The 8 Best Woods to Build a Bookcase


Book cases add sophistication and charm to a home. Everyone wants to show off the collection of books they have read to show how intellectual they are. So when it comes to building your own book case, choosing the right wood to get the right look, feel, and functionality is key.

The best woods for building a bookcase are:

  1. Birch
  2. Cherry
  3. Maple
  4. Mahogany
  5. African Padauk
  6. Koa
  7. Oak
  8. Balsa

If you want to see some of the best Bookcase Ideas, click here.

We have provided you with the best wood options for building a book case and other considerations you should make during the building process. Book cases make every home have that awe inspiring look, and understanding the materials and proper construction for a book case can make all the difference.

The 8 Best Woods to Build a Book Case

The woods that are mentioned on this list are specifically chosen due to their composition. These woods will range from Hardwoods to Softwoods and inexpensive to expensive. Each wood will have advantages and disadvantages and will be broken down below.

We will go through each of our best wood options, giving you the breakdown of what we like about them and how some woods may be better than others based on your needs.

1. Birch

Birch is one of the most common woods used to make cabinets, furniture and hardwood floors. This is due to the fact that it’s a light wood with a very fine grain. Birch has a creamy light look to it, making it easy to stain and customize to look a specific way.

The advantages of using Birch wood for a bookcase include:

  • Cost: Birch is one of the most economical woods on the market. It is easy to find at any home improvement store and is inexpensive.
  • Strength: Once dried, this wood is extremely durable.
  • Easy to Stain: This wood is simple to stain and finish, this could be key to getting the specific look you may be looking for.
  • Durable: Doesn’t nick or gauge easy.
  • Usability: Easy to cut, nail, drill and screw into.

Some disadvantages to consider when using Birch wood for a bookcase include:

  • Warping: Can easily warp when drying.
  • Spalting: (any form of wood coloration caused by fungi. Although mostly found in dead trees, can also occur in living trees under stress. Spalting can cause weight loss and strength loss in the wood, and the unique coloration and patterns of salted wood are sought by some woodworkers) is very common in Birch.
  • Environment resistance: Not resistant to decay, fungal, or insect attacks once it is dried.

Overall, birch wood is our top choice. This is because it’s the most inexpensive, most readily available, strong, and the easiest to use of all the woods available. When it comes to building a bookcase, Birch checks all the boxes that are necessary.

2. Cherry

If you asked any wood aficionado they might claim that Cherry is the most glamorous furniture hardwood in the United States of America. Cherry wood is most commonly used for fine furniture, cabinetry, paneling, doors, etc.

Cherry has a nice rich red to reddish brown look to it and can range from light to dark red. This wood is unique with its red richness. So depending on the look you are desiring, Cherry may be the way to go or not.

Here are some more reasons you should consider using Cherry wood for your bookcase:

  • Machines Well: Can be cut, nailed, and glued with ease.
  • Dries Quickly: Unlike other woods, cherry dries fast with moderate shrinkage.
  • Easy to Get: Readily available at any home improvement store.
  • Aesthetics: Cherry is a very attractive red wood. It almost has a mahogany look to it.
  • Durability: Strong and lightweight making it easy to handle and machine.

The main disadvantage of using Cherry wood is:

  • Expensive: This wood is less pricey than walnut but more expensive that most hardwoods. Some DIYers may not want to break the bank on a bookcase.

Cherry is definitely a top contender for building a bookcase because of its pristine look, ease of use and its durability. If you happen to find it at a decent price at a home improvement, store then I would highly recommend using Cherry wood to build your bookcase. The redness gives it that elegant look and the wood is highly versatile in how you can use it.

3. Maple

Known for its durability and strength, maple is commonly used for flooring, butcher blocks, and large furniture. Maple ranges from a nearly white to a white cream color, at times it can even have a red or golden hue to it.

Advantages of using Maple wood for a bookcase include:

  • Paints and Finishes Easy: Due to the straight grain and fine texture, the surface of maple is easy to paint or add any type of finish to.
  • Glues well: The surface of Maple also eases the ability to glue Maple on Maple.
  • Aesthetic: Most people venture towards maple because of its light, creamy color and smooth grain pattern.

