DIY Custom Bookshelf Storage with Shelf Help App

Good storage that fits just right is the cornerstone of a tidy, organized, and easy to maintain home.

After a decade of designing furniture, I realized that all storage furniture is really just a plywood box, trimmed or with doors/drawers to make up everything from a simple bookshelf to a full kitchen.  The technical term is case furniture.  

So if it’s just a box with trim.. why isn’t there an app that lets you design that box, and then you have the structure to add the trim too?

That’s why I created Shelf Help a couple years ago!  It’s a FREE app that you can use to design your own furniture without having to learn a complicated software.  In this video, I use the Shelf Help app to make this bookshelf – watch it!

Dimensions 

Here’s the exact dimensions I used for this project.  

design your own shelving system

Tools and Materials Needed

You will need a few tools and materials to do this project:

  • Measuring tape, pencil, speed square, hearing protection, eye protection (the basics)
  • Drill
  • Kreg Pocket Hole Jig (I use the K5) with 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws
  • Brad Nailer (I use the Ryobi AirStrike cordless brad nailer) with 5/8″ long brad nails
  • Plywood carcass kit from Shelf Help or cut your own using 3/4″ cabinet grade plywood, with front edges finished with edge banding
  • 1/4″ hardwood plywood for the back
  • 1×3 boards for bay supports (board feet needed = measure the overall width of the project times two)
  • Finishing supplies to include medium and fine sandpaper, wood filler, primer and paint or wood stain and clear coat

Open Base Bench Plans

The open base was built by me a couple weeks prior.  It turned out really great and I love the sizing in the space and for my baskets and bins.  The plans are free and available here.

Open Shelf Hutch – Designing the Plans

The open shelves on top I just finished.  They could be made taller or even shorter – really endless options here for customization.  You can also use them over other cabinets – kitchen cabinets, console cabinets, or as towers on either side of a tv.  I kept a classic toy storage height – just right for kids being able to put their own toys away, and still room on top for decor.

I first penciled out what I was looking for on scratch paper.

Then I entered the outside dimensions into the Shelf Help Configurator.

design your own shelving system

Plywood Pieces

From there, you can use the Shelf Help app create plans for you that include a cut list.  You can cut your own plywood – use 3/4″ cabinet grade hardwood plywood.  Cut with a table saw or track saw.  Finish the front edges with edge banding.

You can alternatively have the precut pieces shipped to your front door using the Shelf Help app.

Carcass Assembly

Once you have your plywood pieces in hand, it’s time for assembly.  

Mark out on the plans the location of all pocket holes.  Then drill the pocket holes in the pieces. For the 11-1/4″ width, I used two pocket holes, but three could also be used.

carcass assembly diy bookshelf build

Then assemble the carcass.  I started by attaching the verticals to the underside of the top.  Then the shelves to the verticals.

Bay Supports

The plywood carcass on it’s own is not enough to keep the project rigid.  Bay supports help with this.  At least one at the top back is recommened, pocket holes on top and side edges. 

A bay support at the front will help as well, and make the project look more finished.  I only pocket holed the ends.  Then just use the 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws like regular screws, and screwed through the middle of the bay support into the underside of the top.

bay supports

Back

I highly recommend a back for this piece, as it is at eye level and will help contain the contents of the shelves.  

Use 1/4″ plywood – for painting, this could be just about anything.  For staining, match the wood species of the carcass.

Cut about 1/4″ overall smaller, so the outside edge is not visible.

Attach to back with glue and 5/8″ brad nails to all back edges.

carcass back

Finishing

To finish, I filled any exposed holes with wood filler and let dry.

Then I did a light sanding with medium grit sandpaper, followed by fine sandpaper using a hand sanding block.

Then I removed all sanding residue with a vacuum with a soft bristled brush attachment.

I applied one coat of primer with a brush and small roller.

Then I applied two coats of cabinet grade paint in a semigloss sheet with a brush and small roller.

I did lightly sand in between coats with fine sandpaper.

