Bookcase in corner?
March 28, 2016 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I have a bookcase in the corner of my room. I want to replace it with a taller one. Is there a safe way to anchor it given that it's not against a flat wall? Do I need to anchor it at all?

I swear I thought I was done with questions about decorating my room, but here we are again...

I have a three-shelf bookcase. As you can see from the overcrowded shelves in the picture, I need a five-shelf bookcase to store all my books. All the bookcases I can find on the internet (e.g. this one) say that they have to be anchored by drilling holes in the wall and installing some kind of stabilizing hardware. I don't think I can do this based on where the bookcase is in my room. Am I correct?

I tried to show in the photo linked above what the corner of the room looks like, but let me know if anything isn't clear.

My question:
a) Is it necessary to stabilize a bookcase?
b) If so, is it possible to do it with the bookcase in the corner like this?
c) How would I do this?

My question is not about alternative methods I could use to store books. If I decide not to buy a larger bookcase, I will figure out another solution on my own.

I am interested in knowing if there are specific types of bookcases that do not need anchoring.

Please assume the following:
1) I cannot put the bookcase anywhere else in my room.
2) A thinner bookcase that would fit against the wall to the right would be too small to store my books.
3) I do not live in an area with frequent earthquakes. (It's DC. I remember two in my entire life growing up around here, and I couldn't even feel them.)
4) I'm a renter, so anything I do has to be minimally invasive and easily reversible. (I know how to patch drywall, spackle holes, etc. but I'm not generally the most handy person.)
5) No kids, pets, etc. that would be in danger. It's just me, though I am a bit clumsy.

I saw something about "shims" in the previous question but I don't know what those are or whether it's possible to install them in this situation.
posted by capricorn to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can use strap-based anchors. And yes, you should anchor it. You could be walking past, trip and knock it down onto yourself.

Shims are little wedge-shaped pieces of wood. You put them under the bookcase at the front so that the bookcase leans back. You can't do that here since there's no wall behind it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:41 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you don't anchor it, it could fall. What will happen if it falls? Books could be damaged, you or another person could be hurt, a pet could be hurt, whatever it lands on could be broken. That said, I've never anchored a bookshelf in my life. I do try to put the heaviest/largest books on the bottom, which keeps the center of gravity as low as possible.

If you're concerned about it, you could either add stick-out-y feet to the front (I'm imagining L-brackets or the like attached to the front sides upside down) or attach a rod or something to the back and then to the wall.

OR, you could consider a shelf like this, which would be sturdier due to its wedge shape. That's probably what I'd do in this situation.
posted by papayaninja at 8:44 PM on March 28, 2016

Seconding strap based anchors, which you can also find with a search for "anti-tip furniture straps." You'll be able to anchor your bookcase in place with little effort and expense.
posted by ejs at 8:53 PM on March 28, 2016

Strap anchors, and perhaps go for a pair of tall, narrow bookcases in a L arrangement, like the old standby Ikea BILLY?
posted by holgate at 8:59 PM on March 28, 2016

I own tall bookcases. I've never anchored them, but they've always been on level, non-carpeted floors. I think if your books are distributed sensibly (heaviest on bottom), should be ok. Or, as has been suggested, if you buy a design that creates a lower center of gravity (wedge/trianglish) that would create more stability.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 9:02 PM on March 28, 2016

Another approach -- not massively invasive, but probably more expensive -- would be to put Elfa-style horizontal tracks at the top of the wall either side of that jutting-out bit and drop four standards, add brackets, then cut shelves to span across 'em.
posted by holgate at 9:07 PM on March 28, 2016

I'd cut that bookcase leaving enough, to fill the wall next to the door, yet leaving space to open the door. Then use the other side to fit up against the duct easement, by the window. Just get a board the size of the outside of the book case, and add two sides. Then figure out some simple other way of stacking on top of both sides of your two new smaller bookcases. Or get one more book case just like the first one, and do the same thing. Then the duct work is covered up and your room looks great. You can use Velcro to stabilize the wobble in furniture against a wall, without drilling into the wall. I don't think you should drill into the duct in the corner. Velcro comes in strips with sticky stuff on the outside, so you can attach and un-attach.
posted by Oyéah at 9:07 PM on March 28, 2016

I have never anchored a bookcase in my life. And I have never had one fall!

I did have a super uneven floor once that made me kind of worried my bookcase would fall, so I put some small pieces of wood under the front bottom of the bookcase, so that if it did fall, it would fall backwards.

Don't put your heaviest books on top, and don't pack in books so tightly that you might unintentionally pull the bookcase towards you while pulling out a book.
posted by euphoria066 at 9:13 PM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

The bookcase like you linked requires stabilizing hardware because it’s not really strong enough to hold itself up full of books, not just because it might tip over. It’s particle board, stress and movement is going to make it fall apart. Sitting on carpet it may rock. Secured to the wall where it won't move it will probably hold up fine. Put the heavy stuff on the bottom, very little on top. Or get a stronger bookcase.

You get shims at Lowe’s or anywhere similar. They’re pieces of wood (or plastic) in a shallow wedge shape. In this case you would put them perpendicular to the front of the bookcase so the fat part is in the front. This will cause the bookcase to lean back a little. You want it to lean back enough so that it cant’ fall forward and leans back against the wall. Put shims under the outside edges so all the weight is not on the bottom shelf. Put some padding between the wall and the bookcase.

All of this depends on the structure of the bookcase. If it’s particle board with no reinforcement on the bottom be careful not to destroy the bottom shelf with anything underneath it. You can search for ways to strengthen cheap bookcases. I have several Ikea Billy bookcases that are far stronger than they should be. But I also wood glue them together, even though that’s not the intended method. It makes them stronger, but you can’t take them back apart.

