How to Customize Your Shelves and Bookcases

This story points out that most designs are customizable to the needs of the user and the space in which the built-in needs to fit.

As you review the shelving projects on, remember that you can change the dimensions of most of them. (The modular boxes, however, were designed to get the most from a 4x8 sheet of plywood.) Changing the size of one component sometimes requires a change in another. For example, if you want to put deeper shelves in a bookcase, you will also have to widen the sides of the unit, so you'll have to buy wider stock.

You should be able to make changes in height easily unless the project plan includes a back. Then you'll need enough stock for the larger back. Carefully think through any changes and plan for them. Draw and label your plans carefully. If possible, have an experienced woodworker check your plans and dimensions. You will also find help at your local lumberyard or home center.

Accessible to all

Special circumstances sometimes require altering or adapting standard dimensions. In a home designed for the elderly, for instance, the highest functional shelf should be lowered 3 inches from the standard 68 inches. The lowest drawer or shelf should be moved up 3 inches. A lower work surface or tabletop is also called for. It should be about 1-1/2 inches lower than the normal 35 inches.

The physically disabled and those who work from a wheelchair also have special needs. For them, a tabletop or work surface should be no higher than 31 inches from the floor. To accommodate a wheelchair under a table, a free space 30 inches wide by 29-1/2 inches deep must be provided. This allows for 24 inches of forward reach. Shelf height should also be taken into consideration so most frequently used items are within reach. For more information on space allowances and reach ranges, write to the U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Disability Rights Section -- NYAVE, Washington, DC 20530; or go to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website at


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