One Room Challenge, Week Five

This week marks the last week of Calling It Home’s One Room Challenge.  As an ORC linking participant, I wasn’t ready to tackle an entire room, so instead I decided to build a wall of built in bookshelves within the six weeks.  You know, because that would be a breeze to take on.  HA!  You may have noticed I didn’t post my progress last week – that’s because I was trapped on the phone with Verizon for days upon days trying to fix my mess of internet server problems – so let me get you up to speed.

I started the ORC with three Ikea Billy bookcases that were to go on a wall of my living room – two on one side of those black doors and one on the other.  I should mention here that I love woodworking projects but have never tackled built ins before, so using Ikea bookcases seemed like the easiest road, especially since I am working on this project solo.

When we decided that the wall o’bookcases would work better on the adjacent wall, I needed a fourth bookcase in a funky size.  (The Billys come in widths of either 31 1/2″ or 15 3/4″ and I needed a width of 25″).  I considered buying another Billy and cutting the shelves down, but when I came across Ana White’s WILLY bookcase plans, I thought this would be a good opportunity to compare how difficult and costly it is to build a bookcase from scratch vs. using the Ikea bookcases.  If you have ever seen the tutorials all over the web of Ikea bookcases used for built in bookshelves, and wondered how cost effective it is – this post is for you!

If you could care less about this comparison, scroll down past all my wordiness to the end of the post to see where I’m at with this project as we head into the final week!

I purchased and put together three Ikea Billys, and then I built one bookcase with birch plywood.

For the sake of discussion, let’s look at an apples to apples comparison (keep in mind that the prices of lumber below are in MA, prices differ depending on what part of the country you live in):

Tools needed:  hammer, screwdriver or screw gun to attach L brackets to wall
*A white Ikea Billy bookcase (31 1/2″ wide x 79 1/2″ tall x 11″ deep) made of laminate coated particle board,  including all necessary hardware to put it together, and the backing board (pressed cardboard).
TOTAL COST:  $59.99

Approximate time to put together:  under an hour.
TOTAL TIME:  30-60 minutes.

Tools needed: measuring tape, square, pencil, safety glasses, drill (screw gun), sander 
*Particle board by the 4×8′ sheet at Lowes :  $24.47.  For the same size bookcase, you would need either 2 4×8′ sheets, or 1 sheet + particle board shelving, which is roughly $50.
*Backing for bookcase:  you can customize this however you like.  Options include hardboard ($19-35 for 4×8′ sheet), wood beadboard ($40/4×8′ sheet), planking (such as ship lap or pine boards) or no backing at all.  Range for backing for one bookcase:  $19+.
*Also needed:  countersinking screws, wood glue, sandpaper, primer, paint:  $40+.
TOTAL COST:  approximately $109 (including backing)

Approximate time to build (for a novice woodworker), excluding cutting wood to size:  1-2 hours.
Approximate time to finish (sanding, priming, sanding, painting):  2-4 hours.
TOTAL TIME:  3-6 hours.

Ikea bookcase – $59.99 and 1 hour
from scratch bookcase – $109 and 3-6 hours

This comparison is based on the lowest cost to build a bookcase.  Other options for materials you could use: pine boards (@ $14 for a 1x6x8″ board),  MDF (approximately $35 for a 4×8′ sheet), hardwood plywood ($45-$55 sheet depending on wood) or solid wood such as poplar, oak or maple ($$$$).

As far as materials go:
Low cost, but lower in quality:  particle board or MDF 
Medium cost, really good quality:  hardwood plywood such as birch or oak
High cost, but finest quality:  solid hardwood

For my from-scratch bookcase I used 3/4″ thick birch plywood and had it cut by Lowes to my specifications.  I figured if I was going to build a bookcase, I might as well upgrade the material I was using, otherwise, why not just buy another Ikea kit and put it together?

You don’t even have to ask any carpenter or employee of Lowes, Home Depot or a lumber yard their feelings on particle board or MDF vs. real wood – every time I have so much as LOOKED at MDF I get unsolicited opinions about how MDF holds up over time.  So lets take a quick look at the pros and cons of the different materials.

