DIY Built-In Bookshelf

Here we are, the last tutorial as it relates to the Fall 2021 One Room Challenge because Week 8, AKA reveal week, has come and gone. If you’re looking for the whole office space and what it’s looking like, head on over to this post here. If you’re here to learn how to build yourself a built-in bookshelf, that goes on top of a desk/any type of surface, you’ve come to the right place.

I should also tell you that I went with simple on this one. If you’re looking for a complicated tutorial for a built-in bookshelf and how to do a dado or a rabbit, or anything similar, I’m going to tell you this is not the complicated tutorial for you. If you have no idea what it is I just wrote about above, you’re in the right place, my friend. I think I figured out how to “Ikea-build” my built-in bookshelf (that sits on top of a desk – critical component because there isn’t a base BUT one can easily be added to this design) from scratch. AKA as simple and as affordable as possible with the added bonus of being custom and looking primo.

PS – If you want to see the rest of my office space, start here.

Let’s get to making it!

DIY Built-In Bookshelf in a green colour with shelves stained in a darker wood tone. The built-in bookshelf is sitting on top of a wood desktop. Decorated with baskets on the lowest shelf, bowls, books, plants, and pictures above.

Here are the tools and materials you need to make your built-in bookshelf

Recommended Tools to Make Your Life Easier When Building Built-in Bookshelves

  • Circular Saw
  • Kreg Rip-Cut Jig
  • Mitre Saw
  • Kreg Pocket Hole Jig (big advocate for the 720 pro!)
  • Drill
  • Orbital Sander
  • Nail Gun

materials and cuts needed to make a diy built-in bookshelf
putting shelves on the built-in bookshelf
hardboard neede to build a built-in bookshelf

Here are the materials you need to make yourself a built-in bookshelf

First, and as always, you need to know your measurements for your bookshelf. My measurements varied between the two, so I’ll give you the more common size I went off of: 12″deep, 5.5′ high, and 32″ wide. 


For this you need: 

    • One 8×4 piece of 3/4″ plywood – one that’s nicely sanded with a smooth surface 
    • One 2x12x6 board 
    • 15 feet of 2.5″ flat stock (I picked the cheapest thing in the store that looked good – $0.79/ft)
    • One 8×4 piece of 1/4″ hardboard 
    • One 32″ scrap piece of 1×2″ board
    • Paint (if painting)/Stain (if staining)
    • Wood Filler
    • Caulk 
    • Sanding Block 
    • Pocket hole screws – 1 1/4″ and 1 1/2″
    • Pocket hole plugs
    • 1.5″ and 2″ nails
    • Wood glue
    • 2″ screws
DIY Built-In Bookshelf in a green colour with shelves stained in a darker wood tone. The built-in bookshelf is sitting on top of a wood desktop. Decorated with baskets on the lowest shelf, bowls, books, plants, and pictures above.

