This sleek DIY bookcase leans against the wall like a ladder and can be customized to fit nearly any small space. In just a few hours, you can turn stock lumber into a functional piece of furniture. Here's how to make it happen.
ladder shelf with plants and blue decor

This slim, modern bookcase leans against a wall like a ladder and provides vertical storage for books, baskets, and home decor. While the bookcase has a beautiful handcrafted look, it is fairly simple to construct. While you're at it, consider building more than one bookcase to make a storage-packed statement wall.

Related: See how to make concrete bookends.

We built our bookcase from pine, however, most in-stock wood available at your local hardware store will also work. If you want to stain the bookcase, maple and poplar are ideal since they take stain evenly. If you'd like, you can finish the shelf with a few coats of polyurethane to allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.

You'll need an afternoon or evening to build the bookcase, plus an hour or so to finish with stain or paint. Make sure you're comfortable sawing, gluing, and clamping, as all three skills are needed for this project.

  • Working time 6 hrs
  • Start to finish 1 day
  • Difficulty Kind of Easy
  • Involves Sawing, Power Tools

What you need


How to do it

Part 1

Step 1

Make Ladder Sides

To make the sides of the ladder bookshelf, use a table saw to rip two 8-foot boards on your table saw to 6-3/4 inches wide. Cut the boards 72 inches long with a 10-degree angle on the ends so that it sits flush to the floor when leaning upright.

How to Use a Table Saw
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How to Use a Table Saw

Master the table saw to get perfect cuts every time.

draw angled line for ladder step
Step 2

Crosscut Back Corners

Crosscut the top back corner of each side of the ladder at an angle to allow the ladder to sit flat when leaned against a wall. Lean the sides against a wall to determine how steep you want the angle to be. To make this easier, you can use a scrap piece of wood to test your cut, then transfer the angle to the ladder pieces. This will prevent your ladder from wobbling and make sure any items you display are secure.

mark line on wood piece with pencil
Step 3

Measure and Mark Location of Steps

Next, measure and mark the desired locations of the steps along your side boards. The shelves should be installed at 11 degrees. To help with this process, we used a piece of scrap wood, cut to 11 degrees on each end, to create a guide. This will ensure even spacing between each shelf and a consistent angle. Mark the top and bottom of where each board will go by spacing the guide one inch apart as you draw your marks.

Editor's Tip

If you're planning on leaving the wood unfinished, only mark on the edges (rather than drawing lines across the board) to avoid pencil marks.

Step 4

Crosscut Steps

Crosscut five steps 20-inches long on your miter saw and rip steps to 7 inches wide. Cut beveled edges on the long sides. Use the marks you made earlier on the ladder sides to find the right angle. Ours were 11 degrees.

drill pocket holes into wood with kreg jig
Step 5

Drill Pocket Holes

A pocket-hole jig allows you to easily screw through a piece of wood at an angle for a strong joint. We used a Kreg jig to create pocket holes 1-1/2-inches from the front and back edges on the underside of each step. (You should have four holes in total, two on each side.) Even though they are out of sight on the bottom of the steps, you'll go back in later to add wood plugs that disguise these holes.

how to make a pocket hole
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How to Make a Pocket Hole

New to drilling pocket holes? We'll walk you through the process!

sand wood piece to smooth rough edges
Step 6

Sand Everything

Sand the sides of all the project pieces and slightly round all the edges so you don't have any sharp corners. Wipe free of dust with a tack cloth.

adding wood glue to board between lines
secure ladder steps with pocket hole screws
use screwdriver to attach ladder steps
Step 7

Assemble Ladder

Run a bead of wood glue along the spots where you marked the steps. Drill 1-1/4-inch pocket screws under each step into the holes you made earlier to attach the step to the ladder sides. Again, there will be four screws on the bottom of each step. Attach the first line of steps along one side, then add the other side of the ladder.

Editor's Tip

To prevent the wood pieces from moving, drill both screws halfway to start before finishing. Be careful not to screw through ladder sides.

plug pocket holes in ladder with wood plugs
Step 8

Sand and Finish

Sand a final time to remove any marks on the outside of the rails and wipe free of sawdust. Fill in the pocket holes with wood plugs. If desired, apply two or three coats of finish or stain, and your bookshelf is ready for duty.


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