While avoiding my bathroom reno project, I found one other thing to do in my basement main room besides adding texture to the walls (and that looks awesome all around the main room now). Our TV area needed some kind of shelving unit to hold extra DVDs, kids books, and knickknacks. So, I started to think of ways I could build a shelving unit for as little money as possible.
I am all for using scrap materials whenever possible to make something new out of something old. And so, this project meant I finally found a way to use the last of my scrap bifold doors. I also still have a LOT of kitchen cabinet doors, so those would work nicely as shelves. Other than that, all this would take was some scrap wood for backing and narrow wood strips for shelving cleats. Plus paint, stain, and polyurethane – all of which were leftovers from other projects. I did end up buying decorative molding for the fronts of the shelves to better complement the antique cabinet we use as an entertainment center, so that meant this entire project ended up costing me $28.
If you want to tackle this project and only have the bifold doors, you could use practically any wood to make your shelves, cleats, and then pick any front molding of your choice.
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- 2 bifold door panels
- 6 cabinet doors (or any wood you like for shelves, cut to size)
- 2 pieces of 1×4 wood
- 8 pieces of 1x2s
- Decorative chair rail molding
- Wood putty
- Paint, charred wood accelerator, wood stain, polyurethane
Step 1: Separate and prep bifold door panels. First I lay my bifold doors on the floor, backside up. Then I unscrewed the panels from each other, removed the hinges, and also removed the knob hardware.
With the panels separated, I took some wood putty and filled the holes. Once dry, I lightly sanded the spots smooth. Easy enough.
Step 2: Measure and plan for shelves. Turning my door panels on their sides, I spaced them apart by placing my cabinet-doors-turned-shelves between them. Luck was with me in that I happened to have 4 doors that were 17×20 inches, so these were perfect to fit between my 17-inches deep panels.
Side note: If making your own shelves, just measure how wide your bifold doors are and cut the shelves that width. You could make the length of your shelves whatever you want for a longer or shorter bookshelf.
I decided to support these 4 shelves by cleats that would run hidden along the undersides, attached to the door panels on either side. For the top and bottom of the bookshelf, I had 2 other cabinet doors that would be a little longer but less wide, so I decided to attach these directly to the ends of my door panels to add support and work nicely as tops and bottoms.
Step 3: Cut cleats and support pieces for the back. I didn’t want a solid back on my bookshelf because I wanted to see my textured wall behind it, plus I didn’t want it to be crazy-heavy. Instead, I cut a 1×4 into 2 pieces that were 23 inches long, which was the total width of my bookshelf once I placed my 20-inch shelves between the 2 door panels. These 2 pieces would be my back supports to help hold the shelves secure.
For my cleats, I used 1×2 scrap pieces. I needed 8 total, 2 for each shelf, with 1 supporting each side. I made these about 17 inches – they’ll be hidden eventually, so they don’t have to be exact.
Step 4: Paint, age, stain, and seal. With all of these pieces basically ready, I set out the door panels first and started playing with my painting technique. After some trial and error, here’s what I did:
First I lightly sanded my door panels to help the paint adhere better. (You could also use a primer if more patient than myself.) With a small roller, I rolled on some dark brown paint that I’d found in our basement from the previous owners. I did 2 coats, but I wasn’t too worried about solid coverage because so many layers would be added later that this brown didn’t have to be perfect.
After this brown paint dried, I applied some charred wood accelerator. It’s basically a stain that leaves a charred look on raw wood, and I hoped it would work for this project to add some depth and an “aged” look, giving a hint of wood grain. (At least, I hoped this would have the desired effect once I did my next step. 🤞)
After about an hour, the charred accelerator stain was dry. This added a really cool layer and a textured look that indeed aged the panels nicely.
Next, I applied some red mahogany stain. Yes, I used a roller instead of a brush, partly because I was out of decent brushes and partly because I didn’t want brush strokes to show up on top of my charred texture. This stain warmed up the tone of the panels beautifully and also added a smoother, blending effect to the “aged” look.
