How to Build a Ladder Bookcase

In just a few hours, turn stock lumber into a functional and sleek DIY bookcase that leans against the wall like a ladder.

ladder shelf with plants and blue decor
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 6 hours
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Measuring tape
  • 1 Pencil
  • 1 Table saw with rip guide
  • 1 Power miter saw or circular saw with crosscutting jig
  • 1 Clamps
  • 1 Drill and drill bits
  • 1 Kreg pocket hole jig
  • 1 Sander
  • 1 Tack cloth

Materials

  • 4 1-inch x 8-inch x 8-foot wood boards, we used pine
  • 1 Sandpaper
  • 1 Wood glue
  • 20 #8 x 1-1/2-inch pocket-hole screws
  • 1 Kreg plugs

Instructions

  1. Make Cuts

    Cuts
    Piece Dimensions Quantity
    Ladder sides 6-3/4 inches x 72 inches 2
    Shelves 7 inches x 20 inches 5
  2. 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.

  3. Crosscut Back Corners

    draw angled line for ladder step

    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.

  4. Measure and Mark Location of Steps

    mark line on wood piece with pencil

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. Drill Pocket Holes

    drill pocket holes into wood with kreg jig

    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.

  7. Sand Everything

    sand wood piece to smooth rough edges

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. Sand and Finish

    plug pocket holes in ladder with wood plugs

    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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