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Building a Built-in Bookcase

Cabinet, Construction How-To, Organize, Projects June 24, 2013 Sonia

The Writings on the Wall

by Matt Weber

I’ve been a big fan of built-in bookshelves for a long time. I’m a guy who reads a lot and writes a lot, plus I’ve got all sorts of reference books for work that I need to store. A built-in bookcase provides a triple-duty solution to my storage needs—it looks good, it adds to the salability of the home and, by removing the studs and using the depth of a partition wall, it occupies limited space within the room. Storage shelves can be built of many different materials and designed in all sorts of styles. This article will touch on some basic techniques for opening a wall and constructing a basic shelf case from paint-grade materials outfitted with wood-stained shelves.

This particular case was built in a partition wall located in a finished basement and adjacent to a split-level staircase. Before removing any wall studs, make sure the wall is not load-bearing. Exterior load-bearing walls are not appropriate for built-in cases because removal of the wall eliminates insulation (and would require construction of a load-bearing header). If you want to locate shelves over a load-bearing wall, then build the case over the studs like a piece of furniture.

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I decided to center the case on the wall and plotted my design on paper for a quick visual reference. I wanted a large case, so I designed it 6 feet wide and extending the full wall height from floor to ceiling. I had some large books, so I went for 12-in. deep shelves and planned for roughly 14-in. of space between each. Some of these measurements would “evolve” slightly throughout the project based on what obstacles I encountered during construction.


By the way, I’d like to thank Lowe’s Home Improvement Store ( for sponsoring this project. I’m lucky enough to have a Lowe’s within two miles of mi casa, and that’s where I picked up all the necessary materials:

  • 4×8 1/2” plywood for back
  • 12” edge-glued side panels
  • 4×8 stain-grade 3/4” birch plywood for shelves
  • 1x oak hardwood for the shelf edging
  • 1x No. 1 pine for the face-frames
  • 2×4 studs for the bottom
  • Baseboard, cove and stop molding
  • Wire molding
  • Minwax wood stain and wood putty
  • Valspar Signature Paint/Primer
  • Kreg pocket screws

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Wall Demolition             

I outlined my case area on the wall with painter’s tape, a T-square and a pencil. I would be removing a large square of wall paneling, plus molding at the top and bottom.

I knew this would be a dusty job, so I enveloped my work area with large vinyl sheeting held tightly to the ceiling with a couple of T-Jaks. The vinyl membrane kept most of the airborne demolition dust contained to my immediate vicinity and not circulating throughout the house.

Also, before cutting into a wall, always disconnect electrical power in case you accidentally cut into a wire.

My tool for slicing into the paneling was the new Rotosaw from Rotozip. With its small 3-5/8-in. wood-cutting wheel I was able to control the cut while penetrating quickly through the depth of material.

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When it comes to demolition, it’s smart to work gingerly. People on remodeling TV shows like to swing a lot of sledge-hammers, but you can bet some other crew member is responsible for cleaning up the dusty mess. On our project the paneling concealed 5/8-in. drywall and, to keep the jobsite as tidy as possible, you should make surgical cuts and remove it in as large of sections as possible. Use a flat bar to pry it away from the fasteners whenever possible.

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I then used a Bosch Multi-X with a flush-cut blade to slice through the nails that fastened the studs to the drywall on the opposite wall. The opposite wall was finished and painted, so I had to be careful when removing the framing.