Easy How to Build DIY Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves

January 17, 2024

Hi! I'm Nicole

Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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Continuing on with the Theater Room Series. Today is all about these DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves. To look at how far we’ve come with this room is incredible. Normally I would share a beautiful picture of the space before jumping into the process. But the before is just too good to not share now…

A media room with reclining sofa and Ohio State themed walls

As I mentioned before this room has gone from: my older boys’ room they shared; to media room with no frills; to now this…

Theater room with a large sectional and dark sofa on a home theater riser

A beautiful home theater room where the entire family loves to hang out! And with the new home theater riser platform I shared last week, there is plenty of space for everyone.

In keeping with the vibe of the room, these floor to ceiling shelves were no exception to the monochromatic theme I have going in here. My goal was for them to appear as if they were built-in bookshelves and just kind of blend in with the space.

I wanted the decor within them to be the focal point more than the shelving unit itself. I achieved this cohesive look by painting them the same color and sheen as the walls.

Of course, a contrast color would make these DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves pop! And it would be a gorgeous design element!

DIY Home theater room with bookshelves and media console

As you can see, in the picture below, I built the media console before I built the DIY floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Want the plans for the Media Console? Here they are!

Be sure to check out the video below for a visual look at how I built these bookshelves…

But for now let’s get on with it and build these DIY bookshelves.

DIY Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves

Header image for DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves post

Determining the Exact Measurements

The very first step I took was measuring the space.

Some things I needed to consider:

  • How wide did I want this built-in bookshelf to be?
  • What kind of decorative items did I want to add, which in turn, would determine the height of the shelves?
  • Were there wall studs I could securely fasten this unit to?
  • Would I be blocking an important electrical outlet?

I determined no outlets would be covered and marked the wall studs.

(Note: Be sure to mark the wall studs on the ceiling. The bookcase will cover up your markings and you won’t be able to figure that out once the unit is in place.)

Next step, I measured the ceiling height. In doing this, it’s important to take a few measurements floor to ceiling. No wall is ever straight and the ceiling height does fluctuate from one end of the wall to the other.

After doing this, you’ll want to go with the smallest floor to ceiling height measurement.

Because I was building my unit out in the garage first, I decided to take off a couple inches to make sure I would be able to turn the bookshelf upright once I got it in the room.

Here are the measurements I landed on:

  • Our ceiling height is 8 feet
  • Height of the bookshelf: 90″
  • Width of the bookshelf: 21″
  • Depth of the bookshelf: 16″
  • Number of shelves I wanted: 5
  • Space between each shelf: 16″

To configure the space between each shelf, I simply took…

  • the total height of the unit minus the width of the top shelf and bottom shelf trim pieces
  • I then took this number and divided it by the number of shelves I decided on
  • And this gave me an approximate number for the space between each shelf. I say “approximate”, because adding the shelf itself will take up space too.

Here’s an example using the measurements for my unit:

  • 90″ (height) minus 10″ (each trim piece is 5″) equals 80″
  • 80″ divided by 5 shelves equals 16″
  • Therefore, the space between each of my shelves will work out to be approximately 16″

Once all of the numbers were worked out, I was ready to start the build…

Instructions are based on a bookshelf with the following dimensions: 95″ Tall; 21″ Wide; 16″ Deep; Total of 5 shelves. If building a different size, be sure to adjust measurements accordingly.

Materials Needed for DIY Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves:

(Amazon Affiliate Links Included)

Note: I shared the link for the Edge Banding through Amazon…for those who want the convenience of ordering all of the materials needed for this project, in one place. However, Home Depot has it for a lot less. Under $5, if you want to check that out. 

Tools Needed for DIY Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves:

(Amazon Affiliate Links Included)

Note: If you don’t have access to a table saw or circular saw, Home Depot will cut your plywood for you. Just have your measurements ready when you go pick up your wood. For quick reference, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 plywood sheets (3/4″) 90 3/4″x16″ each
  • 5 plywood sheets (3/4″) 19 1/2″ x 15 1/4″ each

Step One: Cut the side panels

My very first step of the build was to cut the side panels. Using my table saw, I ripped my two side panels to 90 3/4″ x 16″.