I gave the stain overnight to dry, and the next day I applied a few coats of matte finish polyurethane to help protect and seal everything.
Happy with the result on the one side, I flipped over the door panels and repeated this process on the other side and also the surrounding edges. At this same time, I did the cabinet doors/shelves too. I lightly sanded, rolled on the brown paint, then charring accelerator, then mahogany stain, then poly.
Side note: It would have been even easier to leave the bifold doors white and paint the shelves to match. Really, you could use whatever paint method and colors you like! I considered all kinds of fun painting ideas, but I’m glad I went this way since it looks nice with our room and antique entertainment stand.
Step 5: Attach the cleats. Taking my door panels, I lay them so that the flat backside (or the inside of my shelves) was facing up. Then I took a tape measurer and played around with spacing, deciding finally on 16 inches between each shelf. I marked every 16 inches from the bottom until I had marked for all 4 of my shelves.
Next, I placed my 8 cleat pieces on the panels at those 16-inch marks. Once I was sure they were straight, I used Brad (my nail gun) and nailed them onto the door panels.
It’s IMPORTANT that these cleats be spaced exactly the same on each door so your shelves will be level. They don’t all have to be the same distance apart (like mine all at 16 inches) if you want some shelves taller or shorter, but you have to use the same measurements for each door so they mirror each other. BE SURE to remember which side is up and which is down when spacing them out.
I wish I’d thought to paint the cleats first, but 🤦♀️. You might want to do that. And also paint the 1×4 supports. They don’t have to look nice, just dark enough to blend in if you see them from the undersides of the shelves. You can also see from the picture above that the inside of my door panel doesn’t look quite right, but that’s part of the “trial and error” I mentioned before. Basically, do as I say, not as I do. 😜
Step 6: Attach the shelves. I found that this step went easiest by laying my door panels on their sides on the floor. The pretty side of each panel needs to be facing outward with the cleats on the insides. I also made sure to plan that the backside was up and the front was on the floor. The last thing to do for positioning was to make sure the panels were even side by side.
I started with my top shelf and held it in place against the top side of my cleats. Applying pressure with my legs against the panel sides, I kind of squeezed the shelf into a tight fit. (Thank God there’s no pictures of how ridiculous this probably looked. 🤣) Then I quickly checked that it was square before using Brad to secure this top shelf to the cleats. It only took 1 nail in each corner, which was good because I didn’t want to fill nail holes.
Next I repeated this process with the second shelf, then the third, and finally the bottom of the 4. I might’ve looked goofy, but it only took about 4 minutes. Fair trade off, in my book. 😜
Step 7: Attach the back supporting 1x4s. While the backside was facing up, I took one 1×4 piece and placed it across the back so that it covered the top shelf and cleats. I made sure the board would only be exposed under the shelf and not rising up above the shelf in the back. This meant the 1×4’s top sat flush with the top of the shelf. Holding it here, I nailed the 1×4 into each door panel on the ends and then all along the back of the shelf too.
That already added a lot of support when I wiggled the bookshelf, but I took my other 1×4 and did this same thing to the bottom shelf. I could have added back supports to each shelf, but this seemed like enough. 🤷♀️
Step 8: Attach the top and bottom. I suppose you could do this step before the middle shelves, but I wanted to be absolutely sure my shelves fit before locking everything in place by attaching these top and bottom pieces.
Holding my breath and hoping everything held, I carefully flipped over the whole thing so that the front side was now facing up.
Starting at the bottom with the bottom piece/cabinet door seemed easiest, although it ended up being the same process at both ends so I don’t know why I thought this. Anyway, because this bottom piece wasn’t as deep as the 17-inch panels (it was only about 15 inches), I lifted it to be flush with the top edges of the panels, which was really the very front of the bookshelf, remember. And since this piece was wider than the space between the panels (it was actually 23 inches – the full width of the bookshelf, as luck would have it), it fit nicely to cover the whole width of the bookshelf’s bottom.
