How to Install Built-In Bookshelves in Your Home

One way to really enhance the beauty of a room is to build book cases into the wall. This is especially true if you have or are creating a library in your home or if you have a room with mismatched bookshelves (you know, the room that resembles a hodgepodge storage place for books and collectibles). In our family’s case, we wanted to convert a large room that we have into a library that would house all of our books.

We also wanted the shelves to hold a stereo, some photographs and some personal collectibles of importance to us. As such, we decided to convert the entire length of one wall into built-in bookshelves. The outcome was glorious and the project not as difficult as you might think.

What you will need to do:

The very first thing you will need to do is measure. This is a very important step because even if you know the measurement of your room size, you cannot assume your walls are plumb and perfectly square. Know the measurements for the shelves that you want. Your larger shelves should be on the bottom. Make sure to allow for solid wood only (or tile, if you prefer) at the top and bottom of the shelves (to give a professional appearance). On the bottom, you may also want to build cabinet doors so you can store things that are not so pleasing to the eye (old paperbooks, magazines, photograph boxes, etc.) or things you want to store with some measure of protection (i.e., away from small children, pets, etc.).

When creating the measurements for your shelving, using a 24-inch span or less is recommended to prevent sagging. If you decide you must extend past the 24-inch suggestion you can cut panels, approximately one-inch thick to mount vertically on your shelves for additional support. You will need the outside frame measured for which you will then add to it your shelves. The back will be made of 1/8″ plywood.

Step two is the shopping. Here is a list of what you will need to complete the project successfully:

Wood. Birch, Oak, Poplar, or Maple are all good sources of wood for this project. Pine, while pretty and rustic will prove hard to work with due to the natural knots in the wood and it is not recommended.

1/8″ plywood to cover the back

Circular saw (or table saw)

Hand saw

Saw Horse

Drill or drill press

Tape Measure



Wood screws (screws work better than finishing nails)


Support Pins (four per shelf)

Edge Molding

Finish nails (for molding)


Small Wire Brads

Safety Glasses

Wood stain or paint, as desired

Step three: make all of the markings on your plywood and label them well (with your pencil). Include the cut of the saw for every cut. Also when marking the top pieces, remember to include the size of your molding so you do not have to go back and cut again later.

Step four: place your marked on wood upon the sawhorses, put on your safety glasses and begin cutting your pieces. Cut your base first (the frame) and then your shelves. If you are making a very large bookcase make sure to assemble your cut pieces inside of the room or they may not fit through your doorway.

Step five: put your frame together with the wood screws.

Now, stain or paint your wood as desired. Allow to dry completely before continuing (may take more than 24 hours)

Put your plywood backing on with metal brads.

Use your drill or drill press to create holes for your support pins.

Mount the vertical sections and shelves. Install support pins and vertical supports.

Place your bookshelf into the wall to make sure all measurements are correct. If so, proceed by mounting the shelves to the wall with pilot holes in the back corner, into your wall studs.

Mount the top of your case into the wall with extra screws for additional support and to prevent tipping over later. This step is very important because a bookshelf falling over could create a dangerous situation for persons, most especially for very young or elderly persons.

Gently hammer your molding to the top of the shelves with finish nails. If you have opted to use doors at the bottom of the shelves, apply with hinges now.

Reapply baseboards as necessary (cutting to fit around your new shelves) and touch up paint as necessary.

If you really want to go all out, every library will look more complete with a ladder, stained or painted to match the shelves. You can create your own or purchase one. We created our own that rests on the top portion of the shelf (where it is just wood) and can be moved around to whichever section of the shelves we need a book from (if it is up high). You can also create a standard -looking ladder with hinges (for looks only) if you prefer a more traditional country feel.

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