Do-it-yourself bookshelf, an easy woodworking project.  Basic Woodworking:

Assembling A Custom Book Shelf With Pocket Screws


In This Article:

Previously stained shelves and sides are connected together by drilling special low-angle holes.

Related Articles:

Skill Level: 2-3 (Basic to Intermediate)

Time Taken: 2 Hours

By , Editor


I had some old 1x12 knotty pine lumber in the basement, which a previous owner had used for some inexpensive shelving. Since we are always in dire need of storage space for books and magazines,  I decided to build a small 2-shelf bookcase.

In fact, there was enough material for three small book shelf units. This was the first one.

Cutting And Finishing The Shelves And Components:

My first task was to cut the 1x12 planks to length. As with a lot of my wacky ideas, I designed the project to fit the material available. I started with a selection of boards that were around 5 feet long. I made 2 sides, 2 shelves, and one top. Each piece was just about half the length of my available planks.

The top was different from the other boards. I bought a few feet of 3/4" shelf cap molding, made from poplar. I glued and nailed the shelf cap to the front and side edges. I also bought a sheet of 1/4" thick Lauan plywood, which will provide enough material to make the back panels for three shelf units. This Lauan plywood was soft, and I found that I could cut it with a sharp knife and a drywall T-square. No saw required.

I also ripped a small strip of pine for the front toe-kick, and some small scraps for shelf cleats.

After the boards were cut to size, I sanded them with a random-orbital sander, and stained them with Minwax No. 215 Red Oak stain. I finished the wood with 2 coats of a satin oil-based urethane. Except for the shelf cap, there was no glue used in assembly, just screws.


The shelf components after being stained and finished.

I normally stain and urethane woodworking projects after assembly. But that approach has some drawbacks, such as difficulty getting into corners. I just wanted to try a different approach to see if it worked.


Needed: A Good Work Bench

Assembling any large woodworking project requires a sturdy work surface. I often use a pair of folding metal sawhorses and a home-made table top (7/16" OSB screwed to a 2x2 frame).

I laid a piece of carpeting remnant on the work bench, to protect the finished woodwork.


The Secret Ingredient:

The key to this project was the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig kit. sells several different kits. I bought the lowest price kit... the higher priced kits are good for higher-volume production work.


The kit I bought came with a special Vise-Grip clamp to hold the jig in place. Kreg now sells this separately with their entry-level kits. This clamp is also available on Amazon.


You just position the jig at the end of the board (on the back side) and lock the Vise-Grip in place.


The kit also came with a special step-drill bit, which makes a large diameter flat-bottomed hole with a smaller pilot hole.


The step bit has a stop collar that stops the drill at the desired depth. Setting up the stop collar took a few minutes, but does not need to be done often.


I bought the Kreg Rocket Pocket Hole Jig kit in 2001 for about $55 from a woodworking catalog. Amazon now sells several Kreg Pocket Hole kits at similar or better prices than other woodworking catalogs.


With the jig clamped in place, I just drilled away. This was too easy!


The resulting holes were uniform and precise.


Looking into the holes, you can see the flat-bottomed part where the screw head rests.


On the underside of the bottom shelf I made three pocket holes.


On the back side of the toe-kick I also made some holes directed up to the bottom shelf. Here I drove in the special screws to attach the toe-kick to the bottom shelf.

The long square-drive screwdriver bit was supplied with the Kreg kit.


The Kreg kit came with a couple dozen of these special screws. They have a self-drilling point and a pan head.

Kreg says to avoid flat-head screws (such as this drywall screw) because it may split the wood. But I did use these drywall screws in other places.


The bottom assembly, which is just the bottom shelf with the front and back toe kicks.


The front toe-kick was inset about 1 inch. Note the pocket holes in the bottom of the shelf. These will connect with the sides of the bookshelf.


On the side panels, I measured the location of the middle shelf. I made the lower shelf space a little taller than the upper shelf (about 13") to accommodate large books.


I secured two cleats to each side panel. These are just 1x1 scraps of pine. I used 1-1/4" drywall screws in pre-drilled and countersunk holes. 


I attached the bottom section to the side panels.

It can be quite a trick to keep the large components even and square while the fasteners are installed. A flat workbench helps. Sometimes I do assembly of large components on the garage floor.


The assembly so far.

At this stage, the shelf unit is somewhat fragile and needs to be handled carefully.


I installed the middle shelf next. If I did this last, it's possible that I might not have enough room.


Since the side panels were slightly warped, I used a pair of pipe clamps to squeeze the sides together.


After installing the middle shelf, I installed the top shelf using 1-1/4" drywall screws. I held the top in place with a C-clamp to prevent it from slipping.

Note the contoured edge of the top shelf. This is the shelf cap trim that I mentioned earlier.


Almost done. All I need to do is install the back panel.


I set the assembly face down on the carpeted workbench. I laid the back panel on the shelf unit. I discovered that the back panel was not big enough. There was a gap at the top (red arrow) even when the panel was not quite overlapping the bottom shelf.

This flaw was my own fault. I originally planned on using 1x4 for the toe kick, but I later decided to just rip in half a piece of lumber that I found in the shop. The result was about ½" narrower than my original plan required, so I ended up with more shelf height, but the back panel (which was cut earlier) was too short.

Planning ahead is fine... just don't change your plans.

My solution was to install a piece of 1x1 pine along the back of the underside of the top shelf. It was nearly impossible to see this piece of wood when the shelf unit was done.


I pre-drilled about 20 holes around the perimeter of the back panel, and installed small sheet metal screws (#6 x 3/4" long).


The completed shelf unit.


The bottom shelf's height is a little more than the shelf above. This is to accommodate large items like this portfolio, which doesn't fit in most of our other book shelves.


I rather like this little project, considering it's made mostly from junk wood that almost got thrown away.

It's not quite "making a silk purse from a sow's ear", but close.


I think next time I build such a shelf unit, I will assemble everything except the back panel, do the staining and finishing, and then attach the back.


Tools Used:

Materials Used:

  • Lumber, 1x12, approx. 14 lineal feet
  • Lauan Plywood
  • Pocket Screws, 1¼", 1½"
  • Drywall Screws, 1¼"
  • Sheet Metal Screws, #6 x 3/4"


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Copyright © 2001, 2005

Written June 1, 2001
Revised January 24, 2005