I’m a big fan of e-books. Making reading accessible in all kinds of places, and being able to house an entire library in a tablet or phone is a great use of technology. But my wife and I still have a lot of physical books, dating back to our very early years. I’ve built several bookshelves to house them. For one particular half-wall in our apartment, though, I wanted to display the books, as well as other objects we’ve collected in our lives and travels.
For this I designed a deep bookshelf that could function as a place for the books as well as giving extra shelf space for fragments of our history that don't lay flat.
Step 1 - Fill the Space, Get the Lumber
I measured out the half-wall next to the dining table and decided on a 6 foot length for the bookshelf. Because I wanted extra depth in the shelves, I went with 11 inches. There would be 4 columns and 5 rows, all with fixed shelves.
With my measurements in hand, I went to the local sheet goods supplier and bought a couple sheets of ¾-inch MDF and had them cut them down to manageable boards. Because everything was 11 inches deep, it made the breakdown of the boards easy.
I also picked up pine strips to edge the fronts of the columns, so they’d separate out and give the shelves a bit of a setback.
Step 2 - Cutting Down to Size
With all the lumber back in the shop, it was time to break everything down into their components. The easiest way to do this with reliable repetition was on the table saw with a home-made shooting board.
I chopped down piles of shelves, as well as the top and bottom pieces, along with sides and the column dividers. I also cut some smaller pieces that would be upright backs to some of the shelves, which would give me a way of anchoring the piece to a wall.
While I was doing this, I used some scrap to cut 2 very important rectangles from MDF. One side was 7 ½-inches, the other 10 inches. These were to be my measuring blocks for the shelf assembly.
Step 3 - Pocket Holes
My favorite joinery technique, especially when using sheet goods, is the pocket hole. But a little planning is necessary. I organized all my boards and marked with a pencil where all the pocket holes would go. That way, I knew I wouldn’t have pocket holes on the top and bottom sides of a shelf.
After everything was marked, I set up an assembly line and drilled pocket holes on all the components.
Step 4 - Assembly
With all the holes drilled, there was nothing left to do but put it all together. It was a big piece, and took some muscling. Long pipe clamps helped square up the basic shape while I put glue on the joined edges and brought it together with the pocket hole screws.
Once the rectangle was in place, I put in the column risers, again using wood glue and pocket hole screws.
The same method was used for the fixed shelves, and here’s where my reference blocks came in handy. Because the first 3 shelves down each column were spaced 7 ½-inches apart, I oriented the blocks so they measured that same distance. All I had to do was push the shelf up against the block, which automatically squared it, then attach it to the column sides.
Then I repeated the process, over and over again until the entire grid had been completed. When it was time to attach the shelves with a 10-inch distance, I simply flipped the reference blocks to that orientation. The half-backs were finally added to one row of shelves, giving the whole piece more structural integrity.
I had some long boards left over, so I ripped them down on the table saw and created a header and footer for the piece, which were attached with glue and brad nails.
I cut down the pine strips and faced the column edges with them, also attaching with glue and brad nails.
Step 5 - Paint
To keep things neutral so the books and objects on the shelves would be highlighted, I painted the shelf a clean white. It took a couple coats to get everything even, but it was soon glowing.
Step 6 - Haul It In and Mount It Up
Getting a piece this big into the apartment was a bit of a task, but with a couple people and a furniture dolly we managed to get it up against the half-wall. I put long wood screws through the back pieces and into studs, creating a strong and safe assembly.
Then we went to work filling up all the shelves. Books were organized into subjects. Objects collected thematically, or randomly, if they looked better that way. And while the shelf is rock solid, the display continues to be in flux. Things come and go as our collections change. And we always have a place to house our books, and the pieces that inspire us.