Bookshelf Advice Needed

crimsonraeApril 16, 2010

Hello everyone, I need some advice from wise people :-) I want to build a bookshelf myself, I'm pretty good when it come to building things, being a carpenters' daughter and all, but I;m not sure what kind of wood to use. I have tools at my disposal and would like to use regular untreated wood so I can choose the stain to do myself and save a buck or two. I measured the spot in my room where I want it too be and the dimensions would be as follows;

6'5" tall, 4'5" wide. I want the shelves to be a foot deep and 14 inches high, fitting about 5 shelves into the case.

Any advice on what kind of materials to use of how to start off building it, would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

4'5" is a pretty large span for a loaded shelf. Consider breaking it in two with a center vertical divider.

Normally, I'd recommend hardwood plywood, trimmed with solid wood of the same species. You get good yield at a reasonable price with minimal prep. Plywood will span less than most solid woods, though. An additional complication is that at 4'5" you are going to have a tough time getting a good yield from a 4'x8' sheet of plywood. If you could trim it down just a few inches, then you can get two shelves from an 8' length.

Given all that,
* 3/4" plywood for the case and shelves
* Trim front edges with 1/4" thick solid wood for flush trim, or 3/4" thick x 1.5" thick trim for a thicker look and more stiffening
* Front face frame of 3/4" x 2" cabinet facing, up to 3 or 4" for top and bottom. Depending on style, you can rout bead, ovolo, or round-over on the edges.

If you have a biscuit joiner, that is a quick and effective way to attach the shelves, top and bottom. Otherwise, rabbet and dado joints glued together. Or some other method such as plugged screws, Miller Dowels, etc. That is, joinery of choice.

Rabbet the back frame 3/8 x 3/8" and cut a piece of 1/4" plywood (same species) to tack on the back. This will greatly enhance the "stiffness" of the carcase.

I recommend finishing the inside of the case before putting on the back. You will find it easier if you do not have to do a three-way concave corner.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 11:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Do a search oin 'Sagulator' to find out spans vs. loading for shelves.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 11:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Also, one of my suppliers used to sell "shop grade" plywood at a discount. This was otherwise known as "scratch and dent" or face defects. It was usually minor enough that you could easily work around the defects by selectively turning the piece to hide the defects where you can't see them.

One defect to avoid is a void running right under the veneer. This will cause a problem getting an even finish and will create a weak spot that you can easily rupture.

Also avoid any Chinese import plywood. Any that I've seen is complete crap. Domestic, veneer core only for me.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 1:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I built 2 built-in bookshelves using red oak planks for the shelves, sides, and bottom and cabinet grade plywood for the back. My span was about a foot shorter than yours, though, because I was worried about sag. I used a peg board as a template to drill holes for adjustable shelving. The only issue I had was the trim I wanted wasn't available in red oak, so I bought a variety of stains, and after I stained the oak with the base stain, I used small samples of the trim and mixed stain to get it to come out the same color as the oak (took about 10 formulae). The back stained a little bit differently than the trim, sides, and shelves, but when the shelves are loaded up, you really can't tell the difference unless you look real hard.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 4:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There are a lot of "it depends" answers given how open-ended your question is, and only you can set those parameters.

It depends on what kind of tools you want to use, and how much you want to use each one. I could figure out a way to build a pretty solid bookshelf using only a circular saw and a drill because I hate using a table saw. But if, like many here, your table saw is like your third hand, then your options expand. In addition, do you want to be messing with glue and edging on plywood? Solid wood is far simpler.

It depends on what kind of wood you like. Personally I have very strong taste in wood and would pick based on what I like of what's available - wander the aisles at the lumberyard. And some woods are stronger than others, so the decision about what wood to use is connected to your preferred construction method. Warning: some are also heavier!

You are definitely looking at a substantial span there, and I too would worry about sag whether you use plywood or solid. The various bookshelves I have that aren't sagging (I didn't build them - and they're no where near your span) either have the shelves nailed to the backing (from behind - this is surprisingly effective even when the backing is only quarter-inch ply - or are at least 3/4 inch thick solid wood. If I have my physics right, foot-wide boards will be stiffer than narrower ones too. But by the way, I find narrower bookshelves far more useful; very few books need a foot of depth.

