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I've seen the following bookcases while I was on holiday, and I'd like to make something similar myself. However, I'm puzzled about the structure of the bookcase.

enter image description here enter image description here

It looks like the vertical side walls are not made out of a single board (as "normally" happens in a bookcase), but are multiple individual pieces, and the shelves are fixed on the top/bottom of the side boards rather than on internal face.

enter image description here

I really like the look of it, but I don't understand how the vertical bits can be fixed safely to the horizontal shelves. Do you reckon there are some metal brackets in the back to keep everything square and to give some structural stability? How would you fix the shelves to the side boards?

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  • You're not interested in the three facing panes that float in front of the shelving units ? Separately - the indirect lighting probably has a lot to do with the effect, that is something to consider for your installation.
    – Criggie
    Nov 21, 2022 at 10:40
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    No, I am not! Those floating panes are veny nice, but look very much like a bookshop solution, while I am planning to make a similar bookcase for my living room (where I am not planning to sell any book :D)
    – Fraccalo
    Nov 21, 2022 at 11:40

4 Answers 4

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Structurally dubious on the whole, but the back sheet of plywood is probably doing a large part of holding it together, evidently adequately. I do see top brackets to keep it from tipping over.

enter image description here

I doubt that there's a steel support between each set of shelves, but that would be a way to tie it together better, if wanted.

Functionally, it's the all-wooden version of plank and cinderblock (or brick) bookcases. A functional limitation is that the shelves are not adjustable at all, but if you are fine with that, you could certainly replicate this. I would expect that the shelf is drilled and screwed (or nailed) into the support below it, and the hidden side of the support is pocket-screwed (or toe-nailed) into the shelf below it (staggered so they don't conflict) and then the plywood back is attached to the shelf assembly to stiffen it up and unify it.

The bottom-most shelf would presumably be screwed up into the support above, rather than the support being pocket-screwed into it, and the feet are offset so they can be screwed down into from the bottom shelf.

There may be an additional sctructural detail lurking in the back corners, mostly hidden by books.

detail of leg, exposure enhanced and arrow added

I think this shows the foot/leg board extending up inside the back corner of the shelves, which would provide a good solid hunk of vertical timber to attach all those separate end bits to, and make the structure more solid than I had at first guessed. But it's not showing in the third picture, so it may not extend all that far up. Or the different sets of shelves may be built slightly differently.

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  • Thanks, you raise very interesting points :)
    – Fraccalo
    Nov 20, 2022 at 18:08
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    They seemed pretty obvious, but I'm fine with the edit.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 20, 2022 at 20:17
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    Obvious to you and to me - I actually looked for those brackets before I read through the question. But a lot of people never attach bookcases to the wall and wouldn't notice. Nov 21, 2022 at 1:10
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The verticals are probably set to the horizontals by dowels that run through all 3 pieces. Might be metal dowels - they make steel dowels with a spiral V-groove that helps it hold onto glue. Seems like they might have other uses too :)

enter image description here

The above would provide more than enough strength, but more than that, we tend to ignore the backboard as a structural member, because in flat-pack furniture like Ikea, the backboard is weak tea. But it does not have to be - it could tie the whole bookshelf together. The structural elements wouldn't even need to be full width, a few inches in from the edges would suffice. For instance someone could back the entire bookshelf with 1/8" lauan plywood and behind that install 1x4's on the outer edges. Use deck screws to tie those through the lauan into the verticals and horizontals.

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    The backboard is a vital structural element even in Ikea furniture (to prevent racking), but I agree, it doesn't feel like the flimsy cardboard (or whatever) is enough to be structural. (This comment more for the benefit of other readers than for Harper.) Nov 21, 2022 at 9:36
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    That "steel dowel" looks a lot like threaded rod (all-thread).
    – Dan Mašek
    Nov 21, 2022 at 9:56
  • If doweled, plain old wooden ones would be quite adequate.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 21, 2022 at 13:35
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    As someone who once left out the weak tea Ikea backboard and later had a bookcase collapse via racking, I can confirm it does a lot more than you might think.
    – Bartimaeus
    Nov 21, 2022 at 16:26
  • @DanMašek That's because that's precisely what it is.
    – SiHa
    Nov 21, 2022 at 21:22
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I would use a stopped dado joint to allow the side panels to be mostly intact, but to have that exposed shelf edge on the front that you're interested in.

If it were constructed like that, it might be only the first inch of the shelf that you're seeing.

https://www.table-saw-guide.com/dado-joint.html https://canadianwoodworking.com/techniques_and_tips/stopped-dado-joint/

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  • Look at the grain on the side pieces. That's not how this one was done, though it could be a way to do a similar but different one, depending what Fraccalo likes about these.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 24, 2022 at 1:38
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The structure looks like a stacking barrister bookcase but without the glass doors. The rear panel is the key to the strength of each unit. Plus add some dowels to keep each unit centered on top of each other.

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