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How to Build Versatile Bookshelves

Use these steps to cut basic bookcase parts that you can adapt to any space.

More in Remodeling

building versatile bookshelves
  • Time

    Day

  • Price Range

    $100 - $250

  • Difficulty

    Easy

Highlights:

Step 1: Create a Layout and Cutting List

Measure the space where the shelves will go and draw a rough layout to calculate how much wood you will need. Also use this layout to create a cutting list that will help you maximize your material.

create a layout and materials list

Step 2: Cut the Bookcase Parts to Width

Determine the width of each shelf and set the table saw blade and fence to rip the shelf boards. Table saw blades cut on a downward stroke, so always cut with the best side of your wood facing upward. Keep the wood positioned flat against the saw table and square against the fence, which guides the work piece.

Reset your table saw blade to rip the vertical shelf supports to width.

Also rip the pieces you’ll use to construct the plinth base. A plinth serves two purposes – it provides a sturdy platform that elevates the bookcase, giving it stature, and it reinforces the unit by providing a wide, solid stance.

rip shelf boards with table saw

Step 3: Cut the Shelves and Vertical Supports to Length

After all the parts are cut to width, cut them to the specific lengths your shelf system will need. For this project, we are using a European-style track saw – a plunge-cutting circular saw that glides on an integral base that also acts as a long straightedge for precision ripping and cross-cutting (Image 1).

If you don’t have a track saw, you can make accurate cross-cuts with a miter or chop saw, or simply clamp a straightedge to your work piece and use that to guide your circular saw (Image 2). Keep in mind that, unlike table saws, a circular saw blade cuts on an upward stroke, so always make cuts with the best side of the work piece facing downward.

Repeat the cutting process for the remaining shelves.

Cut the shelf dividers and the plinth sections to length.

Step 4: Assemble the Plinth

Clamp and glue the plinth sections together, using simple butt joints.

Cut 1x4 corner braces from scrap pieces of the 3/4” shelf plywood. Cut the brace ends at a 45-degree angle.

Also cut 1x2 mounting blocks from scrap stock.

Measure 3/4” down from the inside top edge of the plinth and install the corner braces. Also install the mounting blocks at the same height at 12” intervals. Use 1” wood screws to mount these pieces, which will support the bottom shelf, or floor, of the bookcase.

clamp and glue plinth sections together

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