A Step by Step Tutorial
The Basic Box: How to build a basic long-lasting library
This is a tried and true design for a little free library which, if built correctly using the right materials, will last indefinitely. It can easily be customized to fit most needs (see Customizing the Basic Box). The side walls come out ¾” farther than the bottom so the door tucks in flush with the front. A door stop down the right side along with a heavy-duty magnetic catch keeps the door snugly shut and the roof is covered with tar paper and asphalt shingles. The four outside corner trim pieces, roof trim, door overhang and bottom edge trim are all white vinyl PVC composite that will far outlast wood trim and can be painted or left white. The dimensions of the library as drawn are approximately 18”(w) x 18”(h) x 12”(d).
Table of Contents
The Materials You Use Matters
Most of the items in the materials list below include a link (that hopefully all work) to better describe the item and where it can be purchased. We are extremely picky about some of the materials we use and recommend, and with good reason. Having built well over a hundred libraries, as they say, “We’ve learned a thing or two.” Many tutorials urge you to recycle and use what you have lying around but seriously, if you follow our recommendations you will be glad you did.
The most important of those recommendations is to use ¾” double-sided MDO (Medium Density Overlay) rather than regular plywood. MDO is a high-end specialty plywood with a heat-bonded resin on both sides specifically designed for long-term exterior use. Developed for signs, paint finishes on MDO are up to three times more durable than the same finish applied to regular plywood. Plus it’s an absolute dream to work with and so worth the added cost. As an added bonus, MDO is 100% waterproof provided the edges are properly sealed. A half-sheet of MDO here in Spokane goes for around $40 and can be purchased from most specialty plywood stores. Personally, I deal exclusively with Windsor Plywood. In fact, the guys there are so accommodating, I bake them cookies every Christmas!
Another important recommendation is to use vinyl pvc whenever possible for all trim pieces. Typically, it comes in white but can easily be painted and the material itself will last indefinitely.
Click on any item for more information, where to purchase and price.
1/2 Sheet (48"x48") 3/4" double-sided MDO (Medium Density Overlay)
8' x 1-1/8" x 1-1/8" PVC composite white outside corner molding
8' x 1/4" x 3/4" PVC composite white screen molding
1 linear foot 7/16" x 1-1/4" Prefinished MDF stop molding
Heavy-duty white magnetic catch
1 pair flush mount H hinges (the linked hinges may need to be replaced every 4-5 years)
Knob (of your choice---get creative!)
Waterproof exterior wood glue
1 tube E6000 adhesive
Alex Plus painter's caulk
Exterior Wood Putty (white)
Quart exterior acrylic latex primer such as Behr or Kilz
Quart good quality exterior white latex satin
Quart(s) good quality exterior latex satin or semi-gloss colors of your choice
Standard painting supplies: 4" foam roller(s), brushes, small tray, stir stick, opener, etc.
1 lb. box #6 1-5/8" course thread exterior screws
Sm. package #6 1/2" slotted hex screws
Sm. package 1/2" or 3/4" aluminum carpet tacks
5/8" brad nails for pneumatic nail gun or manual staple gun/brad nailer combo
Pocket hole jig AND (8) 1-1/4" coarse pocket hole screws (the linked jig comes with 1-1/4" screws)
150 and 65 grit sandpaper for palm sander or sanding block
Two-part wood filler such as Minwax or Bondo
Two architectural roofing shingles OR three 3-tab shingles
Roofing Felt (tar paper)---approx. 16.5" x 24"
1 tube roofing cement (optional)
8' x 1" x 2" Premium pine board
1 sheet clear plexiglass (.08 in x 18 in x 24 or similar) – cut to size*
*To determine the size of plexiglass you'll need add 1-1/4" to both the height and width of the final inside door measurements.
NOTE: See Materials under Post and Library Installation for additional items you may need
Work on a flat level surface
Use waterproof exterior glue on ALL joints
Use either screws or a nail gun---we do not recommend using a hammer and nails
Throughout this tutorial we will show placement for screws
If using a nail gun space nails 2"-3" apart but still add screws to key corners for extra grip
Unless they will be hidden by trim pieces, screw heads should be countersunk to just below surface
Fill all screw and nail holes with wood putty and sand smooth
Place screws (or nails) 3/8" from edge
When using screws always pre-drill, for #6 screw use a 3/32" straight bit
Cut pieces according to Cutting Layout
Using 150 grit sandpaper with either a palm sander or sanding block, lightly sand all edges then slightly round (or "soften") all sharp edges. Fill all voids along edges with wood putty, allow to dry and sand smooth. Sand bottom edge of FRONT piece extra smooth (and slightly round sharp edges).
