How to Build a Bookcase

How to Build a Bookcase

At some point in your woodworking career, you'll probably want to build a bookshelf. When you do, the easiest thing to build it with is plywood. But you'll have to do something about those raw plywood edges. That's where edge banding comes in. Edge banding is thin veneer with pre-applied glue that comes in rolls of various widths, most commonly ¾". In this project, you'll learn how to iron edge banding onto the exposed edges of a plywood shelf.


• Tape measure

• Straightedge

• Pencil

• Table saw, circular saw, or jigsaw

• Clamps

• Electric sander (optional)

• Utility or heavy craft knife

• Clothes iron

• Plane (optional)

• Hammer

• Drill, with a pilot bit

• Safety goggles


• One 4' × 8' sheet of ¾" grade A or A/B plywood

• One 3' × 6' sheet of ½" grade A or A/B plywood

• 1 roll ¾" wood veneer edge banding to match the plywood

• Wood glue

• Coarse, medium, and fine sandpaper

• Fifty 1⅝" wood screws or finishing nails

• Four 3" wood screws

• 14" × 70" × ¼" plywood or panel backing (optional)

• Paintbrush

• Wood stain

1 Use a tape measure and straightedge to draw the following rectangles on the 4' × 8' sheet of ¾" plywood: two 12" × 70" strips; one 16" × 38" strip; and two 14" × 36" strips. Draw five 12" × 33½" strips and ten 1" × 12" strips on the 3' × 6' sheet of ½" plywood. Use a table saw, circular saw, or jigsaw to cut out these pieces.

How to Build a Bookcase

2 Now you'll add edge banding to all the plywood edges that will be visible (consult the assembly instructions to determine which sides will be visible). Clamp each plywood piece to your workbench so that a visible edge points up. Sand the edge clean and wipe away any sawdust, being careful not to round the edges of the plywood. With a utility knife, roughly cut the edge banding to be slightly longer than the raw edge.

How to Build a Bookcase

3 Prepare the iron: Pour out any water and set the dial to cotton/hot. When it's hot, press the edge banding to the plywood edge and run the iron along the banding slowly enough to melt the glue but quickly enough to avoid scorching. If you make a mistake, strip the edge banding and try again with a new strip. Once the banding is successfully attached, use a scrap wood block to press it firmly to the edge to secure it. Unclamp the plywood and lay it, banded-side-down, on a flat surface that is safe for cutting. Use a sharp utility knife to trim the edge banding to the exact dimensions of the plywood. Repeat for all plywood edges that will need to be covered.

How to Build a Bookcase

4 Make the stepped base of the bookcase: Lay the 16" × 38" piece on a flat surface. Center one of the 14" × 36" pieces on top of this base with a 1" margin on all sides. Glue the top piece to the bottom piece and press firmly in place. Let dry, preferably overnight. (Wood glue is dry to the touch in 30 minutes, but allow at least 12 hours to set completely.)

How to Build a Bookcase

5 The 12" × 70" strips are the sides of the bookcase. Lay them side by side to check that their lengths are exactly equal. If necessary, shave with a planer to make them even, being careful not to chip the edge banding. With the sides of the bookcase still side by side, mark the heights of the five shelves, spaced every 14". (To hold taller books or knickknacks, adjust the heights of your shelves.) Measure and mark straight lines across both boards to indicate the tops of the shelves.

How to Build a Bookcase

6 Attach 1" × 12" strips just under every line on what will be the insides of the bookcase sides (edge banding pointing out). Drill three evenly spaced 1⅝" wood screws from the outside to attach the strips. They will support your shelves.

How to Build a Bookcase

7 Assemble the sides and top of the bookcase. First, lay the sides of the shelf on their edges with the shelf supports facing each other and the edge banding pointing out, as they will appear in the finished bookcase. Because the twosheet base is stepped by 1" and the 12" sides should be centered on the 14" wide base, raise the sides of your shelf by 2" off the ground to match. Do this by resting the sides on stacked scraps of ¾" plywood. Position the sides of your bookcase facing each other across a 33½" gap.

How to Build a Bookcase

8 Position the base on its side with the edge banding pointing out and rest it against the bottom of the bookcase's sides. Center the 12" sides on the 14" base. Use two 3" wood screws per side to screw up through the bottom of the base and into the ends of the sides.

9 Lay the 14" × 36" bookcase top on its side with the edge banding pointing toward the front and align it with the tops of the bookcase sides so that the sides are flush and the front and back overhang by 1". Use three evenly spaced 1⅝" wood screws driven through the top and into the sides to fix the top in place.

How to Build a Bookcase

10 Carefully stand up the bookcase frame. Slide the 12" × 33½" shelves into place on their supports. Use finishing nails to hold the shelves securely to their supports.

How to Build a Bookcase

11 If the bookcase feels as if it needs additional support, consider adding panel or ¼" plywood backing. Lay the bookcase on its face, support the shelves with plywood scraps, and use finishing nails to attach backing to the frame and shelves, being careful to drive thin nails into the center of the plywood sides so as not to split the wood. Sand the bookcase smooth and then apply stain to match the color of the edge banding.

How to Build a Bookcase

Oil Finishes for Wood

Getting a beautiful oil finish on wood is an art as much as a science. It's also much more time-consuming than simply unleashing a can of polyurethane varnish on a project. This is partly because rather than sitting atop the wood or stain, an oil finish lives in the wood's grain itself—and it's your hard work that puts it there. The most common place to find an oil finish is on a butcher's block or cutting board in your kitchen, but oil finishes offer a rich and natural look and are easy to apply, so consider them for your woodworking projects or to revitalize vintage furniture.

Linseed oil. Also known as flaxseed oil, this multipurpose liquid is not only used alone as an oil finish, but also as the solvent in some varnishes (before you add it to your smoothie, note that it is processed with petroleum—it's not the same as the flaxseed oil taken as a nutritional supplement). Linseed oil isn't the clearest finish—it's likely to slightly yellow your wood, and despite its long history of use, it's not actually that protective. Consider any surface you use it on water-repellant, but not waterproof. It is the traditional finish of gun stocks, cricket bats, and the fret boards of stringed instruments like mandolins.

Mineral oil. As the name implies, mineral oil does not come from plant material. Instead it is distilled from petroleum. It's odorless, so you'd never know it's a cousin of gasoline. It has many uses, including in cosmetics and baby oils, as well as in an insulating fluid in electrical transformers. It is a food-safe finish that is much clearer and slightly more protective than linseed.

Tung oil. Tung oil, from the nut of the tung tree, dries to a golden finish somewhat similar to the look of wet wood. It is the most protective of the pure oils listed here and is arguably slightly more resistant to mildew than linseed oil. Commercial manufacturers of products labeled "tung oil" have sometimes freeloaded on the environmentally friendly cachet of the oil without including any actual tung oil in the product. When you buy any oil, and especially when you buy a tung oil finish, inspect the label closely to make sure that what you're buying is the real McCoy.

Danish oil. Danish oil is a somewhat imprecise term used by manufacturers to describe a few different formulas. Most oils labeling themselves "Danish" use a linseed or tung oil base and add resins that perform much like a varnish. Danish oil is likely to be more protective than other oils, but due to inconsistent labeling, test it on scrap wood before applying it to your piece. That said, the classic recipe by Watco for Danish oil has been around for many years, and many woodworkers swear by its balance of an oil finish's shine with the protection of a varnish. If you need your oil finish to hold up in a high-traffic area, consider trying Danish.