How we made our own leaning bookcase

Every few weeks, we used to walk in to Crate & Barrel to browse home furniture and decor items. And every single time, we sat on a couple different couches to test them out - the same ones, every time. We knew we really wanted a sectional for our new living space, but didn't want to actually purchase them until most of the dusty work in the living room area was set to be completed. 6 months after closing on the house, we were finally able to order the sectional of our dreams! But, I digress. 

On several of those C&B trips, we saw a set of bookshelves that we really liked. There used to be built-in shelves on either side of our fireplace that were too deep and "aggressive-looking" as we liked to call them. We demo'd them pretty quickly without actually having a plan in place for what we were going to do once they were gone, but we knew we wanted them out! And once they were gone, they made the living room look so much bigger! Original shelves pictured below. The bookcases we saw at C&B leaned in towards the wall at the top, and we thought they would be perfect to replace the original built-ins. They would frame the fireplace and wall-mounted TV nicely, without being too overwhelming or crowding the space. However, after we installed a new fireplace surround and hearth and measured the space from the left end of the hearth to the corner wall, we knew the C&B shelves wouldn't fit. So, we shopped around at other places to see if we could find any other types of bookshelves that would fit the space, not crowd the fireplace area and also not hurt the budget, but just couldn't find any that fit the bill. Sooo... logical conclusion - we decided to just build our own version of the C&B shelves! 

Before: Built-in shelves, old fireplace, old dirty carpet, yuck!

Before: Built-in shelves, old fireplace, old dirty carpet, yuck!

After demo. Built-in shelves gone, ugly tiles gone, new drywall and hardiebacker hung, hidden tv cords inserted and tested.

After demo. Built-in shelves gone, ugly tiles gone, new drywall and hardiebacker hung, hidden tv cords inserted and tested.

After: New paint, new fireplace, new bookshelves, new floors! Baseboards coming soon!

After: New paint, new fireplace, new bookshelves, new floors! Baseboards coming soon!

Here's how we did it!

Materials Needed (for one bookshelf)

  • 1 x 2s (we used birch, 2 10 ft pieces)
  • 2 x 3s (we used birch, 4 8 ft pieces)
  • Plywood (we used birch, 2 2 ft by 4 ft panels or 1 4 ft by 8 ft panel for two bookshelves)
  • Pocket hole screws (50 Kreg, Coarse-Thread for use with Soft/Plywoods, 1-1/4", 32 mm)
  • 3-1/8" wood fasteners, you'll need 2 per bookshelf (We used star-drive screws that we pulled out of the old built-ins during demo)
  • Wood glue (Elmer's Carpenter's WoodGlue Max)
  • Finish (Brad) nails - optional
  • Wood stain (We used Varathane, Early American)
  • Finish (We used Varathane Polyurethane, Satin)
  • Tack cloth for removing dust before staining
  • Brush for staining, and applying polyurethane
  • Rag for removing excess stain

Equipment Used

  • Table saw for cutting the plywood shelves
  • Miter saw for cutting everything else
  • Palm sander
  • Kreg Jig for making pocket holes
  • Power Drill
  • Nail gun - optional
  • Clamps if not using nails

Other Helpful Items

  • Face mask
  • Ear plugs
  • Eye protectors
  • Felt furniture pads for the feet

Cut List (for one bookshelf)

  • Rear vertical leg supports, 2 x 3, 2 at 76"
  • Front vertical leg supports, 2 x 3, 2 at 76 11/16", cut at 8 degree angle
  • Top horizontal side support, 2 x 3, 2 1/16" along longest edge, one end cut at 8 degree angle
  • Bottom horizontal side support, 2 x 3, 11 15/16" along longest edge, one end cut at 8 degree angle
  • Shelf supports, 1 x 2, 10 2 foot long sections
  • Shelf 1 (top), plywood, 7 3/8" x 24"
  • Shelf 2, plywood, 9 3/4" x 24"
  • Shelf 3, plywood, 11 3/4" x 24"
  • Shelf 4, plywood, 14" x 24"
  • Shelf 5 (bottom), plywood, 16 1/4" x 24"

How To

Written steps are below but make sure to watch our YouTube video for visuals.

We started with general measurements to figure out how much wood we needed to buy. We knew the dimensions from the C&B website (76” tall, 30” wide, 17” deep), but we had to modify the dimensions to fit our space - between the corner wall and the fireplace, which was smaller than 30” wide. We figured out (more like guesstimated) an approximate angle of 8 degrees, and once we had that, adjusted the depth of each shelf and the specific heights that we wanted.

