New Life for a Borders Bookshelf

I hope you will take a moment to view how I test drove my Dremel Trio. This is seriously a really fun power tool! Just be sure you are safe so as not to ruin the fun. Eye protection, face mask, and ear plugs. Check.

For those of you who like to skip to the end of the book and see the ending, here you go:

For the rest of you, here is how I created this cut out/back lit bookshelf that started life as a bookshelf from a closing Borders bookstore.

Tutorial for creating a cut out bookcase:
Almost any bookcase will work for this project, but the ones that have a thin wood (can be masonite) backing will work best. Set up a work area that you don’t mind getting dusty and dirty. Remove the shelves from your bookcase.

Cutting the endcap:


  • circular saw
  • level
  • clamp
  • scrap wood
  • screws
  • drill

I cut the endcap in half lengthwise so I could use half for each end of my bookshelf, and to position it flush against the wall. To cut a straight line using a circular saw, I clamped one end of a level to the endcap. My level wasn’t long enough, so I drilled a scrap piece of wood on top of the level and into the end cap to support the other end.

I set the circular saw blade just below the depth of the endcap. By resting the endcap on two 2×4″ boards, I was able to creative a gap below the endcap for the sawblade to pass through.Then I ran the circular saw along the level for a straight cut. Straight as an arrow, and it met Pretty Handy Dog’s approval.

Cutting out the backing design and painting:


  • Dremel Trio
  • Palm sander
  • Sandpaper (100 grit & 220 grit)
  • Scrap 2×4 lumber
  • Chalk or pencil
  • Wood putty
  • Putty knife
  • Primer
  • Paint (white and navy blue)
  • 3M Clean Edge technology painter’s tape
  • Newspapers
  • 2″ paint brush
  • Small paint roller and tray

Sketch out the design on your bookshelf (using chalk or pencil) before beginning.

Before using any new power tool, take some time to read through the manual.

To insert a bit into the Dremel Trio, you push in the blue (shaft lock) button on the front and use the enclosed wrench to loosen the collet nut on the tool.

Insert the cutting bit into the Trio. (The trio also comes with a sanding drum bit and a routing bit!)

Tighten the collet nut with the wrench.

Turn the blue handle on the side of the TRIO to raise or lower the base plate.

Adjust the base plate until the cutting bit extends slightly below the wood backing of your bookcase.

Lay the bookcase down on its back. Position 2×4 boards under the edges of the bookcase (or you will be cutting into concrete. I’m pretty sure the TRIO is not capable of that, but I could be wrong.)

Plug in your Trio and get ready to have some FUN! You may want to practice on a scrap piece of wood before working on your bookcase. The TRIO allows you to change directions quickly and easily. Creating fanciful cuts is a breeze!

Squeeze the trigger and when the bit reaches full speed you can plunge it into the workpiece. For the pin holes hold the Trio steady, insert the bit and then lift it back out of the same hole.

To cut trees and other designs, plunge the TRIO into the wood and then slowly move the tool through the wood to carve your design. Be wary of long “V” shape cuts as they will make the backing weaker.

When your design has been completed, use the power sander to sand the back of the bookcase (where the majority of the splintering will have occurred.)

Insert the sanding drum bit into the TRIO and sand any large cut out areas.

Fold a piece of sandpaper in half and feed it through the thin lines of the branches to sand any rough edges that can’t be reached with the sanding bit.

Set the bookcase upright and inspect the cuts for more splinters. You can preview what your design will look like when lit up. Lookin’ good, huh?!

Before sanding the rest of the bookshelf, repair any dents or holes with wood putty. (This is a post I wrote about repairing all types of holes if you need help.)

Use the palm sander and a fine grit (220 grit) sandpaper to rough up the rest of the bookshelf.

Apply a coat of primer to the bookcase, shelves and sides. (Still working on emptying that can of KILZ Clean Start primer! Love that stuff.

When the primer has dried, mask off the sides of the bookcase where they meet the back.

3M sent me this Scotch Blue Painter’s tape with Edge-Lock protector to try. I was skeptical, but when I pulled the tape off it did give me a clean edge. The only place I had a little bit of seepage was in the corners where I didn’t press the tape tightly into the corner. The key to using this tape is to firmly press the edges with your finger to engage the “Edge-Lock” seal. I haven’t tried it for painting walls, but you better believe I have a wall project coming up that I can try it on.

