When you have a random tiny space under a dormer or in some tiny corner and you need every square inch of it for some extra storage and you don’t want some white laminate thing that doesn’t really fit – you find some wood scraps and throw it together. Then you paint it and it looks awesome. I kid you not. You can do this. And it will look great. And you will be a little storage superhero. This particular unit can also be turned on its side and used as a bench. I love things that have more than one use. Brilliant.
I adore organizers and bins and storage solutions and whether it is for kid rooms or laundry rooms or bathrooms I find I am always looking for that perfect sized piece in which to stash toys or detergent or towels. I rarely find the size I need. When I switched Miles’ and Sophia’s room so that she would have the bigger room to share with her soon to be here baby sister, I realized there was an awkward space next to the giant dresser but wedged under a dormer that would be perfect for some toys and books and get them off my darn floors. I measured. That is always the first step. I know I would never find anything 17 inches wide and JUST LESS THAN 36 inches tall. Lots of stuff is 12 inches wide and exactly 3 feet tall – but that would be too skinny and hit my dormer. Lots of stuff is 18 inches wide but you see then it would not fit in my little corner. I knew it was DIY moment. And I knew that the area was small enough that I would be able to get away using mostly scrap wood. AMEN! Cheap and Chic and Custom. Nothing better.
Here’s How You…Yes You…Can Do This.
1. Measure your strange awkward space. Of course, you can use this instructional for ANY small bookcase and it will be made of wood, not laminate, and you can make it as ornate or simple as you like and out it in your living room. Measure at least five times – especially if the numbers are weird. You want to get this right.
Note: You could also measure your strange awkward stuff and then build a unit to fit it. This is an awesome idea and I have done this before with baskets that I loved that never fit anything. Then they look like it is totally custom and it rocks!
2. Figure out your desired height, width and depth. Mine was, as I said, 17 inches wide by 35 inches tall by less than 20 inches deep. I ended up with 14 inches. It needed to be less deep than the dresser and I was flexible here because I knew I would be working with scrap wood. Again, this is totally custom but if you are looking for a standard depth, bookcases are usually 12 inches deep. If you have big books though – measure the books or whatever you are putting in the unit! It does not good to build a piece that stuff does not fit in.
For a small unit I would expect that 2 shelves would suffice and in a simple project like this these shelves will be fixed – not adjustable. You can buy easy shelf adjusters at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s but for me I wanted an evenly spaced look.
3. Plan your wood cuts. Don’t worry about the cutting I will give you a couple of ways to get this done. Here is the basic layout.
a. The Back– The back should measure the FULL HEIGHT AND WIDTH. I used a cheap piece of panel board from the Home Depot for this. You do not NEED the back to be solid thick wood. It is up to you. I went for cheap and being as pregnant as I am I decided not add the weight of solid wood on the back when it would make absolutely no visible difference.
b. The Top and Bottom – The top and bottom should be the FULL WIDTH and DEPTH of the unit. You want no seams on the top of your finished piece and it makes for easier nailing.
c. The Sides – Take your FULL HEIGHT and SUBTRACT the THICKNESS of the top and bottom pieces. For me, I used 3/4″ furniture grade plywood so I subtracted 1 1/2 ” from my total desired height of 35 1/2″ for a toal height of 34″ for my sides. The DEPTH should be your FULL DEPTH and should match that of the top and bottom.
Of course, this means that your total storage area is less than the full width so make sure to account for this if you are building this to fit a particular item or bin or basket. If I needed 15 inches of width, let’ say, I would choose a total width of 17 inches to allow for my sides and a tiny bit of wiggle room on each side.
d. The Shelves – Take your FULL WIDTH and SUBTRACT the THICKNESS of the side panels. Again for me this was 1 1/2″ off my total of 17 for a width of 15 1/2″. Use the FULL DEPTH.
You may want to wait until you have built your basic unit and then fit in the shelves and get a specific measurement, but this is up to you. Sometimes a shelf may need a little bit of shaving down or sanding to fit in. Do not worry if there is a little extra space – caulk will fix this. See?
Note that all of the pieces are the FULL DEPTH. This will allow us to simply attach the back to the piece as well as any trim to the front very easily.
4. Cut your wood or have it cut for you. As I said, I had scrap wood for this project leftover from others but you can find wood by posting to Freecycle or Craigslist or simply purchasing one sheet of double sanded furniture grade plywood from any Home Depot or Lowe’s or the like. If you do not own a circular saw or a table saw these stores will make your cuts for you for something like 25 cents per cut and they oftentimes have piles of scrap there in the store.
5. Assemble your outside pieces. I am lucky and I have a nail gun but a simple hammer and nails will work just fine. Make sure you have someone to help you hold the pieces. It will make it a LOT easier. I used 1 1/4 inch nails and nailed the top and bottom onto my sides in a matter of minutes. Try you very best to be as square as possible. This is not as hard as it sounds – you will be okay if you are making your eges even and as smooth as possible. It will take about a half hour to an hour with a hammer and nails.
6. Fit your shelves in and Attach – If you want even spaces you need to take your INSIDE HEIGHT (same height as your sides) and SUBTRACT the same THICKNESS of your shelves. My height was 34″ less the 1 1/2 inches for shelves, leaving me with 32 1/2″ of space. DIVIDE THIS INTO THREE ( if you have 2 shelves) to figure out the amount of space between shelves. I got about 10.8″ I measured down from the top and made my marks on the front and around the sides so I would be able to nail in from the outside. It takes some patience but it is NOT HARD.
You now have the base of the unit. From here on out it is SO easy! Check out how nasty this wood is. A little primer, some caulk and some paint and it’s a whole new world!
7. Attach the Back– If you are using panel board like me you simply use a hammer and panel board nails to work around the edges of the piece and of course nailing the back to the shelves as well. It is easy to figure out where to nail into the shelves.
8. Throw some simple trim on the front– I purchased a simple rounded over edge and used a miter box (super cheap) and hand saw to cut mitred corners. I then used wood glue and some panel board nails to get it on. I did sand some edges a little on the shelves so it looked good. You could get as fancy as you wanted here. You could put feet on the unit. You could add more of a molding the the top. Future DIY’s will detail how to really get sassy with your simple pieces. As it is I just needed something simple and quick and easy so it would be done before the baby!
9. Sand, Caulk, Prime and Paint! – I sanded the whole piece with 150 and paid special attention to the edges to make them smooth. Using a sanding block or power sander will help immensely here! I used my good ol’ Black Satin paint that I use to paint almost everything because I LOVE black. The caulk filled my little gaps and I did use some wood filler on the nail holes on the sides. It is not glossy -that is just the light because I wanted to show how the trim looked.
10. Squeeze your little custom bookcase into it’s new home!
As always feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as I can! Enjoy and Happy Building!
I am linking up to Kimba’s DIY DAY at A Soft Place to Land! Check out her awesome site and all the great projects!
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