How to build a simple bookshelf | DIY modern bookshelf

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A step-by-step tutorial on how to build a bookshelf, including simple DIY bookshelf plans.

Have you ever found a furniture piece that you loved but it was out of your budget? 

This happened to me recently with a bookshelf from West Elm. 

I loved everything about it but I could not justify the cost. It had a simple design, a rustic look and the height of the shelves was perfect for organizing.

Then I realized that I could use the West Elm piece as inspiration to make a DIY Bookshelf Knock-Off.

how to build a bookcase

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The answer depends on the size of the bookshelf, material used, and style of the bookshelf. For a simple wood bookshelf, you can build something sturdy and beautiful for around $100.

For the bookcase in this tutorial, the inspiration came from the Reclaimed Pine Bookshelf from West Elm. The problem for me was the price, around $1,000.

The cost to build this DIY bookshelf was about $100 for the materials. And just like the inspiration photo, I used pine for the wood, but I decided to add an element of metal.

So, let me share how you can build a bookshelf for 10% of the retail price.





Once you’ve gathered all the materials, it’s time to cut the wood into the pieces needed to build a bookshelf.

To help you get started, you can download a copy of the simple bookshelf plans. You will need to subscribe to my newsletter to receive the FREE PDF – fill out the form below if you’re interested. And if you have questions, please visit the Q&A page on free printable/plans.


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Or grab a copy of the premium printable plans to build this project by clicking the button below. The premium plan walks you through every step of the build, with detailed diagrams and clearly written instructions.

Cut the boards according to the cut list provided in the plans. Or if you purchased the premium plans, follow the cutting diagrams.

cutting wood for bookshelf


After the pieces have been cut, you need to create pockets on the side pieces (2″x3″x11.5″).

There will be two pockets per end of a side piece, so a total of four pockets per piece.

To create the pockets, use the Kreg Jig K5 or a different model.

creating Kreg Jig pockets for bookcase

TIP: To help you attach the shelf to these side pieces later, drill a 1/8″ hole through eight of these pieces 3″ away from the ends (11.5″ end) and centered in the middle of the board. When building the legs, place one of these side pieces wherever it says a shelf will be placed there.


Now you need to sand the boards for a smooth finish. To make the process easier and faster, use an orbital sander with #220 grit sandpaper.


Once the pieces are smooth, wipe the pieces with a cloth to remove any dust.

SIDE NOTE: This step can be completed after step 5.

Then, apply a wood stain to the wood, following the instructions on the container.

TIP: If the container says to use a wood conditioner, visit my article to determine if you really need wood conditioner and what I recommend using.

For this DIY bookshelf, my daughter picked Early American by Varathane, which did not require a wood conditioner.

Varathane wood stain

I like to apply a stain with a rag.

Let the stain dry completely before sealing it with a wood finish or moving on. My favorite type of wood finish is Tung Oil.


Now you can build the sides (legs) of the bookshelf.

Place two leg pieces, 70.5″, on a flat surface with the smaller 2″ side facing up.

assembling bookshelf leg frame

Then, place seven of the 11.5″ pieces between the two leg pieces.

SIDE NOTE: If you pre-drilled holes into the side pieces, four of the 11.5″ pieces will have holes but three will not.

TIP: To make it easier to space the side pieces, cut a 7-3/8″ scrap piece and another scrap board at 16.25″.

Starting at the top, place one 11.5″ flush with the ends of the leg pieces. The pocket on the side piece will face up.

Clamp the boards together, then secure them together with 2.5″ screws through the pocket holes.

using square to build bookshelf frame

Then, space the next 11.5″ side piece exactly 7-3/8″ away from the last side piece you attached. Again, the pockets will face up, toward the previous board. This side piece will hold a shelf so if you pre-drilled holes, use one of those.

Remember my TIP above? Use the 7-3/8″ scrap board as your spacer.

Make sure the side piece is square with the legs, then clamp it into place. Use the 2.5″ screws in the pockets to secure the side piece into place.

Now you’re going to place the next side piece, again 7-3/8″ away from the last board you installed. But this time, the pockets will face down, away from the previous piece.

Install this side piece the same way as the last piece.

The next side piece is installed with the pockets facing up, toward the last piece, and again 7-3/8″ away. Install this side piece, using the same process. A shelf will be placed on this piece, use a pre-drilled piece here.

Install another side piece 7-3/8″ away from the last board, but this time, the pockets will face down, away from the previous board installed.

attaching leg frame for bookshelf

You are probably noticing a pattern with the way the pockets are facing, but the last two side pieces will both face up, toward the other boards. And both will hold a shelf, so use pre-drilled pieces.

Place the next side piece 7-3/8″ away from the last board, make sure it is square, clamp it into place, then attach it with 2.5″ screws.

Now, for the last side piece, it will be 16.25″ away from the previous side piece. So this time, space the pieces 16.25″ apart (remember you have a 16.25″ scrap board you can use).

assemble the sides for the bookshelf

Then, square the piece to the legs, clamp it into place, then secure the piece to the legs using 2.5″ screws.

Complete this step again to build the other side of the bookshelf.

bookshelf sides


Now that the legs (sides) of the bookshelf are built, you can assemble the bookcase.

SIDE NOTE: I would recommend moving the wood parts to the desired location. This way, you are not moving the heavy bookshelf as far.

