Do you have a spot in your home where you are looking for some bookshelves or build in cabinets? If you want to add shelving on a budget, this series is for you.
In Part 1 I talked about how to plan your DIY built-in bookshelves or cabinets. In Part 2 I’ll be giving detailed instructions on how to build in the base portion of the built-in cabinets. Part 3 will be about how to paint the cabinets and step by step instructions for adding a wall of shelves on top.
As I mentioned in part 1, getting custom cabinets built to fit a room can be very expensive. I got a quote for $9000. I decided to look for a less expensive option I could build myself. You can see my budget at the bottom for the details.
Installing/Building Base Cabinets
I wanted cabinets with doors on the bottom of my built in bookshelf. I decided to go with Home Depot’s pre-assembled unfinished wall cabinets. These cabinets are only 12 inches deep and they don’t have a base, since they are wall cabinets.
Each home is a little has it’s own quirks so you may need to adjust your plans as you go to fit your specific situation. For example, I wanted my cabinets to sit flush against the wall which means cutting trim and baseboard away. I had to change this plan because it turns out my base boards go about an inch underneath the drywall. The drywall is sitting on top of the base board. Normally baseboard is attached to the drywall after it’s in place.
Every house has things that you don’t expect. Be prepared to make changes no matter how well thought out your plan is.
Before you start drilling or cutting anything, it’s a good idea to mark on your wall (which you will cover) where the studs are and where any electrical wiring is. You can do this with a tool like this.
Step 1 – test the measurements of your space
In the planning process I measured the space more than once. Now that I have the cabinets I want to make sure they fit before doing anything to them. I unboxed all of the cabinets and lined them up against the wall.
As you can see from this photo, I removed the doors because it makes the cabinets easier to maneuver and easier to paint later. This is a tight fit (and a bad angle) but it’s clear I have to remove the toe-kick molding to make the shelves fit.
step 2 – cut away base molding
I planned to cut away the molding using a dremmel (shown here). It’s important to measure carefully before you start cutting because you can’t go back. We realized after making a cut in the base board that it wasn’t possible to remove it because the dry wall was mounted on top of it (which is unusual). There’s always a surprise when you do DIY projects.
We were able to cut away the toe kick (which is the small 1/4 round piece of trim that is attached to the base board). We removed the toe kick trim on the sides and the back. Since we couldn’t remove the base board, we couldn’t get the cabinets all the way against the wall. We had to add a brace to the wall to have something to attach the cabinets to.
step 3 – mount a brace/support to the wall
Since my cabinets couldn’t sit flush with the wall I needed a support bracket around the tops of the cabinets to have something to nail the cabinets into. I used an old piece of wood trim from the garage. You won’t be able to see it once the counter tops are installed as long as you mount it below counter height.
You can see I didn’t do a great job of mounting this level, but it will do the trick and no one will see. I really just needed something for the cabinet to nail into. You can also see that I tried to cut my baseboard away, until I realized it went all the way under the wall. I cut a small peek-a-boo hole on the bottom right.
step 4 – attach a base to the Bottom of the cabinet
Since I’m using wall cabinets I didn’t want them to sit flat on the floor. I was originally planning to nail a wood 2×4 box to the bottom of each cabinet until I saw these wood feet at Home Depot. I changed my plan and decided to attach feet to the bottom of the cabinets. Looking at my budget for the project, 2x4s would have been much more cost effective.
The cabinets have an open space underneath them so I had to screw blocks of wood to the bottom for the feet to attach to. I used liquid nails in a caulk gun and 3/4″ screws. Wood glue would also work, but it takes much longer to dry.
I drilled a hole in the wood blocks for the feet screws to go into. I filled the holes with liquid nails and pushed the feet in. They dried within minutes. This isn’t technically how the feet are meant to be attached, but I didn’t have the metal plates that the feet are actually meant to screw into (whoops).
step 5 – fasten the cabinets to the wall
Now that the cabinets have a way to get off of the floor, I could attach them to my support brackets. For this task we used some long wood screws and a driver. Prior to today, I had never used a driver but I learned (from my awesome handyman) the key is to use pressure.
step 6 – attach finished side to ends
The sides of the wall cabinets are unfinished but Home Depot sells the finish edges separately. these are just thin sheets of wood that are only 1/8 inch thick. I’m not sure if it’s even wood, but you can cut it to size.
I used liquid nails to attach the side panels and two clamps to hold it in place for a few minutes.
step 7 – Nail on Counter top
The final step of the base cabinet installation was to attach the countertop. I purchased a primed 1×12 for the top but it wasn’t quite deep enough since my cabinets sit away from the wall a little bit. I also wanted there to be a slight overhang.
To add some depth the the counter we added a 1×2 in the back. Once it gets caulked and painted you won’t notice the seam. To attach the counter we used liquid nails first around the top edges of the cabinet and then finish nails.
Now that I have my base cabinets installed on both sides of my door it’s time to caulk and paint everything. I will share pictures of that in Part 3.
One final thing I wanted to make clear in this tutorial, is that I’m not able to DIY this project on my own. I don’t own a saw, nail gun, driver or dremmel (all tools used in this project). I have a handyman who is willing to let me work with him and he teaches me as we go along. You don’t have to be able to everything yourself to save a lot of money by building your own shelves.
How Much Does It Cost to Built In Bookshelves?
The labor for this part of the project was $330 and that’s a full day. This was worth every penny. I’m not saying you can’t do a cabinet install by yourself, but for me the learning curve for using all of these power tools was too steep. I wasn’t sure how they would turn out without getting help.
IKEA book shelving is not always less expensive, even though it is DIY.
https://www.designmorsels.com/diy-built-in-bookshelf-part-3/My budget for the project so far is $1,087.
- $486 – wall cabinets plus delivery
- $24 – side panels
- $330 – labor
- $199 – wood feet
- $48- primed 1×12