Disadvantages of using Maple wood for a bookcase include:

  • Hardness: Makes it difficult to work with in some cases.
  • Burns: Tends to burn when being machined with high-speed cutters.

Maple also makes our list of best woods to use for a bookcase because it’s easily one of the most durable woods on the market. When you plan on adding a lot of weight with books having a durable wood is key. However, the fact that it is so durable could cause issues when you plan on cutting. Sometimes this wood will burn when using high speed cutters, so keep that in mind. So ask yourself, “what else am I putting on this bookcase?” You just may need a highly durable wood like maple.

4. Mahogany

If cost was not an option, then Mahogany is the best way to go. Ranked as one of the finest cabinet woods, this wood has an elegant and sophisticated look to it, which anyone would want their own bookcase to look like.

Mahogany is straight grained with a reddish brown timber. This wood speaks of elegance and is a great option for making a bookcase in a library or office.

Advantages of using Mahogany wood for a bookcase include:

  • Aesthetic: Elegant and sophisticated look.
  • Longevity: Wood will last longer than other types of woods on the market.
  • Strength: Strong, dense, and durable.
  • Usability: Praised for its ease of use with hand tools and power tools.

Disadvantages of using Mahogany wood for a bookcase include:

  • Expensive: Cost is anywhere from $6 to $28 per board foot.
  • Not Easy to Find: Not at every home improvement store. May need to look at a lumber yard or a specialty wood store to find this wood.

If cost is not an option, then Mahogany is a clear winner. This wood has the aesthetic, strength, longevity and ease of use that anyone would be looking for in a wood to use for a bookcase. So if you have the Benjamin’s, then lets get to the store and get some Mahogany.

5. African Padauk

This unique wood is commonly used for musical instruments, furniture, and flooring. It is popular with wood workers because of its unique color (orange red) and ease of use.

Padauk is definitely the most frequently misspelled and mispronounced of the woods. The most common pronunciation is pah-DUKE. But even though you may not be able to spell or pronounce this wood correctly, it does make our top woods list for building you own bookcase.

A few advantages of African Paduak uncludes:

  • Aesthetic: The orange reddish color makes it unique.
  • Durable: This wood is heavy, strong, stiff, and stable.
  • Usable: Machines easily.

A disadvantage of African Paduak is:

  • Imported: This wood is imported and sometimes can be expensive or hard to find in any home improvement store.

African Padauk makes the list because of its uniqueness. This is not your everyday wood so using this wood in the home would help any bookcase become a staple piece of the home. Also just trying to spell or pronounce this wood would make for a great conversation piece 🙂 .

6. Koa

Koa is considered one of the best woods for a bookcase. Other common uses are guitars, instruments, boats, floors, etc. Koa wood can only be found on the islands of Hawaii and is known for its deep rich colors and varied grain patterns.

Koa has a similar look to Mahagony and is considered the most beautiful and useful wood in Hawaii.

Advantages of using Koa include:

  • Aesthetic: Rich red look with varied grain patterns
  • Strength: Strong, durable, and stable wood
  • Uniqueness: This wood is only found on the islands of Hawaii

Disadvantages of using Koa include:

  • Expensive: Cost $15 to $140 per board foot
  • Glues Poorly: Doesn’t glue well at all
  • Machines Ok: Due to the varied grain patterns, in some cases, it may not machine as easily.

Koa makes the list at number 6 because of how expensive it is. Also what is considered its major advantage could also be considered its biggest disadvantage. Due to the uniqueness it has a great look, but this is also the reason it doesn’t machine well and could be difficult crafting a bookcase in some cases.

7. Oak

Oak has a light to medium brown color and can come in various tints. Used most commonly for making cabinets, barrels, veneer and furniture. This wood is moderately priced and is domestic to the United States.

You can find Oak in just about any home improvement store, it‘s one of the most common woods in the states.