Paint the back of your bookcase. I chose a very dark navy blue. To save paint, I used a medium blue paint for my first coat to darken the back and hopefully save paint.

Then paint one coat of the navy blue.

Follow up with a second coat to eliminate any streaking.

When the navy paint has dried, tape along the edges of the navy blue backing, where it meets the sides. Slip pieces of newspaper underneath to catch any paint splashes. (Will you get a load of my lazy supervisor! You think he’s been working hard in the heat? Uh no, that would be me doing all the work and him snoozing away the day.)

Paint the rest of the bookcase, the sides and the shelves white. I used two coats of Benjamin Moore Impervo Semi-gloss white.

Once the paint has dried completely, re-assemble the bookcase. And screw the end cap halves onto either side of the bookcase.

I installed a light rope behind the bookcase (tutorial to come at a later date) and set the lights on a timer. The rope light comes on at dusk and illuminates all the cut outs.

There is a very soft glow emitted from the back of the bookcase.

It provides the perfect amount of light for my son who HAS to have a light on at night.

My only complaint about the rope lights is that they give off a strong plastic odor. But, after a week the smell has dissipated.

I had the foresight to purchase a few of the clear display stands that slide into the end caps of the bookcase. It makes it easy to display books to pique my son’s reading interests.

Oh look! There he is now! Mission accomplished, reading interest piqued. Yes, I think he is double-jointed and a teacher pointed out that both my son’s sit like that. Must be in the genes.

A few more detailed pictures of the bookshelf. This has to be one of my favorite projects I’ve created recently. And it wasn’t very difficult to complete.


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I follow you on facebook and really enjoy your posts!
Great seeing a gal be so creative and handy with tools! You inspire women!

I looked at Dremel on Facebook…love the attachments! The circle hole cutter is awesome…That would be soooo helpful when putting in new cabinets..or just making decorative cuts in projects…

This is pure genius and just about the cutest bookshelf I have ever seen! I follow you on Google Reader and love everything that you do!!

Dremel TRIO is a FUN and FABULOUS tool ‘cuz @PrettyHandyGirl says so! and she proved it with this awesome bookcase…so creative and what a good project to showcase all the cool things the Dremel trio does!!!

Oh my gosh, your bookcase is AMAZING!!!! You are so talented, thank you for sharing this with us!!! WOW!!
I just signed up to follow you on Google Reader!

I just “liked” Dremel on Facebook, too! The project I would do first would be a bookcase just like yours, only using a Batman superhero “night” scene.

Does that really say 3 bookcases for $99? I am insanely jealous that I wasn’t there fighting you for them. What a great project!

And, I’m a Google follower.

I follow Prettyhandygirl on Google Reader. Would LOVE to win a dremel. We’ve done some projects in the past that required one and we always had to borrow.

I follow you on feedburner. Amazing project fyi! I pinned it on pinterest. The masses need to see the amazing work you do!

Holy cow! Did you come up with this concept? Never have I ever seen anything like this. And to imagine you did it with those bookshelves displayed in the first photo. Totally awesome!

<em?I need my own tool independence! the Hubs hates it when I get into his dremel kit…Also love to loan my tools to my recent college grad daughter. I’m so proud of how she tackles projects in her new apartment. I frequently share your projects with her. Loved the backlit bookcase.

But OF COURSE I follow you through Google Reader! Yours is one of the most original and exciting DIY blogs out there! I don’t think they’ve found an end of the earth to which I wouldn’t follow your creative imagination and excellent tutorials. :)

1. I put up the Dremel status on Facebook
2 and 3. I follow you and Dremel on facebook. What a great idea to use the Dremel for a kitchen backsplash project!

I have NO tools to my name, so I am really excited for this giveaway! Please choose me :)

WOW, WOW, WOW!!!! That bookcase is amazing! I can’t believe how fantastic it looks.
Enter me for the Dremel! I love Dremels (I’ve burned through quite a few of the small ones). I follow you on Google.

I follow you thru Google Reader. This bookshelf is so cool. You have me on the look out now for a bookshelf that I (well, okay the hubs) could repurpose in the same fashion. Neat way to display/store books but I really love your design that lets the rope lights shine thru. Ok, need to go visit some thrift stores looking for a bookshelf. Thanks!

I follow you via Google Reader. What a creative project! Loved it – I’m sure that you’re son thinks you’re awesome too!

