Building Strong, Sturdy Book Crates For Modular Bookcases

Project-578A-9-200x300I’ve moved twice in the last year, and before I settle down for a while I’ll probably move twice more in the next year. I’ve also got a fair amount of books – gaming books, graphic novels, old textbooks, novels, and even a bunch of boardgames of various sizes. These things are all a frigging pain to move around. I’ve got some bookcases, and I’ve built more than my fair share of cinder block bookshelves, but I have always wanted something more modular that I can just grab and move when my space changes or I decide to rearrange my office. Something that I could section different types of books into so that I could expand or reduce sections as my book collections shift over the years.

This weekend, I made the modular bookcase solution that fit everything I wanted. They are:

  • Strong and sturdy
  • Modular
  • Tall and deep enough to fit multiple sized books.
  • Stackable high or stackable wide
  • Capable of being flipped over and stacked up in a truck for when I have to move
  • Cheap, or at least comparable to other bookcases in price

I’ve seen some solutions that use wooden crates that are stained and stacked, but they are always pieces of balsa thin wood stapled to the sides and barely able to hold a few magazines worth of weight. I wanted something sturdy enough to hold a bunch of books and be able to stand on if I wanted to. Something that rivals old fruit crate boxes for weight and sturdiness and wouldn’t fall apart when I moved them around. This is how i did it:

Book Crates – DIY

Basic Cost Per Crate: 8 –13 Dollars
Dimensions: 18 Inches Wide By 14 Inches High By 11.75 Inches Deep
(Width is easily variable by cutting the slats to different lengths)
Materials: (Builds 5 crates)

  • 1 X Pine Board – 1 inch by 12 Inches (really about 11 3/4 inches) by 12 Feet (144 Inches) ~$15 to 23 Dollars
    (Creates 10 sides at 14 inches by 11 3/4 inches )
  • 20 X Furring Strips – 1 Inch by 4 Inches (really 3.5) by 8 Feet ~ $1 to 3 dollars per strip
    (Creates ~100 18 Inch Slats – 1 Furring strip will give you about 5 slats, each box takes 10 slats )
  • ~200 or so 2 Inch Heavy Duty Screws
    (We want this thing sturdy. You can use smaller screws, but I prefer the longer ones to ensure stability)


  • Saw (Circular, Radial Arm, Table, or Hand)
  • Drill
  • 1 and 1/4 inch Wood drill bit
  • Scroll Saw for Cutting the Handles
  • Sanding Device of sort


These are basic wooden crates, so the construction is fairly simple. It should take you a few hours with the right tools, depending on how many you are making.

Measure and Cut The Wood


  • Measure the pine board into 14 inch by 11 and 3/4 inch segments.
  • Remember to accommodate for the saw blade width. Give it about 1/4 inch of space before making the line for the next board.
  • Cut the boards out.
  • A 12 foot (144 inches) board should give you 10 sides with the extra 3 to 4 inches being scrap.

Even though the board says it is 12 inches, planing cuts that down a bit and lumber stores just use the pre-planed measurement when selling the board.


  • Measure a furring strip into 18 inch by 3.5 inch segments.
  • Remember to accommodate for the saw blade width. Give it about 1/4 inch of space before making the line for the next board.
  • Cut the slats out.
  • A single furring strip will give you 5 slats at 18 inches. You’ll have about 6 inches of leftover space that goes into the scrap pile.
  • It will take 10 slat per crate to prevent major gaps.

These cuts are fairly easy with a circular saw or radial arm saw, but if you are buying from a big box store or a lumber yard (always go to a lumber yard if it is available) they will often make the cuts for a nominal fee or for free. They’ve got better equipment and, if they don’t cut corners, it can be an incredible time saver. It might add 5 or 10 dollars into the final project cost, but it is a good deal if you don’t have the tools or the space to get your tools out. Just make sure to tell them you need them cut to the exact lengths you give them.

