Where can I buy an affordable bookcase?
January 17, 2009 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an inexpensive but sturdy bookcase. I've had bad experiences with the Target stock, and the closest Ikea is two hours away. Do you have any suggestions as to where I might find a sturdy and affordable bookshelf?
posted by rockstar to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You might try the cinder block & shelf route. At Home Depot a cinder block runs $1.08, and if you buy a 4'x8'x3/4" plywood sheet you can have it cut in store to 48"x12" lengths for an effective price of $2.75/shelf (they might charge extra for the additional cuts). I'm sort of thinking in this direction myself as I have about 1400 books in my library, and the only options seem to be $50 department store particle board bookcases that bow, weaken, and fall apart after 4 or 5 years, and exotic high-and-mighty hardwood bookcases that require a mortgage. I think the particle board furniture is getting worse and worse every several years; maybe China is saturating the market with atrocious particle board or something.
posted by crapmatic at 12:45 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

P.S. Sample photo of a cinder block bookcase.
posted by crapmatic at 12:46 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can, of course, order-by-mail from Ikea. I've often taken those cheaper, Target/Wal-mart bookcases and bulked them up them with 1X2 inch strips under each shelf. That' aone inexpenive, but sorta ghetto, option.
posted by dawson at 12:49 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

last sentence should be, 'that's one...'. Also, what crapmatic said.
posted by dawson at 12:50 PM on January 17, 2009

Maybe just some shelf brackets and planks of wood, making sure the brackets are screwed into studs (if there's a nearby switch or socket, it will be attached to a stud and you can remove the cover plate to see it, the others are probably 16" on center, but depends on your local code). Add book-ends if required.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 1:02 PM on January 17, 2009

Cinder block and shelf route is great as long as you aren't moving often and have hardwood or cement flooring (you can shim them to a certain point, but they are still not very stable on carpet). I can tell you from experience, once either of these conditions aren't met, they become a hassle or a safety hazard pretty quickly. Because my wife and I have a lot of books, and need about 100 linear feet of bookshelf, we went to BigLots! and found the same particle board (Sauder brand) that you would find at Ikea. They were about $40 each and had 15 linear ft. of space. That, combined with a much scaled down cinder block two-tier shelf, does it for us. It actually looks pretty nice for a home office, though I wouldn't want it in the living room.
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:04 PM on January 17, 2009

You could also browse the local Kijiji and Craigslist furniture postings.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 1:09 PM on January 17, 2009

Adding on to hungrysquirrels, when I find something I want in the ikea catalogue, I often search for it on craigslist first to see if I can get the used version at a cheaper price. I'd imagine you'd find a few ikea billy bookshelves that way.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:28 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you have a few tools around you can easily build your own (for cheap); I made mine with pine wood: thicker 1.5'' boards for the sides and then 1" for the shelves. You can get them cut to dimension in store if you do not have a saw, then it's only a matter of bolting them together. It's much more solid than Ikea, it is custom sized and it cost me about 60 canadian dollars. You could paint it but I like plain wood. Don't forget to fix it to the wall though.
posted by ddaavviidd at 1:30 PM on January 17, 2009

Search on Craigslist for the terms "maple" or "rock maple". You'll be looking for bookcases made during the colonial revival of the 1960's - 1970's. They weigh a ton and the wood is extremely solid. I have 2 I found this way and would buy more if I had the room.
posted by andreap at 1:40 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should be able to order an adjustable track shelving system (wallmount shelving tracks + brackets + shelves) from a hardware or container store. My dad salvaged this kind of system from a renovation job and it has been taken down, put up, taken down again (and again) as I've moved from one place to the next. It isn't obtrusive and it doesn't take up floorspace.
posted by woodway at 1:41 PM on January 17, 2009

i buy such furniture at second hand stores. or you could try asking at freecycle.
posted by bellbellbell at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, WaresDirect and Staples.
posted by dawson at 2:14 PM on January 17, 2009

Listen to bellbellbell. Thrift stores are the way to go. The furniture you'll get from them will be much sturdier than anything you'll find at ikea or target, and likely cheaper, as well.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:26 PM on January 17, 2009

We have several bookshelves that are wooden ladders and wood planks from Home Depot. It's not the prettiest, but they are sturdy and cheap - nicer, sturdier and easier to move than the cinderblock/plank route. You can kind of see them in this old photo.
posted by gemmy at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2009

Third the cinderblock shelving. Cheaper and sturdier than normal cheap bookshelves, can be made to fit any space you have, and easier to dismantle and move than any actual bookshelf I've owned. No tools necessary, if you get the wood cut in the store! You can actually make them look pretty nice - in an industrial way - if you use actual wood rather than particle board. Oh, and with a combination of full- and half-height cinderblocks, you'll be able to have shelves that actually fit everything from paperbacks to art books.

Our library used to have the kind of mediocre cheap particle-board shelves that're everywhere, and all of them had shelves that were bowing in the middle or were otherwise breaking. We sat down and calculated the thickness of shelving and distance of cinderblocks necessary to avoid bowing. We went with 2x12s for our library (we wanted to make sure that even shelves with large art books or lots of textbooks would be fine), and they're great. We've got one or two built-in bookcases that we want to replace as well, because honestly, the cinderblock shelves look better and are sturdier than they are. Here's an old shot of some of the shelves.

This is only applicable if your floors do not have wall-to-wall carpeting, of course! Cinderblock shelving can be pretty sketch on some carpet.
posted by ubersturm at 3:15 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, one more caveat: Though I've never lived in one, I suspect that cinderblock shelving may not be a great idea if you're in an earthquake prone area.
posted by ubersturm at 3:21 PM on January 17, 2009

I will nth the Craig's List route. I wanted four bookshelves for our family room, but I didn't want to pay for crappy Ikea/Target quality only to have bowing shelves 3 months later.

I found a hospital that was getting rid of old inventory after a move to a new facility and scored heavy duty shelving that was perfect. And at $50 per shelf, I couldn't have been happier. The only thing that sucked was geting them home and cleaning them. But for $50, it was worth it.
posted by inquisitrix at 5:00 PM on January 17, 2009

I'm with Ddaavviidd but my tools probably weigh more than my car. Or, if it's not the sort of thing you'd want to tackle yourself, see if you have a friend who could justify picking up that if only he could make a little money on that woodworking hobby.

Either way, I would advise against plywood for the shelves. Without a fairly stout cleat across the front it tends to develop a bow pretty quickly.

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:04 PM on January 17, 2009

Staples, actually. I've had several of these for almost a decade now. I used wood glue on the joints when I assembled them and they've survived many moving vans and being shuffled around by one person while fully loaded with books without a problem. I'm talking years of heavy textbooks crammed into all four shelves - nary a bow.
posted by teremala at 11:51 PM on January 17, 2009

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