I’ve built several different bookcase styles over the years. The largest project of this type included a wall of display shelves, cabinets, a fireplace mantle and fireplace surround (photo 1). But PWW’s challenge is for “a simple bookcase design”. Well, I did three matching bookcases in 1974 that were quick projects. Those bookcases are still going strong and remain in full, unabashed, use even though the home they are in now is far nicer than the upper flat we were in when they were made. The largest of the three is shown in photo 2.
We’ve moved house four times since those bookcases were built, and as anyone who has moved a few times knows, movers often hire temporary help who aren’t necessarily the most careful folk with your furniture. These items have fared very well, better than other items that I thought would take a beating and show no ill effects (wrong!). The bookcases have never needed to be repaired or refinished despite heavy use, and they have been in use continuously supporting heavy loads of books for a very long time without showing signs of sagging.
I built these before I had my first table saw or knew how to cut dovetail joints or through-mortises by hand. The structure is very simple: 12” x 3/4” select pine, with a 3/8” rabbet along the inner side of the back edge. Set into the rabbet is a sheet of 1/4” plywood. The shelves, also of 12” x 3/4” select pine, are merely lined up at the desired spacing, three 2” No. 8 flat-head screws are drilled through the sides on each end, countersunk, and covered with a shallow plug. Four 2” No. 8 flat-head screws are drilled through the back into the shelves along their length at even spacing. The bottom shelf is set 1/4” above the bottom edge of the sides to provide some clearance off the floor (and avoid any problems with an uneven floor or carpet). The bottom of the side panels was cut with a ~2º miter (88º/92º) to encourage the bookcase to lean against the wall. All edges of the sides and shelves were eased to reflect the presence of small children. The whole piece was stained and given two coats of polyurethane varnish, topped with a coat of wax. And then it was done. The other two matching pieces were the same width (42”), but only have three shelves (plus the top). None of them took more than a few hours to make each, all of them have lasted 34 years, and they look fully capable of doing another 34 years. My sons have already laid claim to them, they just can’t have them yet.
Today I could make bookshelves that are much fancier, with inlay or carving or bracket feet or any number of other features, but these are simple, durable, and hard to beat for someone who just needs storage, needs it quickly, and has limited funds to spend. No fancy tools are needed for construction—a crosscut handsaw, framing square, eggbeater drill and twist bits, screwdriver, 1/2” chisel, torpedo level, file or block plane, and a tape measure would be an adequate tool kit to do this project.