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Build an Open-Ended Bookcase

Open-Ended Bookcase

Everyone can use more storage, and it's even better if the storage can be eye-catching. You can have the best of both with this sturdy, attractive shelving unit that you can build yourself.

Bookcase Instructions

bookcase drawing

General: Set all nail holes, countersink all screws, fill holes and any voids with wood filler, and remove excess glue.

Step 1: Construct the Shelves and Dividers
  • Cut the shelves and dividers per the Cut List. Pair up the boards for the shelves and dividers so that the grain of each board runs opposite of its pair. (Two boards glued together will make up each shelf and divider.)
  • Glue the paired boards together. Be sure to align the ends and one edge. Clamp the boards together, and secure with 1" brads. Allow the glue to dry.

Step 2: Lay Out and Cut the Lapped Joints
  • Mark the vertical center on the dividers (13 1/2" from top or bottom). Make sure you mark this location on the aligned edges of the boards. Use that mark as the center point to lay out a 1 1/2" wide notch (or lapped joint) to be cut 5 5/8" across the board.
  • On the middle shelf, working from the aligned edges, mark 6" in from each end. Then make another mark 1 1/2" beyond the first marks. Those marks are the width of two lapped joints to be cut 5 5/8" into the shelf from the aligned edge. Then mark the center of the shelf along the aligned edges, at 20 1/4". Use that mark as the center point to lay out a 1 1/2" wide lap joint to be cut 5 5/8" into the shelf.
  • Using a table saw or jig saw, cut the long lines of the lap joints. Then use a chisel to tap out, or cut, along the 1 1/2" lines.
  • Dry fit the middle shelf to the dividers, making sure you have a good joint. Use a saw, chisel or sandpaper to remove wood to adjust the joint. Mark the location of the joined pieces so they are in the same position for the final assembly.

Step 3: Assemble the Shelves and Dividers
  • Mark 6" in from each end of the bottom and top shelves. Use a framing or 12" combination square to project these marks in a line across the face of the shelves. These lines mark the location of the outside face of the dividers when assembled.
  • Along the aligned edge of the top and bottom shelves mark the center (20 1/4"), and project the mark in a line across the face of the shelves. This line will be the center location of the middle divider.
  • Apply glue to an end of one of the two outside dividers. Place the divider with its outside edge along the line 6" in from the end of the bottom shelf. Clamp the pieces together, and pre-drill from underneath the bottom shelf using a countersink bit, then attach using drywall screws. Repeat this procedure for the divider near the other end of the bottom shelf.
  • Attach the top shelf to the dividers using the same procedure.
  • Insert 3/8" round dowels into the countersunk holes, and mark the depth of the holes. Cut the dowels slightly longer than the depth mark. Apply glue to the dowel pieces and insert them into the holes. After the glue dries, sand the dowels flush with the surface of the shelf.

Step 4: Attach the Middle Shelf
  • Apply glue to the inside of the lapped joints then slide the middle shelf into place. Check to see that edges align. Secure the middle shelf to the dividers till the glue dries by driving finish nails into both at an angle.

Step 5: Add the Rails
  • Cut the rails per the Cut List. (You will need one entire square dowel and a portion of the second dowel to form the back rail.) Miter one end of each end rail and attach it to the ends of the top shelf using 4d nails and glue. The mitered end should be toward the back of the top shelf.
  • Miter both ends of the back rail, and attach it to the top shelf using finish nails and glue.
  • Sand the entire project smooth (including the unaligned edges), and finish as desired. As pictured, this shelf was primed and then painted with American Traditions, April Thicket, satin finish, #5003-3C. Attach furniture glides to the bottom of each corner of the project.

Step 6: Sanding
  • Sand the rest of the bench to the desired smoothness.

Step 7: Paint / Stain
  • Apply multiple coats of exterior latex paint or stain and coat with clear polyurethane to desired finish.

Cut List

 Part Material Size Quantity
 Top shelf 1x12x8' pine 3/4x11 1/4x40 1/2" 2
 Middle shelf 1x12x8' pine 3/4x11 1/4x40 1/2" 2
 Bottom shelf 1x12x8' pine 3/4x11 1/4x40 1/2" 2
 Vertical dividers 1x12x6' pine 3/4x11 1/4x25 1/2" 6
 End rails Square dowel 3/4x3/4x11 1/4" 2
 Back rail Square dowel 3/4x3/4x40 1/2" 1


Finished Dimensions

  • Height: 25 1/2" inches
  • Depth: 40 1/2" inches
  • Width: 11 1/4" inches