How to Build a Ladder Bookshelf

Building a ladder bookshelf can easily be done in a weekend. This project produces an unusually attractive and very useful bookshelf that leans against a wall like a ladder. Plentiful space for books or knickknacks is provided by this ladder bookshelf, and it is sure to please with its beautifully handcrafted appearance. Although Oak may be a suitable consideration for matching with most furniture, Cherry and Walnut can also be used because of their lustrous grain and finished beauty. 

Needed Materials (Measurements are Thickness x Width x Length in inches)

  1. Rails (2 each) 1-1/2x5-1/2x72
  2. Bottom shelf* (2 each) 3/4x10x22-1/1
  3. Lower shelf* (2 each) 3/4x8x22-1/2
  4. Upper shelf* (2 each) 3/4x7x22-1/2
  5. Top shelf* (2 each) 3/4x5x22-1/2
  6. Shelf backs (4 each) 3/4x3-1/2
  7. Bottom shelf sides (2 each) 3/4x3-1/2x20-3/4
  8. Lower shelf sides (2 each) 3/4x3-1/2x16-3/4
  9. Upper shelf sides (2 each) 3/4x3-1/2x14-3/4
  10. Top shelf sides (2 each) 3/4x3-1/2x10-3/4

*Note: each shelf will be glued together resulting in shelves being twice the indicated width.

Hardware Required

  • A box of #8 wood screws, 1-3/4 long
  • Wooden plugs, ½ inch diameter
  • Finishing nails, 4d
  • Wood glue
  • Sandpaper, grits from 100 to 220
  • Wipe-on Tung Oil

Step 1. Cut Out Parts

Begin by carefully cutting out all the parts. For the upright 72 inch rails, be sure to cut 10 degree angles at each end to allow them to lean against the wall. These cuts can be made with a miter saw or through the use of a protractor and handsaw to measure the correct angles. Each of the shelves will be attached to these rails at the same 10 degree angle. Since it is difficult to find wood to suit the thickness required for the shelves, each shelf will be cut into the sizes indicated in the materials list and then glued together to form shelves wide enough for this ladder bookshelf.

Step 2. Assembly of Parts

Glue and nail the shelf sides to the bottoms and backs forming four, three sided boxes which are open at the front. Then, carefully measure between each and space them 12-1/8 inches apart along the vertical rails. The top of the top box will be flush with the rail and stick out slightly on the bottom; the second from the top will have the bottom sticking out 3 inches; the third from the top will stick out 5-1/2 inches and the bottom box will stick out 8 inches from the rail. These measurements will allow the shelves to be flat when the rails are placed against the wall.

The 3-sided boxes that form the shelves are attached to the rails through counter-sunk holes, through which the #8 inch screws are driven. Plugs are then glued and inserted intot the holes to hide the screw heads.

Step 3. Sanding and Finishing

Sand beginning with 100 and ending with 220 grit sandpaper. Stain with natural stains for Oak, Cherry or Walnut, or apply these stains to Poplar or Maple which also take stains very well. Allow stain to dry and wipe on Tung oil with a soft cloth. Allow oil to dry well and lightly sand with 220 grit. Repeat as desired for a soft, elegant finish.