Little Free Library

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This article is from Issue 64 of Woodcraft Magazine.

An outdoor cabinet for sharing favorite books

Overall dimensions: 231⁄2"w × 193⁄4"d × 401⁄2"h

The Little Free Library (LFL) concept is built on six little words: “Take a book. Return a book.” Despite, or maybe because of, the idea’s inherent simplicity, this grassroots initiative has been surprisingly successful. Since its start in 2009, more than 15,000 LFLs have been set up around the world.

This case is held together with pocket screws and dado joints, and decked out with trim–a perfect project to hone your skills, or to introduce woodworking to the next generation. But this project is more than just another box. When I had my students build libraries as part of my residential construction class, I was delighted to watch how the project connected the students to their communities. It was gratifying to see the pride they had in their libraries, as demonstrated by the extra time they freely gave to get them finished.

After you’ve picked a suitable outdoor spot, simply set up your library, and then stock it with the books you love and want to share. As your neighbors catch on, you’ll see the collection circulate. You may decide to serve as the de facto librarian, monitoring the collection, culling unpopular titles, and getting first pick of the best sellers.

Position the good side of the A/C plywood down, and cut the dadoes across the sides. Use a stop to keep the spacing consistent on both panels.
Run the panels on edge to ensure perfectly-fitting tongues. A sacrificial pushblock guides the panel and prevents tear-out.

Make the case

1 Cut the sides (A), top and bottom (B), and shelves (C, D) to the sizes listed in the Cut List.

Note: I cut the plywood case and roof parts out of a single sheet. For a plywood cutting diagram, go to

2 Cut two strips of edging (E) to face the front edges of the shelves. Cut the pieces about 1⁄16" wider than indicated in the Cut List. Spread glue on the front edges of the shelves (C, D) and attach the edging with 11⁄2" finish nails. Set the nails so you can fill the holes before painting. When the glue dries, trim the edging flush with the faces and ends of the shelves.

3 Set up a 1⁄4"-wide dado blade on your tablesaw, set the cutting height to 3⁄8", and cut three dadoes across each side (A), as shown in Photo A.

4 Without changing the blade height, increase the width of the dado head to 5⁄8". (The exact width isn’t critical; the cutter just needs to be wider than 1⁄2".) Next, lower the cutter by about 1⁄32". (This offers a little leeway in case the groove depths vary.) Now set the fence a fat 1⁄4" from the inside edge of the cutter, and cut a test tongue on a piece of scrap plywood. Bump the fence over until the resulting tongue fits snugly. Finally, cut tongues on both ends of the top and bottom (B) and the middle shelf (C), as shown in Photo B.

Position one side on your bench, set the tongues into the side’s dadoes, and then tip the upper side into place. To avoid glue drips, work quickly.
Set the rail squarely against the stile, and join the two with pocket screws. Use a clamp block to prevent shifting.

5 Dry-fit the case to make sure everything fits. Next, run a water-resistant glue (I used Titebond II) along the dadoes in the sides, insert the top, bottom, and shelf, and assemble, as shown in Photo C. Make sure that the back edge of the shelf is flush with the back edges of the sides. Reinforce each joint with three 2" deck screws. Countersink the heads so they will not interfere with the clapboards.

6 Measure the case, and cut the back (F) to match its outside dimensions. Glue the back in place, and fasten it with four 2" deck screws driven into each side and two 2" deck screws driven into the top and bottom (B) and the middle shelf (C).

7 Place the bottom shelf (D) inside the case on top of the bottom (B). Screw it in place with four 11⁄4" screws driven up through the bottom. (This extra thickness lifts the bottom books up off the case’s floor, offering extra insurance should water work its way in.) Now drill two 3⁄16"-diameter weep holes through the bottom, where shown in Figure 1.

Make the face frame and door

1 Cut the stiles (G, I) and rails (H, J) for the face frame and the door to the sizes listed in the Cut List. Drill pocket screw holes in the ends of the rails.

2 Assemble both the face frame and the door frame by spreading glue on the ends of the rails, clamping the joints flat on your benchtop, and then driving screws into the pocket-hole slots (Photo D).

Drive pocket screws through the untrimmed exterior for a solid and invisible means of securing the frame and corner boards to the case.

3 Cut the front corner boards (K) to size. Cut a 3⁄4"-wide rabbet, 1⁄4" deep, along one corner of each piece. Mortise the left-hand corner board and mating door stile for the hinges. Locate the mortises 21⁄2" in from the ends of the stiles. Glue the corner boards to both sides of the face frame, where shown in Figure 1.

4 Chuck a rabbeting bit in your router, adjust the height to match the thickness of the acrylic you’ll be installing in the door, and rout a 3⁄8"-wide rabbet around the inside edge of the door frame’s outer face. (Cutting the rabbet on the outer face of the frame helps keep water out.) Square the corners of the rabbet with a chisel.

5 Drill a series of pocket holes in the case to attach the face frame (H, G). Drill four in each side and three across the top and bottom. Position the face frame on the front of the case so that the corner boards overhang the sides by 3⁄4", and then glue and screw the face frame and corner boards (K) to the front of the case, as shown in Photo E

6 Hang the door in the opening with its hinges; at this point only use one screw per leaf. Check the door’s fit. Trim if necessary to leave a 3⁄32" gap at the top and along the edges.

