“A house that has a library in it has a soul”

Although the quote itself supposedly never appeared in Plato’s writing, it does have a point though. Having a library room can provide that perfect place to slow down and disconnect yourself from the outside world. In this tutorial we’ll look at how to design such a space. The example we’re using is shown in Figure 1 below. It’s all about the books here, so features include floor-to-ceiling MDF bookshelves and a cosy build-in bed where you can wrap yourself in duvets and get lost in your own world.

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FIGURE 1 – Finished Visual

TIMBER SUPPORT FRAME

To start the project we take an empty room which is, well, exactly that – empty. Yes, it is a bit of a luxury to have a spare room in the house, but let’s assume one of the kids moved off to college and we’ve decided to turn her room into a library. Now, the idea is to first construct a timber frame fixed to the walls, then screw preassembled bookshelves onto that frame. You may already be familiar with timber studwork construction, and it’s the same principle we’re using here. Figure 2 shows the empty room on the left, and the finished studwork frame on the right. But before we start, let’s have a look at few points to keep in mind;

STEPS TO CONSIDER:
  1. Explore different ideas and decide on the final design.
  2. Conduct a site survey; measure all dimensions in the room and find out which walls are load bearing walls and which ones aren’t.
  3. If your design includes lighting, plan the route for your wiring before starting construction (retrofitting wiring can be a bit of a pain).
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FIGURE 2Timber Frame Construction
FRAME CONSTRUCTION

The timber we’re using is standard CLS (Canadian Lumber Standard) timber, which is commonly used in all sorts of timber construction. The timber comes in 2400 mm lengths, and the standard size is 38 x 63 mm (2″ x 3″). For the sections that are fixed to the wall, we’ve gone for a bigger section of 100 x 50 mm. These are very common building materials that your local builders/timber merchants will have in stock.

This is where you need to decide if you want to build an alcove for a seating area, or whether you prefer to have a raised bed as we’ve done here. Just remember the bed higher will require some sort of ladder to get up there. This isn’t the most practical solution, but I think ladders always make everything more interesting. Also, this leaves room above and below the bed for a nice row of bookshelves. Once you have done a survey of the room (taken measurements), you can start producing some drawings – similar to the ones shown in Figure 3. You certainly don’t need fancy 3D software to do this, a hand drawing with the main dimensions will do just as fine.

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FIGURE 3 Timber Frame Dimensions

 

Usually studwork construction starts from the floor level by fixing the bottom section first. But if you’ve built timber frames before, then you probably have your own preferred method. If not, then a few YouTube tutorials should help you get started. The overall dimensions of the frame are 2400 mm wide and due to our unusually high ceiling, a height of 3500 mm. The level of the bed is at 1550 mm with a length and width of 2000 mm and 950 mm respectively.

Section B-B shows the frame extending from the back wall only by 640 mm, so the remaining 310 mm is made up by front bookshelves that butt up against the front of the frame (see Figure 5, section H-H). To provide a surface for screwing on the bookshelves, we want to space the vertical supports according the the width of the bookshelves. So the bookshelf edges should line up at the vertical centreline of the timber sections. Below is a video showing an exploded assembly of the timber frame construction.

When fixing timber sections into the wall, you will need to use wedge anchors, Rawlplugs, concrete anchors, or something similar. Most anchors require a hammer drill to make a hole into the existing wall first, then a conventional claw hammer to knock them into place. The timber sections can only be fixed onto load bearing walls. The basic principle is that the more you tighten the nut, the more the bolt expands inside the hole – thus providing more grip. To see a quick visual explanation, check out this video.

When fixing two timber sections together, you can use wood screws which are more robust than nails. Screws also come in more handy if you need to disassemble the structure – for instance if the previous room occupant decides that she wants to move back in!

MDF BOOKSHELF CONSTRUCTION

With the timber frame now completed, let’s turn our attention to the bookshelves. The material of choice is MDF, or medium density fibreboard. Again, this material is as common as it gets with a standard sheet size of 1220 mm x 2440 mm. It’s fairly similar to plywood, but it’s made by gluing timber fibres (basically sawdust) together under heat and pressure. Thicknesses vary from 3 mm to 19 mm – we’ll be using a thickness of 18 mm. Buying MDF will set you back roughly about £20 per sheet. Below is a drawing for Bookshelf Assembly 1, which will be screwed onto the timber frame, just below the bed opening.

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FIGURE 4 Bookshelf Assembly

Building one of these bookshelves is fairly straightforward; the only challenging bit is to use a router on some of the panels. By creating 5 mm deep x 18 mm wide notches to the side and middle panels, the shelve panels can easily be slid into position. It’ll also give the shelves added support which means that it isn’t necessary to use screws – just apply some wood adhesive and push them into position.

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FIGURE 5 Exploded Assembly

You will, however, need screws to fix the rest of the panels into place. When screwing MDF panels, pilot holes will have to be drilled to avoid the material from splitting. It’s also a good idea to countersink the holes.If you are not too familiar with pilot holes or countersinking, you can check out this post. To even out the countersunk surfaces, you might want to use a filler (at least on visible faces). This will give you a nice flush surface that you can paint whichever colour you fancy. Painting MDF will usually require 2 or 3 coats of paint.

Now that you know how to make one of these bookshelves, it’s only a matter of repeating the same technique for the rest of them. The overall arrangement of the bookshelf units is shown in Figure 6 – assemblies number 1, 2 and 3 are fixed to the timber frame, and assemblies 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 making up the narrow tall shelves that are fixed to the side wall. These tall shelves do not have a back panel, which means that the wall is visible behind them. If you prefer for the wall to be hidden, then all you have to do is to screw a panel to back of these units. To fix them into the wall, again, you can use corner braces, Rawlplugs or wedge anchors if you are using a back panel. In some cases, you might need to use resin anchored studding (these are explained in the staircase post).

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FIGURE 6 Full Assembly

CONCLUSION

You should now have a basic understanding of how to design and build a home library by using timber framing and MDF bookshelves. Remember, if you’re just looking to build some bookshelves, then there’s really no need to construct the timber frame. It’s only when you want to include a build-in bed, or seating, that you need it for structural support.

While reading this post, you might’ve wondered how exactly can you reach the upper levels of the bookshelves? The answer is; by ladder. The ladder that is shown in Figure 1, is built from two pieces of 50 x 25 mm mild steel rectangular hollow section for the sides, and some 30 mm diameter tube for the rungs. This is a hook-on ladder, so you will also need to have plates at the end of the ladder that ‘hook onto’ the tube. You could also build the ladder out of timber, if you don’t fancy working with steel. In that case, you may want to check out this tutorial on how to build your own rolling ladder.

One improvement that can be made is to make better use of the void space inside the framework. You could easily use this space for storage. Or maybe build a secret playroom. With some clever use of hinges, you could make one of the bookshelves to act as a secret door. And who doesn’t like  hidden doors and secret passageways?

REFERENCES

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