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Steps for Building a DIY Leaning Ladder Bookcase

A ladder bookcase is a great addition to any room. Best of all, you can easily build your own for a third of the price you’d pay at the store. Follow the directions below to learn how to build a DIY ladder bookcase.

1. Cut the 1 x 2 Parts to Size

The sides are made up of a back 1×2 leg with two square cut ends, an angled front leg mitered at parallel 9-degree angles, and crosspieces that set horizontally at the height of each shelf with one square cut end and one mitered end meet the angle of the front leg.

While I provided measurements for all of the crosspieces in my cut list below, I recommend cutting the top and bottom crosspieces to length, attaching them between the legs, and then cutting the remaining crosspieces to fit to ensure perfect joints.

2. Prep a Top and Bottom Crosspiece

Drill a pocket hole at each end of a top and bottom crosspiece. We’ll fill the pocket holes in the top crosspieces after assembly, so the pocket holes can be offset, but the rest of the pocket holes should be located along the bottom edge of each crosspiece so that they will be concealed by the shelves later on.

3. Mark the Height of the Shelves

Using a tape measure, speed square and pencil, mark the height of the shelves on the back legs at 6”, 20”, 34”, 48” and 62”. Set one back leg aside.

4. Install the Top and bottom Crosspieces between Two Legs

Align the top crosspiece with the top edge of the back leg, and the bottom crosspiece above the mark for the bottom shelf. Apply glue to the ends of the crosspieces, and then secure them using a drill/driver and 1¼” pocket hole screws.

5. Check that the Side Sets Level

At this point, it’s a good idea to check that the assembled shelf side sets level. To do so, hold a level against the outer edge of the back leg to check that it’s plumb—or perfectly vertical—and then set the level on the bottom crosspiece to ensure it sets level between the front and back leg.

6. Size the Remaining Crosspieces

Elevate the assembled side on scrap blocks, and then slide a 1×2 under the frame, aligned with a mark for a shelf. Mark the angle along the front edge, and then cut the piece to size. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll cut and trim these pieces a few times to get a perfect fit. Once the piece has a good fit, use the crosspiece as a template to cut a second crosspiece for the remaining side assembly. Repeat to cut the remaining crosspieces for both sides of the shelving unit.

7. Drill Pocket Holes in the Crosspieces

To prep the crosspieces for assembly, drill a pocket hole along the bottom edge of each end so that the pockets holes will face inward after installation.

8. Install the Crosspieces

Once prepped, apply glue to the ends of the crosspieces. Using a drill/driver and 1¼-inch pocket hole screws, install the crosspieces into the assembled side frame.

Repeat to assemble the remaining legs and crosspieces to form the second side of the shelving unit.

9. Join the Sides with the 1×4 Boards

With the sides complete, it’s time to join them by attaching 1×4 boards between the sides at the height of each shelf. First cut the 1 x 4 boards to length at 24 inches.

Drill two pilot holes in each end of each board. Apply glue to one end of each board, and then secure it to back leg of the first assembled side—aligned with the shelf heights, and with the pocket holes facing the back.

Once all the boards are attached to the first side, align the boards with the second side of the ladder shelf, and attach them with glue and screws.

10. Size the Plywood Shelves

The last part of this build is to size and attach the plywood shelves. I created this design to fit within the constraints of one ¾-inch-thick plywood panel that runs 2’x4’. Using a circular saw, rip the 24-inch-wide panel into 5 pieces.

11. Drill Pocket Holes in the Shelves

Drill pocket holes into the underside of each shelf along its sides and back edge, being careful not to align the pocket holes with the existing fasteners used to assemble the sides and back of the shelf frame.

12. Attach the Shelves

Apply glue to the sides and back edge of each shelf and then slide it into place. The 1×2 crosspieces and 1×4 boards now cover the exposed edge of three sides of each shelf. Screw the shelves into place flush with the bottom edge of the surrounding boards.

13. Finish the Front Edge of the Shelves

To finish the front edge of each shelf, I could just smooth the edges with wood filler, but since I’m planning to apply stain to this project, I’ll finish the front edge of each shelf with edge banding.

Edge banding is a thin strip of wood veneer with an adhesive back. Trim the edge banding to the length of the front edge of each shelf, and then secure it using a hot iron.

Trim off any excess and sand the edges smooth.

14. Sand and Finish the Assembly

Fill the exposed pocket holes in the uppermost crosspieces. Sand the entire assembly with medium and then fine grit sandpaper. Apply a coat of paint of stain to finish the look.

What You Need for This Project

Read on to learn the types of tools, materials and the cut list needed to complete this project.

Tools: Materials Cut List 1 x 2 Back Leg – 2 @ 70 7/8” 1 x 2 Front Leg – 2 @ 72 (Miter ends at parallel 9 degree angles) 1 x 2 Top of Leg – 2 @ 2 ½” (Miter one end at 9 degrees) ¾” Plywood Shelf – 1 @ 24”W x 14”D ¾” Plywood Shelf – 1 @ 24”W x 11 ¾”D ¾” Plywood Shelf – 1 @ 24”W x 9 ½”D ¾” Plywood Shelf – 1 @ 24”W x 7 ¼”D ¾” Plywood Shelf – 1 @ 24”W x 5 ¼”D 1 x 4 Supports – 5 @ 24” 1 x 2 Sides – 2 @ 3 5/8”” 1 x 2 Sides – 2 @ 5 7/8” 1 x 2 Sides – 2 @ 8” 1 x 2 Sides – 2 @ 10 ¼” 1 x 2 Sides – 2 @ 12 ½”

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