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Leaning Bookshelf Design


I hunted around everywhere for a set of leaning bookshelves, but couldn't find any that I I made my own.

The great thing about this style of shelving is that it keeps the room more open than traditionally enclosed shelving.

If you're interested, you can download the plans to make them yourself.

[ Leaning Bookshelf Blueprints ]

Step 1: Gather Materials

Materials for one set of shelves:

  • 2 x Wood Board (8' x 16" x 2") - Uprights (recommended: get slightly longer to cut to size to achieve a better finish)
  • 5 x Pine Board (4' x 6-12" x 1") - Shelves (recommended: get slightly longer to cut to size to achieve a better finish)
  • 5 x Pine Support Board (4' x 4" x 1") - Shelf Supports
  • 20 x steel corner brackets
  • 80 x 1/2" Screws (for corner brackets)
  • 20 x 1" Screws (for under-shelf supports)
  • 20' LED Light Strips (2' per shelf)
  • U-shaped wiring pins

I found the wood at my local hardware store. Because you're going to cut and finish it, getting uprights a foot or two longer and a few inches wider will make it easier to get a good, clean edge.

For the LED accents, I used basic warm white LED strips from IKEA. You need 10 strips total for one set of shelves (two per shelf).

Step 2: Cut and Route Uprights

Use the included blueprint image as a reference for all measurements.

Using a table saw, cut the uprights to length (8 feet). Try to measure your cuts to remove any portion of the wood that isn't cosmetic (for instance, a large split or know near one end). If you end up with a split in your wood, find the end of the split and drill a small hole (see image). Then mix some wood putty and fill in the crack.

Once the length of the upright is cut, use a miter saw to cut an angle in the bottom and top, as shown. This angle allows the shelf to lean against the wall.

Now that the basic form is complete, you can use a joiner/plainer and sander to clean up the surface of the wood. Start with a lower grit sandpaper and work your way up until you get the surface you desire.

The final step in preparing the uprights is to route out the channels for the shelves and the (optional) hidden wiring. Mark the area to be routed out with a pencil, then clamp the upright to a work table and use a handheld router to route out the channel. You can use a flat wood file to clean up any uneven or rough edges.

Step 3: Cut Shelves and Supports

Next, using a table saw to cut the shelves to length. Once this is done, use a miter saw to cut a 45-degree angle in two of the corners (see the blueprint).

The tricky part is cutting out the channels, which allow the shelf to slide into the uprights.

Mark the channel with a pencil and use a band saw to cut slits up either side. To cut the third side (and allow the piece of wood to be pulled out), I used a small wood chisel. This had the added benefit of allowing me to add an angle to this portion of the cut, as it will butt up against the front of the upright at a 7.5-degree angle.

Use sandpaper to finish the shelves to your liking.

In this design, each shelf also has a lower support which doubles as a cover for the LED lighting.

Cut each piece per the blueprints, and use the same handheld router to route out a channel for the LED strips. These pieces sit below the shelves and screw into the uprights. To hide the screws, you can drill pocket holes with a pocket hole jig (optional).

Step 4: Sand, Stain, and Varnish Wood

Now to stain and finish the wood.

Find a place to work that will have good ventilation and low dust, where you can leave the pieces long enough to dry.

Start by applying a pre-stain conditioner to the wood. This opens the pores of the wood and prepares it to receive the stain.

Once the pre-stain is complete (per the instructions that came with it), you can begin applying the stain itself. You have two options here:

  1. Regular paint-on wood stain
  2. Shellac + wood dye

I used option two because I liked the look it gave. I purchased an amber water-based shellac from Target Coatings ( because I wanted to be more environmentally-friendly, and I liked the amber finish it gave. You can choose the color to fit your liking. I added a few drops of dark walnut wood dye to get a darker amber color in the finish.

Work quickly to avoid streaks, and choose a good brush—it will show.

Once you are finished and everything has dried, you can apply an (optional) varnish. I chose a satin varnish because I think the end result is's not super-glossy like a regular varnish, which makes the wood look plastic-y in my opinion. Again, work quickly with a good brush to get an even coat and avoid streaking. Two coats should be plenty.

Step 5: Assemble

Now for the assembly.

Lean the uprights against a wall and slide the shelves into place. The wider shelves start at the bottom and get narrower as they get to the top.

Once the shelves are in place, you can take the corner brackets and screw them into place. Depending on the hardness of the wood you are working with, you may want to drill holes for the screws first. Place a bracket where you'd like to fix it and mark the position of the holes with a pencil, then drill.

To give the corner brackets a nicer look, I used a Dremel tool to polish the surface of the metal. You can use a polishing bit to give it a polished finish, or an abrasive bit to give it a brushed finish.

Once the shelves are in position, place the shelf supports below each shelf and screw into place (see the second image). When these supports are in place, you can place the LED strips in the channels and wire around the back side of the uprights (see the second image again).

Now for the test: place a book on a shelf and see if the whole things falls over.


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