Find out how to install book shelves between wall studs. Learn tips for building and installing custom bookcases in stud spaces.
LESLIE: Now, Mike from New Jersey, who listens to The Money Pit on WCTC, is joining us who wants to talk about adding books to a library. Bookshelves; are you a big reader?
MIKE: Everyone in the family is and that’s why we have so many.
LESLIE: Fantastic. So you’ve just run out of space.
MIKE: (chuckling) We have boxes of books that need to get put away. And a lot of them are paperbacks. We have paperbacks sitting on large bookshelves and what I wanted to do is get those off of there and get the rest of the paperbacks unpacked. I’ve got … the fourth wall in the library is a blank wall and that’s because you walk past it. The two doors in the corridor that kind of passes through the library is that wall.
LESLIE: Well, the good thing is that paperbacks generally tend to be much smaller and not as deep. So if you were to build a custom shelving unit over there, you wouldn’t have to stick out as much from the wall to compromise your walk-through.
MIKE: And what I was hoping to do was to actually inset the shelving between the studs. And that’s why I’ve called you.
TOM: That would work, too, because that’s about as much room as you need.
TOM: Now, this particular wall – and here’s the important question, Mike – is it a bearing wall? Do you know?
MIKE: No. No, the house, actually, is custom modular.
LESLIE: Oh, excellent.
TOM: Oh, okay. So only the exterior walls are bearing.
MIKE: Right. Right. Only the exterior walls are; that’s right. So it’s part of the inner “box.”
TOM: Okay. So it’s a partition wall. Now, do you want these bookcases to be narrow? Like 16 inches wide, for example? Or do you want it to be wider than that?
MIKE: I’m open to suggestions.
TOM: Well, what I would suggest … I’ll give you my idea and Leslie, you can chime in.
TOM: What I would suggest you do is you’re going to want to remove the drywall in the area where you want to build the bookcase. So if you do this very carefully, you can do it without taking the whole wall apart. What you do is … first of all, you draw on the wall the big square area that’s going to become this bookcase. And you … it would be nice if you could go like from stud … inside stud edge to inside stud edge; you know what I mean?
TOM: And then you cut the drywall out in that piece.
TOM: All the way around.
LESLIE: Would you just use a skill saw and go along the edge of the stud?
TOM: No, you can just cut it out with a utility knife.
TOM: Now, let’s say you went two bays wide; so you have one stud in the middle.
TOM: Now what you do is you go above the drywall edge by about, say, three quarters of an inch. And you plunge cut, with a reciprocating saw, that 2x4. So, basically, you’re cutting an extra little drywall slit right above it so that … the reason you’re going three quarters up above is that, once you take that stud out, you can put a three quarter inch piece of pine or something in there and that’ll totally frame out the inside of that bay.
LESLIE: So you don’t need to place a header with another 2x4 to sort …
TOM: Not if it’s a non-bearing wall. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If you want, you could do a 2x4 header there, to make it a little stiffer. But we, basically, just want to support that drywall edge. And then, once that’s out, you can basically frame it in with, say, some luan plywood or something like that, trim the outside edge and there’s your bookcase.
TOM: Now, you could probably extend the shelves a little bit too, Mike, if …because right now you’re dealing with, say, three-and-a-half inches or so. You could probably make your shelves more like five-and-a-half inches as long as they’re supported well and screwed in place. That gives you a little extra support on that for some of the bigger paperbacks.
LESLIE: (overlapping) Well, what you could do is, since you have those studs as your side rails, you could … you could use something short and make like a pinner or like a nailboard, where you would put that along the edge of whatever you’re using to finish against the stud. And then your shelf can just rest right on top of that. As long as your expanse isn’t too wide; then you might need to support the back edge, too. But if you’re staying pretty narrow on the shelves, you can just put two nailers on the side and then put your shelf right on top.
MIKE: Ah, let’s see. The overall length of the wall is about 13 feet and there’s a door that swings against it. So take off three feet, roughly. And then, I’ve got a light switch on the far end that I’m going to still want there. So let’s say I’ve got … well, eight feet or nine feet. It’s going to … that’s six studs. I’ve got about (laughing) … let’s say I’ve got six studs across.
TOM: Alright. Well, I would cut out … I would not cut out six studs. That would be a lot. (laughing)
MIKE: Well, I’d be cutting out five.
TOM: Well, it’s still a lot. I mean one I would go but not … I wouldn’t go five. You know, what you might want to do is just make individual bookcases that fit inside those stud bays and set them in from the outside. All you need to do is cut the drywall out and then slip the box in; you know what I mean? You make the box first then slip the whole thing in so your bookcase would have four sides and a back and some trim. And then slip it right in there and the trim can act like a picture frame; you secure it in place and then you prop your shelves in-between.
MIKE: Ah, great. Thanks a lot; appreciate it.
TOM: Thanks, Mike, for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.