Built-In Bench with Shelf Help

We’ve transitioned somewhere from wanting the house to look nice, to wanting the house to be nice all the time. 

More and more, I’m turning to “built-in” furniture for my home.  Built-in furniture is the cornerstone of an organized home – it creates permanent storage for every single thing you own. Down to the tiniest lego, you know exactly where everything goes.

Built-in furniture also encloses your belongings – so it visually simplifies your home, hiding mismatched patterns and colors.  It’s why kitchens can work so hard, and store so much, but still appear neat and tidy.

I also love that built-in furniture, or custom cabinetry – is designed to fit your space exactly – sometimes even attached to the wall behind, with often a fully enclosed bottom.  It’s these little details that make cleaning easier, and that make your home look cleaner.  

Built-In Bench Build

I’m working on a toy storage system for my toddler.  She’s in the million tiny toys stage.  The goal is a bench with hutch system (like this one), so she can sit on the bench, use the bench for play, or stand on the bench to reach toys in the upper hutch.  This week I got the bench done!

Other Uses for this Bench

While I’m going to use this bench for toy storage, it’s the perfect bench for other uses in the home:

  • Mudroom or Entryway – Add coat hooks or a hutch or shelf with hooks above for a custom mudroom.  For deeper benches, use baskets at the back of the open shelves for out of season shoes, and leave the front open for daily use.
  • Kitchen Banquette – Configure to create a banquette in the kitchen, or built in kitchen bench
  • Window Seat – Perfect bench for under a window seat.  Add cabinetry on either side for a built in window seat wall.
  • Media Console Bench – Add a TV on the wall above and towers on either side for a media suite wall

Tools and Materials

Here’s what you’ll need to build your bench

  • Plywood carcass kit (either order from Shelf Help or download diagrams and cut yourself and finish front edges)
  • Kreg Jig with 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws (depending on bench size, I used about 50)
  • Drill
  • Compound miter saw 
  • 18 gauge brad nailer
  • 1×3 bay supports, 4 per bay (can be low grade wood)
  • 3-1/4″ tall base moulding for bottom
  • 3/4″ or 1″ long brad nails
  • wood glue
  • Finishing supplies: wood filler, 120 and 200 grit sandpaper, primer, paint, brushes and rollers, or stain and staining rags

Designing a Built-In Bench

Use our free Shelf Help Configurator to design your bench to fit your space – this takes all the math and mistakes out and gives you visualization. Here is the exact bench dimensions for the photograph and video:

Design Considerations

When designing your built-in bench, here’s a few tips to help you get professional looking results:

  • Overall height should be between 16-18″
  • Overall width up to 8 feet – if longer, you will need to add a solid wood top as max plywood length is 8 feet, or break the bench up into two or more.
  • Depth is recommended at 20-1/4″ or 23-1/4″
  • Avoid shelf spans more than 36″, as the wood may start to sag
  • Consider the size of any baskets or bins to fit in shelves
  • Consider the height of baseboard trim when placing the shelf heights.  Normal baseboards are 3-1/4″ and 5-1/4″.

    Main Carcass Assembly

    Once you have completed the design of your bench, either order the pieces or download the drawings and print out and cut plywood as directed in the cut list.  Also finish front edges with edge banding.

    Mark out all pocket holes on plywood, and drill pocket holes on 3/4″ setting.  Use 3-4 pocket holes per joint, evenly spaced.  Avoid pocket holes too close to the edge.

    Assemble the bench, using 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws and glue.

    Bay Supports

    The plywood carcass needs to be reinforced with bay supports.

    Cut four 1x3s per bay, to match the widths of the shelves.

    For the front, top bay support, only drill two pocket holes on each end, and attach.  Then attach to the underside of the top with 1-1/4″ screws (can use pocket hole screws), inset about 1/4″ from the front edge for dimension.

    For the remainder of the bay supports, drill two pocket holes on each end, and then pocket holes facing upward every 8-12″.  Attach with pocket holes facing backwards.

    Base Trim

    Base trim finishes out the bottom.  If you are adding other cabinetry components, for example towers on either side, add base trim in place, wrapping all cabinetry.