I held the bottom piece thusly and easily nailed it into the panels on either end.
Confident now in how to do the top, I copied this placement for the top piece at the other end.
As you can see from the picture above, obviously I didn’t bother painting the bottom, since it would be on the floor. I also didn’t paint the top of the top piece but rather the underside, since you will be looking up to see that part but no one is tall enough to see the very top. I also painted the undersides of the next 2 shelves down, since you might see those parts too if looking up from kneeling to reach the bottom shelves. I, of course, only thought of painting the undersides once everything was attached, but it would probably be smarter to paint them when you paint the rest to begin with 🤦♀️🤷♀️.
Anyway, if you’re cutting your own wood for the top and bottom, I’d recommend cutting these pieces to fit the same as my cabinet doors. It adds a lot of support to have the top and bottom nailed on the ends of the panels rather than on the insides like with the shelves. And I like the small gap in the back because it lets some light in from the top, and it helps the whole bookshelf to tip back rather than forward at the bottom.
Step 9: Add front molding. My bookshelf looked okay at this point, but I wanted something to make it look a little fancier. So, I bought some pretty, detailed chair rail molding and cut it into 4 pieces of 23-inch strips to run across the fronts of my shelves, 4 pieces at 17 inches to run along the sides at the top and bottom, and 1 piece at 23.5 inches to run across the top (this extra 0.5 inch helped cover the molding pieces on the top’s sides).
Next I quickly sanded my cut ends and used the same mahogany stain to darken the wood and match my shelves.
With my bookshelf still lying with the front up, I set each 23-inch piece of molding over the fronts of my 4 shelves, covering each cleat too. I made sure the ends lined up nicely with the outer edges of the side panels. (These molding pieces run the full width of the bookshelf.) And since my shelves were level, I knew this molding would be level if lined up with the top edge of each shelf. Satisfied with the placement, I used a few nails at each end and one in the center of each shelf to get rid of any gap.
Then I took my 17-inch pieces and moved to the outsides of the bookshelf. For the bottom molding pieces on either side, I made sure to cover the sides of the bottom piece but keep the molding flush with the bottom so that it didn’t stick out any farther. Holding one side in position at a time, I nailed them onto the side panels.
For the top molding, I positioned them a bit higher so there’d be a little lip running around the top. I figured this would add height and also create a barrier to help hold any decor I might put up there. It also definitely meant that you can’t see where my top isn’t painted. The molding still covered the sides of the top piece, and I nailed them on once sure they were level.
Lastly, I attached my 23.5 inch molding to the front of the top piece. I positioned this molding to cover not only the front of the top piece but also the exposed ends of the top’s side molding (again, this is why this piece had the extra 0.5 inches, to cover the molding ends on either side). Holding it level, I nailed this molding in place like I’d done with the 4 shelves – at the ends and also once in the middle to eliminate any gap.
Step 10: Secure in place. Once finished with the decorative molding, I awkwardly carried my finished bookshelf (because I never ask for help) to stand against the wall where I wanted it. I was a bit worried about this monstrosity tipping, and this is where those back supports also come in.
First, I reached through to start 2 long screws in the top 1×4 where it was exposed under the shelf. This was so they’d be easier to screw in all the way when I was ready. Then, with my drill at the ready, I held a level against the side of the bookshelf and pushed a little bit to get completely level. Holding the bookshelf level with one hand, I took my drill in the other and finished screwing those screws all the way into the back wall. I got REALLY lucky and even hit a stud! (If you can plan how to hit a stud or 2, even better 😜)
I pushed and pulled every which way on the bookshelf, but it held in place just by screwing that one board onto the wall. And it looked great!
Now we have a handy place to store extra DVDs, kid books are easily accessible, and games are also easy to grab and store. The best part is that this bookshelf looks like it belongs in the room and appears way nicer than it did as bifold doors – LOL. And it only cost me $28 with the added bonus of depleting my pile of cabinet doors in our garage. 🤣