This charming rustic bookshelf is easy to make out of unfinished wooden crates from Walmart. Let me show you how!
I have seen a variety of attractive wooden crate projects over the years, so I was excited when Walmart recently started carrying unfinished wooden crates–I just knew that sooner or later they would ask me to do a craft project and I’d have a perfect excuse to build some shelves. I’m a reader and my kids are readers, so we frequently are over run with library books, our own books and magazines in the den. I really wanted a narrow bookshelf to fit in an unused corner to corral them all! This DIY Bookshelf made from the unfinished crates (finished by Yankee Bill and me of course) is perfect.
DIY Wooden Crate Bookshelf Materials
5 Unfinished Wooden Crates
Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (Minwax, 16 oz)
Stain/polyurethane 1 Step (I used Minwax Antique Walnut Gloss 440 in the 8oz size, should have gotten 16 oz)
Mending Plates (4 pk of 4ea 2 inch plates)
Sandpaper (220 grit)
Steel Wool #0000 (if sanding between coats of stain)
The total for this project (not including the dropcloth, gloves and paint brushes which I had on hand already) was $72.04. Which is far, far less than any other bookshelves I saw that were the right size and shape and that I actually liked anywhere else. If you had everything else on hand and all you needed was the crates and the mending plates to hold them together the cost would be $51.13.
DIY Wooden Crate Bookshelf Directions
The first step is too look over your crates carefully–before you even leave the store. These crates are very rough and unfinished, so try to choose those with the least rough wood, splits, knotholes etc.
When you get them home, bust out your sand paper and start sanding! You want to remove all the splinter hazards, smooth out rough wood, and generally touch up the crates. I was going for a rustic look, so I did a really thorough job with the 220 grit sandpaper (the roughest), wiped them all down with a tack cloth to remove the sawdust and called it good. If you want to be less rustic (or have little fingers in the house and are worried about splinters) I’d sand it a couple more times with successively smaller grit sandpaper.
Next came the staining, which I accomplished with plenty of help from Yankee Bill (thanks again honey!). I was excited to find the Minwax Pre-Stain Wood conditioner in the paint section of Walmart. The idea behind this is that you apply it, let it soak in for 10-15 minutes, then rub off any excess. Within the next 2 hours you can apply the stain and it will go on more evenly and without blotchiness (which can be an issue with raw softwood, such as these unfinished pine crates).
I was also thrilled to find that Minwax makes “PolyShades” a stain and polyurethane in 1 step product. Typically with stain you brush it on then wipe it off, let it dry, repeat if necessary (using #0000 steel wool to “sand” in between coats) and then finally add polyurethane for protection and gloss. Brushing on this product with no wiping and no final poly coat (although you should still use the steel wool between coats) was FAR easier. Of course you can always do this project with regular stain and poly, or even with paint.
As a note–the 8oz jar of PolyShades BARELY covered my crates with a single coat–and that was with skipping the backs and the tops of all the crates (except for the crate designated for the highest shelf–that needed it’s top stained). I am happy with the color and finish on the crates, but I would have done a second coat if there had been enough product.
And yes, you do want to wear gloves and use a dropcloth. They don’t call this stuff “stain” for nothing folks.
When it was time to use the mending plates, Yankee Bill and I decided that we didn’t like how the bright metal plates looked against the wood. I had a partial jar of “hammered metal” spraypaint down in the basement, so we used that. A black would have looked good too–sort of like a wrought iron effect.
Yankee Bill was kind enough to pull out the drill and do the connecting for me. If you look in the pictures below you will see that the backs of the crates are not finished–and you will also note that the mending plates aren’t always straight. In a couple of places he had to adjust them to avoid hitting a metal staple. We chose to do one plate on each side where the crates met in the back, and then one plate where each crate met on the sides at the front of the shelf.
There was only one issue when we were finished putting the crates together–the slats didn’t line up exactly between crates! So those “unfinished/unstained” tops showed through in just a couple of places. I pulled out the can of stain (there were just dribbles inside) and a kids paintbrush I didn’t mind destroying and fixed it.
Then all that was left was to place the bookshelf and fill it up. This is a very tall, narrow bookshelf, so the best and safest thing to do is to actually attach it to the wall with a tip resistant strap. If you choose not to do that be careful and make sure you keep heavy items on the bottom shelf. I am just so thrilled with my bookshelf! Of course you can make it in different configurations–shorter, wider, multiple heights. You can change the look by varying the stain color, using paint, or even using different colors for the inside and outsides. Get creative!
I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try making your own Wooden Crate Bookshelf!
Linsey K says
This is such a cute project! I love that the crates are unfinished, so you could do them whatever color you like. We don’t have any “unused” corners, but this would be great along a wall in an empty space. Thanks for sharing — I’ve pinned and tweeted 🙂
Yankee Bill says
Easy, fun and relatively quick to complete – nice job Honey
Sheena Tatum says
Saw these crates at WM and didn’t think to build a bookcase! LOVE LOVE LOVE!
Laura C says
Nice job, love the way it looks.
I love these crates oh why are Wal-Mart not selling them in the UK
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
They are awesome Chris–sorry you don’t have them across the pond!
I wanted to make a crate shelf so badly in my last house, but I could never find nice enough crates to use. Didn’t think to look at Walmart, though I doubt the ones near me have those pretty little things.
Your shelf looks so good! And that teddy bear on the top shelf: perfect!
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
The crates are a new item Elise–so they might not have had them back when you were looking to make some. Glad you like the little bear 🙂
You can also order them online to. I just looked for them. 😉
Such a great tutorial! I have been wanting to try my hand at these crates!
Hey Jenn, Where did you get your wooden crates? I am only finding them online with expensive shipping costs!!
Nevermind! Walmart, DUH!
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
Don’t worry-it happens to all of us 🙂
Beautiful project with very clear and comprehensive instructions — thanks for inspiring me to make my own bookcase out of crates.
Just a minor question: You mentioned using “220 grit sandpaper (the roughest)”. It’s my understanding that 220-grit sandpaper is actually very fine — to go any finer, I’d be inclined to switch to something like 0000 steel wool. I consider 80-grit a “rough” or “coarse” sandpaper, and 150-grit somewhere in the middle. But maybe I misunderstood you — were you using “rough” to mean “coarse,” or does “rough” have a different meaning in sanding parlance? Thanks for any clarification you can provide. Once again, I love your bookcase!
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
I must have just messed it up–
Thank you for the very detailed instructions! I like the fact that you took time to give a solid preparation process to the crates first prior to finishing them. That made the project look so much better. The pre-stain wood conditioner was a nice touch.
If your strapped for time on future projects visit Winepine. The crates are 220 grit sanded and well prepared prior to arriving to you, so they are ready for finish out of the box.
Brandon Awadis says
This is such a cute project! I love that the crates are unfinished, so you could do them whatever color you like. We don’t have any “unused” corners, but this would be great along a wall in an empty space. Thanks for sharing — I’ve pinned and tweeted
Ridley Fitzgerald says
Using wooden crates for a shelf seems like a cool idea. We have so many books, like you and your kids, so adding some of these would be great. Plus, wooden crates shouldn’t be too hard to come by, right?