How to buy a Bookcase

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Bookcases are a fantastic way to store a lot of items in a compact space.  They come in a wide variety of sizes and, of course, you can order custom made ones to suit your room.  Typically they are 12”, 18”, or 24” deep by 24”, 30”, or 36” wide by 36”, 42”, 48”, 60”, or 72” high.  Many manufacturers have standard sizes that they make all of the time but several will offer some other sizes that may not be on the showroom floor.  Most local wood shops are able to produce cabinets in any size you desire and depending on the materials chosen they can be quite reasonable in price.

Bookcases tend to be made in three different quality levels.

  1. Cheap and cheerful – which are low quality and are generally poorly made
  2. Mid-range bookcases – which are constructed of a slightly heavier gauge material on the gables (sides) shelves and back panels
  3. High end – which use the highest quality on all aspects of the cabinet. Thicker gables, shelves and back panels with better shelf connections and inserts to create a strong long lasting cabinet that can hold up your storage without falling apart in the future

One of things to check for in determining the right bookcase for your home is – knowing what you will be storing in the unit.  If you purchase a 72” high, five shelf bookcase and you are planning to store books in it, then you will require a Heavy Duty unit because the weight of your desired storage items will weigh a lot and a low quality unit will simply not stand the test of time.  So, if you know that you want to place many heavy items into the unit then you need to consider increasing the quality and strength of the bookcase materials.  Equally, if a melamine bookcase has shelves that are only ½” thick and the cabinet is 36” wide, there is no doubt that the shelves will start to sag within a year of loading it up in your home.  Even ½” solid stock wood would start to deflect over time because of the weight load.  A fairly safe shelf thickness is 1” even if it MDF, (medium density fibreboard).

The construction needs to have solid joinery throughout the entire unit; they should be glued and screwed wherever possible to keep the frame of this unit rigid.  Many manufacturers have high quality fitments that will stand up to heavy loads however, it never hurts to squeeze glue into all connections as reinforcement.

Check that the shelf supporting devices, shelf pins or clips, are made of steel.  Some manufacturers use an inserted metal strip on the front and back of the shelves on both sides of the cabinet.  The unfortunate part with this type of construction is that they are visible when you look in the cabinet, but the benefit is that the shelves are supported by a metal clip into a metal strip, which increases the strength enormously.  If the shelf pins are plastic there is always the possibility of these failing in the future.  Plastic pins are designed to hold up a shelf with knick knacks, but NOT a shelf with 25 books on it.

It is common that on higher bookcases, 60” or more, the middle shelf is fixed – meaning it doesn’t have the ability to move.  It is fixed to add strength and support to the unit.  Again, knowing what you are going to store on your bookcase ahead of time will help to determine if the shelf opening are going to be large enough to handle the height of your objects.

Bookcases are mainly made of solid hardwoods, wood veneers, melamine, metal and any combination of these materials.  Remember that ½” melamine is a lightweight product and will have a hard time supporting large load capacities over time.  Obviously there are other materials used to create bookcases but wood based materials seem to be the norm.  Often manufacturers add glass doors to see inside the unit but this doesn’t impact the strength of the bookcase.

There are many configurations available for bookcases.  Open shelf, open shelf with doors, and closed with doors from top to bottom.  Some companies do add drawers into the unit but the cabinet needs to be very strong to prevent any bowing that may happen in the future which would stop the drawer(s) from rolling smoothly and effectively.  Always check the unit to be sure the drawers open and close with ease and that they line up square with the framework.  Check to see if the unit has adjustable hinges so you have the option of door realignment if necessary.

If you plan on having more than one bookcase side by side, check to see if there are ganging connections or hardware added.  This will allow you to connect the units together so the gables stay tight and flush together and creates better stability for the units.   Also, if you want to have multiple bookcases side by side, be sure to choose a style that doesn’t have molding at the bottom or the top because this will create spaces in between the sides of the case good.

There are bookcases with a light(s) option so make sure you have a power source to plug into near the unit.  Often when a bookcase has lights, it will also have glass shelves so the light can pass through the levels.  It is important to find out the gauge of the glass shelf and the manufacturer’s recommended weight capacity per shelf.  A thin glass shelf will not be able to support massive amounts of weight and crystal vases filled with roses and water are very heavy.

If you wish to have tall bookcases, check your ceiling height in the desired room to be sure you have the necessary height needed to fit your bookcase.  Check your walls to be sure that you are not going to be covering over any light switches, thermostats or any other important item that you need access to regularly.

The most important thing to remember with bookcases of any size is – to attach them to the wall.  It is always better to secure these units to a wall as a “just in case” precaution.  Even a 36” high x 36” wide x 12” deep bookcase can have well over 100 lbs loaded into it and if falls over and lands on you it will cause injury.  If it falls over and lands on a child or a family pet the results could be devastating.  Make sure that when you are attaching your bookcase to the wall that your connection device (ie L-bracket) hits a stud in the wall.  If you cannot find a stud to connect to in your wall then purchase heavy duty wall anchors to be sure that the unit is safe and secure.

**The advice given on this website may not meet the safety requirements for your individual situation and assumes no responsibility or liability for any failed attachment methods**