How to Build a Simple Freestanding Bookshelf

How to Build a DIY Bookshelf

How to Build a Freestanding Bookshelf–Plans and Tutorial!

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If you’ve followed along for very long, you’ll know that somehow I always agree to building my parents new furniture. Maybe it’s the whole “they brought me into this world” thing, so I figure it’s the least I can do haha.

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This is another “mom project” that I’m excited to share. She wanted a simple stand alone bookshelf for her living room to display pictures and trinkets and such. This was a pretty simple build and I’m sharing the plans below.

Simple traditional freestanding bookshelf standing in living room

If you’re interested in the other projects I’ve built for my parents in the past, here are a few:

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Materials Needed to Build Freestanding Bookshelf:

Tools Needed:

NOTE: This project required cutting down a plywood sheet in order to build. Check out my post here on how I quickly, and accurately cut down plywood sheets with a circular saw.

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For more bookshelf projects, check out some of my favorite bookshelf projects here:

Check out the downloadable plans for this freestanding bookshelf project here:

These plans include plywood cut diagrams, detailed measurements and instructions to build this simple stand alone bookshelf. But, below is the tutorial.

Step 1:  Build Bookshelf Carcass

To get started, I ripped my plywood sheet into two 16″ wide strips and one 15″ wide strip using my circular saw and Kreg Rip Cut. If you aren’t familiar with the Rip Cut, head over to this post to see how I use it to cut down plywood sheets.

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I set the 15″ wide strip aside to use as shelves later and cut my 16″ wide strips into two long side panels and two short top and bottom panels. Find exact dimensions in the plans here.

Bookshelf carcass plywood pieces cut to size ready for assembly

I used a Kreg pocket hole jig to drill pocket holes in the ends of the short pieces to use as the top and bottom of the bookshelf.

Pocket holes drilled in top and bottom panels of bookshelf

To assemble the freestanding bookshelf carcass, I screwed the four pieces together with 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws so that I had a “box” like shown below.  NOTE: the bottom was screwed in so that the top of the bottom shelf is 2 1/2″ from the bottom edge of the plywood.

Freestanding bookshelf assembled using pocket holes
DIY Bookshelf cabinet carcass assembled with back installed

I cut a piece of 1/4″ plywood from the sheet and stapled it onto the back (as shown above).  And there I had a freestanding bookshelf carcass.  Side note: I love building cabinets because I like to be able to say the word “carcass” as often as possible.  Try it 🙂 It’s fun.

Step 2: Add Trim to Bookshelf Sides

To trim out the side panels and give it a little visual interest, I glued and brad nailed 1x2s and 1x3s onto the sides.  Everything was 1x3s except the piece on the front.  I made this a 1×2 because the face frame will add some extra width later.

Side of DIY bookshelf trimmed out with 1xs for extra decoration

Then I lined the insides of the “boxes” with cove molding.

Side panel of bookshelf trimmed out with 1xs and cove molding

Step 3: Build and Attach Face Frame to Bookshelf

I built a face frame for the front and screwed it together with 3/4″ pocket holes and 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws.  The overall frame dimensions should cover the entire front.

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Don’t forget to check out the downloadable plans here for exact dimensions and details on this bookshelf project:

Bookshelf face frame assembled on workshop floor using pocket holes

I glued and brad nailed this piece onto the front and then added cove molding around the bottom and crown molding around the top for some added detail.

Molding added to bottom and top of bookshelf

Step 4: Add Feet to Bookshelf

I added feet to the bottom for a little extra interest.  I used these feet from Osborne Wood Products.  They will add the screw dowels for you (be sure to ask for this) so all you have to do is screw them in! OR (if you check out the downloadable plans), you can use a scrap block attached in the corners and glue and screw these feet in on the back sides to hide the screw heads.

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In this case, I ordered these feet with screw dowels, so I predrilled a hole into the plywood bottom on all four corners of the piece. I made sure to use a drill bit SMALLER THAN THE SCREW DOWEL to predrill here.

Predrilled hole on bottom of bookshelf to install screw dowel to attach feet

Then I screwed the feet into the hole.  Since the screws were already in the feet, it made it super easy.

Installing feet onto bookshelf using screw dowel
Close up of foot installed onto bottom of bookshelf
Feet attached to tall freestanding bookshelf--lying on its back in workshop

And now, it’s almost done!!! Deep breath everybody!!

Unfinished tall bookshelf in workshop before adding shelves--trimmed out on the sides with 1x3s and cove molding

Step 5: Add Adjustable Shelves

I used my Kreg shelf pin jig to drill holes in the sides to make the shelves adjustable.  I know my mom is even more indecisive than me (where do you think I got it from??), so I thought it would be good to allow the shelves to move.

Shelf pins drilled into sides of free standing bookshelf with Kreg shelf pin jig

So remember that leftover piece of 3/4″ plywood from step 1?  I cut it into three pieces about 29 3/4″ long for the shelves.  You could add edge banding to the front to cover the plywood edges if desired.