How to Make A Built-In Bookshelf That Sits On Top of A Desk

  1. Make your cuts. Using your circular saw and your Kreg rip cut guide, make your plywood cuts:
    •  Two 5.5 foot long boards that are the same depth as your 2x12x6″ board (i.e., 11″, but I used a piece of my 2×12 board to make this measurement just to be 100% certain).
    • One 32″ long board by 11″ wide (presumably 11″ – same principle above, make it the same depth as your 2x12x6 board)
      You can use a table saw if you want to, most often I find it much safer to go the circular saw route.
  2. Using your mitre saw, make your cuts and make your shelves (using your 2x12x6 boards). You need two. Do your cross-checks: make sure you cross check the length with the 32″ long plywood you cut above. All three pieces should be the same size.
  3. Take your scrap 1×2 piece and make it 32″ long as well.
  4. On the ground, place your shelves between the ends of your bookshelf as if you’re assembling it. Overlay your hardboard and measure the size you need your hardboard to be. It should be 5.5 ft high by approximately 33″ wide. Use your circular saw to make those cuts.
  5. Your plywood should be smooth as butter, but your shelves likely need some sanding. Take your orbital sander and start with a round of 150 grit followed by a round of 220 grit sanding.
  6. Take your Kreg pocket hole jig and make four pocket holes on either side of each of your shelves. Make sure you are making the holes at the bottom of your shelves. Make pocket holes in the top plywood piece of your bookshelf as well. The plywood pocket holes should be up top provided they will be hidden by the ceiling like mine are.
  7. Paint and/or stain your material. My bookshelf is Ashwood Moss by Benjamin Moore and the shelves are stained with varathane stains – first with flagstone for one minute, then the excess is wiped off and then with briarsmoke for one minute and then the excess is wiped off. While you’re staining you may as well stain your pocket hole plugs too.
  8. Once everything is totally dry, put the ends of the bookshelf side by side. Make sure you know which side is the inside and the two insides are what you want side by side. Measure 22 inches on each side and draw a line with a pencil. From your 22 inch mark, measure another 22 inches and draw another line. Using these lines as your reference. You are making a little rectangle to be able to easily line up your shelves. You want 0.75″ on either side of the centre line (which accounts for the 1.5″ thickness of your shelves. Mark these sides with your pencil. Repeat for the other shelf.
  9. Get your 1 1/2″ pocket screws and test them with your shelf. If they don’t come out, you may need to go slightly (SLIGHTLY!!) further with your Kreg jig. I had to do this with some.
  10. Once you know your pocket hole screws go all the way through, assemble your bookshelf. Start with wood glue between the lines, line up your shelf and drill your pocket hole screws into the shelf/end piece. Repeat on the same side for the second shelf and the top piece. The top piece goes, you guessed it, at the top, you don’t need to measure this as long as your pieces are fully straight.
  11. Once you’re ready to assemble the other side, add your wood glue to all three locations. Flip the completed side over and align the shelves with your lines. Pocket hole those baby’s in! I used a speed square and level to confirm that everything was level, flush and looking good before drilling in.
  12. Hold your shelf up, make sure it looks good and all even etc.
  13. If it’s all good, install your hardboard onto the back with a nail gun and your 1″ nails.
  14. Now, grab that 1×2 piece. place it at the back but the top of your bookshelf. Take your nail gun (measure how long you need the nails, I think it was 2″) and nail this piece into the top part of your bookshelf. This is the piece that will be securing your bookshelf to the wall at the back.
  15. Make sure you know where your studs are in the wall and then mark it on that 1×2 piece that’s already secured in the back.
  16. Lift your bookshelf onto your desk and slide it back. once it’s in place, use 2″ screws and secure it to the back wall into the studs (i.e., where you marked on the 1×2 piece) via the 1×2″ piece.
  17. You thought you were done? Nope, front cap time. This is where you can fix janky if need be. Measure each side of the bookshelf from the top of the desk to the ceiling. You’ll need to make one 90 degree cut for the bottom and one 45 degree cut for the top on two pieces – just remember they will be opposite 45 degree cuts because you’re effectively making a frame. Once you have these two measurements done and cut, measure for the top piece that is meant to fit seamlessly in between both pieces and make two 45 degree cuts for this (opposite so it looks like a trapezoid, not a parallelogram).
  18. Using your nail gun, nail each of these into place using 2″ nails. First line up the exposed side with the edge of the bookshelf. Then the rest can fall into place and you’d never know if there are crooked lines in behind.
  19. Take your wood filler, fill all of the holes, sand away, caulk where needed and do your last coat of paint. Add your pocket hole plugs. Now you’re DONE!

    You made your built-in bookshelf that sits on top of a desk and you should be proud.

    PS – if you just want a bookshelf and not something that sits on top of a desk, add one more piece of plywood that mirrors the top piece) for the bottom.


DIY Built-In Bookshelf in a green colour with shelves stained in a darker wood tone. The built-in bookshelf is sitting on top of a wood desktop. Decorated with baskets on the lowest shelf, bowls, books, plants, and pictures above.


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