By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more

Bookcase design - help needed

All Topics | Latest Posts

Search for:  in Thread Title in  
Lizzie Neill16/05/2010 22:19:03
1 forum posts
1 photos

I am currently redecorating my living room, and I want to put in a long run of bookcases.  These will run the length of one wall, and in the alcoves either side of the chimney breast. I would like to make a good job of this project, and build the bookcases to last.

I have an idea about what I would like, and I would appreciate it if anyone could comment on my design and choice of materials.  (My woodworking skills are basic, so I have kept things simple.)


I am planning a modular design i.e. build individual bookcases, then line them up next to each other along the wall.  (The bookcases will stand on an MDF base, to raise them up and allow room for a plinth along the bottom.)

Each separate bookcase would look like this (not to scale):

The main 'box' will consist of two uprights plus top and bottom pieces, joined together with rabbet joints.  The joints will be glued, and screwed from the top and side.

The 'box' will be recessed at the back, and a back panel fitted in.  The back panel will be glued, and screwed every 150mm.

Inside the 'box' there will be 5 fixed shelves, joined to the uprights with housing joints.  The joints will be glued, and screwed diagonally upwards.


I want to use solid oak for everything except the back panels. (I am planning to use oak veneered plywood or MDF for the back panels.) The timber will be 300mm wide and 20mm thick.

Is this feasible? I am very concerned about possible movement of the timber.

Is 300mm too wide for the boards? Will they warp? (When I contacted timber suppliers for quotes, several said that they don't supply that width because it will cup.) Would it be better to use narrower wood joined together (e.g. two pieces 150mm wide) to achieve the 300mm width?

Is the current design right for these materials? I've read about using appropriate joinery techniques that allow for the movement of the wood, but I don't know what these are.

Sorry if that was too much information. I'm just concerned that I will spend a lot of time and money on this project, only to spoil it because of bad design or inappropriate materials.

Many thanks in advance for the help.
Sam16/05/2010 23:09:25
386 forum posts
110 photos
Hello Lizzie . Welcome .
                                      I cant see a problem with your intended design . When working with oak dont forget to pre-drill before screwing .  Ideally you want to drill the outer panel so the screw doesnt bite in to it and counter sink it first so the screw does not split the oak . 
On the timber size issue , I would join the boards . My best way of cheating is to use 22mm/18mm oak flooring as this is tongue and grooved so all you have to do is glue and clamp/cramp , then cut the tongue off one board .   You should be looking at about £30.00 per square metre . just remember to use a sharp saw etc .
Kind regards Sam
Olly Parry-Jones18/05/2010 07:53:20
2776 forum posts
636 photos
Hi Lizzie and welcome to the forum.
Good to see that you are using solid timber for this one - if you were using MDF and loading it full of books, there's a great risk that the shelves would begin to sag under all the weight - something I've seen at a friends' house!
Will the sides be visible? Normally, I'd join add odd number of boards to create something wider, so you don't end up with a centre line where the two boards join. Some people like this, however. If it's not being seen though, it probably doesn't matter.
You'll probably find that veneered MDF (for the back) is cheaper than veneered ply. It shouldn't have any restrictions on the movement of the rest of the timber and you could either pin it in to a rebate cut in to the back edges or, fit it in to a groove.
With your housing joints, you may want to consider stopping them short of the front edge, so they're not visible once the shelves are fixed in. One inch/25mm is plenty although, it does require a little more work as you have to notch the front edges of the shelves to fit. You should be fine screwing directly in to the end-grain, provided you pre-drill all your holes, as Sam says. No need to put the screws it at an angle or anything.
Again, if the sides are going to be on-show then, you'd be better off counter-boring the holes so that the screw heads are recessed deep enough to be hidden by a wooden plug, glued in afterwards. Much neater than any wood filler I've seen!

Best of luck with the project. Hopefully, we'll get to see some photos along the way.
Sparky18/05/2010 16:39:30
7631 forum posts
22 photos
Hi Lizzie and welcome to this site's forum.
You have some good advice from the members above and like them, looking forward to seeing some images placed in your album............
 You seems to know what your doing, have you done many projects before?
What tools have you and have you a workshop, shed or spare room that you work from?
You could add the answers to your profile so we can get to know your skill level and the things you love/like to make......
Good luck with this project.