Prep the Edges
Assemble the Main Cabinet
Remove dust from all pieces (either blow with an air compressor or wipe off with a rag).
Reminder for All Joints: Apply waterproof exterior glue along rough edge, smooth with finger, then join. Wipe off any excess with a damp rag. Refer to general instructions above.
Start by attaching back to bottom (left image), being sure to line up edges. Place the back near the edge of your workspace for easier access. Next attach the sides (center image), being sure that the back edge is even with the back. Start at the bottom back corner followed by the bottom front corner; next align the top back corner and proceed downward. Lastly attach the front as shown above in right image (don't forget to pre-drill or you will split the wood!) If the front does split, apply wood glue and clamp, or better yet, clamp before adding the bottom screw to prevent the split.
Prep, Prime and Paint
Lightly caulk all inside seams with Alex Plus Painters Caulk. Smooth with your finger, wipe away any excess with a damp rag or paper towel. Allow to dry.
Fill all screw and nail holes around the outside of library with wood putty, let dry and sand smooth.
Examine all exposed edges carefully (including roof pieces and mounting board) and fill any remaining voids with wood putty, let dry and sand smooth.
Very important! Do not skip this step!! Using a small brush or sponge, generously paint ALL exposed edges of the main cabinet (including bottom edges), edges on both roof pieces, and edges on the mounting board, with a mixture of half water-proof exterior glue and half water. Wipe away any drips as you go. Allow the mixture to soak into the edges and dry. Repeat, then lightly sand. Set your mounting board aside until you are ready to install your library.
Using a high-quality white acrylic latex primer, start by priming the edges and one side of both roof pieces, wiping smooth any excess build-up of paint around edges as you go. Set aside to dry.
Place a scrap piece of wood under the library to elevate it off your workspace. Prime the inside of the library as well as the bottom edge of the front (above where the door will go), the front edge of the bottom, the front and front edges (left image). Then lay the library on its back and prime the bottom (right image). Always wipe smooth any excess build-up of paint around the edges as you go.
By now your roof pieces should be dry enough to flip over and apply primer again to the edges and to the final side.
Apply primer to outside of your library. If desired add a second coat of primer to all surfaces.
Tip: I prefer to wrap my brush or sponge roller tightly in plastic wrap between coats and then wash it thoroughly when I'm finished with that particular color.
Following manufacture's instructions, allow all primed surfaces sufficient time to dry then apply two or three topcoats of a good-quality exterior satin (or semi-gloss) paint.¹ Using a bright or high-hiding white will help lighten the inside of your library. Unless I'm trying to match the house, I typically also use white for the roof, but for the outside of the library I prefer bright vivid colors that attract the eye. Be sure to allow plenty of dry time between coats and when finished allow to dry overnight before continuing to next step.
Tip: Using a 4" foam roller when painting the outside will result in a smoother finish free of brush marks. Wrap your roller in a plastic bag or plastic wrap between coats and toss when done.
Tip: For an even smoother finish, lightly sand between coats with emery cloth or 600 grit sandpaper.
¹ A word to the wise: Most home improvement and paint stores offer paint samples that they will custom mix for around $4. While these samples certainly contain enough volume to paint your library and are clearly marked for interior/exterior use, they are ALWAYS mixed using an interior base paint and do NOT contain any of the additives typically found in exterior paint such as for UV and mildew protection. If you are using a bright-colored paint and your library will be in full sun, you will probably be better off going for a quart of true exterior paint. If these are not qualities you are worried about and you would prefer to keep the costs down, then these samples can be a good deal, especially if you are using more than one color.
Attach the Roof
Getting the roof on straight and centered can be rather tricky without two people, especially if the roof has a steep slope. Hold the two roof pieces on the library until the peeks are even and you pleased with the way they line up. Have another person firmly hold one side in place while you remove the second side and use two short brads to temporarily hold the first side in place.
Use a pencil to mark the exact center of each edge at the peek of the first side (left image). Next use your tube of E6000 adhesive to squeeze a small bead of glue along the center of the top edges on the second side. Be sure to have a pencil, a ruler or tape measure, at least eight screws, and your cordless drill with a Phillips bit already in it, all within easy reach! Carefully realign the second roof piece and lower it into place being sure to push it tight against the first side. Use your pencil to continue the center lines about an inch onto the second roof piece (right image). If you are not confident that your pencil mark is lined up with the center of the edge below, use your ruler to double-check by measuring the underside from the roof edge to the library wall and then adding 3/8". Keeping your drill perpendicular to the library roof, secure the second roof piece with two 1 5/8" exterior course thread screws.
