Did you spend a bit too much this holiday season (no judgement here, I know I sure did)? And now you’re looking for a DIY project to do during the holiday break, but you need one that won’t break the bank? Well, you certainly came to the right place, because today I’m going to be sharing my budget DIY bookcase build with you.
This project is actually an adaptation of a bookcase I built a couple of years ago, but with a few simple design tweaks to get the price point as low as possible. How low? Well, I spent exactly 256 Canadian Dollars buying all the materials I needed to build this project. But, if I’m being completely honest, I overpaid for a few items simply because I was in a rush to get everything. If I had been a little more careful, I’m confident I could’ve got that number closer to $200CAD/$150USD. Not bad considering you could easily spend that much at Ikea for a pressed particle board bookshelf.
This bookcase is made of solid pine, with steel accents and cool industrial looking exposed fasteners. It’s really strong (yes, I’ve climbed it like a ladder for fun) and I think it makes a cool accent piece in my living room. The only problem is I now have 2 nearly identical bookcases… More on that at the end of the post (hint: I’m giving it away)
If you were hoping to see this project in video form, well then don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Here’s a link to my YouTube video that documents the whole build.
If you’re a little more old school and prefer to read, then I’ve also got you covered there as well. Just keep on scrolling down 🙂
Step 1: Cutting the Wood – Option 1 Miter Saw
The biggest cost item for this build was the pine I used. I bought 24 feet of 2×12 molding grade pine from a local mill for 5 dollars a linear foot. $5 x 24 = $120
The first step of this project was cutting the pine down to the lengths I needed. I cut five pieces that were 36″ long and four that were 13″ long.
There’s more than 1 way to cut a pine 2×12, but the first, and probably the best way to do it, is using a quality miter saw. A good sliding miter saw makes for quick, accurate, and easy cuts. Simply mark the length you need, line up the blade with your mark and plunge it down into the wood. Take it slow and easy, let the blade do the cutting and you should have a nice clean cut.
The miter saw is my favorite way to make big cross-cuts like this, but because this is a budget build, in the next couple of steps I’ll show you a few alternative ways you can cut your pine at home, just in case your tool collection is a little different than mine.
Step 1: Cutting the Wood – Option 2 Table Saw
The second option is to use a table saw in conjunction with some sort of table saw sled. That last little bit is important, a table saw sled, try to avoid using your table saws built-in fence for crosscuts. If you do, you run the risk of the wood binding between the fence and the blade. If that happens your saw is likely to send the piece of wood flying back at you with a lot of force behind it. Not good!
Using a sled helps to dramatically mitigate the risk of kickback on the table saw. Some people like to make their own table saw sleds, other people like to buy them. The point is there’s a wide variety of options available to you.
In my case, I’m actually using a table saw miter gauge set to 0 degrees to make my cuts.
Step 1: Cutting the Wood – Option 3 Circular Saw
Finally, we have our last, and budget-friendliest option (I’m pretty sure that isn’t a word, but we’re gonna go with it), the circular saw. Practically everyone has a circular saw, or at the very least, has access to one. If you don’t, you can easily find a quality saw for under $50.
Cutting straight lines with a circular saw is a bit of skill, and for this build, we need all of our cuts to be as close to square as humanly possible. So instead of trying to be a human miter saw, we’re going to combine the circular saw with another cheap tool, to guarantee perfectly straight cuts. Enter the speed square, these are cheap little squares used by carpenters everywhere to make quick 90 degree marks on wood or to check things for square. They can also double as circular saw guides! Simply place the speed square on your wood, place the guard of your circular saw against the flat edge of the speed square and make your cut. Make sure that the guard of the saw stays flat against the speed square the whole way through the cut and you should have a nice square cut. Easy peasy.
