Hidden Compartment Bookshelf
Furniture Project: Finding a bookshelf to store your treasured collection of books can pose a bit of a challenge. The mass produced units are usually poorly constructed out of particleboard, with a bad imitation of wood grain printed on them. As books are quite heavy in relation to their size, it isn’t long before the inevitable happens and the shelves start to sag under the weight. Plywood offers more weight-bearing capacity than particleboard, but for the ultimate in non-sagging bookshelves, solid wood is the way to go. As well as providing plenty of storage for your books, this design also contains three hidden compartments, which allow you to keep valuable items handy, yet out of sight.
The wood used in this project is sized so that all parts are readily available from any home centre or building supply store. In the case of the unit pictured here, the frame and fascia pieces are made from vertical grain Douglas fir. The top, middle and bottom shelf boxes are fir and mahogany plywood, and the center panels, shelves and back are made of pine. My supplier had some nice wide pine boards, which allowed the side panels to be made from one solid board. If you can’t find wider boards, glue these up from narrower stock. The shelves are made from laminated pine shelf panels, and the back is frame and panel for rigidity, with the center panels being made up of 1/4″ solid tongue and groove pine paneling.
There are four main sections involved in the construction of this project – the sides, the back, the boxes, and the shelves. I used two different colours of stain on this project, and to make finishing easier and to keep any glue-related finishing problems at a minimum, I pre-finished all of the parts before assembly. To highlight the differences between the fir and the pine, I used Watco Natural Oil for the fir and Watco Cherry Oil for the pine.
Top secret compartment
Middle and lower compartments
The sides of the bookcase are constructed using frame and panel construction. The rails and stiles are vertical grain Douglas fir, and the panels are made of solid pine.
To provide rigidity and resistance to racking (i.e. horizontal/vertical movement that would pull the cabinet out of square), the back is constructed using frame and panel construction. The frame and panels are both made from pine stock.
Hidden Compartment Boxes
There are three hidden compartments (boxes) – one under the top, one in the middle and the third at the base. The tops (R) of the middle and bottom box serve as shelves. The boxes are constructed out of plywood and fir, and then a trim board (Z, AA) is applied to the front of the boxes. The boxes are screwed from the inside to the sides of the bookcase. To keep the tops of the middle and bottom boxes from slipping off, rout a dado in the bottom of the tops (R) and install a corresponding 5/16″ tongue in the top of the box fronts (J, M). The top (S) of the top most box is held in place with a piano hinge.
There are 5 shelves – 3 of them are fixed (P) while the tops (R) of the middle and bottom secret compartments form the other 2 shelves. The shelves are made from laminated pine shelving material available at most building supply outlets.
To increase the thickness of the fixed shelves (P) beyond the standard 3/4″, begin with 16″ wide panels and rip them into three pieces, one at 12″, and two at 1-3/4″ wide.
The shelf inlay (Y) is made of vertical grain fir in this case, but any hardwood would be a good substitute.
The top (S) of the bookshelf is milled from a 3/4″ piece of MDF. This allows for a perfect cove joint at the front corners without having to worry about wood movement and cutting perfect mitres.
Test fit all of the components, and when you are ready, lay them all out for finishing. All of the machining should be finished at this point with the exception of drilling the shelf pin holes, which is done after the sides are assembled.
This finish is ideal for these parts, as it will harden the MDF making it less susceptible to damage as well as giving the inlay a depth and complexity not possible with film-forming finishes.
Heritage paints available at
Homestead House Paint Company Ltd