But your dimensions are a bit questionable in more ways than one. This is going to be a honking big piece of furniture that I wouldn't be able to navigate into some of the rooms in my house, much less set up in them. It would solve both your sag issue and their mobility to make two smaller units instead of one big one. Even if it's perfect for you at the proposed size, moving it or selling it will be torture - think transportation. Make two narrower units and they'll fit in any hatchback. The piece you're proposing will only fit in a truck. But whatever size you make, if you stick with that height, make sure you devise a way of fastening your unit(s) to the wall.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 7:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The cabinetmaker Charles Webb sold solid oak bookcases in Cambridge, Mass. successfully for decades. Trained at RISD, he studied the problem of making a bookcase. He found that even heavy law books could not make a solid oak shelf 3/4 inch thick sag if the shelf length were no longer than 31 1/2 inches. His design used 3/4 inch solid oak uprights, and shelves that were 10 or 12 inches thick. It amazes me that the firm folded a few years ago, but I am pleased that I have two of the bookcases. After years of service, and being taken apart several times for moves, they are as good as new.

Bookcases should have a finish that does not allow acid in wood to get to the books. Charles Webb used Sherwin Williams Super Chem-Var varnish, a catalysed finish that cures in 30 days, after which it has almost undetectable gas-off. It should be 3 to 4 mils thick. If tannic acid were released from the oak after finishing, the varnish layer would delaminate.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 9:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm a bit late to the party, but these center span shelves are a little under 5-1/2'.

2" thick. Doubled up 3/4" birch ply with a 1/2" birch ply core and a poplar face frame. All paint-grade.

Overkill maybe, but no sag, strong enough to do chin-ups on them.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:51AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you put a support screw into the shelf (from the back of the bookcase) it lengthens the span you can have.

One screw in the center of a 4-foot shelf turns it into two 2-foot spans.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 1:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

" If I have my physics right, foot-wide boards will be stiffer than narrower ones too."

Strength varies directly with width.
Twice as wide, twice as strong.

It varies with the cube of the height (or thickness for a shelf).
Twice as thick, 8 times as strong.

The Sagulator takes everything into account (including the basic strength of the shelf material).

By adding a front edge twice as high as the shelf thickness of a decent strength material the shelf gets much stronger, as does fastening it to the back of the carcass.
If the back is thin it takes a lot of fasteners to spread the load, fewer with a thicker back.

Adding a single nail in the middle does not immediately cut the span in half though.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 7:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I also need some advice. I'm planning on makeing a bookcase out of 2x10's But i need to know what is the best kind of lumber to buy. I obviuosly need the straightest possible. I looked at construction grade lumber, that is not going to be good enough for what i need. Please help!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 5:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Kal, if you don't intend to use construction lumber then why do you want to use 2x10s? Higher-grade lumber in those dimensions tends to be rather expensive.

It might help to post a picture of what you hope to build. You should also start a new thread for this.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 6:15PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Varnish cracking and brittle on table with Inlay work
The varnish or poly is looking so bad I want to redo...
Fence building Question
I'm building a board on board redwood fence. 1 x 8...
Will these trees make good lumber?
I've got 2 fallen catalpa trees that have remained...
newbie veneer terminology question
My house has hollow slab doors veneered with luaun...
Fori is not pleased
Kitchen Island panel made from veneer??
So we just had custom cabinets made for our kitchen...
Sponsored Products
Lap Shelving Tray Shelf
Design Within Reach
House of Troy 16" Wide Advent Profile Plug-In Picture Light
$60.00 | Lamps Plus
Zeus Bookends - Whirl Green Onyx - BE20-WG
$96.99 | Hayneedle
Hudson 9 Cube Bookcase - Gray - GD08137-GD17
$149.99 | Hayneedle
Furniture of America Haven 5-tier Display Bookshelf
Classic Home Furniture - Wood Bookshelf In Multi Color - 59023120
Great Furniture Deal
Chicology Cordless Panel System French Primrose
Way Basics Closet Organization Rectangle Plus 22.8 in. L x 15.5 in. H Blue
$29.99 | Home Depot
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™