Step 2: Sanding the Wood
After all the cutting was done I gave each piece a quick sand using some 120 grit sanding pads on my random orbital sander. I sanded the wood for 2 reasons. The first was to clean up the wood. Sanding it removed any dirt and marks that might’ve still been left on the wood. It also just helps to smooth out the surface and make everything nice and uniform. The second was to help the stain and finish adhere to the wood better. All of those little micro-abrasions left behind by the sander really help a finish bind to the wood.
I’m using a cordless random orbital sander in these shots (along with a dust extractor, which I highly recommend if you can afford it), but there’s no reason you couldn’t use a cheaper corded random orbital sander or even just a good old fashioned sanding block along with some sandpaper. It might take a bit longer, but pine is a softwood and sands quickly, so it wouldn’t take THAT long.
Step 3: Conditioning the Wood Prior to Staining
You know, people like to talk a lot of trash about pine. Part of that is just because it’s a cheap softwood that many beginners gravitate towards. It’s readily available and easy to work with, perfect when you’re just starting out. Wood snobs don’t want to use the same materials that beginners use, that would be far too mainstream *shudder*. Another big factor that I think kind of dovetails with the first one is that pine is notoriously hard to stain. People often pick it because it’s cheap and then try to stain it to look like more expensive woods. That doesn’t usually work, because there are some parts of the grain in pine that just refuse to take a stain. So when your stain dries it tends to look blotchy, uneven, and unnatural. Combine both of those factors and it’s no wonder the internet is filled with some pretty janky looking projects made of pine.
Thankfully, it’s 2020 (almost 2021!) and there’s a solution to that problem… Or at least the blotchy stain part… not so much the first part…
By applying a pre-stain conditioner you can get pine to accept the stain much more evenly. The effect is really quite dramatic and it’s well worth doing unless you’re intentionally trying to create a blotchy look.
Simply brush on a generous helping of the conditioner, wait 15 minutes and then buff off any excess using shop towels.15 minutes after THAT, you can apply your stain. Wood conditioner is kind of funny in that you only have a small window of time where you can apply a stain after using it, so make sure you don’t wait any longer than 2 hours before applying your stain.
Step 4: Staining the Wood
I tried to get fancy on this project and try out a new product that combined both stain and a poly finish into a single, 1 coat, solution. It seemed like it might save me some time, but Unfortunately, after using it, I can’t recommend it. It got the job done, but it was far from a painless experience. In the future, I think I’ll keep the staining and the finishing as 2 separate steps.
As per the instructions I brushed on a thin coat and then let it dry over the course of a few hours.
The problem with this stain/finish was that it really had a tendency to pool in certain spots. I spent a lot of time brushing it out trying to get a good even coat. It also dried VERY slowly. It was hours before I could even think about touching the wood to flip it over and do the opposite sides.
For both the stain and the pre-stain conditioner I spent $20. ($120+$20 = $140)
Step 5: Cutting the Metal – Option 1 Angle Grinder
While the stain dried I decided it was time to cut the metal angle iron brackets. I bought three 4′ long 1.5″ x 1.5″ steel angle irons at Lowes for $60 ($140 + $60 = 200). This is one area where I really could’ve economized, had I bought the angle irons from a proper metal supplier I probably would’ve paid half of that.
I needed eight 16″ long brackets and just like with the wood, I’m going to give you multiple options for cutting them.
The first of which is the angle grinder. Until very recently this was my go-to method for cutting metal. Simply mark your cut lines on the metal using a sharpie and a square and then trace those lines using a metal cutting blade on an angle grinder. It’s loud, there’s a lot of sparks (make sure you wear a mask, eye protection, and gloves) but it’s really pretty painless. If you use a proper metal cut-off wheel the angle grinder should cut through the steel with ease.
Angle Grinders are cheap and readily available so this is a good budget option.
Step 5: Cutting the Metal – Option 2 Reciprocating Saw / Hack Saw
This second option is slightly unorthodox, but with the right blade, a reciprocating saw (or even a hacksaw) can easily cut through steel. There are normally steel cutting blades, but in recent years, companies have started releasing reciprocating saw blades with carbide teeth. These are the blade you want. They’re often 3x to 4x times more expensive, but TRUST ME, they are so worth it. I’ve used a single carbide tipped blade to cut through multiple 12″ structural steel I-beams and it was still ready to keep going. The endurance of these blades is truly next level, they’ll keep cutting all day long.
