Built-In Bookcase: Part 1, Bases and Cases

For the progress and latest of the bookshelves click here.

Built-in bookcases are great! They take advantage of an unused or under-used wall to add architectural interest, home value and storage!

And of all the furniture you could build, bookcases are pretty simple.

There are a lot of ways to build a built-in bookcase...

I am doing what is the simplest and cheapest for me...butt joints (that's the simplest joint out there, just boards at right angles to each other) and screws, and MDF (because it's cheap and easy to paint - if you don't want painted cases, then don't use MDF). 

To make it look good (yeah, MDF alone isn't going to scream beautiful), I am trimming the whole thing out in hardwood.  The hardwood will also add rigidity to the shelves to prevent sagging.

To keep the project manageable, my cases are built in sections, 3 cases on each wall.  Each is built separate and then attached together and to the base.

The biggest con of building these cases out of MDF is that the sheets are large and heavy and I needed to build a ripping table to help me cut them on my table saw (which is still a lot of work).  Using another material or having the boards cut at the hardware store is a good option if you don't want to deal with the weight of the MDF.

Also, I predrilled my holes and used Confirmat screws and wood glue to hold everything together, and it is working great!  Confirmat screws are the way to go when working with MDF.

I still have a ton of work to do on these cases, but wanted to share what I’ve done so far with you!

OK on to the good stuff...

The Bases

I started by building the bases.  I removed the baseboard, and built simple bases (4" high), with cross bracing pieces located at the edge of where each case will sit.  I used a level and shims to make sure everything was level and then used wood screws to attach the base to the studs.

Details:  The bases are 11.25 inches deep and as long as the wall minus 1.5 inches (for the trim and baseboard).  For a wall that is 80" long (so 78.5" of bookcases), the cross bracing pieces are located approximately every 26 inches.

The Cases

You may also notice the small gap bit of extra base near the door (it is for the door surround – coming up soon)
The cases are basically boxes.  They really aren't hard to build once you have the materials cut.  I glued and used Confirmat screws on all my joints - and they are pretty solid. 


My shelves have a fixed shelf at 3 feet high because I am planning to hang doors below that and because the fixed shelf adds stability to the bookcase (but it’s not necessary).

I wanted the rest of my shelves to be adjustable, so I am using shelf standards and brackets.  I wanted the shelf standards to be hidden, so that adds a special challenge.  I bought a "real" router (after burning out my Dremel motor trying to rout with it) and routed some nice grooves for the standards into the sides of my cases.


The back is a piece of beadboard panel and I nailed it on with my brad nailer (with 1.25" brad nails).

A piece of MDF is used as a cleat attached at the top of the case (with Confirmats and glue).  After using shims to level the case, I used wood screws through the cleat to attach the case to the studs.  I also nailed the case to the base and used wood screws to attach the cases together (4 or 5 screws is a good number). 

The Details: The cases are as tall as the ceiling minus 4" for the bases and 3" for the crown molding (my crown isn't very thick).  So for my 8 foot ceilings, the cases are 89" tall.  That's 87.5" for the sides, 11" deep and 26" wide (for my 80" long wall).  The standards are 72" long and the groove is routed an inch away from the front and back of the case.

For more tips on building these bookcases, check out my post on workshop helpers (for my ripping table, drilling guide, and the assembly blocks I made to help keep the cases square).

Next up, the shelves, and hardwood trim!  And cutting a hole for the outlet…  And the door surround, a cutting guide, and more!

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4 Responses
  1. beautiful job. thanks for sharing! I love this! we have two tall shelves against the wall, but i have been wanting a third. it would just be complete.

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