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Making Children's Bookshelves




A ready-made plate rack can be easily transformed into a child's bookshelf, displaying both toys and children's books. You can also make your own shelves; just have all the wood cut to size at a lumberyard.

Tools and Materials
Tape measure
Plate rack
Anchors and screws
Cordless drill
L-shape brackets

1. Decide at what level you want the plate rack to hang. Measure from the top of the baseboard, making sure it's level, and mark the wall. Attach one mount to the top of each side of the plate rack. (Martha uses keyhole mounts; consult your local hardware store for the anchors and screws appropriate for your walls.) Drill holes into the wall, and insert anchors. Using a cordless drill, drill screws 1/4 inch in.

2. Hang rack on screws, one side at a time. Secure the bottom of the rack beneath the bottom shelf with one L-shape bracket on each side; screw them in.

Bookshelves How-To
2 pieces lumber, each 3/4 by 3 by 50 inches, for shelf sides
5 pieces lumber, each 3/4 by 2 3/4 by 39 inches, for shelves
5 pieces lumber, each 40 1/2 inches, for shelf edging
4 pieces lumber, each 39 inches, for railing
3/4-inch brads
Primer and paint
Tape measure
100-, 120-, and 220-grit sandpaper
2 C-clamps
Combination square
Cordless drill with 1/16- and 3/8-inch drill bits and countersinking bit
10 wood screws
Wood glue
Phillips-head screwdriver
Nail set
Wood putty
Putty knife
Semigloss paint

1. Have all of the lumber cut to size. (Martha likes to use poplar because it's free of knots and imperfections, but pine works well as long as there are only a few knots.) Prime and paint all of the pieces; let dry.

2. Select the two longest pieces; these will be the vertical sides of the shelf, or the shelf supports. Mark the wood 3 1/4 inch from one end, and designate this as the top. For a rounded top, place the point of the compass on this mark, and make an arc that sweeps from the top edge to the end. Using the jigsaw, cut close to the line, and remove the corner. Sand out the kerf marks left by the saw with 100-grit sandpaper. Lay this piece on top of the other piece to act as a template, and draw the other arc. Cut the new shelf side, and sand. You now have the two sides of your shelf.

3. To install the shelves, clamp the two arched sides together so that the shelf supports are flush with each other. The arc should be facing forward. Work from the bottom up. The bottom shelf will be screwed flush with the bottom of the shelf sides. Using a tape measure and pencil, make a mark 3/8 inch up from the bottom edge. Extend the line across the side with a combination square. Continue to mark off all the shelves in the same way.

4. The next shelf will be placed 7 inches from the top of the bottom shelf. Again, use the tape measure, pencil, and the combination square to mark this placement. For each shelf, draw two lines on the shelf support: one for the bottom edge of the shelf, and one for the center, 3/8 inch up from this initial mark. Continue this process up the shelf supports at the following increments: 18 and 18 3/8 inches, and 40 1/2 and 40 7/8 inches. The result will be five shelves spaced 7, 9 1/2, 9 1/2, and 11 1/2 inches apart.

5. With the pieces still clamped together, predrill holes for the shelf screws. Find the centerline of each shelf by marking 3/8 inch up from the bottom of each shelf. Drill holes 3/4 inch from each side of the shelf support. Once all the holes are made, take the countersink bit, and countersink each hole. The countersink should be the same diameter as the screw head.

6. Starting at the bottom shelf, spread a small amount of wood glue on the ends of the shelf. Place it at the bottom end of the shelf supports. Make certain that it is flush with the back and bottom of the support sides, leaving space at the front of the shelf for the trim. Screw the shelves tightly into place with a Phillips-head drill bit and a Phillips-head wood screw. Move to the next shelf. Using the square, make sure that each shelf is perpendicular and horizontal. Clean up any glue with water before it dries. Make sure that all the screw heads are sunk below the surface of the wood and that the shelves are tight to the sides.

7. To add the shelf-edge moldings, tack the brads at 4-inch intervals along the molding before attaching them. Put a small amount of wood glue on the back of the molding, and align it to the shelf face. Drive the brads into the shelf, leaving about a 1/4 inch of the brad from the surface. Don't drive the brad flush because the hammer will damage the molding. Use the nail set to drive the brad just below the surface. Repeat this process for all the shelves.

8. The remainder of the molding forms the rail for each shelf. Measure 3 1/2 inches up from the top of each shelf, and make a mark. Measure from both sides to ensure that it is level. Glue and nail in place.

9. To mount the shelves on the wall, turn the shelf over so that you are looking at the back side (the side that will face the wall). Measure 2 inches down from the top on each shelf support, and make a mark with a pencil on the center roughly 3/8 inch from either side. Using the 3/8-inch drill bit, make a hole in each side about 1/2 inch deep; these holes are made for the nails that will hang the shelves.

10. Fill all the brad and screw holes with wood putty, using a putty knife. Sand these bumps with 120-grit paper until they are flush with the wood. Sand entire surface of the shelves lightly with 220-grit paper, and prime. When the primer is dry, lightly sand again, and paint with two coats of semigloss paint.

Martha Stewart Living, October 2004



Reviews (8)

  • jah60025 1 Oct, 2012

    Also, note that in the instructions they have the number of boards mixed up between the rails and edges -- there should be 4 @ 40.5 rails, 5 @ 39 for shelf edging.

  • jah60025 1 Oct, 2012

    Just made a set of these with 1/2" reclaimed mahogany from a local church. I had 6-1/2" wide x 54" long planks that were easy to rip down to the sizes for this unit. I made the shelves full depth, and didn't put trim on the front edges -- I just made them flush. Using 1/2-round (11/16th) for the rails. Power miter saw makes the job a LOT easier -- but it's a fun, practical, and relatively quick project (weekend). Note, the Pottery Barn ones are nice -- but are all $130.

  • locallover2008 11 Oct, 2009

    boyfriend and i just made these yesterday from poplar - haven't sanded, primed, and painted yet but so far it has turned out exactly as we hoped. we're using the bookshelf for our books...we have no kids. it's such a stylish way to display your books and a fun project for DIYers.

  • lizmeyer 7 Oct, 2008

    Can't find this plate rack anywhere on the internet. Better Homes and Gardens has the same one on their website too and calls it a ready-made "plate rack"- like you can get it anywhere. Anyone find one?

  • jenniferabney 6 May, 2008

    I build this in a wide version for my daughter's day bed. It goes along the wall so she can easily get books to read at night. It is perfect, and fills in that akward space of blank wall there. I hung a swing arm lamp next to it, and now she feels so independent. It encourages reading at night, and she looks forward to going to bed now!

  • IzziesMummy 13 Jan, 2008

    I believe that pottery barn kids carries a similar bookcase

  • pupurucha 13 Jan, 2008

    i dont think this is a plate rack... it is more like a magazine rack and from the pic., apparently you can only take the books out through the bottom which is actually easier for kids. wish someone would build these... great idea for kid's books and great space saver since the books are displayed flat. i also have not been able to find them.

  • grammaclp 12 Jan, 2008

    I have tried to find the ready-made plate racks... any ideas of where they can be bought?