And hey, guess what? While tidying my laptop up, I came across a goodie that I meant to post here and had forgotten all about! Yay!
So without further ado, I present to you the following tutorial from the archive (this was originally published in Volume Two of Creative Humans):
The One-Sheet-of-Plywood Bookcase
Just after graduating from college, I got a job working for an architect from Europe who had just finished building his own home (our office was actually in the attic). One of the things I learned from him was the knack of taking simple, easy-to-source materials and turning them into functional and attractive objects. Their house was filled with ingenious little touches of innovation, most of which was DIY and all of which was affordable.
This “one-sheet-of-plywood” bookcase was his idea:
*A note on plywood:
The quality of plywood can vary greatly, from supplier-to-supplier. It can be very disappointing to spend hours on a project like this and then discover that there are gaps in the layers or imperfections in the veneer. Do yourself a favor and take the time to source a nice, evenly-finished piece, with thick layers (a sheet should have no more than 7 smooth plies and the thicker the veneer, the better).
- 1 sheet (4’ x 8’) of birch or maple-veneered 3/4” plywood
- 1-1/2” long size 8 wood screws (min. 30 of them)
- “finishing washers” for size 8 screws (min. 15 of them) – these are also sometimes called “cup washers”
- 1/2” long size 8 wood screws (min. 55 of them)
- 3/4” x 3/4” x 3/4” 90° metal braces (if you look in the assembly photos, you’ll see what these look like – they’re going to hold the shelves in place)
- cabinet/furniture legs (check out the Besta legs, at Ikea – I don’t have access to Ikea, so I can’t confirm how they’re made…you’ll have to investigate your options carefully in order to be sure that they’ll work)
- 1 quart of clear, acrylic polyurethane, in satin finish
- 1 foam brush or other suitable applicator for the polyurethane
- an electric drill
- a size 8 screwdriver bit for the drill
- a drill bit suitable for drilling pilot holes for the size 8 screws (a 3/32” drill bit should be fine)
- sandpaper (220 grit)
- a table saw, if your hardware store can not cut the plywood for you
- a pencil
- a ruler
- a measuring tape
- some masking tape or labels to identify your pieces
Most hardware stores offer a cutting service (they may charge a small fee per cut, which is totally worth it) when you purchase lumber from them. Have them carry the sheet of plywood over to the saw for you (remember: you break it, you buy it) and give them the following cutting diagrams:
Cut the long pieces and label the first two, using the pencil and masking tape. One will be the top and one will be the bottom. The skinny little strip (colored in gray in the diagram) is waste - you can discard it.
Take the remaining two lengths of wood and cut them like so:
*Note: Don’t cut your pieces in 24” increments, even though logic would tell you that it’s a good idea. The saw blade “eats up” some wood, so if you stick with the dimensions shown, everything will be modular and therefore, will fit together.
Once everything is cut, you will have a nice collection of pieces, ready to pack into your car and take home. You do not need to be driving a truck or an SUV in order to get them home – I’ve done this several times in my hatchback. Just fold the passenger and back seats down and slide the pieces in. Have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work, but don’t sweat it – there are many ways to get these puppies home.
The next step involves finishing your pieces individually, prior to assembling everything. Follow the instructions on your polyurethane, which usually call for applying 2 to 3 coats, sanding before and between coats, and permitting the pieces to dry adequately.
The first step in the assembly process is to make a box, using the top, bottom and 2 gable pieces. The top piece will rest ON TOP OF the gables and the bottom piece will be attached UNDER the gables. All the gables are the same height, so if you attach the gables to the ends of the top and bottom, you will have a problem – the intermediate gables won’t fit!
You need to carefully identify (in the top and bottom pieces), where the screws will go and drill pilot holes. Use the ruler and pencil for marking the holes and don’t press hard.
Each gable gets 6 screws – 3 through the top piece (with finishing washers) and 3 through the bottom. Use the 1-1/2” long screws for this. Obviously, the bottom screws will be concealed, so there’s no need to use finishing washers with them.
Mark the placement for and install the three intermediate gables. Here is your gable layout:
*Note: Because this here pattern is intended to use only one full sheet of plywood, you will notice that we are missing a shelf. That is ok, we will leave one compartment smaller than the others and it will remain shelf-less.
This is what the top of the unit will look like (the bottom will look virtually the same – just without the finishing washers):
The next step is to attach the shelves:
Using the 3/4” x 3/4” x 3/4” braces, screw the shelves into the bookcase (use the 1/2” long screws, here). Make sure you also screw up into the bottom of each brace, or your shelves will be wobbly and likely shift around:
Once the shelves are in, your only remaining task is to find legs for the unit (or some other imaginative way to elevate the bookcase off the floor, like a plinth made of scrap lumber, bricks, etc). Follow the leg manufacturer’s instructions, keeping in mind that you only have 3/4” of plywood to “bite” into and install at least 6 of them in order to get a good, stable base.
Once you’ve made one of these, you’ll find that it becomes addictive. Why not make the next one with sliding doors? Or mount it to the wall, so it floats above the floor? This first bookcase is really just a gateway bookcase…next thing you know, you’ll be whipping together coffee tables on casters, desks, TV stands, you name it! *
*Trust me on this; my house is filled to the gills with birch plywood furniture.