Taking a step away from the screen

Before becoming a web developer, I started out as an industrial designer. I designed products ranging from furniture to backpacks and even dog food dishes. This would involve creating CAD drawing and building out prototypes. There is something so satisfying about stepping away from the screen and building with your hands.

For this project I wanted to create a custom bookshelf for my office that would fit cubby boxes from Target and hold my printer. The beauty of building your own future is that you can make it fit the room, instead of making the room fit your furniture. This bookshelf would hold all my office supplies and fit just under my window sill.


bookshelf sketch

It all starts with a simple sketch, here is a glimpse at some of my thought process for layout and dimensions. I settled on 3 cubbies on the bottom and a shelf for books on top.


  1. 1×12″ Pine Boards
  2. 1/4″ Plywood
  3. 1-1/2″x1-1/2″ Poplar Boards
  4. 2-1/4″ Wood Screws
  5. #20 Biscuits
  6. Wood Glue

Assembling the shelves and top

assembling shelves
biscuit joints

If you are interested in building furniture, consider getting a biscuit joiner. Biscuit joints are very forgiving and allow for a lot of play before the glue hardens. Here you can see the exposed biscuits before glueing and clamping the shelf.

These same biscuits were used on the cubbies in the image above as well as the top (not pictured). Spacing the biscuits depends on the length of the boards being joined. I typically stay at least 2″ to 3″ away from the edges and space them evenly approximately 6″ to 8″ apart. They work great on side to side joins (e.g. the top) or end to face joins (e.g. the shelf to the side boards

Glueing it all together


After leveling the book shelf (which is exceptionally hard in a basement with uneven floors). I quickly glued the biscuit joints and used long pipe clamps to secure the shelf. For a piece this large, make sure to have an extra hand ready to help hold the piece and align the clamps.

attached sides

With the sides and shelf attached, it was time to add some extra shear strength to the shelf.

Attaching a backboard

screw the backboard

It may not seem like much, but the 1/4″ plywood will help provide shear strength to the shelf (i.e. side to side motion). In addition to aesthetics and functionality, it is always a good idea to consider the strengths and weakness of the wood being used and the direction of its grain. The plywood is a perfect example of this. A 1/4 piece of plywood laid flat it will snap under much less weight than if sheared or stretched.

Dealing with a snapped screw head

broken screw

Literally the very last screw of this entire piece snapped when attaching the top board. Lesson learned, make your pilot holes deeper and don’t force it. Taking the extra two minutes to remove the screw and make a deeper pilot will save you an hour extracting it.

extracted screw

I tried several methods to extract the screw in increasing desperation:

  1. Locking pliers – Not tight enough
  2. Chuck of power drill – Stripped head further
  3. Using a screw extractor bit – Snapped bit
  4. Boring fresh holes all around the screw – Scorched earth technique FTW!

dowel fix

Boring around the screw to extract it left a large hole in leg. This could be a major problem in another piece of furniture, but this hole was going to be covered up by the top. I took a large dowel the size of the hole and glued it in. This served as the new foundation for the next screw… which I made sure had an adequately deep pilot hole.

Finishing Touches

With the snapped screw crisis averted, it was time to route, sand and stain the bookshelf.


The chamfered edge on the top was done with a wood router and chamfer bit. This helps the durability of the top and adds a nice aesthetic. In the above picture, you can also see the counter sunk screw holes filled with wood dowels.

stain colors

Testing out the stain on off cuts from the bookshelf. Always test out your stain first.

first coat

This picture was taken after the first coat of stain. Following each coat I would sand the surface with a 200 grit piece of sandpaper. I ended up using 3 coats of a poly-stain mix.

The poly-stain mix went on easy and provided a consistent color. However, I personally prefer the control of an oil or water based stain. Although more prone to blotching, they make it easier to mix and make colors richer. With the poly-stain, I felt locked into a predefined color.


final picture 1
final picture 2