So using one of these fancy blades I sliced through some angle iron. You’ll want to clamp your steel angle iron in position so it doesn’t jump around too much as you cut. Start your cuts slowly and carefully, and before you know it you’ll have cut right through the steel.
Step 5: Cutting the Metal – Option 3 Metal Chop Saw (Cold Cut)
Finally, we have the metal chop saw. This my new favorite method for cutting metal and is a semi-recent addition to my shop. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive. This cold cutting metal chop saw makes short work of metal cuts. Similar to the miter saw it’s fast, accurate, and easy to use. It’ll give you the cleanest cuts with the least amount of fuss. My metal chop saw is what’s known as a cold cut saw, it uses a toothed blade that spins at a much slower RPM. As a result, it hardly throws any sparks and the metal is cool to the touch after cutting. The price difference between a cold cut saw and an abrasive metal chop saw is pretty negligible, and in my opinion, is well worth the small cost increase!
Step 6: Drilling Mounting Holes in the Bracket
In order to attach the brackets to the pine, I needed to drill some mounting holes in them. Each bracket got two mounting holes, one at each end, centered in the bracket.
Drilling holes in metal isn’t that hard. Just make sure you use a good titanium drill bit and basically, any cordless drill will do the job. If you find the drill bit you’re using isn’t working, try using a smaller drill bit first, and then using the larger bit to widen the hole.
When you’re drilling holes through metal, you always want to be removing metal. If at any point your drill bit starts to free spin in the hole and it isn’t generating new metal shavings, stop drilling. You’ll only dull your bit if you keep going. Either find a way to apply more pressure, or switch to a smaller bit and try again.
Step 7: Painting the Brackets
Painting the brackets was a pretty straight forward affair, I just grabbed a can of cheap flat black spray paint and primer ($200 + $8 = $208) and gave the brackets 2 thick coats of paint. I painted the insides first, flipped them over, and did the outsides second.
Like all paint jobs, the trick to a good finish is all in the prep. Prior to painting, I gave the brackets a quick sanding using 180 grit sandpaper in order to smooth out their surfaces and remove any hard edges. After that, I wiped them all down with a rag soaked in mineral spirits. The mineral spirits help to remove the transport oil that most steel comes coated in from the stores. This oil prevents the steel from rusting while it’s shipped around the globe but it also prevents paints from properly adhering to the metal, so it’s important that you remove it prior to painting!
Step 8: Drilling Holes for Dowels
Next, I began assembling the bookshelf into its zig-zag shape. In order to join all the pieces of wood together, I decided that I wanted to use wooden dowels. I haven’t used dowels much in the past but I’ve got to say, this was a lot of fun and I think I’ll do it more often.
I assembled the first two levels of the bookshelf by sandwiching 1 vertical piece between 2 horizontal pieces and clamping everything together. Then I marked my dowel locations and began drilling holes using my 1/2″ drill bit. I wanted each dowel hole to be 4″ deep so I wrapped a piece of blue painter’s tape around the shaft of my drill bit 4″ from the tip. Once the tape was touching the pine, I stopped drilling and reversed the bit out of the wood.
I bought two 4′ long poplar wood dowels for $4 dollars each. ($208 + $8 = $216)
Step 9: Inserting the Dowels
I cleared out any sawdust left over from drilling and then applied a generous helping of wood glue into each hole. Once that was done I carefully hammered my poplar dowels into the holes. Take it slow and steady here, it’s not a carnival game and you aren’t trying to sink the dowels with a single hammer blow. Just tap them in gently until they’re all the way in.
I made sure to cut each dowel a little bit long so that it stuck out proud of the pine.
