DIY Built-in Shelves

  1. Step 1 Design DIY Built-In Shelves

    Step 1

    Using graph or dotted paper, measure out your space. First measure how many shelves you’d like to break out width wise, followed by how many shelves you’d like length wise. Take into account how large you’d like the header of your bookshelves, as well as how large you’d want the base if wrapping it with baseboard moulding. Lastly, measure how deep you’d like your shelves to be.

  2. Step 2 Calculate Materials Needed for Built-In Shelves

    Step 2

    Using the design you’ve created, calculate the dimensions of each material, as well as how many of each you’ll need. Think about the uprights, shelves and 2 x 4-inch lumber you’ll need for the base and header. To have these materials cut to the exact dimensions, visit our store and take advantage of our cutting services.

  3. Step 3 Building Out the Frame

    Step 3

    Start with the outer walls, putting the uprights in place by screwing them into the 2 x 4’s, using 2 ½-inch or 3-inch screws. After all wall panels are in place, measure out your MDF uprights, taking into consideration the width of each when dividing how wide you’d like each shelf. Make sure to build the frame using 2 x 4’s for both the header and base – this is the structure.

    TIP: Dill screws in at pre-measured points before placing the header and level.

    Don’t forget to level your header and base!

    Make sure to work from wall to wall, following the same for each upright panel. Add the next upright panel to separate your shelving sections, screwing it to the header and the base, then using 2 x 4’s, add another base and header for the next shelving section. Repeat until you’ve screwed your last middle panel in place.

  4. Step 4 Build Shelves into the Frame

    Step 4
    Step 4

    Once your structure is in place, it’s time to build the shelves in. Start with your base shelf, just above the base of your structure, ensuring it’s leveled and using shims if needed. Cut upright pieces out of MDF (these have been pre-cut to fit your depth), which will be used to rest your shelves on.

    TIP: When calculating exact measurements for cutting, make sure to take into account the 3/4-inch shelves that you will be putting in. If you’ve used shims, this will impact your measurements so ensure to have exact measurements before you cut.

    Attach shelf uprights using brad nails and adhesive. You can use 5/8-inch brad nails on the centre shelves and longer ones when nailing to the walls. Place your first shelf on top of the support. Make sure to level and add some adhesive, nailing it into the upright supports. Follow this step until you’ve gotten to the top shelf. The top shelf will also need a top, make another shelf the same way, nailing it to the uprights.

    If you are building this with a cased opening, you want to ensure you use larger brad nails, attaching the uprights to the shelves.

  5. Step 5 Trimming Out Build in Shelves

    Step 5

    Starting with the baseboard, run MDF to cover the 2 x 4 framing, ensuring to level it with the uprights and bottom shelf. Add a baseboard to wrap around the bottom of the shelves. For the header, shim out any areas the 2 × 4 header didn’t meet the edge of the uprights and then run a pine board across the top of the entire built in. If you have a header above a cased opening, you’ll need to add a bottom using MDF to hide that 2 × 4 frame.

    Next, you’ll want to buff it out, using 1 x 2-inch moulding, running it on the uprights first and tacking it with brad nails, making sure these cuts are the exact length. Cut your MDF strip for your shelves. Line the trim up so the shelf has a flat surface, making the overhang at the top of the shelf below.

  6. Step 6 Fill and Caulk Gaps in Built-In Shelves

    Step 6

    Use wood fill to fill nail holes and gaps. Sand down the wood fill and surfaces, so that paint goes on evenly. Use caulk to fill any corners, but only after you’ve completed sanding your wood fill.

    TIP: For any mitered corners on the baseboard, use wood fill as it is more durable.

  7. Step 7 Paint Bookshelves

    Step 7

    Start by using an oil-based primer on your MDF. This is where the disposable roller cage and tray will come in handy. Next paint your built-in bookshelves with cabinet or door and trim paint. To avoid brush strokes, you can use a paint brush to paint the corners or hard-to-reach spots, and then use a roller right over it.

This article was published in partnership with Lemon Thistle.

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