2 long plywood sheets cut into rectangles

Step Two: Cut the shelves

Cut 5 shelves to 19 1/2″ x 15 1/4″…

Plywood sheets cut into squares

Drill 3/4″ pocket holes along the edge of the 15 1/4″ side of each shelf. (As shown below)…

Plywood sheets jigged together to form the frame of the DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves

Step Three: Cut spacers

To make this process go a lot easier and faster, I cut spacers to determine where each shelf needed to go.

Cut 2 scrap plywood pieces at 15″ each. (Width doesn’t matter; mine were about 4″ wide)

Cut 2 scrap pieces of plywood at 4 1/4″ each (again width doesn’t matter)

Step Four: Attach shelves

Using the 4 1/4″ spacers, place the bottom of each spacer at the edge of the bottom of your side panel. About 15″ apart from one another. This marks the spot where your bottom shelf will be attached.

Using 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws, attach one side of the shelf to the side panel. Keep in mind that this will be your bottom shelf. Therefore, you want to make sure the pocket holes are on the underneath and not where they will be visible when you stand the shelving unit upright.

Now you’re ready to attach your next shelf to the side panel. Place the 15″ spacers above the bottom shelf (as shown below). Attach the next shelf to the side panel using 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws….

Frame made using plywood jigged together

Work your way up the side panel, using the spacers as a guide to attach each shelf.

Be sure to pay attention to the pocket holes and if they’ll be visible when the unit is upright. You’ll want to place the shelf accordingly, to avoid having to fill these holes with wood filler when finished.

For example, the bottom shelves should have the pocket holes facing down when the unit is upright. Whereas, the pocket holes should be facing up on the top shelves when the unit is upright.

Once all 5 shelves are attached to the one side panel, it will look like this…

Side panel and shelves for DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves

You’re now ready to turn the unit over and set it on top of the other side panel.

Line it up and attach the other side of each shelf to the other side board. You’ll do this the same way as above. Make sure to put the spacers in between each shelf to ensure that the shelves are level. Use 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws to attach.

When finished with this step, it will look like this….

Side view of shelves and side panel

Standing upright the shelving unit looks like this…

DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves made of plywood

Step Five: Add front shelf trim

For this step you can either use the plywood you already have or 1×2’s.

I chose to use the 3/4″ plywood I already had on-hand for this project. If you use the plywood, you’ll want to rip 4 strips to 1 1/2″ wide, using your table saw.

You’ll then cut each of these strips, using your miter saw, at 19 1/2″ long.

You should now have four trim pieces measuring 19 1/2″ long x 1 1/2″ wide.

Attach each of these trim pieces to the front of your shelves, using 1 1/2″ wood screws. These trim pieces will cover up that unfinished wood from the plywood edges and give the bookshelf a more finished look.

Note: You don’t need to add them to the top or bottom shelf. These will be covered with wider trim pieces. (In the picture below, I still needed to add the 1 1/2″ wide trim piece to the second shelf down.)

Standing view of shelving unit made of plywood

Step Six: Add the backer board

Now you’re ready to add the backer board. Simply cut the 1/2″ sanded plywood to fit the back of your bookshelf. You’ll then lay your shelving unit back down on the floor and attach with tack nails…

frame of shelving unit on its backside to add the backing to it

Just don’t make the same mistake I did. At this stage of my project, it was late at night and I was ready to just push through and be done. Little did I know, until I stood the unit back upright, that I had attached the backer board to the front of my shelves. UGH!!

Luckily, the tack nails are super easy to remove and it didn’t take long to fix. But after that I called it a night.

Here’s what it should look like when done the right way…

DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves standing upright. Need paint

As you can see, I added the trim piece to the bottom. For my bottom trim, I cut a strip of plywood to fit and attached it with 1 1/2″ wood screws. If you prefer, you can use a 1×5 in place of the plywood for the bottom trim piece. Once again, I went with what I had on-hand…

Shelving unit standing upright

Step Seven: Add Edge Banding to DIY Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves

The one downside of plywood are the rough edges. To cover this up and give my face frame a clean, finished look, I use edge banding.

It is super easy to use and only requires an iron and a block of wood to apply. Follow the directions as written on the packaging and you’ll have this step done in no time.

In the picture below, you can see that I’ve added the edge banding to the left side. But the right side still needs it. Big difference. You get a much nicer finish with the edge banding…

DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves with trim and edge banding added

Step Eight: Add the topper

After taking my piece downstairs to its new home, I was ready to give it that built-in look.