Add two more screws on each side about 8 inches down from the peek. Do not assume your roof is square. Double-check that each spot is centered over the edge beneath by measuring the underside between the edge of the roof and the wall of the library and then adding 3/8".
Pull off the first roof side and remove the brads, add a bead of adhesive and repeat the above process. Check along the entire underside of the roof and if necessary use a damp paper towel to wipe away any excess adhesive.
Time for Trim
Start by cutting the following trim pieces:
Cut your 1 ft length of MDF stop molding to 11 1/2" (if you cut it by hand at Home Depot, cut off a little from each end so that it's perfectly square)
Cut a sliver off one end of the screen molding (8'x1/4"x3/4") to square it then cut a piece 16-7/16" long
Continuing with the screen molding, cut four pieces for roof edge trim. Each piece should be about 1/16" longer than your roof edge, so if your roof is 12" from the peek to the edge follow this guide (which allows room for error so don't sweat it):
Cut a sliver off one end of the 8'x1-1/8"x1/8" outside corner molding to square it then cut a piece for the door overhang at 16-1/4". Set this aside until after the door is installed.
Continuing with the outside corner molding, you're going to cut four pieces 14" long, two with a right-slanted 22.5° angle at the top and two with a left-slanted 22.5° angle at the top:
These are trickier to cut than you'd think. To cut the right front piece (and the identical back left piece) move your miter saw to the right to 22.5° and place the material to the right with one side flush with the fence and the other side flush with the deck. Cut about an inch off. This will leave you with the top cut for your right front piece. In order to allow plenty of room for error, keeping your material in the same position, slide it to the left about 16" and make your next cut identical to the first. This will be the top cut for your back left piece. Slide your material to the left another 16", position your saw back to 90° and make a straight cut. Set those two pieces aside for now---you can trim them to the proper length in a bit.
To cut the left front piece (and the identical back right piece) do the opposite---move your miter saw to the left to 22.5° and place the material to the left. Then repeat the above process.
Okay, back to your library. Hold the 16-7/16" piece of screen molding up to the bottom edge to be sure it fits easily. If it bows out because it's too tight, trim it a hair shorter. Apply some E6000 to the back, line it up along the front bottom edge and secure with 5/8" brads (using either a pneumatic nailer or a manual staple gun/brad nailer combo). Line the MDF stop molding, square side forward, along the inside right wall so that its front is flush with the front of the screen molding you just attached:
Apply E6000 glue and secure the door stop with two 5/8" brad nails.
Next you're going to trim the four outside corner molding pieces to the correct length. Position the library upright so one corner hangs slightly off the workspace and hold an outside corner molding in place so that it's top is flush up against the bottom of the roof, then use a pencil to mark a cut line on the inside bottom of the trim piece flush with the bottom of the library. Rotate the library until all four pieces have been marked. Trim the pieces a 1/16" shorter than the mark. Check the fit of all four pieces one more time and trim again if necessary. You want the tops to be flush up against the underside of the roof and to end up with a slight (1/16") gap at the bottoms. This gap, while not noticeable, will keep the pieces from between jarred while you continue to work on your library.
Apply E6000 glue and attach each corner trim to the library using two 5/8" brad nails (inserted from the sides of the library) being sure each piece is snug against both corners and flush up against the bottom of the roof. On the front left corner piece only, add two extra brad nails inserted from the front of the library
Hold the screen molding up to the roof edges and mark a cut line on the back with a pencil. Trim each piece 1/16" LONGER than the cut line.
Attach the roof trim to your roof edges using a bead of E6000 glue and two 5/8" brad nails for each piece, ensuring that they line up properly at the peek. Repeat for the back of the library.
If necessary, use a nail punch to drive all nail heads slightly below the surface then use your finger to fill all nail holes with white wood putty. Tip: Wash your hands first to keep your putty white.
