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How to Build a Bookcase that Lasts

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Building Cabinets, Bookcases and Shelves: 29 Step-by-Step Projects to Beautify Your Home | how to build a bookcase, bookshelf plans, bookcase plans

Whether you need storage for books, DVDs, games or clothes, you'll find attractive, custom options in this book

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The 100 Best Shelving & Storage Projects | how to build a bookshelf, bookshelf design, bookshelves design

Get your home and shop organized with these essential woodworking projects

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Build Better Bookcases Digital Download | building bookshelves, how to build bookshelves, build a bookcase

We show you how to make a great bookcase in any style, with one basic box design, and one sheet of plywood

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Three Simple Factors in Bookshelf Plans, Bookshelf Design, and Case Construction

By Dan Farnbach, Online Editor


 Bookshelf plans

At first inspection, any bookcase is as static and seemingly impervious as the old-fashioned paper and ink products that fill its shelves. But all bookcases are susceptible to various stresses which, over just a few years or even months, will distinguish solid pieces and good bookcase plans from those that are just knocked together. In this article I categorize the stresses under three simple headings that we all understand -- gravity, wear-and-tear, and "honey, I don't like how that looks anymore." Read on for easy solutions in how to build a bookcase!


1st Factor: Gravity. How it affects your bookcase plans

Gravity affects the horizontal spans (the shelves themselves) and the overall structure (think leaning tower of Pisa). It's surprising how quickly shelf sag can develop if your span is too long, and it's often tempting to go with the longest span possible in order to save on materials and time. Don't do it. You can and should tweak other parts of the bookshelf design, but keep the horizontal measurement well within your material’s limit. Check out “Monticello’s Stacking Bookcases” for a beefy 48” hardwood example, or “Build Better Bookcases” for a contrasting 36” plywood version.

 how to build a bookshelf

A classic design will hold up

The other half of the gravity factor -- overall structure -- comes into play while building bookshelves. As you likely know, putting together a sturdy rectangle is not as intuitive as it looks. Squaring your carcase during glue-up and assembly can be a scramble, even if you've done it many times. If it has been a few years, don't be too proud to go back to the basics of how to build bookshelves, and refresh your memory on dry-fitting, nailing, gluing and screwing. You'll win the battle against gravity!


2nd Factor: Wear-and-tear. Good bookshelf design prevents future damage.

This is a simple point. Your bookcase, particularly the front edges, will show a lot of wear over time if you miscalculate on certain parts of the bookshelf design. Put a little thought into the precise depth of shelves that you need. How big are the items you're going to store? Can you build a piece with deeper shelves on the bottom and narrower ones up top where hard hits are apt to occur? Here’s where a stacking case like the Monticello, or a Barrister style, can really work well.

 bookshelf design

Contemporary plans are a great choice

Both of those projects, along with 27 other great examples, are available in BUILDING CABINETS, BOOKCASES AND SHELVES -- a nice collection for under $20. An even more comprehensive option, in CD-ROM format, is THE 100 BEST SHELVING AND STORAGE PROJECTS – available for just a couple extra bucks. Either of these will also help with the final challenge to long-term happiness …


3rd Factor: Style, or, "Honey, I'm not so crazy about that bookshelf design anymore."

Styles change, and it takes a bit of time and money to build a bookcase, so sketch out several ideas before launching in. This is particularly important when you're considering how to build a built-in bookcase, which is more vexing to remove than a stand-alone piece. But don't be daunted by this challenge. Bookshelf design is fun. Get yourself some inspiration, and start drawing today! Everyone in your house will enjoy the results.




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Dan Farnbach is the Online Editor of Popular Woodworking. He's into sports, making things, and being way out in the woods. At seventeen he designed and built a footbridge in the Idaho wilderness, and realized this craft was pretty satisfying. Since then he has learned custom cabinetmaking and dabbled in fine furniture, working for two professional shops. Connect with him and other woodworkers on the Popular Woodworking Facebook page.