Cutting the Legs and Supports

  1. We started by cutting the 2x3s for the rear vertical leg supports because we knew how tall we wanted the bookshelf to be.
  2. For the front legs, we cut one end of the 2x3s at a 8 degree angle, which would be the bottom that rests on the floor.
  3. We knew how deep we wanted the top and bottoms to be, so we cut the horizontal side supports for both the top and bottom using the same 2x3s, making sure the front ends were cut at 8 degrees to accommodate for the angled front legs. The bottom side support was cut to be 1 inch off of the floor. 
  4. We laid down the pieces, arranged them the way we wanted it to look, marked where the top of the front leg should be cut off so that the top would be flush. 
  5. We measured and cut the 1x2s to span the width of each shelf, as these would be the supports that the shelves would rest on. Then we drilled 2 pocket holes on each end using the Kreg Jig.

Assembling the Legs

  1. First, we drilled pocket holes using a Kreg Jig into the underside of the bottom side supports.
  2. Then we screwed each bottom side support into the vertical legs using the pocket hole screws.
  3. For the top side support, we drilled a countersunk hole at the top so that we could screw that piece into the front leg.
  4. Then we set the back leg in place and used a longer screw (we used 3-1/8" star-drive wood fasteners) to screw the back into the top side support. It's important to note that the longer screw is towards the bottom of the top side support piece since the countersunk screw to attach the same piece to the front leg is at the top.

Cutting the Shelves

  1. Once the legs and supports were assembled, we determined how high we wanted each shelf to be. Then we marked where the top of each shelf should be on the back leg, and from there measured the depth of each shelf.
  2. The plywood was then cut into the dimensions required for each shelf.
  3. Then each shelf had to be sanded.

Attaching the shelves to the legs

  1. With the first assembled leg + support piece laid down on the ground, we propped up each shelf perpendicular to the legs, used the speed square to make sure it wasn’t crooked, and then set the 1x2 braces below the shelf and screwed them in using pocket hole screws.
  2. Once all the 1x2s were screwed in, we set the other leg + support piece down next to the assembled piece, flipped over the first one, and marked the second leg to mirror the markings we made in the first leg. We could have just marked both legs at the same time, but we were figuring out how to assemble this thing as we were making it. Remember, plans optional = winging it.
  3. Then we repeated step 1 – used the speed square to make sure the shelves were perfectly square and screwed in each 1x2 brace with pocket hole screws.
  4. Once all 1x2 braces were screwed in, we set the bookshelf upright and spread the wood glue along the tops of each 1x2 and set the shelves in. Then we clamped them down to ensure the wood glue adhered the shelves to the 1x2s. (Note: you can use nails here instead, but our shelves ended up fitting so snugly that we had a hard time getting them on and off once the legs and braces were all assembled that we knew the shelves would be totally fine with wood glue and some clamps.)


  1. Now the fun part! Once the wood glue was dry, we brushed on a coat of wood stain, then used a dust-free rag to wipe off any excess stain. When the excess stain is wiped off and the grain of the wood shines through, it is seriously one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever seen. We let the stain dry according to the directions written on the can.
  2. Once the stain dried, we brushed on a coat of polyurethane. You don’t want the layer of polyurethane to be too thick or too thin, and make sure there isn’t any debris. Do at least 2 coats (3 is ideal), and let each coat dry according to the directions written on the can.
  3. Polyurethane usually takes several days to fully cure, depending on the temperature and humidity of your work area.
  4. Once it’s cured, bring it inside and decorate with your favorite décor items! For tips on how to style your bookshelf, I’ve found these videos to be helpful:

Some tips for our fellow DIYers:

  • Sanding is seriously annoying. The dust gets everywhere, so make sure you wear a mask (ear plugs don’t hurt either), and also cover up all the stuff you have stored in your work area, especially if you’re working in a garage like us.
  • Pocket holes can be your best friend. Invest in a Kreg jig to be able to make pretty things and not have screws and nails showing. If you’ve never heard of pocket holes, check out Ana White's nifty video:
  • Be consistent with your cuts and try to get everything as square as possible. Once we finished assembly, there was a slight wobble but we were able to attach felt furniture pads to the bottom of the feet which solved the issue.