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A Dandy Bookshelf in 2 Hours

DEAR TIM: The holiday season is nearly here and I want to make a gift for my husband instead of buying something. His study is a mess and it is no secret that he needs more shelving. Do you have any ideas for a simple, yet smart looking bookshelf that a novice like me can build? Can it be done for less than $75.00? I don't have many tools so it needs to be easy. Diane H., Kettering, OH

DEAR DIANE: This is your lucky day! If you have an entire day available you can make the same gift for several people. I just completed a practical and snazzy looking four foot high by four foot wide solid wood bookshelf that has a top and bottom shelf and two adjustable shelves. After the wood pieces were cut it took less than 45 minutes to completely assemble it.

To stay within budget you usually need to think modular. Modular construction simply means that you use standard sized materials that minimize cutting and maximize return on your investment of money and time. In my opinion 1 x 8 solid poplar makes the best bookshelf material. A 1 x 8 system creates shelves that are 7 and 1/4 inches deep. A wide majority of books will comfortably fit on these shelves. I purchased all of the materials to complete my project for $72.47.

There are several simple features that you can incorporate into the bookshelf to give it that custom look. A recessed toe kick that rests beneath the bottom shelf creates depth and makes for a very interesting look. What's more, this simple element also provides support for the bottom shelf so that you can put the largest books on this level with no fear of warping the shelf. A similar but narrower strip of wood is placed just beneath the top shelf. This piece of wood needs to be kept flush with the front edge of the bookshelf. It helps support the top shelf and it serves as a foundation for a decorative piece of bed molding that dresses up the top front and side edges of the bookshelf.

Most traditional lumber yards or home centers will have all the supplies you need. Many of these same places also have powerful saws that can cut the lumber to specific lengths. Not all of these businesses will cut the lumber and those that do will not guarantee the absolute accuracy of the cuts. If you wish to cut the lumber yourself to insure accuracy, then I suggest you rent a 12 inch diameter power miter box saw. This saw will slice through the 1 x 8 poplar in one motion. It will also allow you to easily cut the 45 degree miter joints for the decorative bed molding. The only other tools you will need will be a tape measure, a hammer, and a nail set that countersinks the finish nails.

To give the bookshelf enormous strength and to keep it square, I used a 1/4 inch thick piece of luan plywood as the backing. This plywood comes with one clear face and when stained or painted it looks superb. The plywood is nailed directly to the back of the bookcase with 7/8 inch long brass round headed nails. If you start nailing along the top edge of the book shelf and then align the sides of the shelf with the plywood the bookshelf automatically becomes square. You can fill the bookshelf to the brim with books and it will not rack sideways and collapse as a bookshelf without a back might do.

The poplar lumber I used was of such high quality that I intend to simply apply two clear coats of urethane. You may choose to lightly stain yours or possibly paint it. If you do either of these be sure to wait until you are completely finished before you attach the thin metal shelf standards. It can be very time consuming to paint or stain with these items in your way. It will only take you a few moments to nail these standards into place after the last coat of paint or urethane is dry.

This same concept can be used to build larger bookshelves. There is nothing stopping you from building a taller bookshelf. If you want a wider set of shelves, I suggest that you limit them to the four foot width. Long shelves can -- and do -- warp over time from the weight of books. Simply build two cases and place them side by side. You can dress up the seam where they touch with a small piece of decorative molding.

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