Cut and Assemble the Door
You want your door to be 3/16" less in height and width than the door opening, so in this case 16-1/16" wide by 12-1/4" high. Trim a sliver off the end of the 8'x1"x2" premium pine board to square it, then cut two pieces 16-1/16" long and two pieces 9-1/4" long. Use a pocket hole jig to drill two holes evenly spaced on both ends (on one side only) of each of the two shorter pieces:
Lightly sand all but the cut ends. Apply wood glue, clamp and assemble using 1-1/4" course thread exterior pocket screws. Tip: If your door does not sit completely flat, lay it on a flat level surface and place heavy objects on two opposite ends (cans of paint work well) and leave it overnight. Fill each pocket hole with two part wood filler, following manufacturer's instructions (it will take two applications). Allow to dry and sand smooth. Using 65 grit sandpaper, sand all joints on both sides until completely smooth (until you can no longer feel a bump when you run your finger over the joint) then lightly sand entire door with 120 grit sandpaper. Run sander once lightly around all sharp edges (inside and outside) to slightly round. Tip: Double-check the fit of your door--it's not too late to trim it if needed.
Prime, Paint and Attach the Door
As mentioned earlier, the door is often one of the first places on a library to show wear. With a little patience and a minimum of one coat of primer and two coats of a high-quality exterior latex paint properly applied, you can help to avoid this problem.
Clean door with a slightly damp rag to remove dust. I prefer to use a 3/4" artist's brush and start by applying a thin coat of primer around the entire inside edge, outside edge and front, being careful to wipe smooth any paint buildup over unpainted edges. Allow to completely dry, turn the door over and add a second thin coat of primer again starting with the entire inside edge, outside edge and this time the back. Wipe edges smooth. You will end up with two coats of primer on the inside and outside edges and one coat on the front and back. Allow to dry overnight then repeat the entire process using a good quality exterior latex satin (or semi-gloss) paint (thin coat inside edge, outside edge and back; wipe edges smooth; let dry; thin coat inside edge, outside edge and front; wipe edges smooth). Allow to dry overnight. Before repeating the entire process one last time, lightly sand the entire door with emery cloth or 600 grit sandpaper and clean door with a barely damp clean rag. After the final coat wait 24 to 48 hours before handling (the longer the better). Most exterior latex paint takes two to four weeks to fully cure. Patience!
To determine the size of your plexiglass, add 1-1/4" to both the height and width of the inside door measurements. Some home improvement stores will cut plexiglass for you at no charge. Today's plexiglass isn't nearly as brittle as it once was which makes it fairly easy to cut yourself. I use my compound sliding miter saw but I've read that a jig saw, skill saw and many other types of saws will work equally well. Go slow and maintain firm pressure to prevent the plexiglass from over vibrating. Of course you can always cut it the old fashion way by using a straight edge, scoring each cut with a utility knife and then snapping the cut---but this is by far my least favorite method.
Lay your door front side down on a clean work surface and center the plexiglass over back side of door. Use a sharpie to mark four dots as shown:
Place the plexiglass over a SCRAP piece of wood and drill a 5/32" hole at each of the four marks. Be sure to hold the plexiglass down firmly with a finger on each side of the mark while drilling and continue drilling completely through the plexiglass and 1/8 to 1/4" into the scrap wood below. Return plexiglass to the backside of your door and use a pencil to mark the top two holes only. Drill a 5/64" pilot hole about 1/2" deep in the center of the two pencil marks. Set your plexiglass aside. Tip: Use a sticky note to mark which side of the plexiglass is the front and which edge is up.
Turning your door so the front side is up, align hinges as shown above and mark each of the four right holes with a pencil. Drill a 5/64" pilot hole about 1/2" deep in the center of each pencil mark then attach hinges to door using four of the screws provided. Drill a 5/32" hole through the center of the right side of your door for your knob (being careful that the screw head will not overlap the plexiglass).
Going back to your library attach the magnetic catch flush with the front of the door stop as shown above. (Mark with a pencil first and pre-drill.) Hold the door in place and use a pencil to make a small mark on the inside of the door where the metal plate will go. Pre-drill and attach the metal plate (being careful that the plate will not overlap the plexiglass).
Line your door up as shown above -- the magnetic catch will help hold it in place. Tip: Place a paint stir stick under the door to raise it up 1/8" and take an 8-1/2" x 11" piece of paper and fold it in thirds (like you were going to stuff it in an envelope) then fold it one more time in half so that you end up with an approx. 8-1/2" x 2" piece. From inside the library slide the paper folded end first between the gap behind the hinges. Now you can hold the door flush against the left trim and the piece of paper will maintain the proper gap. Carefully mark the screw hole locations with a pencil, pre-drill and insert the last four screws to attach the door. (Note: Be careful to not overtighten the screws!) Remove your paper and stir stick and ta-daaaah! You have a perfectly aligned door!