To build the bookshelf, place the legs on a flat surface so that the 3″ side of the leg is facing up.

Place a shelf on the bottom 11.5″ side pieces (the shelf will go through both leg pieces). Then, place another shelf on the next side pieces from the last shelf.

The next shelf will skip a side piece and will be placed on the next.

SIDE NOTE: All the shelves are 16.25″ apart, so some will skip a side piece.

For the last shelf, skip another side piece, then place the last shelf on the second from the top side pieces.

Starting at this shelf, place a 1/8″ spacer between the shelf and leg piece. I used a ruler that is 1/8″ thick but a nickel will work too. Adjust the shelf so that there is an overhang of 1.5″ from the leg piece.

Clamp the shelf to the side piece, then use a 90-degree drill attachment plus the pre-drilled holes to secure the side pieces to the shelf with 2″ screws.

build a bookshelf

Then, move to the next shelf on the same leg and attach that shelf to the side piece like you did before. Repeat the process for the other two shelves on this leg.

Now, move to the other leg and attach those shelves to the side pieces the same way.


Every bookcase needs some type of backing to prevent it from wobbling side-to-side. For this style of a bookshelf, we will use a metal “X” bracing for the back.

To create the “X”, place one of the 72″ metal bars onto the back of the bookshelf; your bookshelf should still be on a flat surface.

SIDE NOTE: The metal will make your hands black so wear gloves.

Place the metal so one end is at the top shelf and the other end is at the bottom shelf. Place the other metal bar onto the bookshelf so that it forms an “X”.

Adjust the spacing of the ends of the metal to the bookcase legs, so everything is spaced equally. Then, using a marker, mark the metal at each shelf where you want a screw placed to secure the metal to the shelf later. You will have four marks per metal bar.

Now, take the metal bars outside and place a scrap board under a marked spot. Then, drill a 3/16″ hole at this marked spot.

TIP: Use a Shop-vac to collect the metal shavings while you’re drilling the hole.

Drill a 3/16″ hole at each marked spot, eight in total.

After, place the metal on an old sheet or cardboard, then spray paint the sides of the metal black.

SIDE NOTE: You can paint the 3/4″ screws too.

Once the paint has dried, place the metal back onto the bookshelf. You may have to adjust your placement to give you the same fit as before.

When you are happy with the placement, clamp the metal to the shelf. Then secure the metal into place by using the 3/4″ metal to wood screws.

metal bracing for bookshelf

You can now place felt pads onto the bottom of the legs. 

Finally, stand up the bookshelf and move it into place.

SIDE NOTE: I highly recommended securing this heavy furniture piece to the wall to prevent it from falling, TwoTwentyOne has a great tutorial on how to anchor furniture to the wall. She does use studs to do this but you could use toggle bolts if you don’t have stud in that location of the wall, you can see how to use toggle bolts in the link provided. 

how to build a bookshelf

Now you can load the bookshelf up!


Are you someone that does better with visuals? Check out the full project video below and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube so you don’t miss out on future projects!

image that links to youtube video on building a bookshelf

Now that you learned how you can build a bookshelf yourself, I can’t wait to see your work! Enjoy your simple DIY bookshelf – you saved a ton of money and it was an easy build.

DIY bookshelf
DIY bookshelf

How to build a bookshelf

Yield: One bookshelf
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 4 hours
Additional Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

The size of this simple bookcase is 60" wide, 70.25" tall, and 14.5" deep. Material is pine with metal bracing. This bookshelf was inspired by a West Elm bookshelf.


  • miter saw
  • drill
  • orbital sander
  • Kreg Jig K5
  • clamps
  • tape measure
  • 90-degree drill attachment
  • square


  1. Cut wood according the cut list on the plans.
  2. Create pockets into the side pieces with a Kreg Jig K5.
  3. Sand the wood until it is smooth with #220 grit sandpaper.
  4. Stain the wood and apply a wood finish.
  5. Build the sides of the bookshelf accord to the plans.
  6. Assemble the bookshelf by attaching all the pieces together.
  7. Secure the metal X bracing to the bookshelf.
  8. Enjoy the bookshelf.
DIY bookcase west elm knock-off
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  1. Megan that looks amazing! I can’t believe they wanted $1000 for their version when yours rocks it, I bet your son loves it too, great job!!

    1. I know, it’s crazy!! Thanks, Toni!

  2. Megan, this looks amazing! I’m so impressed with your woodworking skills. And what a bargain at only $100 for materials! Well done!

    1. Thanks, Rebecca you are very sweet!

  3. I’m always so impressed by your work and this is NO DIFFERENT! Great job girl!

    1. Thanks, Carmen! Loved your project this month too!

  4. Man I want one of these for my office, the only thing this post is missing is the order form so I can put in my order… LOL.

    I totally love this and Early AMerican is my all time favorite stain color!

  5. I ADORE these shelves! I really need to make a bunch of shelves for our new house. I wince at the thought of buying something from the store now that I see all of these beautiful woodworking projects. :) The bar has been raised, haha.

  6. Oh my goodness! The bookshelf is so beautiful! What a fabulous job you did! WOW!

  7. I love this! It looks so great and you can’t beat that cost for supplies!

  8. This bookcase looks great! And it seems like a straightforward build – thank you for sharing!

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