Advice on library bookshelves + cabinets

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Forum topic by BDY posted 05-08-2014 04:53 PM 1185 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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17 posts in 2044 days

05-08-2014 04:53 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question planning bookcase

Hi all,

we just moved into a new house and have a small office/library room that I want to make a library bookshelf with extending desk in. The ceilings are really high (like 10+ feet) so I want to take advantage of as much of that space as possible, but obviously there is a limit to how high is safe and usable.

I’m thinking something like this for the bookshelf and something like this (second photo down) for the desks that extend from the middle at a right angle.

I made a floor to ceiling built in bookscase in our last house but it was much smaller in scale.

My questions are:

1. how high is the max I should go in your opinion?
2. Do I need to do anything special in the construction of the cabinets on the bottom to account for 5+ shelves filled with books sitting on top of them?
3. anyone know of any plans that might help? Otherwise I guess I’ll just hack something in sketchup and post it here for review (yikes).
4. If I wanted to use walnut plywood and use walnut hardwood for face pieces, where would I get the walnut plywood? Looks like all the places in my area (central florida) only sell wholesale to dealers/contractors. Is there a good online resource for plywood? Alternatively, I guess I could use regular birch plywood from HomeDepot and stain it walnut. Thoughts?

I’ve never done anything this ambitious before so I’m a little anxious. It’s a nice house and I don’t want to screw it up :)

Thanks for any help!

7 replies so far

View jdmaher's profile


437 posts in 2778 days

#1 posted 05-08-2014 07:07 PM

I’ve seen bookcases that were 12 ft tall, so structurally you CAN go to the ceiling.

Three things occur to me. First, I would NOT make the uppers all that deep (12” is usually enough), and that will save material costs, but the lowers should be deeper (24” or more, for oversize storage). Second, provide nailers at the back of the uppers, at least every 3 ft of height, and screw through them into studs to prevent any possibility of tilting over. Third, that’s a LOT of bookcases and could be overwhelmingly utilitarian without a bit of design flair, so consider face frame members (fluted?) to bridge cabinet sides and a bit of decorative molding (I even like doors to minimize dusting chores).

Appleply sells walnut plywood and ships it. Pricey (all quality furniture grade is), but VERY nice.

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

View BDY's profile


17 posts in 2044 days

#2 posted 05-08-2014 07:17 PM

jdmaher, thanks for taking the time to give me your thoughts. I would certainly be trying to add some design flair. You are right, that appleply pricing almost gave me a heart attack. I think I will be stick with HD birch ply and cover critical areas with hardwood faces.

Do you think a cabinet case made of 3/4” plywood would be able to support an 8 foot tall bookcase + books without additional structural modifications?

View jdmaher's profile


437 posts in 2778 days

#3 posted 05-08-2014 08:08 PM

Basically, yes, but let’s talk it thru.

I’m picturing an 8’ upper on a 30” lower? That’s 10.5 ft. Got that much room? If not, consider shortening the lower cabinet (just to make uppers easier).

Each unit should be 24” – 30” wide – with 24” preferable, but do the math to get all like-sized units to fill a wall. Sides, top and bottom 3/4” plywood. Back could be 1/4”, but I like 1/2”, set into a rabbet. 3/4” nailers behind that back, full-width. So rabbet 1” to 5/4” wide and 1/2” deep along back edges of sides, with back glued and nailed into sides and nailers glued to back and nailed into sides.. Me, I’d add a second base board, spanning multiple units, and add a molding over that lower face rail about 1.25” high.

What about shelves? Could use plywood there, too, and use 1” wide facing of 4/4 stock. If you want to overbuild (I do), cut a 3/4” rabbet on the back of that facing, 1/4” deep. Rabbet helps align glue-up of facing to shelf, AND reinforces strength of shelf, “looks” beefier, and glue (and clamps) is the only fastening needed. Fixed shelves look good to my OCD mind; taller on the bottom and shorter at the top – and if you do that you should set the shelves into dadoes in the sides, glued (and maybe screwed if exterior sides won’t show). If you must have variable positions, consider sawtooth wooden brackets on the sides (making sure they wind up hidden behind face stiles). Or you could do both, say two fixed shelves (at the middle of nailers), then sawtooth bracket variables in between.

Especially if you screw through sides into (at least some) shelves, those boxes are DAMN strong. Even if shelves are chock full of books, nothin’ gonna fall apart.

You’ll probably hear a few other ideas here, so that should give you enough to think about. As you said, Sketchup somethin’ for the next round of design review.

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

View BDY's profile


17 posts in 2044 days

#4 posted 05-08-2014 09:16 PM

Wow that is some excellent info. Thank you so much! I will work on a sketchip design as time permits over the next couple days.

View MT_Stringer's profile


3183 posts in 3429 days

#5 posted 05-08-2014 09:29 PM

Make your upper sides 11 1/4 – 11 1/2 inches wide. That way, you get four pieces out of the width of a piece of plywood.mAdding a face frame makes the width 12 inches. The bottoms cut less than 24 inches wide will also make efficient use of the plywood. Keep your bottom height under 32 inches so the plywood cuts will be efficient (6 from a sheet of plywood).

Get to sketchin’! :-)

Good luck.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View Redoak49's profile


3661 posts in 2187 days

#6 posted 05-08-2014 11:23 PM

Walnut plywood and lumber is expensive and not where you want to learn. Walnut plywood is around $135 a sheet and walnut lumber is about around $5 a bf. I would work out a plan and then price out the wood and plywood. If you go the walnut way, you may want to call around a lot to find the best and most economical supply. My guess that walnut will be much cheaper up north than it will be in Florida.

Considering the cost of the materials, I might make a mockup first out of MDF or something to be able to look at the dimensions and make certain you like the design in the room. It looks really different on Sketchup versus the actual room.

Cutting hardwood plywood takes a bit of skill and good equipment and blades to avoid splintering. When the plywood is so expensive, you want nice clean edges.

I think that you have some excellent advice so far. I would use a 1-1/2” x 3/4” board on the front and back of the shelves to strengthen the shelves.

View BDY's profile


17 posts in 2044 days

#7 posted 05-16-2014 11:55 AM

Here's what I’ve got so far in Sketchup. Whoa I didn’t realize how big those files are, it’s about 30 MB.


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