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Pallet Backed Bookshelf

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There are a ton of great tutorials out there on how to take an old piece of furniture and redo it into a masterpiece. But what about a crappy piece of furniture that has already been given a really bad paint job? I had a bookshelf that was given to me by a friend when she moved. It had great lines and I wasn’t too picky because I needed a bookshelf at the time.

But now I have the bug to change things up in my house  and I really loved the lines of my bookcase. The problem – it was really tipsy and the paint job was pretty bad. Here is what I mean -it couldn’t even stand up straight.

It was a laminate bookshelf that had been painted without priming. Parts of it were peeling and when I took the back off there were pools of dried paint sticking out. I used a razor blade to scrape the paint off that had pooled. You can see how beat up the paint was:

Not pretty!  I knew we couldn’t strip the whole bookshelf of the paint without ruining it. I did the best I could to scrape the peeling parts off and smooth it out. Then I gave the whole bookshelf and the shelves a new coat of Heirloom White to made it look even. This probably wouldn’t work on something other than a bookshelf but since there are so many things that go on a bookshelf it disguises the imperfections of the paint.

Next I had my hubby round up some old broken pallets. (A quick note on pallets – they are all the rage right now in decorating but please be very careful when finding and taking them. Most construction suppliers give a refund for returning pallets, so if you just take them off of an active construction site you could be taking money away from that contractor or builder. If they are broken and abandoned by all means recycle them, just be careful of active construction sites.)

When we found enough pallets we pulled them apart and then I measured them to fit the back of the bookshelf. I marked them and my hubby cut them to size. I washed the cut boards really good and left them out to dry for a couple of hours. Next I lined them up the way I wanted them to go on the back. I made sure that the different colors of the wood were mixed up as well as making sure the screw holes didn’t match up. Then I was ready to nail the boards in.

I laid two or 3 blankets down onto our garage floor and then we gently laid the bookshelf down on the blankets. I wanted to make sure that the bookshelf was padded when I hammered the planks in. I didn’t want the paint to get dinged up. Then I arranged my planks onto the bookshelf in the order I wanted them and double checked that everything lined up correctly.

One bad thing about working with pallets, especially old ones, is that the wood splits really easily. To make sure they didn’t split I used a really small drill bit and drilled a hole where I wanted the nail to go in.

This was also really helpful in making sure the nail went in straight and that it didn’t go through either sides of the bookshelf. It only took me about 20 minutes to get them all nailed in.

All that was left was to put the bookshelf in place and add my things back onto the shelves!

I am super happy with it! I still need to stain the little basket to match my bigger basket. The whole project cost me $4 for the spray paint! It was pretty fast too. We started at 8:00 on Saturday morning and I was putting everything back on it by 2:00 that afternoon!

It makes the biggest difference and doesn’t look like a crappy old bookshelf anymore 🙂

A few tips for staging bookshelves:

  1. Take the sleeves off of books! This makes the biggest difference! It looks so much cleaner and classier!
  2. Arrange books by size or color. It helps to form groups for arranging.
  3. Use items that are meaningful! You can create a beautiful bookshelf with cute matching things but its even better if you can find things that mean something to you. On my top shelf I used a picture of tulips from the fields where John and I went on one of our first dates. I also used a stack of old family bibles my Mom had collected. The round ball as well as the caribou statue were both things John brought home from his time in the Philippines. I bought the green box to hold the programs at my Moms funeral and it holds special notes she wrote to me inside. All of the items on our shelf mean something to us!
  4. Use decorative baskets and boxes to hold books or items that are not as attractive.

There you go! An easy and cheap solution to dressing up your home!

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Previous author of Over the Big Moon. I shared my passion for home and family life! I love graphic design, DIY projects, cooking, and working in my garden! My favorite role is taking care of my husband and our 3 amazing and busy boys!

Comments (29)

  • Found 5 years after you published this. Thank you! I now know what to do with those old bookcases I hate to throw away when they are “gifted” to me.

  • Carolyn M. Roberts

    There are various types of bookshelves, but I like this your design. Things like these are usually made for home use. You really tried. Keep it up.

  • Love this idea so much. I found an old kitchen cupboard in the rubbish years ago and made it into a standing book case. The frame was all wood but the back was some kind of particle board and I just hated it. I ended up decoupaging the back (as well as the entire thing) and it was just fine. But now I want to ‘do’ something to it and your idea is ideal – mine also has a hard time staying straight up and so using pallet boards to give it some weight is genius. Not to mention, so much more interesting to look at!
    Thanks so much for sharing. When I redo mine in spring, I will send you a picture. One question, though – the nails you used, were they super thin and with a head? My book shelf is made of old pine and so I must be careful of the type of nails I use.

  • Fantastic idea! I would love it if you joined and contribute your awesome posts at my link party at City of Creative Dreams, starts on Fridays 😀 Hope to see you there at City of Creative Dreams Link Party.

  • I just love this! I am wondering though, is there any reason not to use screws, since you are drilling anyway? Also, is it better to paint the shelf first? Thank you SO much for sharing!

  • Hello,

    So you mentioned that cleaned the wood. With what did you clean the pallets? Would any kind of mold or old materials from the pallet’s past be of concern for an indoor piece of furniture?

  • When you nail the pallet wood into the bookcase, is it breaking the bookcase apart? Is the bookcase particle board? Want to do this with a cheap bookcase I have but afraid to add the wood.

    • Erika – Mine was cheap particle board and did not split at all. If you are worried about it splinting, use a small drill bit and drill a hole first and then the nail will be much less likely to split the wood.

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