Keeping track of "front" and "up" peel the protective sheets off your plexiglass. Tip: to get rid of the static cling rinse the plexiglass in clear water and dry with a soft cloth. Line the top two holes up with the pilot holes on the inside of your door and attach by hand with #6 1/2" hex screws until just barely tight (over-tightening will crack the plexiglass). Drill 5/64" pilot holes about 1/2" deep into the back of the door through center of two bottom holes in the plexiglass and secure by hand with two hex screws until just barely tight.
Add that totally unique and oh-so-cool knob you managed to find and your door's done! Find the 16-1/4" piece of outside corner molding you set aside, dust it off and attach over the door as shown using E6000 and 5/8" brad nails as shown below (test fit before applying glue):
The most common type of roofing for a little library is painted plywood, which, in my opinion, requires too much upkeep and has a rather short life expectancy. I also often get asked what I think of metal roofing, and while a metal roof will far outlast any other type of roof, it just is not worth the risk of having sharp edges so close to inquisitive little fingers.
Another well-liked and attractive option is miniature cedar shakes, a much more time-consuming endeavor but certainly do'able. I have added this to my list of future tutorials.
Which brings us to my preferred type of roofing material---asphalt shingles. They are readily available, come in a wide variety of colors, are extremely easy to install, and have a life expectancy of 20+ years. And even if they do get blown off in a storm or other mishap, they are easily replaceable.
Being an over-kill type of person, I recommend applying tar paper under your roofing, however, I can understand not wanting to invest in an entire roll for just one library. If you do have tar paper, simply lay a piece over the roof and press a crease along the edges, then remove it and cut along the crease with a pair scissors. There is no reason to fasten it to the library roof, we will do that with the shingles.
As far as the asphalt shingles go, you can buy them by the bundle at your local home improvement store, find them for free on Craigslist, or purchase them for $.25 each at the Habitat store. Once when I needed some very hard to find green shingles, I happened by an apartment complex that they were re-roofing in a perfect shade of green and after explaining my need, one of the roofers gladly handed me a couple of unused shingles.
3-tab shingles: If using 3-tab shingles you will need three shingles. Lay them bottom side up and cut off the tabs using a straight edge and a utility knife. Toss the tabs. You want your shingles to hang over your roof edge by 1/4" on all sides, so on two of the three 6" x 36" strips, measure in 17" from each end and cut. This will give you four library-size shingles, two for each side. Use the remaining strip to cut the final shingle for the peek which should be 1/2" longer than the rest, so cut it at a length of 17-1/2". You will also want to cut this last piece slightly narrower in order to cut off the strip of asphalt sealant that is typically visible on the front side. As soon as the peek piece is cut lay it in the sun to warm.
Architectural shingles: If using architectural shingles you will only need two shingles for this size library. Lay them bottom side up and cut off the single-layered half. That will leave you with two single-layered pieces and two thicker pieces. On the two thicker pieces, measure in 17" from each end and cut. This will give you four library-size shingles, two for each side. Use one of the remaining single-layered strips to cut the final piece for the peek at a length of 17-1/2". You will also want to cut this last piece slightly narrower in order to cut off the strip of asphalt sealant that is typically visible on the front side. As soon as the peek piece is cut lay it in the sun to warm.
Adjust the tar paper so it lays flat then place your first shingle so it hangs 1/4" over the edges and nail it to the roof using 1/2" or 3/4" aluminum carpet tacks (left image). Overlap your second piece so that it covers the nails of the first piece and add three more carpet tacks. Repeat for the opposite side.
(Optional): While a less important step for this library with its low 22.5° roof slope, for libraries with steeper slopes, especially when using thinner, less-expensive shingles, I recommend applying a bead of roofing cement (the steeper the slope the fatter the bead) along the roof peak staying at least an inch from either edge:
Retrieve the last piece that you left in the sun and center it over the peek. It should be toasty warm and easily bendable. (Tip: If you're not working on a sunny day, use a hair dryer to warm the top piece.) Press it lightly into the roofing cement and nail it down with three tacks on each side. The roofing cement (which will dry odor-free in about 12 hours) will help to keep the folded top piece from cracking.
Congratulations!! Add some Finishing Touches and you're ready to install your new library!
Cut angles at 22.5 degrees