Making A Bookcase With Only One Sheet Of Plywood

Blank wooden bookshelf


Bookcases need not look like the old traditional ones that you normally see as in the picture above. You can get creative to give them a more modern look. Here are some great tips on building either your first bookshelf. If you have already built one, I will help you to think outside the box on it. And I have a video down below from Steve Ramsey that will help you see how to build a modern bookcase with just one sheet of plywood. But first let’s see the best materials, hardware, and more to use on the structure of this furniture.

Woodstock For Your Bookcase

As simple as this may sound, lumber for bookshelves can be divided into three main categories: weakest, stronger, and strongest. These categories also apply to the cost; that is, the weakest is the cheapest and so on. The dividing line between the categories is strength; the stronger the board, the more weight it can hold without deflecting (sagging). When selecting wood for a bookshelf/bookcase project, a delicate balance must be drawn between expense and strength. However, don’t fret if you are strapped for cash; even with the cheapest solution, there are techniques to make the shelves stronger. Unless otherwise noted, the wood specified is commonly available at big-box home improvement stores.

Solid hardwood is of course the best solution. Depending on the species and grade of the solid lumber, it can carry the most weight along the greatest length. It is commonly available in 3/4-inch thicknesses, which is perfect for an average-length shelf of 30 inches. Add aesthetic value to the project by purchasing high-end hardwoods from online suppliers.

A middle-of-the-road option is plywood, and probably the most used. I have a friend of mine that owns a cabinet shop, and they use plywood for all their cabinets and use edge banding to cover the laminate (layers of plywood). So definitely don’t knock plywood, just use the best you can afford. Pine isn’t the best choice but if that’s what you can pay for, it still works.

Although it is available in several thicknesses less than 1 inch, 3/4 inch (19 mm) is the best choice. This size can easily accommodate a 30-inch average shelf length for all but the heaviest items. All-hardwood plywood, such as Baltic Birch, is much stiffer and stronger than standard pine or fir plywood.

Strengthening The Shelving

Here are some tips to increase shelf length, or board strength: For melamine and plywood, you can attach a solid wood bar to the leading edge of the board. This can also add aesthetic value. The wood for this method is usually sold as one-by-one strips. Bookshelf units and stand-alone shelving can both benefit from this technique.

When spacing supports for stand-alone shelving, place a support at each wall stud across the shelf length. This works with any type of wood. If purchasing high-end wood from a lumber supplier, request “8 quarter” boards. They are just under 2 inches thick and will support just about any weight for lengths up to (and sometimes beyond) 60 inches.

Best Screws For Your Bookcase

This all is going to come down to the type of load you are going to put it under. I have seen novice woodworkers use drywall screws on every indoor project and their projects hold up. But I wouldn’t recommend it. I always prefer to go over than under, so in my opinion the better screws are at least a #9. The thickness and size will be on the box. Be sure to predrill your holes before attaching the frame together.

If you are going to use screws on the shelving, this isn’t wrong, but most professionals will use shelf pegs. These have to be done using a jig, and you have to match up the holes so the shelves will be level.

Using Nails Instead Of Screws

Some use nails instead of screws for their book case frame. This is fine, and most cabinet shops will use nail guns for speed, but you must glue them as well. (Even with Screws glue is recommended because of changes in temperature, humidity, and more will cause the wood to expand/contract easing the screw out SOMETIMES but not always.) If you use a nail gun, then the nails must be 16 gauge or smaller in thickness. The smaller the gauge the thicker the nail. Anything less is considered substandard, but I have cheated and used the 18 gauge and all is still well.

If you are hand nailing (and God help you if you do), then you need to go with finish nails with a small head. The finish nail needs to be at least that thick. Hand nailing is definitely slow, but that may be all you can afford so definitely do what you have to do and what you can pay for.

I have a video at the end of this post on building a modern bookshelf using just one sheet of plywood. Steve Ramsey made this video, he is the creator and editor of his business, WoodWorking For MereMortals on and also has a website online.


Updated: February 16, 2017 — 11:55 pm
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