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I put shelf pins in and placed the shelves where I thought they looked good. PS…a note about shelf pins. Kreg makes a shelf pin jig for 5mm and 1/4″ shelf pins. Make sure you purchase shelf pins to match the side jig you’re using. If you’re using a 5mm jig, purchase 5mm pins. If you’re using 1/4″ jig, purchase 1/4″ shelf pins. 5mm is slightly smaller than 1/4″.

Unfinished stand alone tall bookshelf in workshop

Step 6: Finish Bookshelf as Desired

As with everything, putty, caulk, sand as needed.  Then paint and/or stain.  I stained the shelves and mom painted the piece.  We disagreed about the finish.  I said stained shelves and navy cabinet.  Mom said white distressed cabinet.  We compromised and ended up with this: grey cabinet, stained shelves.

DIY Freestanding bookshelf with light on top to illuminate top shelf

Dad added a light to the top…because he wanted to contribute something to the design haha.

Stand alone bookshelf in living room decorated with old books and vases

But I think I like it without the light. To each his own 🙂 If you’d like to build one for yourself, be sure to head over and grab these printable PDF plans.

Tall freestanding bookshelf--grey and natural wood finishes

But I do really like the two tone here and I’m glad she went with the stained shelves.

DIY Bookshelf with adjustable shelves --grey painted cabinet, wood stained shelves

So if you’re looking for a simple addition to your living room, home office, bedroom, or entryway, this is a really simple build perfect for displaying trinkets, pictures, trophies, whatever makes your heart happy 🙂

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this project and if you’d like to save it for later, don’t forget to pin this!

DIY Simple Freestanding Tall Bookshelf Pinterest collage

Until next time, happy building 🙂

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12 Comment

  1. kristin howard
    January 30, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Shara: Another fantastic job. You have one lucky Mom! I love your dialogue almost as much as your work. Time to give up the Engineering. We want lessons!!

    1. Shara, Woodshop Diaries
      January 30, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks girl! I know, I’m slacking getting those lessons planned. I haven’t forgot though!! I have some fun things in the works this Spring 🙂

  2. Sarah
    January 30, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    It looks great! 🙂 What would you think of putting mirrors on the back/inside of the shelves to reflect light? It seems a little dark in the shelves. Maybe not for your mom, but if I were to give this a try? I have not built any furniture – yet – but I feel like I can someday, thanks to your wonderful blog 🙂

    1. Shara, Woodshop Diaries
      January 30, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Thank you! Mirrors in the back would be a good idea! It would help if the shelf was actually in an area where it might get some natural light, too. Where she had it placed, it is facing away from the window and in a dark corner. It would also help if it was painted a really light color, like white. But, your idea of mirrors sounds like a good one!

  3. Adil Shezad
    March 15, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Being a literature student, I have a fair collection of books. I always wanted to create a decent bookshelf. Now I am able to create it to keep my books safe and also to decorate my bedroom with a great bookshelf.

    1. Shara, Woodshop Diaries
      March 16, 2017 at 7:05 am

      It’s awesome to hear you liked the project!! Good luck on building your own. I’d love to see it when you get finished! 🙂

  4. Ashley
    April 19, 2017 at 10:07 am

    This is a lovely book shelf!

    I just wanted to ask a question though. I built it last week and have found that it’s so wobbly. Did you add corner brackets (underneath the very bottom shelf) or anything else for support?

    Also, do you have any tips for cutting the crown molding? (That’s the only part I have yet to do)

    Thanks!

    1. Shara, Woodshop Diaries
      April 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Ashley!! So glad to hear you built your own!! I did not add any brackets. Mine sat flat on the floor, but was a little top heavy since it’s so tall. But I didn’t have any trouble with it wobbling. Have you tried felt pads under the feet as maybe one corner got a little higher than the others?? I do not have a tutorial (yet) on cutting crown molding, but there are TONS of videos on YouTube that can show you better than I could tell you. Basically, to cut crown molding, you have to flip it upside down on your miter saw and tilt it so that the flat parts that normally rest on the wall and the ceiling (if you were installing it along a ceiling) are sitting flat on your saw top and the backrest. Then you cut at a 45 degree angle. It will make better sense once you see a video. Just search Youtube for cutting crown molding and there are plenty of options to watch 🙂 Hope that helps!! If you have more questions, feel free to contact me!

      1. Ashley
        April 25, 2017 at 9:21 am

        Shara,

        I think I should have worded that differently. The book shelf kind of sways, if that makes more sense. I checked to make sure my PH screws were properly screwed in. I’ve never had this happen with pocket hole joinery before, so I’m kind of stumped.

        I thought maybe it would get better as the 1×3’s and 1×2’s and the face were added, but it didn’t.

        I’m going to run some 2×4 support slats underneath and see if that helps.

        Thanks for the awesome tutorial!

        1. Shara, Woodshop Diaries
          April 28, 2017 at 8:05 am

          Hey Ashley, so it’s more like it’s not square, not necessarily wobbly?? Did you add the backing? Usually you can help square things up with a backing. Or maybe I am still misunderstanding. Hopefully you got it figured out already!

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