Particle board, also known as particleboard and chipboard, is an engineered woodproduct manufactured from wood chips, sawmill shavings, or even sawdust, and a synthetic resin or other suitable binder, which is pressed and extruded. Particleboard is a composite material. {wikipedia}

PROS:  cheap
CONS: cannot stand up to any kind of moisture;  resins that bind the material together contain formaldehyde (which is unhealthy to breath so be sure to wear a respirator when cutting or sanding); cannot take repairs very well (repeatedly drilling into it causes the material to break down); disintegrates over long period of time
Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres, often in a defibrator, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming panels by applying high temperature and pressure.  MDF is generally denser than plywood. It is made up of separated fibres, but can be used as a building material similar in application to plywood. It is stronger and much more dense than particle board.  {wikipedia}

PROS:  low cost; uniform, smooth surface is free of any wood grain, easy to cut with a saw into any shape, easy to sand, great for painting
CONS:  resins that bind the material together contain formaldehyde (which is unhealthy to breath so be sure to wear a respirator when cutting or sanding); can warp or sag under heavy loads, is heavy, cannot stand moisture; cannot take repairs very well

Plywood is a manufactured wood panel from the family of manufactured boards (such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF), particle board (chipboard), etc.) made from thin sheets of wood veneer. Plywood layers (called veneers or plies) are glued together, with adjacent plies having their wood grain rotated relative to adjacent layers up to 90 degrees. {wikipedia}

PROS:  less costly than solid hardwood, not as heavy as MDF, strong – not likely to sag or warp, is not likely to expand or contract over time (like solid wood), takes stain well, great for painting

CONS:  resins that bind the layers together contain formaldehyde (which is unhealthy to breath so be sure to wear a respirator when cutting or sanding); plywood edges are not smooth and solid (and therefore are often veneered or covered with trim), can splinter easily

Solid wood lumber is wood that has not been engineered, but simply harvested and manufactured into boards and planks.

PROS:  in it’s unfinished state solid wood is natural – containing no chemicals that are harmful to the environment or to you; strong; takes stain and paint very well; very repairable; very long lasting
CONS:  expensive compared to other building products, is subject to expanding or contracting depending on climate


after all that big education…….

Pros & Cons of Ikea vs. from scratch bookcases

PROS:  Cheap, easy and quick to put together, not extraordinarily heavy for one person to build and move by herself.
CONS:  Made of particle board, so basically the lowest bottom feeding scum you can get for lumber.  Limited life span – I give them 20 or 30 years.

PROS:  Easy to customize size and material.  Depending on material, you can build a very durable bookcase that will last many many years.
CONS:  Takes more time, labor and brain power to build.  Depending on material, much more costly.

If I had it to do over again I probably would build the entire wall of bookcases with birch plywood.  It wasn’t hard to do – just a bit of a learning curve, but I’m guessing it be a lot quicker and easier the next time around.  I like that it’s made of a strong and resilient material that will stand the test of time.

So here we are at the final week of the ORC.

I have to admit that I thought this would be an easier and faster project to take on by myself, but there’s been a huge learning curve.  In the past month I have learned to splice trim together, cope crown molding trim, find perfect angles, cut outside corners, route with my Dremel, countersink screws, and use both a Skillsaw and a reciprocating saw.

I’ve run back and forth from my living room to the compound miter saw on my garage floor about 48735 times.  I’ve also been to Lowes and Home Depot a total of 11 times.

I’ve put together/built 4 bookcases, attached planked board as a backing, built a base and a header to attach the bookcases to, boxed out the space over the doorway and bookcases, trimmed the bookcases, and added crown molding.

I also spackled, caulked and wood filled every single hole, nook and cranny, then primed everything inside and out.

Almost there!!!!!
I still have a few pieces of trim to put up as well as the baseboard, and then the whole shebang will get a final coat of paint.  
 Thanks so much to all of you for your support and encouragement!
I have always dreamed of a “library”, and even though it’s been a bit more challenging than I envisioned, this might be the most gratifying DIY project I’ve done to date!

I can’t wait to see how all the other ORCs are coming along!  Join me at Calling It Home to see everyone’s progress!