Let’s Build A Bookcase

Once upon a time, I was asked to do some work in a customer’s living room.

Most of it was simply decorating and the like but I was asked to also include a couple of more specific projects, one of which was the construction of an in-built book case to the living room.

This would have two purposes, the first of which is obvious (to hold books) and the second, to bring a proposed corner suite away from the window wall and prevent it trapping the curtains. Don’t worry, all will be clarified as we go along. But first let’s take a look at the site for the new book case…

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What you see here is the corner into which the suite will be parked. To the right there is a patio door and if you look closely enough you can also see the curtain rail above it. Adding one and one together, you can see how the curtains would look odd in the way they would fall behind a sofa. So the objective for this project would be to build out that corner, adding more depth to the window reveal and at the same time including some form of bookcase for the client.

So first off, we add battening to the walls we will be working off. The uprights to carry the plasterboard skin and the horizontals to help carry and support the actual bookcase when it is ready to be installed.

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Wow those timbers look bent here but that’s just a lens problem with the camera. Barrel distortion they call it.

Having done all that, the next step is to continue constructing what will be the front of the assembly…

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This part of the assembly is the probably the most important as it is going to be ‘load bearing’. That top horizontal should be perfectly level and level with the back battening we added earlier as it is on these two cross bearers that we will later sit our bookcase on. And remember, a fully loaded bookcase can be extremely heavy. Hence the vertical supports being added below our makeshift ‘shelf’ (for the want of a better term).

And then, with our bare bones structure in place, we now disappear to construct our bookcase.

The easiest way to do this is to simply butt our pieces of wood together and screw them into place (as was done here). Or another way is to construct the square box main frame (still jointed as above) and then drill a series of holes for shelf pegs if you would prefer the shelves to be adjustable.

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In the example I have illustrated, I have used simple white faced MFC (medium fibre composite) board for the construction which is the posh way of saying, ”melamine faced chipboard” (MFC again). Care must be taken on this stuff when driving in screws as they can easily pop through the side surfaces if not driven with a certain degree of accuracy. It is therefore strongly advised to drill pilot holes prior to driving in the screws for this very reason.

And so, having built the shelving unit, all we need now is a back for it. For this I opted for a white faced hardboard which was simply nailed onto the back of the shelving unit with ring pins. But before doing that, care has to be taken that you are actually building it square.

It is all too easy to assume that when knocking up a box of equal dimensions it should automatically be square, but that is often far from the case as the illustration below shows. So before adding your back panel to the bookcase, check the diagonals for ‘square’ and adjust it if necessary simply by pushing it back into the right shape (There should be enough ‘play’ in the joints to easily do this on a ‘box’ this size). Then you can add the back panel.

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And with the back panel now fitted, all that remains is to lift the newly constructed shelving unit into position on our previously made substructure and centre it as required. There’s no need to physically fix anything at this stage as we need to find the finished surface measurement to properly align it front to bak. BUT… when centring, don’t forget to allow for the thickness of the plasterboard (9mm) to be added onto the side gable.

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And with our bookcase finally in position, all we need to do next is add more timbers to the substrate to allow for the fixing of our plasterboard facia panels as below.

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It is important here that the bookcase still remains movable within its framing, as we are still not ready to assume a final fixed position (front to back) for it. But having all our timbers in place now, we are ready to face the whole assembly with plasterboard using all of the timber battening behind to screw or nail the facing material onto.

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And having faced off the whole assembly, now is the time to finally adjust the book case into its optimal finished position. Here we wanted it to sit just a couple of millimetres proud of the plasterboard to allow for a flush plastered finish. This was done by simply tapping it into position and pinning through it into the surrounding battening behind.

Note too that scrim tapes were added over the plasterboard joints to prevent them cracking open after plastering and a metal skim bead was added to the external corner. This will give it extra strength against any future accidental knocks as well as a better finish to the corner when plastering which was to be the next step.

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Now our bookcase looks more like an integral part of a solid wall. Just as was initially intended. And all that remained to be done was to decorate it along with the rest of the room. Here, we opted for a plain matt paint finish and because it was going onto bare plaster, I used a ‘contract’ emulsion wall paint which is specifically developed for such purposes.

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And with the room now fully painted, all that remains is the addition of cornices to the ceiling (although they were not requested in this instance), skirtings to the floor and an architrave around the actual book case.

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And here it all is as was fully intended at the outset. The bookcase looking like it always belonged to the room, easily accessible above the intended suite and the curtains no longer being trapped…

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If you would like us to quote for a similar bookcase assembly in your home, simply use the ‘contact us’ form to the top left of this page, or the one on the bottom footer and we’ll get straight on it for you.

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