Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense

The Library

(tl;dr… the finished library pics are at the end)


When we had our house remodel done back in 2015, there was a room added that was specifically designated as a library… my room. Until January of 2020, that room was basically a big storage room while we finished other rooms and got organized from the chaos of a huge, full-house remodeling project. Then, finally, I started working on it sporadically as time permitted. I had been drawing various plans for months, waffling between building them from scratch and using Ikea Billy Bookcases and tricking them out to look like custom built-ins. I went for the “build them from scratch” option.

Here’s an idea of what the room has looked like for the past few years. The liquor boxes are full of books, not liquor… and no, I did not drink the liquor that WAS in the boxes!

The goal was to have an “old world traditional” look mixed in with a bit of a “Lord of the Rings” fantasy vibe and maybe just a tiny pinch of Steampunk… so when you walked in, you felt like you were walking into a different world.

So after a lot of measurements and bookcase design and figuring out how wide to make the bookcases on each wall, I got to it with a few sheets of red oak plywood from Home Depot. The bookcases were all 11-1/2 inches deep, but the widths varied a lot. The widest one is 31 inches.

Bookcase sides

I had nineteen bookcases to build, which seemed overwhelming, but I figured “baby steps,” right? I started with enough plywood for the first three bookcases. It was a lot of cutting, an absurd amount of drilling (for the adjustable shelves – 2,052 shelf-pin holes), and a lot of gluing and clamping. I made various jigs to help with streamlining the repetitive process, but I won’t bore you with those here.

Unfinished bookcases

Eventually, I figured I should get them out of the garage and into the library to make sure I’d measured correctly. I put them in more-or-less the correct spots and was mildly surprised that I hadn’t borked that up. Unfortunately, I found the exterior walls were kicked out a bit at the bottom, so the bookcases on those walls wouldn’t be able to get attached flush to the wall, but that was something to deal with later. La! La! La! La!

Once all the bookcases were built, it was time to stain them and apply multiple coats of polyurethane. Apologies to those wood finishing purists who cringe at the notion of staining red oak, but I wanted the wood grain, and needed a darker color. I ended up going with Minwax Red Mahogany because it was dark enough, but not too dark like the Dark Walnut. Besides, any time I hear the word “mahogany,” I have to giggle a little bit at Effie Trinket exclaiming, “That is mahogany!” on the train to the capital.

Bookcase color test

Lori had painted the walls where bookcases were going to go, and I wanted to test out the look (as much as I could at that point). I had gone with a hunter green for the walls and a lighter green for the backs of the bookcases. The colors worked well together and I got the darker vibe that I wanted, while the lighter green kept it from devolving into a light-sucking, dungeonesque chamber with the ever-present liklihood of being eaten by a grue. Good enough.

Bookcase base installation

Installation of the bookcases was the next step. I created a 3-inch base out of plywood, shimmed it level, and screwed in feet (to keep it level). I left it floating so that I could adjust it as needed to the front and side edges of the bookcases as they got screwed to the wall. The bases were about an inch narrower than the bookcases to allow for that as well.

At this point, I was really looking forward to retiring my level because this is the type of woodworking that I don’t like doing. I had a mental countdown going of how many more bookcases I needed to install before I could retire the level.

Here are the first two walls with the bookcases fully installed.

Installed bookcases

It should be noted that at this point, the bookcases only had two shelves (if you count the bottom), which is not particularly useful for a bookcase… or a library. The next step was to make seventy-four adjustable shelves. Yes… seventy four.

Adjustable shelves

That meant a lot more work at the table saw ripping sheets of plywood. That was followed by a lot of work at the miter saw cutting everything to length… and because the bookcases were almost all different widths, I had to make sure I marked each shelf with it’s associated bookcase number so as to not mix them up.

I decided to use edge-banding to cover the plywood edge instead of a hardwood strip for two reasons. First, all my shelf lengths are under thirty inches and I don’t plan on storing dumbbells on them, so they’re perfectly capable of holding the weight without sagging to any noticeable degree. The second reason is that the edge-banding is just so much easier.

Once they were cut and edge-banded, I took them to the library and put them in place because what better place to store them? It was starting to actually look like a library… or a place that could become a library if someone put books on the shelves.

Adjustable shelves in place
Custom red oak trim

I still had to stain and poly the adjustable shelves, but my custom trim order arrived, so I put that off in order to stain, poly, and install all the trim. I got solid red oak trim for the fronts of the bookcases, the baseboard, and the crown.. again stained with red mahogany (“That is mahogany!”) stain from Minwax. Many hours of staining, poly’ing, measuring, cutting, and nailing, the trim was all installed. I completed the finish on the adjustable shelves and things were starting to look up!

Bookcases with trim
Fireplace hole

Meanwhile, at the other end of the room, there remained a gaping hole in the wall. Originally, it was meant for a gas fireplace, but I’d had second thoughts about it (even though the gas line was already run for it) because I’d never be able to use it in the summer without turning the room into a book oven. I instead opted for a high-quality, electric fireplace with a stunningly realistic flame effect. Because the flame effect and the heat are separate functions that can be run independently, I could use it year round.

I got a Dimplex Revillusion 36P fireplace, framed out the opening in the wall to fit, and started working on the hearth, surround, and mantel.

It took a week to get the work done. After much cursing (and even more use of the yet-to-be-retired level), here’s what I ended up with.

Other than some incidental items (a couple windowsills, baseboard trim for the walls, and some more painting), the only thing left to do was to have carpet installed… not something I was willing to do myself. I spoke to my flooring guy and ended up having to custom order the carpet I wanted, which meant I had to wait another month before I could have it done. But really, I’d started in January, so was another month that big of a deal? No. No, it was not.

A couple thank-you’s are in order at this point. First and foremost, I’d like to give a mega-huge thank you to Lori, who was totally supportive during this excruciatingly repetitive task and who was also willing to do all the painting in the room… because I hate painting and because she is a wonderful wife! Another thank you to Justin and Kayla who helped unload and shelve boxes and boxes of books and “stuff,” with special thanks to Kayla for her artistic (and OCD) eye in arranging the shelves on one side of the room. In the pictures, it’s easy to tell which ones she arranged because the other shelves just have books thrown on them and are largely disorganized at this point.

The end. Thanks for those of you who actually took the time to read about all my library shenanigans. Here are the final pictures of the library. There is still some work to be done with furnishing and decorating, but it’s usable and I love it. All the images below are clickable for embiggened versions.


  1. Desmond M. F. Johnson says:

    Super frickin’ impressive! Well done.

  2. I’m moving in. This looks amazing…love the green!

  3. Witt says:

    Fantastic work!

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