How To Decide Between Building or Buying a Bookcase

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    Building Bookcases is one of the easier starter projects for people who want to learn how to work with wood. The project can be very simple or intricate and you can go with a Painted surface or with Natural Wood Stain. Unfortunately if you think that building a bookcase will be cheaper than buying one then you are wrong and we will go through what it will take and the materials that you might want to use.

    The first thing you have to understand is you won’t have the same tools that a factory has when they are assembling bookcases or other furniture but you will need some tools to get through the job. If you think you want to continue your love of furniture making then this is a good time to invest in a few basic tools and even if you don’t they will come in handy around the home in years to come.

    Tools you will need for your Bookcase Project include

    A good 3/8″ drill and corded is probably better unless you want to invest much more for a high quality cordless. Cheap cordless drills often lose power and you also have to charge them before use. Charging alone and the wait time is good enough reason to buy a good but cheap corded drill.

    You will also need a way to cut your lumber. Although your lumber supply store will rough cut your lumber they normally aren’t very good at it. More than likely you will need to clean up edges and recut to size. You will want a decent corded circular saw and you will want a general purpose blade in it. You might think about buying a panel cutting blade that has many more teeth but you will be limited in your use of that blade in the future and the results won’t be really good if you are learning.. Thin high tooth count blades used by an unskilled person normally results in burning of the wood while cutting.

    You may also want a jig saw and again corded is the way to go for first time owners. Corded low end jig saws are of a better quality than a lower end cordless unit and much cheaper.

    Next you will probably need clamps for gluing your boards together. You should pickup some cheap ratcheting trigger type clamps and if the pieces you are gluing will require large spans you should get pipe clamp ends and then buy cheap steel pipe from your plumbing supplier.

    A DA or Dual Action Palm Sander will make quick work of sanding your wood. There are the standard paper models where you clamp strips of sand paper to them or there are the velcro type that require expensive sandpaper .. I suggest the standard model because you can then buy packs of sandpaper at your discount store in many grades and then fold and cut the sandpaper to fit the sander. Much Much Much Cheaper and works great.

    You might want a set of chisels and you can normally pick up a set of them for pretty cheap but you are best off if you find the ones where the steel of the chisel goes through the wood handle that way you can use your hammer to strike the steel rather than the wood or maybe plastic handle. They will last longer if the cost is about the same. You want sizes from 1/4″ to 3/4″ or so.

    Specialty items like a countersink for your drill will allow you to drill holes for your screws and set them flush or below the surface of the wood. It looks much more professional and it is worth the investment of about $5 or a bit more for a set.

    You will also need basic hand tools such as a tape measure, hammer, screw driver set, brushes or rollers for paint and stain and too many other little items to list depending on your design.

    Selecting Materials to build a Bookshelf

    Materials for your bookcase can cost more than buying a bookcase. The first thing you want to consider is will you paint or stain the bookcase and this will probably triple the cost. Cabinet grade or A/C grade plywood is good for furniture construction where the A side of the wood will be exposed. The C side of the wood normally has imperfections that are pretty visible and you will definitely need to sand both sides before painting.

    If you want a higher grade of plywood you can get cabinet grade that has a hardwood laminate. You can get a variety of different types of wood from Cherry or Oak or Poplar that have been prepared for cabinet or bookshelf making. The cost is much less than solid hardwood but expect to pay about three times as much or more for hardwood plywood than regular pine A/C Grade.

    If you are really on a budget there are lower grades of standard plywood that you can purchase but I will let you inspect them yourself before I give any suggestions. The lower grade plywood is great for utility grade bookshelves that will require lots of sanding and painting not staining.

    Finally you will also have the choice to use particle board or particle board that has a white laminate surface. They are great options depending on your budget and your use but once you have decided on this level of wood you really should look hard at premade shelves.

    Additional wood such a trim molding can be very useful to provide a nice finished look to your plywood edges. You can select many different types of wood and you might even want to use a standard A/C plywood for the shelves of the bookcase and then a hardwood for the casement or trim. Besides you will have stuff on the shelves and if you fill them with books or CD cases or something else no one will see the shelf surface. Maybe.

    Other materials needed for assembly

    In addition to the tools and wood you will need other materials to assemble your bookshelf. I would strongly suggest that you use a fine tooth drywall screw rather than an actual “wood screw” for assembly. They cost much less and are often even of higher quality. Check them out at the store.

    You will need wood glue and maybe construction adhesive. There are other specialty glues but you will know if you need them because they will be required. Something like spray adhesive or contact cement for applying laminates are specialty glues.

    You will need all of the hardware such as hinges for doors and pulls and other hardware to finish your piece.

    Paint should be a high grade latex paint and stain will require both the color stain and a protective polyurethane clear for top coating.


    Final Note

    Ok so we have gone over some of the Materials and Tools that you will need for this project and if you haven’t guessed you are already into this project for a couple hundred dollars.

    I am not trying to throw you off but you do need to realize all of this before you start or you might really hate the project just based on cost.

    On the other hand you will have all of the tools for future projects or general use around the house. You will also have a lot of leftover supplies like screws, glue and paint.

    But if budget is a top concern I have another suggestion. You might want to look for discounted furniture at a local used shop that you can re-purpose. Also keep your eyes open on trash days for people throwing away good quality furniture because thats a great source of wood for your projects. And finally if there is construction in your area you might be able to pickup some scrap wood to fill in the gaps.. Construction lumber is not normally good enough for furniture but you can build very nice shelves for the garage or basement or just use it for some other project in the future.

    Remember keep your costs low but expect to pay many times what you might at a store. Don’t expect your labor to be the same quality as store bought because you are just learning.. and be creative not only in design but in procurement and use of materials.



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