Sliding Door Bookcase

Dust-free display with no hinges to mount!

By Seth Keller

Glass doors make a bookcase, but doors that swing on hinges are a pain to install. Ditto for doors that lift open and slide back—on a Barrister’s bookcase, for example. Regular sliding doors are much easier to install. In addition, they’re ideal for a bookcase designed to fit in a space where swinging doors might get in the way. 

This bookcase features super-smooth sliding door hardware that installs in minutes (scroll down to see “Euro-Style Sliding Door Hardware”). The shelves are generously deep and widely spaced. Following the lead of Arts and Crafts era builders, my design incorporates elements inspired by traditional Asian furniture.

Building this project requires two sheets of walnut plywood (one 3/4-in. thick and one 1/4-in. thick) and about 40 bd. ft. of 5/4 walnut. 


Build the cabinet

1. Start by cutting the plywood panels and shelves to final size (Fig. A, A1-A4 and Cutting List).  

2. Cut grooves for the sliding door tracks in the top and middle panels (Photo 1 and Fig. G,  Cut the first groove in each panel, then reposition the fence and cut the second grooves).

3. Instead of cutting both cabinet sides (A5) to final size, cut one blank twice as wide as the sides, plus 1/8-in. Rip this blank in half after you’ve routed the dadoes, to create the sides (Photo 2). This method saves time and assures perfectly aligned dadoes. Plywood thickness is often undersize, so you may need a special bit to rout the dadoes (Fig. C and Sources). 

4. Rout dadoes for the drawer dividers (A6) in the middle and bottom panels (Fig. B). 

5. Rabbet the cabinet sides and the top and bottom panels for the 1/4-in. plywood back.

6. Glue the cabinet sides and panels together (Photo 3). The top and bottom panels run the full depth of the cabinet. The middle panel aligns with the rabbet at the back. Use cauls to evenly distribute the clamping pressure.  

7. Glue in the shelves. They slide in from the back. Make sure their back edges are flush with the rabbets for the cabinet’s back. 

8. Glue on the shelf edging (A7). The edging hides the  stopped dadoes in the cabinet’s sides.

9. Glue in the drawer dividers. 

10. Fit and install the sliding door track.

11. Cut and fit the plywood back (A8), but don’t install it.

12. Glue spacers (A9) on the top panel. They allow fastening the top.

13. Glue up the top (A10) and cut it to final length and width. Then rout a 45-degree bevel around the front and sides. 

Install the face frame

14. Cut the face frame stiles and rails (B1 and B2) to final length and width.

15. Assemble the stiles and rails with dowels. Make sure the assembly is square and the  bottom and middle rails are spaced 5-1/4 in.  

16. Glue the face frame to the cabinet. Make sure the top of the frame’s bottom rail is flush with the top of the cabinet’s bottom panel. Center the frame on the cabinet—it should slightly overhang on both sides. After the glue dries, trim the face frame stiles flush with the cabinet.

17. Glue on the dividers (B3).

18. Install the drawer guide blocks (A11). They fill the cavities behind the face frame, so the outside drawers track smoothly.


Build the Doors

19. Cut the door stiles and rails (C1-C4) to final width and length.

20. Cut the half-lap joints using a fence with a stop (Photo 4 and Fig. H). Make test cuts in scrap stock to dial in the blade’s height and the stop’s location.

21. Remove the stop to cut the stiles’ inner half lap notches. 

22. Dry fit each door to make sure all the joints fit. Glue and clamp the doors (Photo 5). Make sure the assembly is square.

23. Rout rabbets for glass in the backs of the doors (Photo 6). Square the corners with a chisel.

24. Drill holes for the sliding door hardware with a 35mm-dia. (or 1-3/8-in.-dia.) Forstner bit (Photo 7 and Fig. D). These holes must be precisely centered 13 mm from the doors’ edges. The depth of the holes varies: The top holes are 12-mm deep; the bottom holes are 13-mm deep. 

25. Press in the sliding door hardware, install the doors and test their operation. The center stiles won’t align when the doors are closed until you add the door stop (A12). Fine-tune the alignment by adjusting the thickness of the stop or by jointing a smidge off one or more of the doors’ outside edges. 

Build the drawers

26. Cut the drawer fronts, backs and sides (D1-D3) to final size. I made the grain flow across the front of the bookcase by cutting the drawer fronts sequentially from the same piece of walnut.  

27. I use a router table and a special bit to cut the drawer joints (Photo 8 and Sources). 

28. Rout 1/4-in.-deep grooves in the drawer fronts and sides for the drawer bottoms (D4). 

29. Glue the drawers together. Make sure the bottom edges of the drawer backs align with the tops of the grooves in the sides, so the bottoms will slide in.  

30. Cut the drawer bottoms to size, using walnut plywood left over from making the cabinet back.  

31. Insert the drawer bottoms—they’ll extend well beyond the back. Install each drawer to determine how much to trim off to make the drawer front flush with the face frame (Photo 9). Remove the bottom for trimming. Then reinstall and fasten it with nails or screws.