BTW- what an awesome project! Smiled the whole way through reading about it. I have a little bookshelf (only about 3 feet high. I wonder if I could do this on a smaller scale…

I follow Dremel on FB but the project I would want to tackle would be your book shelf (but with a different design). I never would have thought of doing anything like that but I love love love how it turned out. So neat!!!

This is one of the cutest things I’ve seen! I love your creativity. :)

I follow you on Google Reader and I get your e-mails everyday. :) Also following you on facebook.

Hi there, I read your blog on Google reader and enjoy it very much. You’ve inspired me to find some kind of woodworking class (preferably for Dummies) here in the STL area – then I won’t have to wait for hubby! Thanks!

what a great bookshelf! i just finished a cubbie bookshelf project for the children’s playroom ~ i had to have a friend help with the cuts (due to lack of tools) but i assembled them and they look great. i painted mine white with a turquoise backing. these tools really would have helped with that job!

I follow you on google reader
the bookshelf is gorgeous. I can never find anything around here to redo. I don’t know if people just trash their stuff or what. Great find!

I follow you in Google reader. I am so impressed, I can’t believe you made this out of a Borders bookcase! Wonderful job, my girls would love something like this. Sort of kicking myself we didn’t buy one of the shelves but I think they were sold by the time I checked.

Entry 3:

Followed you on Twitter. :)

And the bookshelf conversion totally rocks–the lights, the end caps, the painting. Wow.

This project is unbelievable—where do you get the ideas?
I follow you on Google. Would sure love to win the Trio.

I posted the giveaway on my status. I love tools and would love to have this one. I love the bookshelf you made.

I have been thinking about a Dremel Trio of my very own since I first saw them advertised. It looks to be more fun than any tool I’ve seen lately, safe fun though……ear & eye protection, check….face mask, check…..good to go since I’ve read the manual!!!
I follow your posts via Feedburner and I love this one! Wish I had a young one to build this project for, it is too adorable! Good job Pretty Handy Girl!!
Take care, VBg

oh, I have been dreaming about owning this Dremel. so many projects….so NOT the right tools! I would LOVE to win this. thanks

This is so cool. Pre-lights it’s a great project, but with the colored lights showing through at dusk… it’s freaking fantastic. I think I’m going to have to make something like this for my nephew.

Oh, yes, I follow via GFC. :)

I follow you on Feedburner. What a fantastic job you did, you are so creative, I just love your blog and enjoy rereading them all the time.

What a great project! As a current Borders employee, I am glad to see the bookcases put to such good use! The fact that they still house books – and for a child – makes my heart sing! Thanks for sharing all your projects – you are amazing!

Now I wish that I had gone into my Borders when it was closing! It looks great!

(Btw, I am attempting some contact paper on the back of a bookcase this week- per your contact paper tutorial!)

Oh, and I follow you! :)

I use BlogLovin as my reader to ensure I never miss a post! Love the format of BlogLovin, as it allows me to still enjoy the beautiful layouts of all my favourite blogs!

Follow Dremel on Facebook now :)
I didn’t know you could use the Trio to cut tiles! We have lots of custom tile work in our home, done by our landlord. I would love to do more tile work and create my own pieces to go with it!

Hi! I am a google reader follower. I’ve always wanted to try a dremel – the dremel trio looks like SO much fun. Love the bookshelf, too!

Let me clarify. My friend Heather posted the contest as her status. That’s how I found you. LOVE this site! Posted the contest as my status and “Liked” your page on FB.

3. Tweeted the giveaway. We have a sucky low class dremel. I played with this one in the store a while back, so much nicer than the bottom barrel one we got years ago. Buttery cuts, smooth and fun.

Liked Dremel on facebook. Oh, so many projects to contemplate! I have some plaques to do ASAP as gifts, and I think that’s what I would tackle first.

I’m a follower! Just amazed at your talent… the bookcase is fantastic! Thanks for sharing the steps on how you created this masterpiece – it helps some of us more than you know! Appreciate the chance to win. AJ

I love this bookshelf! My older kids (5 & 3) loved looking at this tutorial with me. Would love to have a Dremel one day. If I won, I would use it to finish up a cabinet I’m repurposing for a helpful friend who needs a craft area for her kids. She watches our dogs when we travel, watched our big kids when our baby was born, but won’t accept our money.

I get your posts through feedburner! That is an awesome bookcase! If I win the trio there is no way my husband is touching it!!

