How to Make Cheap Bookshelves

Bookshelves are an essential piece of furniture. They can house books and other items, such as small kitchen appliances, dishes and entertainment system components. First, you need objects that can be used as shelves. These can be recycled shelf parts from thrift stores or abandoned furniture, or boards, cabinet doors or even full-sized doors left over from building projects or demolition sites. Second, you need shelf supports. You can use cinder blocks, bricks, sturdy plant pots, paint cans or even the books themselves. What you use depends on what's available. To personalize or refresh your shelves, you can paint, decoupage or add texture to any or all of these components.

You can make book shelves for little to no money with recycled materials

Step 1

Strip any paint or varnish using a scraper, sander or sandpaper and, if needed, chemical paint stripper. Scrape or sand the paint or varnish as firmly as necessary to remove it. Depending on the paint or varnish, how many components you need to strip, and how large they are, this could take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Always use chemical paint strippers according to the manufacturers' instructions. Generally, you will paint the stripper over the varnish or paint you need removed. The stripper will soften the paint or varnish, allowing you to wipe, scrape or simply wash it off. Alternatively, if the worn look of the component fits in with your interior design scheme, you can leave the worn paint on.

Decoupage is one way you can decorate your shelves.

Apply a new coat of paint to the components, if desired. Don't restrict paint to wood components---you can paint bricks if you're using them for your shelf supports, even painting different bricks different colors. Alternatively, you can decoupage components. This process requires gluing paper images to the components, then applying another coat of glue over the images for protection. Use a 1-inch paint brush to paint a layer of white craft glue, such as Elmer's glue, to the component. If your glue seems too thick, simply thin it down with some water. Stick your paper decoration to the glue and allow the glue to dry. Then, paint another layer of glue over and around the decoration, sealing it to your component. You can also add texture to components, beating them up with a hammer and other tools if you want a country-rustic or weathered look. Lay the components on a flat surface so they will be fully supported, and hit them hard enough to just ding the wood slightly, but not break or splinter the component.

Step 3

Apply at least one coat of varnish to the components to protect them once any paint or glue you used is dry.

Step 4

Start assembling your shelf in the location you wish to place it. Start with either a shelf component or with supports, depending on whether or not you want to store items close to the ground. You can even start with a short support so you have just enough room to clean under the shelves. If you start with a shelf component, lay your largest shelf component on the ground first. Then set support components on each end of the shelf so that each side is the same height. For example, if you are using cinder blocks, place one cinder block on each end of the support. As long as they are the same type of cinder block, your shelf supports will be the same height. If you start building with supports, set your supports, e.g., your cinder blocks, down first. Space them close enough together so that the shelf component you lay on top of them will be able to rest securely on both of them. Whichever you start with, repeat the steps, building from the bottom up, alternating your shelf components with your support components until you've reached the desired height.

Cinder blocks and wood planks make sturdy shelves.

Secure the components to each other if you'd like. If you are using heavy, sturdy components, like cinder blocks and wood boards, and you're building your shelves on a flat surface, such as a tile or wood floor as opposed to thick, shaggy carpeting, then your construction will be sturdy enough to stand and hold your objects without attaching them together. However, if you doubt the stability of your shelves, you can attach your components together. Assemble the components as directed in step 4, securing the components as you build. Use wood glue to secure the components and nail wooden components together. Apply a line of wood glue along the seam that the two components will form when they are attached, and then nail them in place. The glue will dry after you've nailed the components together, further securing them. Generally, you would nail each corner of the shelf down into the support with one nail. For non-wood components, you can glue bricks together and to wood with epoxy brick adhesives, which are available in most hardware stores.

Step 6

Allow any adhesives to dry before placing objects on the shelves.

Julie Elefante

Julie Elefante has written for Demand Studios since February 2009. Her work appears primarily on She wrote for the "South Mountain District News" for almost three years,, and "Anthology Magazine." She has a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary humanities from Arizona State University.