Drill Starter Holes


  • Drilling-the-Slats-1024x682Get a drill bit just a bit smaller than your screw.
  • Drill a starter hole 1/8 inch in from the end and dead center of each cut slat.
  • This is where the screws will go when lined up with the sides.
  • Drill one slat out first, then use it as a template for the other slats. Just line it up and drill right through it to get the starter holes exactly right on each additional slat.

Drilling pilot holes is going to save you a lot of headache when assembling these. Trying to drill through wood and keep the screws straight without a pilot hole is a pain and will cause the screws to go cattywampus and poke out the sides.

Screw it all!

  • Set two sides on their ends and line a slat up at the edges. Start with the ‘top’ and bottom’ of the crate. The side that measures 11.75 inches.
  • Using the drill but with a Philips head bit, screw one of your screws into the pilot hole and continue it into the wood of the side.
  • Do this for the other side of the slat.
  • Line another slat up at the other end and repeat the process. (i.e. Do the ends flush to the edges first, then the middle strips.)
  • Repeat the process for the other sides.
  • The ~12 inch sides will get 3 slats while the back/bottom will get 4.
  • Drill the slats for the back in the same way, but overlap the end slats over the side slats, as shown in the below image. You want the back slats flush with the side slats so they stack easier.

If you have two drills, I like to line up the slats and drill a starter hole into the sides as well. Then I just use the other drill with a Phillips head bit to put a screw in. Switch drill – drill pilot hole with lined up slat – switch drill – screw it together, rinse and repeat.



By now you’ve got a wooden crate that is capable of holding your books. Lets make some handles.

Cut the Handles

  1. Make a template from a piece of scrap wood. Make it 14 Inches long (to mesh with the sides of the boxes) and have about 3 1/2 inches at the top before the handle area. You don’t want the space that will actually be grabbed to be too skinny or the weight of the books will make that snap like a twig. I speak from experience…
  2. Measure about 3.5 Inches down from the top and draw a line all the way across the template.
  3. Measure about 3.5 Inches in on this line from each side, make a mark there. The handle will appear between these two marks and will be about 7 inches long, leaving plenty of gripping room for even the biggest Irish hands. On this, I also speak from experience.
  4. Using a wood boring drill bit of about 1 1/4 size, drill two starter holes. The edge of the drill bit should match up with the edge of the lines you drew 3.5 inches in from the side. That will put the holes just inside those lines.
  5. Using a ruler, draw a line from the tops and bottoms of each hole to the tops and bottoms of the other hole.
  6. Using a scroll saw, cut out the rest of the handle in the template.
  7. With template in hand, trace the pattern onto each box side.
    Repeat steps 4-6 to cut out the handles.





  • Project-578A-14-682x1024Using a rasp, sand down the rough holes or edges of the handles and the rough edges of the planks.
  • Using sandpaper, sand down the rest of the boxes depending on how rustic you want them to look.


  • Stain or paint as you wish


  • These are simple wooden crates, but they aren’t craft store decorative pieces with shoddy construction. These are the types of crates that can hold a lot of weight and stack into some really great bookshelves. You could modify the design with solid wood instead of slats, but when I was working the costs out that increased the price per crate more than I wanted. The 14 inch height was hard to match up easily without more saw cuts or big chunks of wood. That height works well for multiple types of books though.
  • You can easily change widths by cutting the slats to a different width and modifying them.
  • You can also change height/depth by getting different pine board to cut your sides. An 8 inch board works well for Novels and a good height is about 10 inches on those. That would make the sides and back only require 2 slats each. The boxes would be smaller, but prime for holding small novels, not hardbacks.
  • A decorative touch can be had by making book cases of different widths and stacking them together. I made a few 24 inch ones, but those got too heavy. 14 Inch by 14inch ones gave a nice square look, and 20 inch ones were just a bit more room.
  • That’s all there is to building some do it yourself sturdy book cases. If you have questions, drop them in the comments.