router bit and a Bora Clamp to make the grooves for the shelves to slide into. Note, this is one of the most critical parts to making bookshelves because you need to ensure that the grooves are going to match up and be perfect on either side. I knew if I didn't get this right the shelves would come out uneven or slanted.

Purchase and Download the Fire Place Cabinets and Bookshelves Build Instructions

I have created a PDF with all the information, measurements and details you need to make this amazing fireplace. Here is a link to where you can download the Instructional Guide

The technique I used to keep everything even and aligned was a simple one. I simply put the edges of the sides of the cabinet next to each other and clamped them down to my workbench. You can see this in the first picture above. I then located and marked the height of each shelf on each board and aligned the Bora Clamp to each mark as a guide for my router.  Note, it is very important that you take your time at this stage and double check and triple check your marks, clamps and anything else you have to ensure everything is correct. Once you feel you have it all set, carefully take your time and slowly move your router along the guide making shallow and deeper cuts with each pass. I recommend using 2-3 passes. Taking your time at this stage will prevent chipping out your plywood or routing out the wrong location.

Assembling a Bookshelf

Installing the back panels of the bookshelf

Installing the back panels of the bookshelf

Assembly was rather straight forward and easy because the hardest part of the project was over. I don't have pictures of this but I simply laid the 2 sides of the bookshelf on edge and applied glue to the grooves and slid the shelves from top to bottom into each groove. Once all the shelves were in place I took my nail gun and nailed the shelves in place from the outside of the bookshelf. I then let the glue set/cure over night.

Outfeed Roller

Once all the sides and shelves were assembled I needed to create a back for the shelves. This would give the bookshelves a built-in look as well as prevent anything falling through the back of the bookshelf. Most people don't know this but your house walls are not perfectly square or even. When building a built-in you need to compensate for that by installing a back to conceal any gaps or uneven variations your wall may have. Due to the size and dimension of the back of my bookshelves I had to use 3 sheets of 1/4 birch plywood. I used my Grizzly table saw to cut the back panels. Note, this will require a second pair of hands unless you have an outfeed roller for your table saw. I unfortunately don't have one but my wife Samantha was a good sport and helped me manage the large 4ftx8ft sheets of birch plywood. To install the back panels I simply laid the bookshelves frame on its face. I then glued and nailed the back onto the frame with my nail gun. I found that it was the simplest and easiest way to get the job done. Once the backs were installed I set the bookshelves upright and laid them on their back for the face frames to be attached.

What is a Face Frame?

A face frame is the frame fixed to the front of a cabinet or bookshelf's carcass which obscures the edges of the carcass and provides the fixing point for doors and other external hardware. A face frame provides strength to the front of a cabinet or bookshelf and is also considered a visual feature of particular styles of furniture.


To make the face frame for the bookshelves I used 3.5in wide poplar and attached it using glue and nails. You might have noticed in my other post How To Build a Built-in Part 1-3 The Cabinets I used a Kregjig to attach the face frame but for the bookshelves I didn't have the clearance or the ability to use one so, I simply used glue and nails. This was okay because I was not going to be putting any hardware or doors on the face frame that would stress or create tension on the structure. The face frame was added to simply conceal the edges and carcass of the bookshelf to create and support the structures design of simple clean lines.

Painting a Bookshelf

Painting is not my favorite thing to do and that is why I invested in a good quality paint gun. I did a lot of research and found that the Wagner 0518080 Control Spray Max HVLP Sprayer was everything the reviews said it was. I have no complaints and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to get a paint gun. I have added a picture to the right of what it looks like. If you click the picture it will take you to amazon where you can read the reviews purchase it.

Before you paint anything you need to make sure the room temperature where you are painting is within the recommended range for the paint you are using. I normally paint in my garage but because I live in the cold north my garage can get down to 20 degrees or less.  Rather than paint in my garage I moved the bookshelves to my unfinished basement the help of my neighbor Paul.

My kids saw that I was painting down in the basement and they wanted to help, so I got out their paint and they painted a wonderful picture for me on the back. I think Ethan was painting a monster eating the grass that Grace painted. I am kind of sad that I will never see their painting again because it is now hidden behind the bookshelves.

How To Install a Bookshelf

Note the gap between the walls and the bookshelf.

Note the gap between the walls and the bookshelf.

Installation of the bookshelves was not easy. The biggest issue I faced was that my interior house walls were not level or square. This is something you rarely think about because your eyes see everything from a distance and you think that they are square when in fact they are not. This is a picture of a test fit that I did before I painted. Notice on the bottom right the wall touches the bookshelf but at the top on the right there is about a half inch gap.

Rope Caulk

When I put my bookshelves on top of the cabinets and secured them to the back wall I notices that I had gaps ranging from a 1/16th of an inch to .5in. This did not make me happy. At the time the only way I thought I could compensate for this was to use filler (Rope Caulk) and white acrylic silicone all purpose caulk. What I didn't realize was how difficult it was going to be to fill these voids with rope caulk and white acrylic caulk. Looking back, I should have cut wood strips and used them as filler as it would have been much easier and cleaner. The technique I used worked but it was much fussier to deal with. The Rope Caulk is like putty and it fills the gap but needs to be smooth because it is easy to get bumps and uneven spots. These bumps and uneven spots will show up when you put the silicone based caulk over top of it. I would highly recommend using wood as a filler and then using the silicone caulk, your installation will be much better. Even if it takes a bit more time to cut the strips of wood, it will save you time in the long run.

Once the bookshelves were in installed I needed to nail in the trim at the top of the cabinet to match the fireplace mantel. This was rather easy to do and was done in just a few minutes. At this point everything was installed, nailed, caulked and primed. The last step was to give it a final paint job. This was the moment I had been waiting for for a long time.

Trim and Molding

Trim and Molding

The Built-ins are Complete

This was one of my favorite projects I have ever worked on. It was my first time to ever lay tile, build a fireplace surround, mantel, and design and build two cabinets. My lovely wife now has the task of filling all the shelves with stuff. Now I am on to my next project, more on that in a future post.

Project complete. Shaker style fireplace surround with shaker cabinets and bookshelves. The built-ins are complete.

Project complete. Shaker style fireplace surround with shaker cabinets and bookshelves. The built-ins are complete.

Here is a list of most everything you need to make the Built-ins including the fireplace surround.

Materials list for building bookshelves:

Most of the materials can be found at your local hardware store and on Amazon.

•    Poplar Wood 1x3
•    Poplar Wood 1x5
•    Poplar Cove 9/16x3-1/2 -
•    Poplar Mantel 1x5x60 -
•    ¼ in MDF
•    Pine Wood 2x4 –
•    Wood Glue -
•    2.5 in Wood Screws -
•    Paint Cashmere White -
•    Carrara White Marble -
•    White Thin Set Mortar-
•    White Grout -
•    Long Nails -
•    Short Nails -
•    Ultraset SF -
•    Rope Caulk -
•    Knobs -

Tools needed to build bookshelves:

Here is a list of all the Minor tools needed to make the fireplace mantel/surround, bookshelf and cabinets. Check out My Tools page for a list of the larger tools that I use in my shop.