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May 12, 2008

Building a Bookcase

In this episode we're going to be looking into building simple bookcases.  In this first part, we look at different joinery methods to construct our bookcase.  We'll talk about advantages and disadvantages of using butt joints, rabbits, and pocket hole joinery to construct bookcases.

Coming up in part II, we'll be looking into constructing face frames and ways to make sure that they fit perfectly, everytime.

If you would like to be alerted to when we release new episodes, simple go to our website and sign up to receive our newsletter.  Just for signing up, you'll receive a special "Bonus" from us as our way of saying, THANKS!


Craig Stevens

Comments (15)


Awesome. About to tackle a built-in project I promised as a Mother's/Birthday present for my wife. I'll be looking forward to the coming material. Thanks Craig.

(WR) Craig Stevens:


Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. Actually, the two bookcases you see in the video are going to be somewhat "built-in" as well.

I plan to screw them to the wall with a space in between them where I will add a desk. I don't call them built-ins because I'm not going to the trouble of running the same type molding round the bookcases as is in the room they're going in. So they won't really "look" built-in.

The plan is to take them with us if we ever decide to move (and in this economy doesn't look to be any time soon!)

Craig Stevens


Thanks for taking the time to help us neophytes. Is it worth while using as dado for one center shelf support for added strength or is a 1/4 backing good enough. When you talk about face frames I would appreciate it if you could talk about built ins including a large shelf about 1/3 up from the floor with doors below - an extension of the basic bookshelf unit and integrated face frames.

(WR) Craig Stevens:


I'm not fond of using a center shelf support on bookcases. The only time I've made an exception is in building a large corner cabinet. The shelves were so large that they would tip in the back without the center supports.

For bookcases, I think you would do better by beefing up your shelves. This can be accomplished by using thicker material and/or gluing a strip of hard wood (1") to the front of a thinner shelf (3/4") to stiffen it up, (this is what I did on the bookcases you see in the video.)

Also, if you want the shelves adjustable, you would have to drill a line of holes all the way down the middle of the back piece, which in my opinion would detract from the looks of the piece.

This all is just my personal preferences though. There would be nothing "wrong" with putting a center shelf support system on your bookcase. It would require using a thicker material than the 1/4" plywood that I used in the video.

I'll try to cover your face frame topic in the video as well.




Craig, greetings from a fellow Tennessean -

This is a great topic you've chosen to cover! I'm working on my first set of built in book cases right now and chose to rabbit/dado all the joints. I think for future projects I will try the pocket hole, especially built-ins that don't receive much lateral stress. I've only ever used the Kreg jig for face frames, this is a great application you've shown.

I would like to echo John's comments above regarding lower 1/3 doors. If possible, please address your methods of building inset doors. Do you prefer doing a separate box for the "base cabinet" or do you build it all as one piece like these cases in this video? Perhaps that could be a follow up video to your next installment on face frames.

I've only been a member for a short while, but love your site. Thanks for the info and helping to grow our art.


Rick Kirk:

Great podcast, I can't wait for episode II. I have been kicking around the idea of pocket hole joinery for a while now. A buddy of mine bought the jig from Kreg, and now I'm hooked.

Bill, New Jersey:

GREAT Episode, I am really looking forward to the future ones. Finally, a "down to earth", easy understanding for those of us looking for the basics.

(WR) Craig Stevens:


Thanks so much for your kind words about the website, I really appreciate it! It's nice to know what I put out there is helping people. (It's even nicer when it comes from a fellow Tennessean).

I wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I wasn't able to include the part about using face frames to frame out a "cabinet" at the bottom of the bookcase in Part II.

I felt like I was getting long winded with what I did cover in the latest video. As you know, John also requested this information as well, so I know there's people out there that need this information.

So what I've decided to do is to write up an article on this and send it out to the group. I think I can explain it in an article, but if not, I may do a video on it.

I apologize for not getting to this. But, stay tuned and I'll try to have something out this weekend.


(WR) Craig Stevens:


I'm glad you enjoyed the video. I sometimes wonder if what I'm saying makes sense, so it's nice to here that at least on this episode, I succeeded.

As long as I'm helping folks out there improve their woodworking skills, I'll keep putting out the videos (whether they make any sense or not!)


I was able to see the original video fine. My slow wifi connection requires me to let it buffer alot for smooth play.
What kind of video camera are you using? It has good detail.
I would like to see mini lessons on doing tasks for all types of projects.
I was intending to use bisquits to construct face frames. I can see how not having to measure bisquit layouts would be slower than using pocket hole joinery.
Is there any real difference in strength of the joints?

(WR) Craig Stevens:


Thanks for letting us know that our videos are working fine for you.

The camera I use is a Panasonic PV GS300. They've been discontinued now which is a shame because it's a great camera for the price.

As far as building face frames and using biscuit joints, I think that's a fine way to go. But it does cause some problems. First, most FF are narrow meaning that a #20 biscuit won't work. This means you need to use a smaller biscuit which will decrease the strength of the joint some what. Second, they're just more time consuming to make.

They do have one clear advantage, no holes showing on the underside!

I tried to find some articles on joint strength that compared these two joints but couldn't find anything. Fine Woodworking had a good article on joint strength in issue 148 but didn't test pocket hole joints. Biscuit joints did better than I expected, but they were using a double row of #20 biscuits.

Here's what they found on biscuits:
Strength: Good
Rate of failure Gradual
Strength after failure: Good
Rigidity: Moderate

In my opinion (be that what it may) I feel that pocket hole joints are stronger than biscuit joints. I have no scientific test to back that up so it doesn't mean a lot.

That being said, for FF I think their more than adequate, because of how their used. Once the FF is glued and nailed to the case, there is very little stress put on the joint.

I hope that helps.

Craig Stevens

I am making similar book shelves. The video's are a big help. Thanks

Pam B.:

Quick questions: How tall are the bookcases that you're standing in front of? The cut list I have is 68" and I'd like something taller. Also, I've noticed some bookcases have strips on the back to connect to the wall so it doesn't tip foward - how necessary is that and do they tip that easy? Being that this will be my first time working with wood - what would be your advice on the corner connections? I like the rabbet joint but how sturdy is it compared to the pocket hole? And one more thing, when doing the shelves, I want them adjustable - is there any better looking way than drilling all the holes along the sides?
Thank you!

Woodworkers Resource:

Hey Pam- The bookcases in the videos are around 7' which will work in most houses in the US that have 8' ceilings.

I almost always add a strip of wood to the back, or simply use the back if it's thick enough, to attach the bookcase to the wall. I do this for peace of mind. My kids are getting older now and the likelihood of one of them trying to climb the shelves to reach something is low but we still have visitors with small kids come to our house. If a bookcase of this size tips over onto a child, the results could be deadly. I just don't want to take the risk.

For the corner joints, going with the rabbet joint will be more sturdy than just using a pocket hole joint. The reason being is the glue surface. The rabbet joint has more surfaces for the glue to adhere to which makes the joint stronger. A pocket hole joint has little glue surface and what's there is end grain which makes a weak glue joint anyway.

That being said, for a piece that's not going to see a lot of abuse, like a bookcase, if the joint is going to be unseen, a pocket hole joint should be fine.

I haven't found a way that looks nicer than drilling holes for adjustable shelves. This is a personal preference though. You can go some furniture stores and look around at some different ways that manufactures do adjustable shelves or simply do a Google search on the topic.

Good luck on your project. Have fun building!


Hey Craig thanks for the video explaining the pocket hole method of joinery. The Kreg jig makes even an amateur like me look like a pro and makes it easy too!

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