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Modular Bookcase

Plywood and oak combine for a modular bookcase that expands to suit a variety of needs and room sizes.

Modular bookcase in three configurations.

Project Overview

Skill Level


Estimated Time

1 weekend

Estimated Cost



Build up shelves using the same size plywood panels and lumber with simple square cuts. After making the base shelf, repeat the process for each remaining shelf and stack as many as you like.  A three-shelf project accommodates a TV up to 47 inches wide. Four shelves make a dining room server, and five or six create a bookcase. As with any bookcase, always anchor the unit to the wall to prevent tipping by securing it to a wall stud or use a hollow wall anchor.

Make the Panels

Step 1

Ask your Lowe’s lumber associate to rip the 3/4-inch-thick plywood panel into 14-inch-wide strips 48 inches long (Project Diagram, Cutting Diagram). This will make the panels easier to transport and faster to cut to size at home.

Step 2

Crosscut the plywood strips to the lengths needed for the base (A), shelves (B), and end panels (C) (Project Diagram, Cutting List). Make as many as the project requires. Cut 3/4-inch-wide veneer tape strips about 1 inch longer than each of the panel edges they will cover (Project Diagram, Drawing 1).

Step 3

A clothing iron activates the glue to add the veneer to the plywood

Warm a clothes iron to the cotton setting -- no steam needed -- and place the strip on the edge of the plywood with the edges flush (Project Diagram, Drawing 1). Slowly pass the iron across the edge to activate the glue on the back of the veneer.

Good to Know

To make it easier to apply the veneer, stand two panels on edge and clamp them together as shown. This stands the panel upright and makes it stable.

Step 4

trim the edging to length after the glue cools

After the adhesive cools, flip the panel over and use a utility knife even with the end of the plywood to lightly score the veneer edging multiple times until you cut through the edging. Sand the panel face and veneer edging smooth with 180-grit sandpaper. Take care to avoid sanding through the thin veneer face of the plywood.

Step 5

Repeat for the remaining four edges of each plywood panel. Sand all of the surfaces with 180-grit sandpaper to complete.

Brace the Shelves

Step 1

Cut the cross braces to fit the completed shelf

The cross braces (D) need to match the actual width of the shelves plus the added thickness of the veneer edging (Project Diagram, Cutting List). Hold a board against the panel with one end flush to one side of a completed shelf panel. Using a sharp pencil, mark the actual length for the brace and cut it to final length. (You’ll need to repeat this for each remaining shelf cross brace.)

Step 2

Next cut the shelf braces (E) to length (Project Diagram, Cutting Diagram) and sand the parts with 120-grit and 180-grit sandpaper.

Step 3

Glue and clamp the braces (E), on edge, to the bottom face of the base panel (A), centering the braces on the length of the panel and set in 2 inches from the front and back edges (Project Diagram, Drawing 2).

Step 4

Add the bracing to the upper shelves

Each remaining shelf requires one shelf panel (B), one cross brace (D) custom-cut to the shelf width, and one shelf brace (E) (Project Diagram, Drawing 3). One end of the shelf brace should align with one end of the plywood panel. Glue and clamp the cross brace in position against the end of the shelf brace. Drill 1/8-inch-diameter pilot holes 1 1/4 inches deep through the shelf brace into the shelf, apply glue to the shelf brace, and drive 1 1/4-inch screws to attach the brace.

Step 5

Repeat the process to make as many of the shelves as you need based on the final project.

Build the Modules

Step 1

Cut the lower legs (F) to the length listed (Project Diagram, Cutting List). Cut the upper legs (G) to match the height of the end panels with their veneer edging using the same technique as the cross braces (D). 

Step 2

Add the legs to the shelves using glue and a clamp

Glue and clamp the lower legs (F) to the first shelf assembly you’ll attach to the base. For the remaining shelves, add the upper legs (G) in the same manner (Project Diagram, Drawing 4).

Step 3

Four steps to install and hide a screw

Drill countersunk pilot holes 1/4 inch deep. These holes will receive a flathead screw that is driven below the surface of the wood then covered with a wood plug to cap the holes and conceal the screws. You’ll use this four-step process in multiple places on the bookcase.

Step 4

Drive the screws into the pilot holes, setting the heads below the surface of the wood.

Step 5

Cut 2-inch pieces of dowel that match the diameter of the counter-bored holes. Apply glue to one end, set the dowel pieces into the counter bores, and allow the glue to dry for 15 minutes.

Step 6

Using a flush-trim saw, cut the dowels flush with the surface of the wood and sand the face smooth.

Step 7

Attach the end panel to the shelf

Add the end panels (C) to the shelves. Glue the panels flush to the front and back edges and the top of the shelf. Allow the glue to dry, countersink the holes, drive the screws, glue and cut the wood plugs, and sand the panels smooth. Repeat for the number of shelf assemblies needed for your project.

Stack and Finish

Step 1

Spacers support one end of the shelf as you attach it to the base.

Place the base assembly on a workbench and slip scrap 1 x 2s under the end of the base that will receive the screws from the first end panel (C) -- this supports the end for attachment (Project Diagram, Drawing 4). The longer legs of this first shelf extend to the work surface and support the opposite end. Use the four-step hole, screw, plug, and sand process to attach the end to the base.

Step 2

Move the spacers up to support the next module.

Cut two 12-inch-long spacers to support the next shelf and place the shelf in position. This shelf mounts the opposite direction of the first shelf (Project Diagram, Drawing 5); attach using the same screw-and-plug procedure. Repeat the process for the number of shelves you are building (Project Diagram, Drawing 6).

Step 3

Lightly sand all of the surfaces to remove any marks, and apply a wood stain and finish of your choice following the manufacturer’s instruction.

Step 4

Move the bookcase into your space. For any shelving unit, secure the project to the wall to prevent it from tipping. To do so, drill a pilot hole through upper leg (G) that is nearest the wall, adding a spacer between the leg and the wall that is at least as thick as your base trim. Secure to the wall by driving a screw into a wall stud or a wall anchor (Project Diagram, Drawing 7).