I would get a short wide bookcase or two and put it under that window and put the little stuff in the corner, but that’s me. Then you’d have the tops to display things as well.

I’ve had lots of bookcases and the only time they fell was in a major earthquake.
posted by bongo_x at 9:46 PM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a lot of books and bookcases and have never anchored them or had them fall.

My solution for uneven floors and as an anti-tip measure is to stick books I don't like under them. You can stack thin paperbacks until you get the right height or if all your books are too thick, just open one to a page that gives you get the right thickness. Tuck the books right under and will hardly see them and wont have anything to trip on.

Wedge enough under the front to make it tip back and lean against the wall. Then put all your biggest, heaviest books on the bottom.

Having said that, I would rather get two narrow somethings, yes like IKEA Billys, that actually fit around that corner. I'd rather have one billy 'intruding' over the window than a big bookcase sticking out at an angle like you have it now. You can still wedge a book under the front edge to do away with anchoring.

I can't link, on my phone right now, but Google book tower shelf. Do you like those? They're already weighted at the bottom & you can DIY.
posted by stellathon at 10:06 PM on March 28, 2016

Definitely use a strap to attach the shelf to the wall. I used to use a 6" piece 1/2" nylon old dog leash, I melted holes for the screws using a hot fork. Now I use the little kit Ikea gives away.
posted by Marky at 10:12 PM on March 28, 2016

You can pass without anchoring but then you should place some heavier book (or something else) on the lowest shelf.
posted by korpe4r at 3:49 AM on March 29, 2016

You could put some eye bolts in the wall, some eye bolts in the back of the bookcase, and then use garden wire to wire them together so that the bookcase can't rock forward. This is essentially what my family does with the Christmas tree every year.

Or, you could do as suggested above and shim up the front edge of the bookcase so that it leans slightly backward, against the wall. That would probably also work fine.

Depending on how deep the carpet is, you may also want to cut a piece of something (I'm thinking some thin plywood, here) to match the size of the bookcase's bottom, and set the bookcase on that. This will spread out the weight of the bookcase so that the heavy edge doesn't sink down into the carpet as much and cause the bookcase to tilt.

(Those strap anchors shown above look dandy as well, but I figured I'd throw out a few more options just in case.)
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:45 AM on March 29, 2016

Oh, and this might be the simplest solution: that corner that projects out into the room (which I'm guessing is probably a pipe chase, but nevermind) is going to have 2x4 framing members along its edge. If you can get the bookcase to rest up against that edge, you should be able to drive some nice big screws right into those framing members and your bookcase will be rock solid. Some GRK cabinet screws would be ideal.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:48 AM on March 29, 2016

bongo_x: "The bookcase like you linked requires stabilizing hardware because it’s not really strong enough to hold itself up full of books, not just because it might tip over. It’s particle board, stress and movement is going to make it fall apart. "

Oh, good to know! Will solid wood not have this problem?
posted by capricorn at 5:07 AM on March 29, 2016

Solid wood furniture will not have that problem. Particle board furniture is weak, flimsy, and will turn into garbage over time no matter how gentle you are with it. Never buy particle board furniture unless you have no other option. Personally I view it as a great trick played upon consumers—it seems cheaper, but it falls apart and then you have to buy more because it disintegrates and cannot really be repaired.

Solid wood furniture of traditional construction will basically never break unless abused, and even then it is repairable. The exception is IKEA and ofher flat-pack furniture, which even when made of solid wood will still eventually break due to the way it's fastened together. It will still be much stronger than particle board though, and may be fixable when it breaks.

If you can buy a well-made secondhand bookshelf in decent condition from a thrift store or used furnifure store, it will likely outlast you if treated well. Particleboard stuff is good for ten years max, less if you ever have to move it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:17 AM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

For completeness, two reasons people might strap bookcases. 1. It's a recommended safety thing if you live somewhere that earthquakes are common. 2. It's also a good idea if small or medium-sized children at your house might try to climb the bookshelf like a ladder.
posted by puddledork at 8:51 AM on March 29, 2016

The other reason bookcase-tipping-risk is that someone trips on something, reaches out to grab the bookcase as they fall, and pulls it over on top of them.
posted by emilyw at 9:42 AM on March 29, 2016

We live in earthquake country so all our tall furniture gets anchored. E.g. Ikea furniture says to anchor it for two additional reasons: 1. Liability and 2. Kids climbing on bookcases can pull them down on top of them.

It isn't about the ability of the bookcase to hold together; modern particle board actually has very good compressive strength, and an anchor (especially a strap anchor or simple bracket) isn't going to do much for support. If anything it would increase the strain on the bookcase since it makes it possible to apply more tensile stresses.

But if you had a 5.0 earthquake or another smallish one like that, it could easily knock over large bookcases - doing much more damage, including potentially injury, than the quake itself. That's what e.g. "quake protect" and tip-proof furniture straps are for.
posted by Lady Li at 9:53 AM on March 29, 2016

There are two different things at play here.

An earthquake or tipping support would be flexible like a strap. This would allow the bookcase to move but not fall over. If the bookcase was mounted solidly to the wall an earthquake would pull it apart. Earthquake protection is never solid mounts for this reason. If your bookcase suggests a strap then they think it’s strong enough to stand on it’s own. They probably don’t give you the strap just tell you it’s a good idea.

A support for strength would be the opposite, mounted solidly to the wall as a strap adds no strength. If your bookcase comes with a solid mount they’re telling you it needs it to not fall apart (I have Ikea shelves that say this, and there used to be a site of pictures of Expdit units that collapsed because they weren’t anchored.). The costs on those pieces of cheap furniture is shaved very fine, they’re not throwing in a wall mount just to be nice guys.
posted by bongo_x at 11:16 AM on March 29, 2016

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