Step 10: Sawing the Dowels Flush
Finally, using a flush-cut saw I sawed off the exposed parts of the dowels so that they were flush with the pine.
I repeated this process on each level of the bookcase and eventually, I had assembled it into it’s final, 5 layered, zig-zag shape.
Step 11: Re-Sanding
Unfortunately, my flush-cut saw ended up marking the pine quite a bit. This meant that I basically had to re-finish the whole bookshelf in order to fix those saw marks 🙁
In retrospect I should’ve seen this coming, and I should’ve waited to stain the pine until after assembly, but hey, you live and you learn right?! Hindsight is 20/20 and all those cliches, haha.
I hooked up my random orbital sander again and sanded the whole bookcase in preparation for another coat of stain. I took my time around the dowels and did my best to feather out the saw marks. I used 80 grit to do the heavy material removal and then I worked my way up to 220 grit.
Step 12: Installing the Brackets
With the wood assembled and sanded it was time to throw a little bit of metal into the mix.
I grabbed my freshly painted brackets, secured them gently in place using a big bar clamp, and then screwed them in position using these big black 3.5″ #12 lag screws. Prior to screwing the lags screws in place, I made sure to pre-drill each hole using a 3/16″ drill bit. Pre-drilling the holes like that prevents large diameter screws from splitting the wood. Splitting is less likely to occur when you’re working with softwoods, like pine, but I do it anyway just to be safe.
These screws are pretty badass, each one is rated for 240lbs of load in sheer, they have an extra-wide head on them so you don’t need to use a washer, and they’re painted black from the factory. I bought a box of 50 of them for $30, but really I only ended up using 16 of them, so I probably could’ve gone for a smaller box. ($216 + $30 = $246).
By the time I was done screwing everything together I had a bookshelf that was ready to support a small library of books.
Step 13: Re-Staining
Once I was sure that no further harm would come to my pine I was finally ready to begin restaining. I hate doing things twice.
I cracked open my can of stain/finish and started brushing it on. Despite the sanding, the wood really didn’t want to absorb much more stain, so I had to apply this second touch up coat as thin as I possibly could. I struggled to get a good finish here, the stain/finish would drip and pool if I put on anything more than the thinnest coat possible. I spent a lot of time brushing out the stain and doing my best to get an even application.
Eventually, I got it done and left the bookcase to dry overnight.
Step 14: Installing Felt Pads
The next day I picked up the bookcase (literally, it’s only about 60lbs thanks to the pine) and brought it home where I completed the last step. I bought a bag of screw-on felt pads for 10 bucks ($246 + $10 = $256) and installed them on the bottom of the bookshelf. This way I can freely slide the bookcase around on hardwood floors without worrying about it scratching them.
I was slightly annoyed that the felt pads blew my target budget on this project ($250), but I’m glad I found them. I ordered enough of them to last me for my next 10 builds or so. Previously I was using adhesive felt pads, but because these ones screw in place, they’re much more secure and don’t run the risk of falling off over time.
Giving It Away
Like I said at the top of this build, this bookcase is actually a re-creation of another build I did a couple of years ago. I don’t really have any use for two nearly identical bookcases, sooooo I figured I’d give this one away as an end of year thank you to anyone who subscribed to my YouTube channel. If you’d like to win this bookcase, all you’ve got to do is subscribe to my channel and drop a comment with your Instagram handle on the video. The only catch is that the giveaway is open only to Toronto-area residents.
The reason I’m limiting only to Toronto area residents is that it would cost a small fortune to ship this thing to a winner. It’s massive and pretty heavy. So instead of shipping it, I’m going to load it into the back of my truck and hand-deliver it to the winner. So as long as you live within an hour or so of Toronto, feel free to enter. Maybe next year I can get a sponsor and do this worldwide haha.
Alright, that’s it for this build everyone. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this build, if you did you might want to check out my Instagram (Instagram.com/ZacBuilds/) and the aforementioned YouTube channel to see the rest of my builds.
Good luck to everyone who enters and see you guys on the next build!