What project would I tackle with a dremel? Making a wood slat headboard for my guest bedroom and make leaf shaped cutouts in the wood slats, similar to what you did here with the bookshelf.

And following Dremel now, too, hoping I can modify some shelving in my house and build some decorative cat towers for my four-legged bosses. ♥

Just liked Dremel on FB. I’ve got the little tool and it’s great, not as powerful as the Trio though. It does my four dogs’ nails like a breeze! It also sharpens lawn mower blades and does all kinds of other things.

I have shared this on facebook and follow you everyday on google. I love your blog and this dremel gives me unlimited ideas. I have a feeling that bookcases like yours will be popping up all over the country!

Yes, I need one of these. I have had a dremel in the past, but couldn’t negotiate the jargon. The booklet needs to be written by a woman. The “collet” talk stopped me cold. Thanks, Ann

I am following Dremel on Facebook. I would love to win the Trio and try my luck at making a bookcase that rocks!

I follow dremel on FB. What project *wouldn’t* I tackle? I’ve got a few thrifted furniture pieces that definitely need some sanding, and I want to build some shelves for my bedroom.

I follow you on FB. And i love your projects. I feel so inspired. Even shared your blog URL with friends I was so impressed with your creativity.

Have a blessed day!

I follow you (I’m obsessed actually) and tell everyone about you. This dremel would help me repurpose most of my house!

Holy Guacamole would I love to win that! I can’t afford to buy my own tools right now. I followed you on Twitter!

I now follow you thru google reader.So glad i found you through TLC . That is the cutest bookcase I have ever seen. Perfect for my grandsons nursery!
Thanks for the tutorial! I love using power tools too!

I follow Dremel on FB. I have a ton of projects, but the 1st will either be a bookcase or faux crown moulding or… 😀

I follow Dremel on facebook. I would use the Dremel to help me re-invent and re-style an old podium for my classroom.

I have now become a devoted follower to your blog, on Facebook and I shared this on giveaway on Facebook. Wow! I would love to win because I want to give an old bookshelf an update!

Would like to make the patio bench and have the opportunity to use the Dremel. Men have used them for years

Just found you on facebook, looked at your various projects and would like to win the Dremel tool and put it to use on several projects.

I follow you on google and winning the Dremmel would be so awesome. I love your can do attitude and the story of how you learned from your dad. My dad, as much as I love him, is not a handy guy. So, I have a learning curve, but am willing.

I’m following Dremel on Facebook, and the video on using their tool to install a kitchen backsplash makes me want to go out and buy one now! Couldn’t be more timely!

I don’t have a FB page (and I can’t hijack my dh’s blog), so I tweeted.

I would LOVE to build something like this for my son (who also has to have a nightlight, but stays awake if he has too much light).

How incredibly awesome. I found this site off apartment therapy. It’s just me my daughter and grandson so have been searching for things I can do for him ourselves.. Thank you awesome tutorials I have spent half the evening on here!!!!!

As a designer of children’ furniture I am beating myself up for not buying up some Borders bookcases. But next time a bookstore goes out of business (hopefully not, but) I will be there with a dolly. Thank you for this tutorial & inspirational redesign.

have you thought of using your new dremel to cut a notch out of the back at the bottom? if you size it for the baseboard, then you can snug the bookshelf flush with the wall. it’ll be more stable and you’ll have less light leakage from the sides.

Amy E.,

Actually I did think about that. But, I decided not to after my son saw the glowing light that came outside the edges. He likes the added light. Plus, the bookshelf has a backwards slant in design, so it is very stable. 😉

Maybe if he changes his mind at a later date we will do that.

Thanks for your comment.

Love this project! I just found your site from The Lettered Cottage and am looking forward to browsing around. I just had to let you know that my 5 year old son sits that way too. Our pediatrician called it “W” sitting. Strange. I have three kids and he is the only one who does it. :)

I’m doing some catching up (obviously) and this has to be one of my favorite projects. The world can never have enough bookcases! 😉 What a great find at Borders and more wonderful instructions. Sheesh; I can see another tool in my future.

You are TERRIFIC!! What a creative and novel project, plus your “how to” was simple and easy to follow!! Thanks for sharing . . . I know what I want for my birthday :))

The book shelf is lovely, but I am concerned about the sitting of your son in. That is called “W” sitting and should really be discouraged as it it is not good for the hips, knees or ankles. People are not “double jointed” but rather have very flexible ligaments that hold the joints together. I suggest you consult your pediatrician.