Photo of a four shelf bookshelf with rockets for corner braces

Building a Basic Bookshelf

My wife came to me one day with a request - a short bookshelf for my son's room.  He has a number of space themed things in his room, so we decided on a gray bookshelf to partically match his bedside table.  I kept the shelves fairly basic, but I decided to add just a little space flourish in the end.  His love of space is one of the inspirations for our space race candle collection


I took some measurements of the area and decided on a shelf that is 42" tall by 36" wide.  As a number of boards at the big box stores come in 8' and 6' lengths, this let me build with very little waste.  I used the 6' boards for the shelves and the 8' board for the walls.  I also used 1"x2" boards for a base as well as a brace under the top shelf that also gives you a way to easily anchor the shelf to a wall to prevent tipping.  I finally used a 1"x4" board for additional horizontal bracing, and added some trim to the base and leftover wood from the 1"x1"x8' board for a little rocket that doubles as corner bracing.

  1. 1"x10"x6' board
  2. 1"x10"x8' board
  3. 1"x2"x6' board - 2x
  4. 1"x4"x4' board
  5. 2"x8' base moulding (or any design you prefer)
  6. Wood glue
  7. Nail gun (or hammer)
  8. 1.5" nails
  9. Wood stain (I went with gray)
  10. Wood sealer (I used polyurethane)
  11. 120 and 220 grit sandpaper and sanding block
  12. Miter Saw or Circular saw
  13. Measuring tape
  14. Pencil
  15. Eye protection
  16. Ear protection
  17. Dust mask
  18. Jigsaw (if you want to make the rocket)
  19. Router with 45 degree angle bit or a chisel (if you want to make the rocket)
  20. Kreg shelf jig (if you want adjustable shelves)
  21. 8 shelf pins (if you want adjustable shelves)
  22. Power Drill (if you want adjustable shelves)

Do You Want Adjustable Shelves?

 I have built a few shelf units with adjustable shelves.  While we do not move the shelves up and down very often, it's nice to have initially as you plan how your bookshelf is going to be used, and if you add or get rid of books or want to use different decor for your bookshelves down the road.  There are a few ways otfmaking adjustable shelves, but one of the easier ones is drilling holes and using shelf pins.  These are handy on shelves that aren't seeing a lot of weight, and easy to build for.  You can make your own jig, but I purchased a Kreg Shelf Jig kit and it has worked out just fine as well.  One of the issues with adjustable shelves is that some of the pins may have a little thickness in part of the bracket which you need to account for.  So if we attached the shelves of this unit directly to the walls, they would be 34.5" wide.  But with a pin on each side that has a 1/16" wall, we now need to cut our shelves to 34.375" wide.  So just be sure to plan and measure appropriately.  And some pins may be thicker or thinner than others.  Remember, you can always cut them shorter if they're too tight, so if you have any hesitancy on the length, cut them a little longer and adjust them once the shelf is assembled..

Photo of a kreg shelf pin jig

Measuring and Cutting

So now we're ready to cut.  We'll take one of the 1"x10"x6' boards and measure and cut a 36" board for the top shelf and a 34.5" board for the bottom.  We'll take the second 1"x10"x6' board and cut them to 34.5" or 34.375" depending if you're going adjustable or not.  We'll take the 1"x2" and 1"x4" boards and cut three pieces to 34.5".  I leave the moulding for last as the base may end up being off by 1/16" or 1/8".  So after assembly, I place the moulding against the base and mark the ends with a pencil for precision in where to cut.  

For the rocket ship detail, I found an image on the internet of a rocket ship with a flat base and used it for inspiration.  With a palm router and a V-shaped bit, I hand routed the outline of a window and the fins.  I then cut it out with a jigsaw, then cut it in half vertically to have two half-rockets for use as corner braces.

Make sure to wear dust protection while cutting.  While the scent of sawdust can be nice, you don't want actual sawdust in your lungs.So pick up one of our candles instead.

Photo of a rocket cut out of wood


First I assembled the base by gluing the 1" edges of two of the 1"x2" boards, laying them on the ground glue-side up and then laying the base shelf on them. Once these were lined up exactly, I used a nail gun and put 4-5 nails into each. You can place something heavy on the base as a make-shift clamp as well.
Photo of upside down bottom shelf

While this was drying, I assembled the sides and the top. I clamped the sides to some scrap wood to keep them upright, then placed glue on the top edges of the sides and laid the top board on them and put another 4 nails in. I also put the third 1"x2" piece in for some additional stability. I put it underneath the top shelf along one edge so that it will be close to the wall to secure the shelf to the wall.

Photo of top and sides of shelf
You can see I'm in a cramped garage as the weather was a bit cold and rainy.  With all the cordless power tools and cordless mower, unfortunately the garage doesn't have that dad's garage or shed smell.

Once the brace is in place, you can attach the sides to the base. With the base on the floor, glue the edges and put the sides and top over the base so the sides are resting on the floor. I nailed the sides to the end of the base as well. If you have long enough clamps, you can clamp the sides to the base. At this point you can also glue and nail the 1"x4" middle brace. I measured to the mid-way point up the side, made a mark on each side to make sure the brace is level. I also recommend clamping the brace top brace and putting some weight on the base and on the edges of the top shelf to help clamp the shelf together.  If you're attaching shelves permanently, now would be the time to mark where you want them, glue the ends and nail them in place and clamp them.

You can add the rocket ship at this point as well. With it cut in half, I glued each side to the side and bottom of the shelf and nailed it in from the side and held it on with a clamp.

Photo of rocket brace glued and clamped to corner

Checking Your Shelves and Adding Moulding

Once the shelf was assembled and the glue dry, it's time to check that your shelves if you're going the adjustable route.  Put in your shelf pins where you want them and lay the boards in place.  They should fit snugly with no wiggle.  If you cut them a little longer, you can see how much you need to trim them and take care of that now. 

I then added the moulding to the base. I cut a 45 degree vertical miter on one end, laid the moulding up against the base, lined up the start of the 45 degree cut with a corner and placed a pencil mark at the other corner where I needed to cut the moulding. After cutting the piece, I glued and nailed it to the base. Depending on the thickness of your moulding, you may need 1" or 3/4" nails so the nails don't go through the base wood. Even though it's hidden, it's nice to do it correctly. After doing this four times and lining up the moulding to match with the previous cut, your shelf should be ready for sanding and staining.  With the nail gun I used, I had to add in some wood filler to hide the nail holes as well.

Photo of base of bookshelf with moulding

Sanding, Staining and Sealing

I used a power sander with 120 grit sandpaper to start.  The dimensional boards from the big box stores usually have a fairly sharp edge to them, so I sanded all the edges to make a little smoother edge and to prevent splinters as well.  You could use a router with a small roundover bit, but sanding is quick and easy with a power sander.  There are occasionally rough parts on the faces of the boards which you can clean up. After that, I moved to the 220 grit sandpaper to smooth things a bit further.  I also sanded any excess wood filler at this point for the nail holes.  For pine boards, I do recommend a pre-stain that will make any stain a little more uniform.  I did not use one in this build and a few spots turned out pretty sloppy.  I also used a bit too much of the gray stain - this stuff goes a long way and I let too much sit on there for too long.  You can always add coats if you want to.  For projects like these, I just use an old rag for staining.

After sanding and staining, I used three coats of polyurethane to seal and protect the shelf from the abuse the kids are gonna give it.

Photo of finished shelf

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