How to Build a Bookcase Out of 2x4s

Boards that are referred to as "2x4s" aren't your standard building material for bookcases, but if you have a leftover supply from a building project or your local lumberyard is offering a ridiculously low-priced sale, this unusual furniture idea could become reality. Make sure that the material is straight and kiln dried or the bookcase could unintentionally end up looking like a piece of modern art. When you finish putting the bookcase together, you can paint or varnish it depending on the kind of wood.

An extra supply of 2-by-4s can be used to build a bookcase.
  1. Decide on dimensions for your 2-by-4 book case. Six feet is always a good height for a bookcase and since you want to keep the weight down and make use of your available lumber supply, your shelves will be 4 feet long, making for an overall width of 4 feet and 3 inches when the side pieces are included. Each vertical piece (2 total) and horizontal shelf will consist of three 2-by-4 boards placed 1/2 inch apart and held together by 2-by-4 cleats. Therefore, the shelves will be 11 1/2 inches wide with a 2-by-4 used as a diagonal brace in back. Total depth, including the brace is 13 inches.

  2. Decide on shelf heights. The bottom shelf will begin 6 inches above the ground. To achieve a useful spacing, you can arbitrarily set the five shelves at heights of 6, 27, 42, 56 and 68 inches. This gives 18 inches of shelf space on the bottom, then 12 inches, next 11 inches and then 9 inches before reaching the top shelf.

  3. Construct the shelves by cutting 15 pieces of 2-by-4 at an even 4 feet. Make sure that each 2-by-4 is relatively straight, then cut 15 2-by-4 pieces at a length of 11 1/2 inches. These will be the cleats and each shelve will have three. Set up the sawhorses and circular saw for cutting and don't forget to wear safety glasses. Use the speed square as a guide when cutting each piece. This tool allows for square and accurate cutting.

  4. Sand each piece lightly with the orbital sander to smooth the edges. Use 120-grit sandpaper in the sander.

  5. Put the shelves together using the screw gun and 2 1/4-inch galvanized screws. Place three 4-foot 2-by-4s on the sawhorses and then lay three cleats on top. Make sure that everything is lined up and square. Place 1/2-inch scraps of plywood in between the shelf boards to maintain 1/2-inch spacing. Place each cleat on top of the three boards. One cleat goes in the center of the shelf, while the two end pieces should be located 1 1/2 inches in from each outside edge. Attach the cleats with 2 1/4-inch screws with the screw gun.

  6. Build the two upright pieces in the same manner. The only difference will be the length of the upright pieces--72 inches--and the number of cleats--five per each upright piece. The height of the cleats have already been designated at 6, 27, 42, 56 and 68 inches. These measurements are for the top of the cleats.

  7. Attach each shelf to both uprights with the screw gun and screws. Once you complete this task, the bookshelf will stand up, but it will be shaky because it needs bracing.

  8. Lay the bookshelf face down on the sawhorses and adjust the two sides of the bookshelf until the two diagonal measurements are equal. This indicates a square shape. Now lay an 8-foot 2-by-4 on the back of the bookcase so that it traverses from the right lower corner to upper left. Both ends of the brace should cross the upright sides. When everything is set, screw the the brace into back side of the bookshelf with the builder's screws and screw gun.

  9. Cut the ends off the brace with the crosscut saw so that they're flush with the outside edge of the bookcase.

  10. Paint, varnish or shellac the bookcase before use.


  • Don't build this type of bookcase if you're about to move into a four story walk-up flat.