Edited By sparky on 18/05/2010 16:40:19

Doug18/05/2010 17:21:44
3415 forum posts
35 photos
Hi Lizzie & welcome.
You say your woodworking skills are basic, so making laminated oak boards, (if you don`t have machines), would be a very  time consuming, laborious task.
The way round this is to buy pre-laminated boards, they are more stable than solid here is just one supplier.
Personally i would make the bookshelves from 26mm oak veneered MDF, with a solid oak face frame. This would provide the most stable construction & over come any problems with weight distribution. 
which ever way you proceed, the best of luck & don`t forget the photos.
John Kinch18/05/2010 18:34:50
206 forum posts
91 photos
Hi Lizzie,   A common practice when making bookshelves is to fix a strip under the front and/or backof each shelf to add extra support rather than use thicker material for the shelves themselves. It can improve the design but don't make them too deep and restrict the opening between shelves.
Mailee18/05/2010 19:41:45
1048 forum posts
1235 photos
This is all good advice Lizzie and should give you an idea. I should mention one thing that no one else has yet and that is not to use steel screws for assembly as these will stain the Oak. Pre drill the holes and then use stainless or brass screws as these will not mark the finish on your book cases. HTH.
Big Al18/05/2010 20:22:33
1599 forum posts
73 photos
Depending on your final thoughts for this project, I do have a couple of suggestions.
Sagging!, there are a couple of ways to overcome the problem of sagging. First of all even solid timber will sag. If you make the bookcases a maximum of 900mm wide, the sag is not so noticeable.
If making the bookcases wider then the following suggestions are more relevant. You could also add a strip either underneath, or on top of the shelf to reinforce it. Depending on the thickness of the back panels you could machine housings into the back panel, or if you are using, say 6mm thick panels, screw the back panel to the shelves.
If you wanted to put in adjustable shelves then make a strip to divide the back panel and put your pins in this as well as the side panels. This is what I have done with this bookcase that I made 2 years ago.

With regards to materials, veneered MDF is reasonable, and if you buy it from the right place they may even cut it up for you, but expect to pay for the cutting if it is more than a couple of cuts. The negatives are that you will need to add an edge to exposed edges, and the grain pattern. If you want to buy solid timber then depending on your tooling and experience depends on where you buy your timber. If you can plane it then look for a saw mill or timber merchants. If you need it planed then you will need to find a firm that will prepare the timber for you, but expect to pay for the planing.
These are some bookcases that I made from beech veneered MDF.

I attached strips to the underneath of the shelves at the back of the shelve to reinforce the shelves.
Olly Parry-Jones19/05/2010 18:28:27
2776 forum posts
636 photos
While Baz and Al have a point with regards to the use of veneered MDF for the entire unit, you'd still to ensure everything was cut accurately, parallel and with square edges. Some yards/merchants will do this for you but it's unlike to be free (assuming you don't have the tools to do it yourself, of course).
Solid timber edge lippings would no doubt strengthen the MDF but, again, those sawn edges would need to be very good if you want a decent glue bond.
Perhaps is there a forum member closer to you (with all the right kit!) who'd be happy to help you with this part of the build, regardless of whether you go with MDF or solid oak?
Stuart MacLeod22/05/2010 14:34:11
25 forum posts
17 photos
I agree with most of the fore-going comment but I wouldn't use mdf or similar as a personal preference, but solid hard woods*.  For a quality result there is no beating it but it is more work. OPJ's suggestion of a friendly local supplier is the right approach and you may find the prices surprisingly competitive.
*For best results in a bookcase I would not use Oak! The acidic nature of paper manufacture can quite easily react with the tanin in Oak and produce stain.
I would also not screw into end-grain, but counter-bore and plug after pinning or nailing. With modern glues however, is a metal fixing necessary at all? The stopped housing joint I reckon is essential.
Do you have a router?
Big Al23/05/2010 12:46:30
1599 forum posts
73 photos
With regards to a reaction with oak and paper, this would only be a problem if you didn't finish the wood, in other words if you only use a wax to finish the oak then you may have a problem, whereas if you were to laquer, or varnish the oak you shouldn't have a problem.
Stuart MacLeod23/05/2010 13:00:47
25 forum posts
17 photos
Hi Al,
Good news because I have a large Oak  bookcase to make! I have been using Elm for quite some time and avoiding Oak since in the NW of Scotland it is not plentiful, but Elm is in  reasonable supply. So this question has not been tested recently. Finish of choice is Timberex.
Slainte, Stuart.

All Topics | Latest Posts

Please login to post a reply.

Magazine Locator

Want the latest issue of The Woodworker incorporating Good Woodworking? Use our magazine locator links to find your nearest stockist!

Find The Woodworker inc Good Woodworking 

Latest Forum Posts
Support Our Partners
Transwave 2017
Wood Workers Workshop
Felder UK April 2016
D&M Tools
Turners Tool Box
Tool Post
D B Keighley
Subscription Offers

Subscribe to<br />    The Woodworker Magazine and receive a FREE gift

Contact Us

We're always happy to hear from you, so feel free to get in touch!

Click here to find who to contact