Single-sheet-of-plywood bookcase


This is an easy project. At least it should be. I ran into a few complications.

My goal with this bookcase was to maximize a full sheet of 3/4″ plywood. The design I came up with does just that. There is very little scrap lumber left over.

I also included room in that sheet for a simple dowel hole jig. Joining this all together with dowels creates a strong piece of furniture as well as eliminates the need for any fasteners.

To make this bookcase, just download the plans and follow the cutlist. Keep all your grain running the right way and keep track of your pieces and you will have no trouble at all. It really is that simple.


Since I was using pine plywood, I thought it might be nice if I stained this project: something I rarely do. Typically I just apply a clear finish and let the natural color of the wood shine through. Unfortunately, I decided to try a product I have never tested: a polyurethane/stain mixture in one can. The results were disastrous. Very difficult to apply, it left ugly streaks and pools of stain. It refused to stick to the birch edge banding.

People use that stuff?

I’d like to think I have a fair amount of experience at staining and finishing wood. I’ve tried just about every technique there is and I knew this would be similar to applying poly, a fairly time-consuming process. I did everything the manufacturer recommends. I applied a pre-stain wood conditioner and carefully brushed it on using one the the manufacturer’s brushes intended for their polyurethanes. I let it dry overnight, sanded with steel wool and applied a second coat, which they also recommend. Still looked horrible.

As I was already running behind on this project, I had to make a decision to keep applying more coats (after waiting 8 hours between each) or cut my losses and just paint the bookcase. I opted for the latter. This is a product marketed as an easy one-can finish for inexperienced finishers and DIYers. I can’t help but wonder how many of them became as frustrated as me and gave up ever trying to finish wood again.

Yes, paint!

Strangely, I am very happy with the way the paint turned out of this piece! It matches one of the colors in my Jetsons wall clock and fits well in my mid-century modern living room.

If you want a super-easy easy weekend project, make this bookcase with the intention of painting it. If you choose to go that route, you can eliminate the edge banding and just paint the exposed plywood edges. You can also eliminate the dowel jointery and just glue and screw it all together. Recess the screws  (or nails) and fill in the holes with paintable wood filler. You can also save money by just using MDF instead of plywood, since grain direction is irrelevant on painted pieces.




  1. A terrific project. Very nice-looking result. I think that I’m going to build one. Thanks so much Steve for all of your fine work (nearly died of laughter when Dave who moved in next door beat on the drum and theWoodWhisperer chimed in to protest your slight).

  2. Me gusta mucho la creatividad que tiene Steve pero lo que más me agrada es la forma rápida y simple en que presenta sus vídeos son muy fáciles de seguir y muy ágiles, thankyou Steve, regards.

  3. Very stylish with that asymmetric twist. Do the shelves hold (up) when one was to fill everything with books? No sagging?

    See ya’

  4. Steve,

    I love the bookcase. I also got the same results from that particular product. I thought I was screwing up…. One question about the plywood you use. Where did you get if from? I have went to big-box stores in the area, as well as my local lumber yard and I can never find plywood of that quality (no edge voids, more than 3 plys, etc.). Maybe I’m not asking for the right stuff. Thanks and keep up the awesome videos.

  5. Steve

    I must say I look forward to your Friday publications. I am a complete amateur and I am just beginning in the woodworking. Watching your videos and watching you learn from trial and error gives me allot of comfort in trying new things myself and seeing what works better instead of always doing what people tell you. I use allot of your tips and tricks and do my best to discover my own unique style or woodworking and incorporating allot of your ideas and knowledge. I love the fact the your also an amateur woodworker but you’re a good one lol.. I believe you are my most go to woodworking video for any tips and tricks. You are my woodworking model haha. Thank you for posting videos and not being afraid to show your mistakes so that some of us who are on a real tight budget may learn some things before we make big mistakes that end up scrapping to much wood. Again, thanks Steve

    Loyal follower

  6. Hey Steve! Been following your YT channel for a while. Ended up building a simple farm style dining room table as my first big project. I have to concur on the all in one stain / finish. My wife and I used it on a bookcase we had and I had the same results. I did however do 4 coats and it turned out “ok.” Still blotchy in some areas though.

  7. Hey Steve,
    Re: the Finish,

    Thanks for “taking one for the team”… I’ve also looked at that stain+poly and never dared touch it. My fear was always that the colour would not be controllable. After all, I usually put 3 coats of poly on a project — 4 or 5 coats on the topside of a table. I just never saw how the colour would be consistent.

    neat design.

  8. Hi Steve;

    Nice design. I may have to give it a shot. I agree, all their other products are pretty good; but that one is just a waste of a good tin can. I was glad to see from your video and all the other comments that it wasn’t just me screwing up. Keep them coming.

  9. I think your paint job turn out great, and is a better choice than stain for this project. The clock goes perfect with the bookcase.

  10. The shelves simply do not look complete.

    There needs to be framed photos of Judy and Elroy on those shelves to complete the look.