    For standalone bench, simply cut the base trim with a miter saw, with corners at 45 degrees, and nail on with 3/4″ brad nails and wood glue.

    Finishing

    The wood can be finished in a variety of ways, from stains to paints.  This bench was primed and painted with several coats of semigloss paint.

    Roll Away Workbench Center with Wall Storage

    Cooks Need Kitchens, Woodworkers need Workbenches

    I always compare a workshop to a kitchen – would you cook dinner if you knew first you had to pull the oven out of storage and set it up?  And then you need to sit on the floor and cut your vegetables? 

    It’s the same with building projects – if you have to haul out big, heavy, cumbersome tools from storage and work off the floor, it will inhibit you from getting things done.

    Creating a Work Space

    The big problem with most people is simply not having the space to dedicate inside your home.  So you have to create the space.  That’s just what this roll away workbench system does.  One minute it’s garage shelves-

    The next you roll out your work carts (complete with the heavy tools on them)

    ana white roll out workbench

    And use the carts as workbenches.  The carts can also be pushed together to create larger work surfaces.

    The wall storage is still in tact, so we use up the vertical space for storage too.

    Surprisingly Easy to Build

    These workbench shelves have been built tens of thousands of times by beginners everywhere.  The process is simple and very doable.  You can do this.  Watch this video to show you how:

    Free PDF Plans and Videos for this Workbench and Carts

    I did this project as part of the Ryobi Nation Dream workshop, and we had a crew film it and create PDF plans for every project you see here – all completely free for you.  Here’s where you can download all those plans:

    Thank you for using our plans.  If you build, please share, we do love seeing your projects.

    Small Coffee Table [Super Simple Collection]

    ana white super simple collection

    Super Simple Collection

    This small coffee table is part of our Super Simple Collection of free woodworking plans.  Here’s the other plans in this collection:

    Video Showing the Build Process

    Our video editor built these tables for her living room and videoed the process.  It’s always nice to see video before you build – thank you Jen for taking the time to do this.

    Although she doesn’t build the coffee table, it is the same process as the end table and the console table.

    Free Plans for the Small Coffeee Table [Super Simple Collection]

    Narrow Console Table [Super Simple Collection]

    A narrow console table can change the form and function of a hallway, a living room, an entryway, or even a bedroom.  

    We love this narrow console table as:

    • An entryway table, perfect for dropping keys and lining up shoes
    • A hall table, with a mirror or gallery over top, full of decor and extra storage
    • A dining room side table, the perfect blank slate for party decorations or filling up an otherwise blank wall
    • As a media console, in the living room or bedroom, under a wall mounted TV
    • In a guest room, as a drop zone for phones, keys, wallets, with open shelving for other items

    It’s a super easy build, that looks stylish and can be customized in size and color.

    ana white super simple collection

    Super Simple Collection

    This narrow console table is part of our Super Simple Collection of free woodworking plans.  Here’s the other plans in this collection:

    Video Showing the Build Process

    Our video editor built these tables for her living room and videoed the process.  It’s always nice to see video before you build – thank you Jen for taking the time to do this.

    Free Plans for the Narrow Console Table [Super Simple Collection]

    We are happy to be able to provide the free plans for you below.  Please share photos if you build we love seeing how your projects turn out.

    Narrow Side Table [Super Simple Collection]

    Living room tables add style, structure and function to a living space. Having end tables creates comfort and convenience – somewhere to put your cup down or rest a phone or remote, while adding storage and grounding to the room.  Every living room needs some accent table(s).

    cheap living room tables

    Super Simple Collection

    But accent tables can be expensive or time consuming to make.  So we created the Super Simple Collection – a collection of plans designed to be ridiculously easy to build!

    • Narrow Side Table (this plan)
    • Coffee Table (coming soon)
    • Console Table 

    Video of Building this Narrow End Table

    Watch this quick video of a beginner woodworker (our video editor Jen) building this narrow end table:

    And the free plans follow. Please share if you build, we love seeing how your projects turn out!