The simple and classic bookshelf made with hardwood and richly finished.

The Classic Bookshelf Made of Softwood

Lumber and Plywood: Building the Best Shelves for Your Home


Building bookshelves is a great way to maximize the space in your home while minimizing the dent it makes in your budget.  Wall shelves can sometimes be more structurally weak than other types of shelving units, so it is crucial that you select the right materials when you build.

What is the best choice for your wall shelves? You can choose from: hard wood, soft wood, plywood, or particleboard.  The right choice for you depends on your budget, as well as what you expect the shelves to hold.  Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each kind.

Hardwoods: These are arguably the most aesthetically pleasing materials from which to build your shelves.  They are also very durable and strong, so they can bear weight that materials like particleboard cannot. The downside of hardwoods is that selection may be limited at lumber yards, and the prices are sure to be higher.

Hardwood is graded on the usable pieces that don’t have defects like knots and splits.  Grades 1 and 2 are the best grades and the best choices for your hardwood shelves, but again, these higher grades will be more pricy.

An option that many people choose is softwood.  It tends to be less expensive than hardwood, and it is easier to work with.  Softwoods, like pine, are also graded.  Clear is the select cut, and is virtually free of flaws.  As you can guess, it is also more expensive than grade 2, which has more flaws.  Knots can affect the stability and strength of the boards, so shelves that need to handle weight should be made from clear pine.

Plywood is often a good choice.  The 4 x 8 foot sheets have either hardwood or softwood veneers, and a benefit of this pressed wood is that it is more consistent than solid woods.  The sheets are straight, and in higher grade panels, flaws are patched so you have a very flat, straight material.  The price is lower, but it is typically more time-consuming to cut plywood

A traditional, classic set of hardwood bookshelves appropriate in a more formal setting such as a living room or home library.

The Classic Formal Set of Hardwood Bookshelves

to size and finish the edges.

Finally, particleboard.  This is the cheapest option and is made from wood chips and wood particles. It is structurally weaker than plywood or hard and softwoods.  It can be a good choice for small shelves – as long as you remember to paint or veneer it.

Your shelf plans will usually make recommendations for the materials you need, and your shelves will only be as good as the materials you have to work with.  Choose the best you can afford, and you will get good, solid shelves that will last for years.

Only If You Want Them To Look Right and Be Sturdy

When you look at set of storage shelves, they appear simple enough,

Sturdy wooden shelves built to bear significant storage weight in the garage or basement.

Sturdy Storage Shelves

even a bit roughly made and requiring no skills at staining furniture.  But, do you know how much weight they will bear?  If you do, do you also know the type material strong enough to hold that weight?  Do you know how far apart the support members must be to support the anticipated weight?  Safety alone is why you need a set of shelf plans.

Do you know what tools you will need to build these storage shelves?  Do you know which and how many fasteners you’ll need?  Will you need a circular saw, or maybe a band saw?  Will you need screws or nails or both?  Again, these questions will be answered for you, and accurately in a set of quality shelf plans.  This is ensure you will have what you need to build a quality project, and that you will  not be buying unnecessary items.

A good set of plans will tell tell you exactly which type of materials you will need.  Can you use man-made products like particle board and plywood, or will you need solid hardwood, or would solid soft wood do?  Some plywoods are as strong or stronger than their solid counterparts, and considerably less expensive.  By now, I am sure you get the picture, with the only remaining questions being, “Where do I find Shelf Plans and About How Much Do They Cost?”

Storage shelves in the garage which appear to be for lesser weights

General Storage for the Garage

You can get free one at various places on the web by searching for them.  Just be sure a professional checks them for you if load bearing is a concern.  Remember, you get what you pay for, so just be careful.  Otherwise the lumber store may sell some individually or in small packages, and carries individual plans too.  There is a link in the side bar that will take you to Amazon where plans can be purchased.  Plans like these will run about $5.00 to $9.00 depending upon the complexity.

Another source of quality plans are the two links that follow.  Both menare true woodworkers and each has compiled literally thousands of home improvement woodworking plans.  These packages bring the price of each set of plans to a penny each, but if you are not planning to build anything more, you may want to just buy the one set of shelf plans for your project.  You would do yourself a favor to at least look at these packages of plans just to see what you’d miss if you were to consider building other things around the house.


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Getting Started Making Shelves

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Beginner Bookcase Plan

Hope you enjoy the recently added, exploded view of just one of the various sets of shelf plans and other projects we have available for the woodworker. As large as the internet has become, is amazing it is so hard to find a good selection of wood working plans, especially for shelves. One of the reasons we started Shelf Plans, the web site, was to add to the choices available.

Whenever a woodworking project is contemplated and when plans are necessary, those plans should contain not only how the parts are assembled, but also, the tools needed as well as the type(s) of wood best suited for the project.

You will find as an amateur or a professional the quality of the shelf plans you use will be a determining factor in the outcome of your shelf making project.  Your shelf plans should include a fair amount of additional information, but if they don’t you will find sites like ours that will be able to fill in the gaps.  Additionally, on the internet there are woodworking community forums and chat rooms where you can also supplement your knowledge.

What should you expect to find in quality shelf plans?  Obviously, the step-by-step process you go through to complete the assembly of the parts is foremost.  However, before you buy and plans, be sure to verify that the tools required to complete the projects are listed as well as recommendations as to the type of wood best suited for the shelves.

book shelf plans, bookcase plans, classic bookcase plans

Classic Bookcase Plans – Great for Beginning Shelf Plans

Hardwood Bookshelf Plan

This simple bookshelf plan will make your first furniture project an object of real pride.  For this project, you will choose the wood of your choice, cherry for something darker or maybe a light oak for a lighter wood.  This bookcase will be all wood and nothing less.

You may find cherry to be the easier wood to work with and to stain, but the oak will serve you well too.  Generally is easiest for the finest finish to cut all of your bookcase pieces, and to stain them before assembly.   This would include all router work and scroll work as well as  any screw holes you might need at the joints.  Do counter-sink the screw holes, then either plug or putty over the screw heads later and carefully stain the plug or the putty.

As to the tools you’ll find most useful, they would be a power drill, a circular saw with a sharp blade, a router, and a scroll saw.  In the absence of a scroll saw, this project can be done with a jig saw or a good hand saw and a coping saw.

The curves will require this and looking closely you’ll see the tops of both side pieces, and the decorative support across the front all have curves.  In addition, you’ll also note the support across the front at the bottom also has a curved and decorative look.

To complete the tools and supplies you’ll also need wood screws, sand paper, wood glue, stain, brushes, and mineral spirits.  Oh, one more major detail will be getting your plans.  Take a moment and learn more by following this link, shelf plans.

Have the confidence to dive into, what will be a great project, but only with quality shelf plans that will guide you completely, step-by-step, including lists of exactly what you will need to build the design you choose.

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