You are currently viewing How to Make a Custom Built-In Bookcase Around the Fireplace

I love built-ins! To me they add such a great architectural detail to a room. This is the 4th built-in bookcases that my hubby, Steve has built. I think he does great work!

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The first time I really had to convince him that he could do it, I purchased this book “Ultimate Guide to Cabinets, Shelves, and Home Storage Solutions.” He is really a handy guy, but this gave him the confidence to give it a try. I loved the way it turned out and he was soon doing it for other members of our family.

I know there are a lot of tutorials out there for built-ins using Ikea bookcases, but if you need them to fit a certain space this is the tutorial for you.

Here is what the area looked like when we bought the home, this area was the formal dining room. Since we had relocated the kitchen, the former kitchen and formal dining room were to become our living room. The one element I really wanted in this space was a fireplace and built-in bookcases. I knew it would create the warmth and coziness that I wanted for this room.

You will need a few wood working tools to complete this project. Here are the tools we used:

1- Router with a 3/4” Dado router bit

2- Circular saw or table saw

3- Pneumatic finish nail gun

Supplies we used:

MDF 4’ X 8’ wood panels (we had them cut to the width we wanted at Home Depot.) This saves a lot of time trying to cut this on the table saw at home.

11/16” X 2 1/2” common primed MDF board

11/16” X 7 1/4” common primed MDF board

3 1/2″ Base board

6″ Base board

Crown molding

Wood glue

Nail brads


Wood putty


Angle iron brackets

Let get started! We mapped out how to cut our 4’ X 8’ sheets of MDF wood before heading to Home Depot. We had them cut the sheets of wood into 15” width pieces, which is the depth of our bookcases. Then we cut them to length for each piece at home with the table saw.

We chose MDF wood sheets for this project because it paints up great and when using a router you get better results, plywood tends to chip.

For our project (2 bookcases) we cut the wood as follows:

4 pieces cut to 15″ x 8′

10 pieces cut to 15″ x 35 1/2″

Of course this can be customized to your own desired width.


Once all the pieces are cut to size, we made dado cuts into the side panels 3/8″ deep. This will be at the location of each shelf. The dado is 3/8″ deep to accommodate the shelf to be glued and nailed into position.

We made a jig out of scrap wood to position the router. We used a framing square to make sure the jig was square. (Notice the dado grove in the jig that will line up where the dado will be cut.)

Set the router depth to  3/8” using a  3/4” dado router bit.

For the dado placements see the diagram above. Ours are placed 20″ apart. Mark on the side panels with a pencil where to line up the jig for the dado cut. As you can see in the photo above it helps to have 2 people for this process. Here my hubby, Steve, is standing on the jig to keep it in position while my son, Alex, uses the router to cut the dado.

Repeat this for all 4 side panels.

Lightly sand and the edges of all of the shelf pieces, this will make it easier to insert them into the dado.

Mark with a pencil the center of the dado on the other side of the wood. This is the line for brad placement.

Spread wood glue in the dado, place the shelf piece into the dado, tap with a rubber mallet if necessary to get into position. Place 3 brads along the pencil line, securing the piece into place. Repeat for each shelf.

Once each bookcase is assembled, put them into position. We secured them on the sides to stud with screw and at the top and bottom with angle iron.

The side of the bookcase is secured to the wall studs with long screw. The bookcase on the right would only be secured to the wall studs on one side, so we located the stud on the back wall and placed an angle iron there to secure it to the wall. There is also an angle iron piece securing at the bottom.

Now it’s time for the fun part! Adding the molding brings it to life and makes it look so amazing! The first pieces to put on are the top header piece and bottom footer piece. The top piece will line up with the bottom edge of  top board, covering the edge of the MDF. The footer piece will align with the top edge of the bottom shelf.

When attaching the molding, run a bead of glue along the edge then place a few brads to secure it.

The next molding piece will be the 2 side pieces. For our project we wanted the shelves to look thick and chunky so all of this molding is 2 1/2″ wide. Measure from the lower edge of the header piece to the top edge of the footer piece and cut the molding. Ours is cut to 82 1/4″ long.

The next pieces to cut will be the molding that will go on the front of each shelf. Ours are cut to 29 3/16″ long.

The bookcase on the left has the molding on it. It is really starting to take shape now.

The side shows on the right bookcase, so on ours we added the header piece and footer piece around the side as well. These header and footer pieces were cut on a 45 degree angle on the corner.  We also added some added detail on the side that would match the fireplace. For this molding we used a 3 1/2″ base board with a detail on it that was very similar to my custom kitchen cabinets.


To finish off the bookcases we added crown molding and a 6″ baseboard. This is the same baseboard that we used everywhere else in the house.

If you are really tight on space, you can create built in shelves in the wall, like we did for our client.

In addition if you’d like enclosed cabinets for the lower section of your built-ins, see “How to Make a Simple Cabinet.

And for more built in ideas, check out How to Make a Built In Reading Nook in a Closet.

There you have it, a step by step tutorial for custom built-in bookcases. We love the results and the way it finished off the room.

If you would like to see how we built the custom mantel & surround for the fireplace chick here.

We hope this tutorial has been inspiring and informative. We would love to hear from you! Do you think this is something you would like to try, or do you know someone else who would?

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As always here at Sunny Side Design, we hope to



You may be interested in this custom built-in post as well. Check out how we built  custom mudroom storage to keep everyone organized

Would you like to have a tour of the entire living room? Click here!

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    1. Michelle Dickson


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