  11. Hi Steve!
    Another great project. I’ve followed your videos for a while now and really appreciate your plans. I also like the music you choose for your videos. Could you identify the music you used for the bookshelf please? I had a lot of fun chasing down the “Sweetest Sin” track you used previously, and I intend to build the bookshelf soon. Thanks.


  12. I’ve made plywood bookshelves. There is no getting around the time it takes to achieve a good finish I guess. My shelves are not as fancy as yours are, but they’re bigger!

    My goal was just to make as big of shelves as I could out of a sheet of plywood. I had the wooden shelves I used hanging around. When I made these shelves I didn’t think about moving them to where I wanted them. Turned out I got them there, but if they were an inch taller I don’t know if I’d have made it. The carcasses of my shelves are all glued, and screwed together.

    Now that I know how hard it is to move them I’ve decided that when I sell this place they’re staying. I mean I like them and all but I think it’ll just be easier for me to make another set when I get to wherever I’m going then. The next set I make won’t be quite as tall either, or they’ll come apart, or something.

  13. awesome plans… i just showed my wife and I have been instructed to build 3 of them! one for each kid’s room. I might try that phenolic coated plywood that those fancy woodworkers make jigs out of, it will save the finishing step (but of course add cost) but i hate finishing. I might adjust the plans to make 3 slightly taller sections instead of 4…. it needs to fit hard bound Dr Suess books and my wife’s east asian superstition prevents us from doing anything in fours (she tells me it is unlucky).

    If and when I get it done will send some pictures. Your blog and videos are the best. I really apprecaite that you can communicate the important aspects of the project in 10 minutes or less.

  14. love the bookcase looks great under the jetsons clock I too used that two in one product and had the same results I sanded and added a darker stain not too bad I plan to make the wheel barel out of redwood I i have made several planter boxes out redwood and they have turned out very nice

  15. Great design. I like the theme you’re running with here.
    I thought that an alternative to putting the edge banding on the shelf ends first would be to put a piece on the fence of the doweling jig to keep the spacing correct. Of course it would be best to tape it on and not ironed so it could be removed – otherwise it wouldn’t be the right spacing for some of the other doweling operations.
    Glad you caught it before you did all of the pieces – as I probably would have done all of them before realizing it!

  16. The bookshelf is beautiful. I don’t know how you do it in so short a time. Thanks for the really great videos! I appreciate how you share the things that didn’t work alongside things that did, and how you overcame them.

  17. The most commonly used Sandwich panels theory is linear and is an extension of first order beam theory . Linear sandwich theory is of importance for the design and analysis of sandwich panels , which are of use in building construction, vehicle construction, airplane construction and refrigeration engineering.

  18. Awesome bookcase Steve. I think the painted finish looks super cool. Too bad you don’t need a much larger one. I would love to see you build 6 x 10 then I could cheat and build it for our Church extension.

  19. Nice project Steve. I too tried the poly/stain mix and let’s say I wouldn’t make regular use of it. I did get it to work though by totally ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions… ha. I used it on my son’s table I made a couple of years ago. What worked for me was a coat of dewaxed schellac as a sealer. Then when applying the poly/stain mix, I found it looked more uniform if you brush or wipe it on, then immediately wipe off the excess. The stain color ended up being lighter, but at least it was more uniform.

  20. Awesome job and even though the stain/poly didn’t work out for you the paint doesn’t look to shabby ether. I for one have started using the stain/poly combo a lot more often now that I finally have figured it out. The first few times I had the same results as you have it truly does work depending on the look your getting. DE waxed shellac worked best for a seal coat and prevents a ton of blotching but not all. Another key was using the wood whispers wiping method. Thin the product and wipe on and don’t wipe off, build up the coats and color as needed. This process does take much more time but it works. Finally i’ll put 1-2 coats of just poly on top, something about a stain/poly mix doesn’t suit well in my stomach is there isn’t just plan poly on top.

  21. Love the Jetsons clock over the 70’s style bookcase. I’ve never been a fan of 70’s style, even when it was just modern:) But I really do like this look. THANKS for sharing!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Hi Steve,

    I’ve been following your channel for a while… It’s GREAT. I’m a begginer in this craft and I’m thinking into make this bookshelf.

    Could you please let me know the size of the plywood sheet? I’ve tried with the common sizes of the ones that I can find here (Bogotá, Colombia) and they are 122 X 244 cms long and I really think that yours is a little bigger.


  23. Definitely building this next week! Love it!

    I have used Polyshades in the past and have found that it works very well. One of the things though is that the stain is suspended in the poly instead of being a homogeneous mixture. If not thoroughly stirred(I vigorously shake the can though it says not too. Make sure to brush out the bubbles), it can separate and leave a blotchy look where poly and stain is being applied separately. There are definitely different user experiences with it though. I can’t speak for all materials, but on SPF I’ve found it to be a great product.

  24. I’ve got all the pieces cut and now I’m trying to figure out how, where the center dividers meet the vertical sides, how do you get the dowels into a 3/4″ board at the same spot?


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