Today we’re joined in the DIY studio by Randy, a friend and long-time Dunn employee at our Bellevue store. Unlike some of our previous DIY guests, Randy’s project idea came to him not out of necessity, but nostalgia—this bookshelf is one of Randy’s favorite projects from his days in ninth-grade shop class at Garfield High School!

Randy had some wonderful pointers for this project, especially if you’re new to DIYing. He recommends using a softwood for any project when you’re starting out, including for this bookshelf. Unlike hardwoods, softwoods are much easier to work with, in that you don’t need a heavy-duty saw to make smooth cuts. 

The design for this bookshelf is quite clever: The entire bookshelf is made from three pieces of wood cut from a single one-by-six board. It functions similar to a set of bookends, but because of the addition of a beveled leg at one end of the shelf, gravity takes the place of needing a second bookend. 

This project is perfect for a new DIYer or someone who feels a little intimidated by working with wood. The entire shelf is constructed from a single piece of one-by-six, which is less than $5 per board. These instructions build a single shelf, but you could easily double the materials and make a set!

Ready to get started?

Step 1: Measure board for cuts

Start by measuring out the three primary pieces of one-by-six that will form the bookshelf: 

  • One (1) 16” piece with square ends
  • One (1) 6” piece with square ends
  • One (1) 2” piece with one square end and one 22º bevel (the bevel allows the bookshelf leg to sit flat on a surface)

Make a mark 2” down from one end of your one-by-six. From the other end, mark at 6” and 22” and draw a line across the board at each of those three marks.

Measure board for cuts

Step 2: Cut wood pieces

Clamp down the one-by-six and cut on the lines with a handsaw or power saw.

Using a power saw, make the beveled cut on your 2” leg piece. Set the blade angle to 22º and then the blade depth to cut just through a ¾” thick board. Cut at the 2” mark you made in step one. Return the blade to 0º for the remaining square-end cuts and adjust the cutting depth. Then, cut the 6” and 16” long pieces.

If using a handsaw, make vertical cuts for the two longer pieces and cut as close to 22º as you can for the short piece.

Sand everything smooth once you’ve made all your cuts.

Clamp down the one-by-six and cut with a handsaw or power saw.
Using a power saw, make the beveled cut on your 2” leg piece.
Use a clamp
Cut boards
Sand the ends

Step 3: Make groove marks

Our 2” piece of one-by-six will be the leg on the bottom of the bookshelf, and our 6” piece will be the upright bookend on the top of the bookshelf that the books will lean against. To give each of these supports a stable place to sit, we need to cut a groove wide enough to fit the board's thickness on both sides. 

First, mark the groove for the 2” leg piece. Measure in ⅞” from one end of your 16” board and mark with a pencil. Then, measure ¾” from that mark (toward the middle of the board) and make another mark. These two lines mark the sides of the groove you will cut. 

Next, flip the board over to the other side (which will be the top of the bookshelf) to mark the bookend placement. Measure and mark 2 ½” in from the opposite end of the board, then make another mark ¾” in from there. These two lines now form the cutting marks for the top groove. (You may find it helpful to mark which groove is for the leg and which is for the bookend to make them easier to identify later on.)

Measure and mark your board
Measure the board
Measure and mark the board

Step 4: Cut grooves

To cut with a circular saw:

Before cutting into your 16” piece, test your saw depth on a piece of scrap wood, so you don’t accidentally cut too deep. Set your circular saw to a depth of ⅜” or less and test some cuts on scrap wood. When you’re confident, cut two grooves just inside the lines you drew in the previous step (cutting inside the lines is key!). Make multiple passes between the outside grooves to widen the gap (letting the saw blade eat away a little bit at a time making the groove wider.

To cut with a handsaw:

You can do this with a handsaw too, it just takes some patience. Cut two grooves 3/8" deep into the board just inside the pencil marks you made in step three. Then make a few more grooves of the same depth between the first two.  

Now, pick up a ¾” chisel and hammer to fine-tune the groove, aiming for a ¾”-wide slot. Take your time here and go for accuracy (consider practicing on your test scraps)—you want the groove to have vertical sides and a flat bottom. When you’re happy with the shape of your groove, sand everything smooth.

Cut grooves
Cut two grooves following instructions closely.
use a chisel to fine-tune the groove
Fine tune the groove with a hand chisel

Step 5: Attach leg and end piece

Now it’s time to fit all of your pieces together! Start by placing the 2” leg in the groove on the bottom of the 16” board (if you didn’t mark it in step three, double-check that it’s the groove ⅞” in from the end).  Note it's the square end that fits in the groove and the beveled end should slope down toward the far end of the board.

You may need to pull out the chisel again and make adjustments if the 2” piece doesn’t fit snugly into the groove. 

Once you’re happy with the fit, it’s time to glue. A word of caution here: Use glue very sparingly. More is not better here—you don’t want excess glue oozing out of the groove. (It’s messy and if not cleaned up promptly, is unsightly and complicates staining later). Apply the glue to the bottom of the groove and carefully place the square-cut end of the leg into the groove. When you’re happy with the placement, clamp it snugly into place to set. Note that the bevel end will make a tightly fastened clamp pull the leg off the perpendicular, so be careful when tightening.

Follow the steps above to secure the 6” bookend piece into place in the other groove.

Apply wood glue
Press the boards firmly together with wood glue
Use a clamp to let the wood glue dry.

Step 6: Paint or stain (optional)

Once your glue has dried, you can paint or stain your bookshelf to your liking. Before staining, Randy used wood putty to fill any voids or gaps around the grooves. 

Randy opted for a dark stain—Varathane’s “Red Oak”—to give a more rustic look to the blonde wood (staining dark on light wood allows some of the lighter tones of the wood to come through, which adds some depth).

Apply your stain with a foam brush and wipe off the excess with a lint-free rag. You can also apply a protective top coat of polyurethane or varnish once the stain is dry if you'd like.

wood stain is optional
stain the boards
wipe the stain
finished project: DIY Tabletop Bookshelf

We love a simple, straightforward project, and Randy’s bookshelf delivers on all fronts. For more beginner-friendly DIY projects, we recommend our kid-friendly flower box, DIY laundry drying rack, or DIY paper towel holder.