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How to build a bookcase for the recession weary DIY'er

Posted: July 18, 2009 - 5:59pm
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The economy has been on everyone’s mind over the last year. 

During the summer months of 2008, America (and the world) experienced an unprecedented rise in gas prices. This drove up the cost of everything from food to electronics, clothing and furniture. Couple the crash of the markets shortly after and banks folding, the housing market failing in many areas of the country and rising unemployment have all factored into pushing the economy into a recession that some economists say was inevitable. 

The recession has many people simply afraid to spend money on large purchases. 

Faulkner County has been luckier than some places across the country since it has several industries not as hard hit by the economic downturn. Towns that focus on automotive manufacturing work or large mortgage call centers or luxury homes and tourism are in more trouble than health, education and natural gas industries such as are flourishing in Faulkner County. 

This doesn’t mean that people aren’t being cautious locally though. Many people have been tightening their belts, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped buying things entirely. 

People are just being more cautious than before. One example is stay-at-home vacations where families complete do-it-yourself projects around the house. 

Even those projects have people thinking long and hard about how to do home projects without going into debt. 

A few years ago, an $800 to $1000 purchase of a home furnishing like a large bookcase, library or even entertainment center would have been simple for some consumers. Just throw it on the trusty credit card or store credit. 

Now people are looking more closely at how much they depend on their credit cards and are scaling things back. 

So how do people go about saving $600 to $800 on a large purchase like a built-in bookcase, approximately 6-feet wide and close to 7-feet tall? The answer from some might be to buy it used or build it entirely from scratch. 

Both are good suggestions, but finding such a large piece of furniture used and in good shape is not easy. Building it yourself is often the best bet, but if you aren’t a die hard DIY person, that is a daunting task. Even with the best instructional books, many weekend do-it-yourselfers do not own the appropriate tools or aren’t keen on a project where more expensive wood might be wasted than used if they make mistakes. 

The answer falls in between. Dressing up “cheap” bookcases from a store like Big Lots, Target, iKea or Walmart and using trim moulding and a little paint to make them look expensive. 

Using the following technique a person can build a large bookcase they can be proud of for around $200. 

First, measure where you want the bookcase to be, because once this thing is built it is going to be heavy and you likely will not be moving it afterwards. 

The “cheap” bookcases in this project example are the Ameriwood brand from Big Lots. They are a white laminate over particleboard and more sturdy than you might first imagine. These instructions are for the five-shelf version for $29.99, each, which were recently on sale for $27.99 a piece. You could also do this project with the shorter 3 shelf bookcases or add or take away bookcases as needed, adjusting materials accordingly. 

For this example, three bookcases on sale totaled $83.97 before tax.

The next purchases you will need are a few pieces of lumber and trim moulding along with hardware and paint. These prices come from purchases made at the Conway Lowes store but you might also find these same products locally at Home Depot, Ridout Lumber or Ace Hardware. Shop around and you might actually save more money then we did in this example. 

Trim included 

following types: 

1 8-foot long piece of white crown moulding - $13.80

1 8-foot long piece of baseboard - $10.24

2 8-foot long pieces of casing moulding - $9.80 each

2 8-foot long pieces of mullion moulding - $7.44 each

2 crown moulding miter joint blocks - $7.98 each

2 baseboard moulding miter joint blocks - $3.08 each

Other Materials

      1-quart semi-gloss white paint - $10.98 

1-1/2 inch white paneling nails - $2.24

1-1/2 inch particleboard screws - $4.97

Total cost for all materials including bookcases and 4-by-4 lumber: $202.80

Tips: You can skip the miter joint blocks if you have a miter box and saw and can make a good miter cut. This project was created for those who are not carpenters and do not have specialty saws such as a miter box or miter saw. 

Many people own a drill but you may not own every different size of bit there is. So, another purchase might be a 1/16 drill bit. The price of a set of two is under $2. 