Build the base

32.  Glue together three 1-in.-thick pieces of walnut to create a blank for the legs (E1). Joint and plane this blank to 2-3/4-in.-square, then cut it into the four legs.

33. Cut mortises in the legs (Fig. F)

34. To create the Chinese-style horsehoof feet (Fig. E), rip and plane a pair of blocks (E2) to add to each leg. 

35. Miter the blocks and glue them on (Photo 10).

36. When the glue is dry, rough-saw the top cove on your bandsaw. Then smooth the curves, using a sanding drum chucked in your drill press, or a spindle sander  (Photo 11).

37. Transfer the outside curves to each foot, bandsaw them and sand them smooth (Photo 12).

38. Cut tenons on the aprons (E3-E5).

39. Saw the arc on the front apron and sand it smooth.

40. Dry-fit the base and check its dimensions. The depth and width should match the cabinet. Glue the base together.  Make sure it’s square.  

41. Rout a rabbet around the top of the base (Photo 13).

Final Assembly

42. Apply a finish before assembling the rest of the parts. I used a wipe-on urethane. 

43. After the finish is dry, flip the cabinet upside down and align the base on the bottom of the cabinet. 

44.  Glue and screw cleats (E6 and E7) to the bottom of the cabinet (Photo 14). Then attach the base by screwing through the cleats into the aprons. Stand the cabinet right-side up.

45. From inside the cabinet, drill shank holes for screws through the top and the three spacers.

46. Clamp the top in position and then attach it with screws. 

47. Screw on the plywood back (A8).

48. Install glass in the doors. Cut and fit the retaining strips (C5) and tack them in place.

49.  Install hardware on the doors and drawers (see Sources).

50. Install the doors. Engage the bottom hardware, then tip the door upright to engage the top (Photo 15). You’ll have to remove the inner door’s pull to install the outer door.

51. Load up the cabinet, then sit down and relax with a good book. 


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Rockler,, 800-279-4441, 35-mm Forstner bit, #46532; European-Style Sliding Door Hardware Set, #88155, (2 sets required); Stickley Dark Copper Pendant Pull, 1-1/4” x 1-3/4”, #10877; Stickley Dark Copper Pendant Pull, 7/8” x 2-3/16”, #26815. 

Freud,, 800-334-4107, 23/32”-dia. Mortising Bit, #16-103; Rabbeting Bit, #32-102; Drawer Lock Bit, #99-240. 

Cutting List

Fig. A: Exploded View

Fig. B: Drawer Divider Dadoes

Fig. C: Cabinet Side Dadoes

Fig. D: Door Hardware Mounting Hole Location

Fig. E: Leg Profile

Fig. F: Base Mortises & Tenons

Fig. G: Door Track Grooves

Fig. H: Door Joinery

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2007, issue #130.

September 2007, issue #130

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Saw grooves for the sliding door tracks in the top and middle cabinet panels. Caution: The blade guard must be removed for this operation. 

2. Rip both cabinet sides from a single wide panel in which all the dadoes have already been routed. This method guarantees that the dadoes in both sides will align.  

3. Glue the cabinet together in stages, starting with the sides and the top, middle and bottom panels. Measure diagonally to be sure the cabinet is square. Glue in the shelves and drawer dividers later. This two-stage method doesn’t require as many long clamps. 

4. Outfit your miter gauge with a fence and a stop to cut the doors’ half-lap joints. The stop guarantees that all the tenons will be the same length.

5. Assemble the doors in two steps. First glue and clamp the two middle rails to the stiles and check for squareness. Then add the top and bottom rails and recheck to make sure the assembly is square.

6. Rout rabbets for the glass in the back of each door. Make several shallow passes, rather than trying to rout full-depth in a single pass.  

7. Bore holes into the doors for the sliding hardware. Use a fence and a stop for accurate positioning.  Add a hold-down to keep the door flat on the table.

8. Use a drawer lock bit (right) to build the drawers. It creates both sides of the joint using the same setting. Rout the drawer fronts and backs flat on the table. Rout the sides vertically against the fence.

9. The protruding drawer bottoms act as  stops by bumping the back of the cabinet. Install each drawer and measure how far it protrudes beyond the face frame. Trim that much from the drawer bottom’s back edge to make the drawer flush. 

10. Create the horsehoof feet by building up the two inside faces of each leg. Miter the corner joint between the two added pieces.

11. Sand coves to ease the transition between the glued-on blocks and the leg. 

12. Bandsaw the outside curves on one face. Then turn the leg onto the adjacent face and cut a second set of curves. 

13. Rout a rabbet on the top of the base. The rabbet creates a shadow line that hides slight dimensional differences between the cabinet and the base.  Clamp on a support block to make the router ride smoothly and a 1/8-in. spacer to compensate for the apron’s setback. 

14.  Attach the base to the cabinet with cleats. Glue and screw the cleats to the bottom of the cabinet, after positioning them flush against the aprons. Then screw the cleats to the aprons.

15. Install the inside door first, then the outside door. Installing both doors takes less than a minute.