May 3, 2016

The Makings Of A Library


Do you have a room that feels like a plain box?  Or a space that you want to bring purpose to?  Adding that custom touch not only can transform the look of the space but it can also make it function better for your family and your lifestyle.  These built-ins do just that and more.  I think they turned out beautiful!


Table saw
Miter saw
Nail gun & nails
Wood glue
Stud finder
Drill and drill bits
Tape measure
Primer & paint

Step 1: First you will need to purchase your lumber.  These bookcases were ultimately going to be painted so I chose our wood with that in mind.  You may choose different types of wood if you intend on staining your finished project.  For this project I chose cabinet grade plywood for the bulk of the built-in.  I needed 4 sheets of plywood measuring 4′ X 8′ X 3/4″.  To make these pieces more manageable I had the hardware store rip the plywood down to pieces that measured approximately 12″ wide X 8′ long.  This will allow me to cut them more easily on my table saw at the project site.  I also purchased wood for the face frame, decorative trim that will be used to face the front of each shelf, and material for both the baseboard and crown molding.


Lumber for Library

Step 2:  Determine the overall height of your bookcase.  I didn’t want this bookcase to go to the ceiling since there was existing crown molding in the room that I didn’t want to disrupt.  I also knew these built-ins were ultimately going to be painted a bold color.  With no plans of painting any other part of the room dropping the height of the bookcase will separate it from the existing crown allowing it to be treated separately from the room when it comes to color.  I next determined the spacing for each shelf.  For this particular built-in I was working around a piece of art the homeowner wanted incorporated.  To accommodate that piece of art and to make all the shelves level across the three sections I spaced the shelves as follows:

Venable Library Plan

Step 3: Cut your lumber to size.  First I cut each side of the bookcase shell to 12″ wide X 8′ long.  There are three sections so I needed 6 sides that measured 12″ wide X 8′ long. Next I cut each shelf to size.  There were 17 shelves each measuring 44″ long X 11 1/4″ wide.   For the top 3 “shelves” I cut a a piece of wood that was 1  1/2″ longer and 3/4″ wider than the other 17 shelves.  The 3 tops “shelves” measured 12″ wide X 45 1/2″ long.  The purpose of  making these larger because they will be attached to the tops of the sides as opposed to set in-between the sides like the other 17 shelves.

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Step 4:  Measure and mark each side of the bookcase where each shelf will fall.  Using an L-square ruler draw a straight line as a guide so that you attach each shelf straight. I measured and marked both sides of  the bookcase sides to ensure that I nailed and screwed into the center of each shelf.


Step 5:  Apply glue to the end of each shelf.  Then using a nail gun nail through the bookcase side into each shelf.  Nailing first will hold the shelves in place.  Repeat this process for every shelf and for both sides of the bookcase.  Then using a drill screw 2″ wood screws into each shelf.  This will cinch the shelf tighter to the side.  Wipe up any excess glue with a damp rag as it gets squeezed out since the glue will dry quickly.

Nailing Shelves

When building the second section of the built-in I made the second to bottom shelf removable.  This shelf will sit in front of a large cold air return that may need to be accessed at some point.  So I attached this shelf using shelf pegs making it removable.  I also decided to replace the existing vent cover which stuck out about 1/4″ from the wall with a decorative piece of sheet metal that sits flush to the wall allowing that removable shelf to also sit flush to the wall.  The sheet metal has holes in it to allow the airflow necessary for a cold air return.   The new vent cover will be painted the same as the wall color to make it “go away.”

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Shelf Support Pins

Step 6:  Above the three top “shelves” and below the bottom shelves I added cleats (wood blocking) that allowed me to screw each section into a stud making the overall unit very secure.  I also added to the front of the top of the bookcase extra wood that would allow me to later have something to attach the crown molding to.

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Step 7:  Now to carry in each section.  Each section is BIG and HEAVY so for this part I needed to enlist some extra muscle.  With the extra hand I carried in all sections of the bookcase and using the previously attached cleats, both above the top shelf and below the bottom shelf, anchored the three sections to studs using 3 1/2″ wood screws.  Before anchoring each section into place ensure they are level and plumb.  Shim if necessary. Section of Builtin

Built in 1

Built in 2


Step 8:   Once all sections are secured to the wall I began adding the decorative trim to the front of each shelf.  The homeowner wanted this trim to be detailed without being ornate.  I chose a decorative trim with a rope detail embossed on the front.



Shelf trim

For the face frame I used 1 X 4 finger jointed primed lumber.  The vertical members of the frame are stiles and the horizontal members are known as the rails.  I first attached the bottom rail just below the bottom shelf but just above the baseboard and extends all the way across from wall to wall.  I then added the 4 stiles of the face frame that sit just on top of the bottom rail and hide the fronts of the vertical plywood sections of the bookcase.  Sitting above the 4 stiles I added the top rail that again extended across all three sections stretching from wall to wall.


I then added the crown molding.  To make the crown molding look larger I first flipped a piece of baseboard upside down and attached the crown molding above that.  This technique gives you a really nice large looking crown molding.


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For the baseboard I coordinated the bookcase base with the homeowners existing baseboard.

No wall is perfectly straight.  But our bookcases were built square and made level and plumb prior to installing.  That means you are likely to have a gap between where the face frame of the bookcase and the wall meet.  To hide this gap I added the same decorative trim that I used on the face of each shelf and ran it over the gap between the face frame and the wall.

built-in wall

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Step 9:  Fill all nail holes with wood filler and caulk all joints.  Sand any excess wood filler prior to painting.




Step 10: For this project I had the painters paint the bookcases using a sprayer.  Spraying the paint will produce a beautiful finish with no brush strokes and it will be completely painted in one day!  An added bonus for a lot of surface area.  First the painters taped off the surrounding areas to protect them from overspray.

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Then the painters primed the entire bookcase.  When you prime raw wood it will raise the grain of the wood making the surface feel rough.  Lightly sand all surfaces so that it feels smooth.  Then with a tacky cloth remove the dust.

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Topcoat with your paint.  The homeowner and I chose a navy blue paint by Benjamin Moore called Newburyport Blue (HC-155) for the face frame of the bookcase and a gray/tan also by Benjamin Moore called Revere Pewter (HC-172) for the inside of the bookcase.


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I think it turned out great!  These custom built-ins have transformed this room and have given this space purpose!

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That’s it!!!  Every time someone walks in their front door they will be wowed by this addition!
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Library Bookcase Recipe1 (2)

Library Bookcase Recipe2 (1)

Library Bookcase Recipe3 (1)



  • Hazel Coore at

    I haven’t checked in here for some time. The last few posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

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