How To Build A Totem Bookcase Tower

Here are instructions for how to build a totem bookcase tower. A totem bookcase tower is tall, thin and elegant, offering an ideal decorating solution for displaying CD’s, DVD’s, small books, or art. Building your own totem bookcase tower will not only save you money but allow you to custom finish your bookcase. From hammered metal to classic cherry wood, the totem bookcase tower you build is sure to add beauty to your home.

To build a totem bookcase tower you will need:

  • Two hardwood boards, 2” x 72” x 13” (bookcase sides)
  • Six hardwood boards, 2” x 12” x 13” (bookcase top, bottom)
  • Plywood, 16” x 72” (bookcase back)
  • 24 wood dowels, 2” long
  • Glue
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil and ruler

Follow these steps to build a totem bookcase:

  • Mark the shelves on the totem bookcase sides. To build a totem bookcase tower without shelf pin holes that will mar the overall finish, you will be using wood dowels (pegs), which are inserted invisibly into the shelves and bookcase sections. Begin by laying the totem bookcase sides (2” width x 72” length x 13” depth) on your work surface. Heading up the length of the board, measure fourteen inches from the bottom and mark a line with the pencil and ruler. Then mark the next three lines twelve inches apart.
  • Mark the dowel holes in the totem bookcase sides. On each of the lines, mark two dots, two inches from the right and left edges. These will be the dowel holes for the shelves. In addition, mark dots at the top and bottom of the totem bookcase side, also two inches from the side, and one inch from the bottom or top. These will be the dowel holes for the bookcase top and bottom sections. Repeat this step for the opposite bookcase side.
  • Drill dowel holes for the totem bookcase sides. Choose a drill bit to fit your dowels snugly, then stick painter’s tape one inch from the end of the drill bit to create a drill stop flag. Now drill into the dowel hole marks, drilling only as deep as the drill stop flag (one inch deep holes). Tip: test your drill bit on a waste piece of wood to be sure the dowels will fit snugly into the dowel holes.
  • Drill dowel holes in the totem bookcase shelves. Continue building your totem bookcase tower by drilling corresponding holes in the shelves. Mark each shelf with four dowel holes, two inches from the sides. Tip: the dowel holes fit in the two inch side of each shelf.
  • Insert the dowels into the totem bookcase tower. Now insert dowels into the side sections of your totem bookcase. Be sure to squirt a dab of glue first, then to fit the dowel in the hole. If glue spills, wipe it with a moist cloth.
  • Assemble the totem bookcase tower. Now comes the fun part of building your totem bookcase tower. Insert the top and bottom sections of the bookcase, as well as the four shelves into one of the side sections. Again, be sure to use a little glue, even though the dowels should be a tight fit. Tip: it will be easier to assemble the totem bookcase by resting it on its side. Use a hammer to lightly tap the shelves into the dowels.
  • Finish building your totem bookcase tower. Now place the opposite side section to complete your totem bookcase. You might need someone to help you fit all the dowels slowly into place. If you hammer the side section in, first place a flat piece of wood under the hammer, to protect the bookcase surface from hammer indentations.
  • Close the back of the totem bookcase tower. If you prefer, you can leave your totem bookcase open. Otherwise, nail the plywood to the back.
  • Sand and finish the totem bookcase. Sand the bookcase with P-220 grit sand paper to eliminate any glue residue or uneven elevation between the totem bookcase tower parts. For a modern feel, spray paint the totem bookcase with hammered metal paint, or in bright colors like blue or red. For an elegant look, finish the bookcase with shellac or lacquer.   
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