Home #Makerspace: A Small Bookshelf Using Only Hand Tools

This week we will build a small, simple shelf to practice our hand tool skills.  We will learn the rip cut and how to use the coping saw successfully.  We will assemble and hang our shelf using wood screws, the quickest fasteners around.

This project can be completed in a 15 to 20-minute session by a 8 and up maker.  Young makers will need help and encouragement to complete the long rip cut.  To install, I use drywall anchors and screws.


The Small Bookshelf



  • 1” x 12” x 14” pine board or similar.
  • 2 #8-1 1/2” wood screws, #2 Phillips Head



  • Woodworking Vise or Clamps
  • Ryoba or Panel Saw
  • Bench Hook
  • Jointer Hand Plane
  • Coping Saw
  • Sanding Block w/ Coarse Grit Sandpaper
  • Clamps
  • Hand Drill & Brad Point Bit
  • Countersink
  • 3-Jaw Chuck Brace & #2 Phillips Head Screw Driver
  • 1/2” Forester Bit
  • Combo square, panel gauge or mortise gauge to mark rip lines
  • Pencil




The first step in dimensioning lumber  is to Rip to Width.  While I give specific measurements here, the general steps remain the same no matter the project or board.

  1. Use a combo square to mark a strip 4 1/2” from each edge. dsc_2464
  2. Position the board for a rip cut as shown in a vise.
  3. Saw along your marked line using the rip side of the ryoba saw or a rip-toothed panel saw.  Go slow and concentrate on your form.  If you veer off the line, try using slight wrist pressure to push the cut back to the line.  If you find yourself in really bad shape, you can flip the board and begin on the opposite side.
  4. When you reach the halfway point of your cut, flip the board in the vise and begin cutting on the other end.


Next, we Crosscut to Length.  Depending on your project, it might make more sense to cut to length before ripping to width.  These two steps are interchangeable.

  1. Mark the one of the 4 1/2” strips at 12”, then mark it square with the combo square.dsc_1759
  2. Position the board on a bench hook or work surface for a crosscut as show.dsc_1765
  3. Saw along your marked line using the crosscut side of the ryoba saw.  Go slow and concentrate on your form.


Next, we will Joint the Edge.  If you don’t have a jointer plane, use a long block with very rough sandpaper glued to its face.

  1. Match the machine cut edges together.  Secure the two boards, ripped edges up in the vise.
  2. Joint the edge with a hand plane.


Marking and Layout

  1. Mark the curves with a compass and pencil or use a round object as a template. dsc_1767
  2. Mark the location of the screws on the top shelf.  They are 2” inches from each end and 3/8” of an inch from the long edge.
  3. On the wall board, mark out locations for anchor screws.  The boards are 2” from each short end, centered on the board.


Cutting the Curves

  1. Use a coping saw to cut the curves.  Secure the work piece in the vise.  Go slow and concentrate on your form.
  2. Once the curve is cut, use sandpaper and a block to even out the curve.


Assembling the Shelf

  1. Secure the wall board in a woodworking vise, with the long edge facing up.  Place the top shelf in proper position and secure with clamps to the wall board.
  2. Use the hand drill to drill pilot holes. dsc_1776
  3. Use the countersink to ream the pilot holes.dsc_1779
  4. Use screwdriver or brace & bit to driver screws.dsc_1781
  5. Remove the shelf from the vise and place on the bench hook.  Clamp to work table if you can.  Use 1/2” Forester bit & brace to drill at 3/8” deep hole.  Switch to a brad point bit the same size as your anchor screws and drill through.


Sand and Finish

Sand and finish as desired.


To install, I placed the shelf on the wall, checked to see if it was level, then marked the anchor locations.  I then installed dry wall anchors at those spots and attached the shelf.


This design is only appropriate for short, shallow shelves loaded with light objects, such as knickknacks and personal electronics.  Heavy objects will rip it out of its anchors.


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