Tools needed: 

Electric or battery operated drill

A hand saw and/or power circular saw

Hammer

Nail set - not absolutely necessary but very helpful

Level

Small paintbrush 

Optional items: Electronic stud finder and fine grit sandpaper

Assembly:

Step 1: Assemble the three bookcases per the manufactures directions, but leave the provided cardboard backing off so the wall color will show through. This helps achieve the “built-in look.” 

Note: If you do not want the wall color to show through, go ahead and attach the cardboard backing. Another option for the backing would be purchased paneling that looks like beadboard. The price at Lowes was just under $20 per sheet. This will drive up the cost of the project but if you want the cottage look of beadboard, this might be an option you want to try. 

Once the outer shell is assembled, do not insert the shelves or attach the wall straps, which come with the bookcases. These steps will be done later. 

Step 2: Now you are ready to raise the bookcases off the floor. 

Lay two 8-foot long 4-by-4 posts on the floor, butted against your baseboard where you plan for the bookcases to be. The lumber is heavy enough that it does not need to be attached to the baseboard or the floor. This is simply to raise the bookcases off the floor. 

After the lumber is positioned do a dry fit with the three bookcases on top side by side and butting against once another. Mark your lumber and cut to fit beneath the bookcases with little or no overhang. Tip: When placing the bookcases on top of the 4-by-4 lumber, push one 4-by-4 against the wall baseboard, the other pull forward so it is even with the bottom of the bookcases. The bookcases are approximately 8 inches deep but there may be an inch of so of play. This step may take a few tries to get everything even. Make sure you have a helper for safety and use a level to make sure the unit is level. 

Step 3: Using a few of the predrilled shelving holes, screw the bookcases together using the particleboard screws. 

Each bookcase has adjustable shelving, so this was very simple to do, and the screws can be covered using the extra caps that came with the bookcases as well. Simply choose a set of holes you will not be using for shelf pegs and set the screws. This will turn your three bookcases into one unit. 

Step 4: Now that the three bookcases are now one large bookcase, raised off the floor and bolted together, use the straps that came with them to fasten them to the wall above for extra safety. This step is particularly important if you have small children or pets in the home. 

Step 5: If your trim is unpainted, stain or paint your trim and let it dry before working with it, this will make things easier to deal with later in the project. 

AttAching the trim: 

Step 1: Starting at the bottom, measure and cut the baseboard to fit. If you are using the miter joint blocks, be sure to include those in your cutting measurements because the baseboard will butt up against these blocks. 

Cut the two sides from the front piece first so that trimming can be done as needed and dry fit everything together with the miter joint blocks. 

Step 2: Once satisfied with the dry fit, using a drill and 1/16 bit, drill pilot holes so the force of driving the paneling nails into the trim does not split the wood. 

Step 3: After the base trim is in place, move up to the crown moulding. Again measure first, make the cuts and a dry fit. The crown moulding will be a little more tricky to get in place using the miter joint blocks but if cutting miter joints scares you like it does some non-carpenters they are a better choice. Just like with the baseboard use the drill to make pilot holes. 

Step 4: Now that the crown moulding is in place, measure for the two side casings and the two center mullion pieces. Cut and then dry fit everything before drilling pilot holes and nailing the final pieces of trim in place. 

Tip: A nail set can be used to make sure the nails are set in flush for a professional look. 

Step 5: Paint over nail heads and do any touch up painting that needs to be doen with semi-gloss paint and an artists brush. 

Step 6: The last step is to finish the shelves by inserting the metal shelf pegs that come with the bookcases and sliding in the bookshelves. 

You now have a large built-in-library for around $200 that everyone who visits your home will be certain you paid $800 to $1000 for or more. You will also get that extra little thrill every time you look at the bookcase saying to yourself, “I can’t believe I made that.” 

 

Paper flowers in a paper bag vase

For an inexpensive craft project to decorate your new bookshelves, visit staff member Tammie McClure’s blog “The Cabin Kitchen” for a complete how-to for this child friendly craft project. 

 

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