I cut plywood to fit around the top of the unit, reaching to the ceiling. I attached these pieces to the top of the bookcase, using 1 1/2″ wood screws.

Make sure to rip your boards about an inch wider, so that the bottom of the trim piece overlaps with the top of the unit. Otherwise, you won’t have anything to attach these boards to.

If you wish to get a little fancier, you could add crown molding instead of plywood.

Media console with shelving unit next to it

Step Nine: Finish work

As you can see in the picture above, I had already painted before adding the top trim piece. But at this stage, you are ready for the finish work.

Follow the markings you made at the beginning of this post and attach the built-in shelves to the back wall studs, using 1 1/2″ wood screws.

If you prefer not to mount the shelves to wall studs, or you simply don’t have studs in this space to mount them to, there is another route you can take. Using adhesive mounting strips will secure your bookshelf to the wall and hold it firmly in place.

But either way, you want to be sure to anchor the shelving unit to the wall for safety reasons.

Fill in all of your nail holes. Sand these spots smooth with your 220-grit sandpaper.

Paint the wooden bookshelves your color of choice. Or stain, if you prefer. Add one or two coats of poly (top coat) to prevent smudge marks and scratches from any decor you add.

Step back and admire your work!

Want to build the media console too? Here’s the link.

I love to add large pieces that make a statement by themselves when decorating. Rather than adding a bunch of smaller decor items to each shelf,

I chose to add a simple vase to fill the space of each shelf. I like that this keeps things less busy and gives the eye one main thing to focus on. I’ll source some vases at the bottom of this post. In case you want to check them out.

Media console with floor to ceiling bookshelves

I also like the look of adding a blanket on that first shelf. It adds a different texture element, which is pleasing to the eye.

DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves with vases and cozy blanket

DIY Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves FAQ’s

How much will this project cost?

All said and done, this floor to ceiling bookshelf will come in under $125. Not a bad price at all, for a beautiful piece of furniture.

What is the best way to secure floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to the wall?

  1. Locate Wall Studs: Use a stud finder to locate the wall studs behind the drywall. Wall studs are sturdy and provide the necessary support for heavy bookshelves. Mark the stud locations with a pencil.
  2. Secure the Vertical Supports: Use wall anchors or screws to attach the tall vertical pieces (called uprights) to the wall studs. These uprights are like the bookshelves’ backbone and keep them upright. Make sure they are straight up and down.
  3. Add Horizontal Support Boards: Put horizontal boards at the top and bottom of your bookshelves. These boards help keep your bookshelves sturdy and make sure the weight is evenly distributed. Fasten these boards to the wall studs too.
  4. Check for Level and Stability: Once everything is secured, double-check that your bookshelves are level and stable. Use a level to ensure they are not leaning or tilting. Test their sturdiness by gently pushing on them to see if they sway.

Can I add lighting to my bookshelves, and if so, how?

You can install LED strip lights or puck lights underneath the shelves to illuminate the books and objects on the shelves. These lights are easy to install and create a warm, inviting glow.

These are a great option for under the shelf lighting. No hardwiring required!

Amazon Affiliate Links Included

How can I make sure the bookshelves are level and stable?

  • Use a Level: Place a carpenter’s level horizontally on top of your bookshelves and check for any tilting or unevenness. Adjust the feet or shims beneath the bookshelves until they are perfectly level.
  • Add Cross Bracing: For added stability, especially for wide bookshelves, you can install cross braces or diagonal supports in the back. These braces will prevent side-to-side wobbling.

I hope you found this custom bookshelves post to be very helpful and informative. Are you ready to go build your own bookshelves? They would look great in a home office, living room, or a room with tall ceilings. Add a rolling ladder and how fun would that be?!

Another option for these DIY floor to ceiling bookshelves would be to take away the floor to ceiling aspect. Cut down the size of them and build them to fit on top of some base cabinets. Another great custom look.

Be sure to check back next week for my next theater room makeover series post.

Let’s go beyond the design to build something beautiful together!

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(While I wasn’t able to find the links for my vases (most of them have been thrifted), I’ve linked some really cool ones from Amazon listed at a great price)

Anthropologie Faux Fur Blanket

Sand Glaze Finish Vase

White Ceramic Vase

Bookshelf Decor Vase

Nordic Vase

Modern Scandi Vase

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