Advantages to using Oak to make a bookcase include:

  • Easy to Glue: Fairly coarse grain makes this wood easy to glue.
  • Easy to Stain and Finish: Medium to large pores makes this wood easy to stain and finish.
  • Common: Easy to find in any home improvement store in the United States.
  • Machines Well: Cuts, screws, and nails easily.

Disadvantages to using Oak to make a bookcase include:

  • Sensitizer: People may be sensitive to Oak, reactions include eye and skin irritation and even, in some cases, asthma-like symptoms. More details on wood toxicity can be found at The Wood Database.

Oak makes our list of best woods to use to make a bookcase as well. This wood is easy to use and find. The only thing to be careful of when choosing Oak, is that it is sensitizer. So review The Wood Database toxicity report before going forward with Oak.

8. Balsa

Balsa comes in a pale reddish brown color and is typically used to make surfboards, buoys, rafts, and musical instruments. The great thing about Balsa wood is how light it is, much lighter than the woods we have listed above. Despite how light it is, it is still very much considered a hardwood.

Since this wood has special characteristics of it being light, but still hard it can sometimes be fairly expensive at the store.

Advantages of using Balsa to build a bookcase:

  • Weight: Light, so it is easy to handle and work with.
  • Properties: Great sound, heat, and vibration insulating properties.

Disadvantages of using Balsa to build a bookcase:

  • Porous: If you plan to paint or finish it will take multiple coats.
  • Nails Poorly: You should only use glue on Balsa, doesn’t nail successfully.

The last wood on the list is Balsa. This wood is one of the lightest hardwoods on the market which make it easy to work with and move from room to room. However, if you plan to use nails or paint the bookcase this may not be the wood for you.

Woods and Materials to Avoid

When building a bookcase, you need to make sure to pick a wood that is strong, durable, and looks great. There are a few woods and materials that should always be avoided due to lacking in one of the key features.

Woods and Materials to Avoid:

  • Particleboard
  • MDF
  • Any softwood
  • Woods with rough-hewn or have knots
  • Woods with poorly graded sides

These need to be avoided for a few reasons:

  1. Sagging: due to the weight of the books, these are not strong enough to support them.
  2. Denting: Due to the softness of the wood or materials they tend to dent more easily. Therefore look cheap and run down.
  3. Scratches: Since these materials aren’t made to as high of a quality as the woods listed above, they tend to scratch more easily.
  4. Finish/Paint Poorly: These materials don’t receive finish or paint easily. Making it hard to get the exact look one wants in their bookcase.

Questions to Consider Before Building a Bookcase

There are some specific questions that should be considered as they relate to the overall quality of the bookcase. Choosing a solid wood can help to account for some of these questions and limit negative side effects that would be associated with using other wood options.

Questions to ask yourself before choosing a wood?

  • How many books will this bookcase be holding?
  • What will the overall weight be on the bookcase?
  • What color do I want the bookcase to be?
  • How deep do I want the bookcase to be?
  • How tall do I want the bookcase to be?
  • How much money do I have to spend on materials?

These are just a few questions to consider when trying to pick the best type of wood for the project. We have listed the advantages and disadvantages of the woods above to help come to an answer to these specific questions.

Building the Bookcase

After you have chosen the correct wood it’s time to build the bookcase. There are many different types of bookcases you can build, they come in all shapes and sizes. But if you are looking for a way to build an easy and basic bookcase for your home then check out this video.

Depending on the area in the home where the bookcase will be located will determine the type of bookcase you will want to build and how big that bookcase will be. Some woods work better for different types of bookcases so make sure to keep all the information listed above when ultimately determining the wood that you will make your bookcase with.

Conclusion

Building a bookcase that looks sophisticated and functions properly can best be achieved with the use of any of the woods above.

The wood you choose will be depend on your personal preferences and what design you are trying to achieve. There is a wide range of woods that look great and will build an amazing bookshelf.

Try and always choose a durable, stable, and strong wood when building a bookcase. Any of the woods on our list will result in favorable outcomes for a quality bookcase.

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