DIY Bookcase Upcycle

This week I spend a lot of time giving new life to an old, dark, outdated bookcase. We got this bookcase a few years ago, and although it has been extremely functional, it completely lacked visual appeal. Fortunately, it was really sturdy and provided a great base to work with to create something (sort of ) new! Don’t worry if you don’t have an old bookcase to recycle, soon I will post a plan to create this same bookcase from scratch.

Not counting fasteners, paint, and the free bookcase the cost of this project was around $50!

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Tools Required:

  • Pocket hole jig (like the Kreg Jig)


  • Old bookcase
  • 1″x2″ boards (for face frame – quantity depends on size of bookcase)
  • 1″x3″ boards (for door frames – quantity depends on size of doors)
  • 1/4″ hardboard (a 2’x4′ piece should be sufficient)
  • 16″ edge-glued board (optional – for top)
  • Pocket hole screws
  • General purpose/drywall screws
  • 3/4″ brads
  • 2″ brads
  • Cabinet hinges


Here it is: dark wood grain , chipped veneer, sticker remnants and all. The good news is that it was solid – the back was made from 3/4″ thick material!

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The first thing I did was scrape the veneer from the front edges of the bookcase. This provided a good surface on to which the face frame could be glued. I did it with a wood chisel, and it took a lot longer than I originally thought given that some of the veneer was already starting to peel off the front edge.

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The face frame was cut so that the vertical pieces would overhang the sides of the bookcase by 1/4″.

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Because I planned to add doors to the lower half of the bookcase, the middle shelf needed to be fixed. I drilled pocket holes around the bottom of this shelf to attach it to the rest of the bookcase.

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Then I used glue and pocket hole screws to assemble it, carefully checking for square as I went. Cooper inspected. Cooper approved. (At least I think so anyway.)

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The face frame pieces were also assembled with pocket hole screws and glue. They were attached to the bookcase with 2″ brads and glue. I cut the top from a 16″ wide edge glued pine board. This is optional, but I chose to do it to conceal the top, which gave away that this bookcase started life as a piece of RTA furniture. I also chose to round off the edges of the top piece with an 1/8″ round-over bit in my router. But this too is completely optional.

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The top was attached with glue 1-1/4″ screws from the inside of the bookcase.

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The doors were made to fit the opening with a 1/8″ gap all around. To determine the height of the doors, I measured the opening then subtracted 1/4″. To calculate the width, I measured the width of the opening, divided that measurement by two, then subtracted 3/16″.  The 1″x3″ frames were cut to fit those dimensions and assembled with pocket hole screws and glue.

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The door panels were cut from 1/4″ hardboard, 2″ shorter and 2″ narrower than the door frames. (I found out that I should have cut them a little smaller when I attached the knobs to the doors, as I needed longer screws to go through both the frame and the panel.) I attached to the frames with glue and 3/4″ brads.

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Here’s a finished door, ready for paint!

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The bookshelf was painted with two coats of Zinsser primer and two coats of semi-gloss white paint. After painting, I realized that I needed to add a small block behind the face frame at the top of the door opening to attach the magnetic door catches.

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The hinges that I found to work with the inset doors were not available in oil-rubbed-bronze, so I painted them with a metallic ORB paint from Rustoleum.

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The hinges attached to the inside of the face frame and door frame.

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Cabinet knobs were attached to the doors, about 5-1/2″ inches from the top.

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And here is the finished product! We are really happy with how this turned out.

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And Jess made it look even better with a few decorative touches (as usual 😉 ).

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If you have an old, ugly, read-to-assemble bookcase laying around, don’t throw it out! For around $50 dollars you can dress it up AND turn it into something functional. Good luck!


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