Use an auxiliary fence and a stop on your miter gauge to help control the piece as you cut the angled ends of the gables.

Make the roof

1 To make the two gables (L), cut a piece of plywood to 155⁄8" square. Next, set your miter gauge to 45°, and cut the piece diagonally, as shown in Photo F.

Cut the roof base (M) so its width matches the depth of the case (including the face frame) and its length matches the long edges of the gables.

With a gable flat against your bench, butt the roof bottom against its bottom edge and join the two with 2" screws.

2 Clamp one of the gables flat on your bench, and attach the roof base to it, as shown in Photo G. Repeat with the second gable. Four 2" screws per joint will do the trick.

3 Cut the two sheathing pieces (N) to the length given in the Cut List, but leave them each about an inch wider for now. Tilt the blade on your tablesaw to 45°, and bevel one long edge of each sheathing piece. Hold one of the pieces in place on the gable assembly (L, M) with the tip of the mitered edge touching the corner of the roof base (M).

Mark the sheathing for width at the peak of the gable. Return your saw blade to vertical, and cut the marked sheathing piece to width. Glue and screw the sheathing to the gables with six 2" deck screws

(3 per gable). Be sure to center the sheathing from front to back.

4 Repeat the process with the second sheathing board. This time, however, mark the piece for width at the top corner of the piece you just installed.

5 Cut the four filler (O) pieces so they fit under the overhanging sections of the sheathing. Miter one end of each, align it with the lower end of the sheathing, and then mark and cut each piece to length in turn. (Two of the pieces will be shorter than the other two due to the lap at the peak.) Glue and screw them in place with 11⁄4" screws.

6 Place the roof assembly (L, N, M, O) on top of the case and fasten it with six 2" screws driven up through the case top.

Position your saw fence so that the blade tilts away from it, and then run the strips on edge to create the beveled clapboard siding.

Install the trim

1 Cut the face boards (P), the rake boards (Q), the cornice boards (R), the side corner boards (S), and the rear corner boards (T) to the widths listed in the Cut List, leaving the pieces long for now.

2 Tilt the blade on your tablesaw to 45°, and bevel one long edge of each of the face boards (P). Glue and nail them in place along the bottom edges of the roof sheathing (N) with 2" finish nails.

3 Miter the upper ends of the rake boards (Q) where they meet at the peak. Mark them for length at the eave, and make these angled cuts as well. Glue and nail them in place along the sides of the roof with 2" galvanized finish nails.

4 Miter and notch the ends of   the front cornice board (R) so it fits against the underside of the roof and laps over the face frame by 1⁄2". The notches are necessary to fit the piece between the front corner boards. Glue and nail the piece in place with 2" finish nails. Miter the ends of the rear cornice board so it fits under the roof and laps the back by 1⁄2"–no notches required. Glue and nail it in place.

5 Trim the rear and side corner boards (S, T) to fit, and then glue and nail them to the back corners of the case with 2" finish nails.

6 Cut the spacers (U) to size. Glue and screw them to the case sides with 11⁄4" screws, centering the pieces from front to back.

7 Rip the clapboards (V, W, X) to width. (I was able to get more than enough siding from eight 6'-long 1 × 3 boards. Select clear stock.) Next, tip the blade on your tablesaw to 83° (7° from vertical), and bevel all the pieces, as shown in Photo H. (Note: The exact bevel angle on the clapboards isn’t critical. Aim to make the pieces about 1⁄4" thick at the top and 1⁄2" thick at the bottom.)

Attaching the clapboards with glue reduces the need for nails, lessening nail-filling and sanding later on.

Finishing touches

1 Prime and paint all of the trim and the inside of the library. I used General Finishes Tuscan Red Milk Paint on the trim and door and Basil Green on the clapboards and interior. (Note: When selecting paint for the interior, choose a paint that resists “blocking.” Blocking is when the dry paint sticks to objects that rest upon it.)

2 Trim the clapboards for the sides and back (V, W, X) to length so they fit snugly between the corner boards. Working from the top down, glue and nail the strips in place (Photo I) using 3⁄4" finish nails. Two nails per side strip and three per back strip should suffice. Fill the nail holes, sand the filler, and spot paint.

3 For the clapboards on the gables, work from the bottom up. Miter the ends of the first piece so it fits snugly under the roof. Glue and nail it in place with 3⁄4" finish nails. Repeat with the next two pieces. The last piece on each gable will be a small triangle. Cutting it to the right length should adjust its width to fill the remaining space.

4 Using metal snips, cut three pieces of aluminum flashing for the roofing to 18" × 221⁄4". Draw lines 1" in from every edge with a permanent ink marker. Once hemmed, the pieces should overhang the structure by 1⁄4" on all sides. (Note: A hem is a metal edge that is folded back on itself. Hemming makes the metal stiffer and conceals the sharp edge. If you have access to a metal brake, use it to fold the hems and shape the cap.)

Clamp the beveled board against your layout line and flush to the edge of your bench, and then use the second board to start the hem.
Hammer the fold over with a mallet to complete the hem. Strike gently to avoid kinking the edges.

5 Rip a 45° bevel along one edge of a 24" long piece of 1×3. Place a piece of flashing on your bench so its edge overhangs the bench by 1", and clamp the beveled board on top. Using a second board, fold the flashing up along the edge of the bevel, as shown in Photo J.

6 Complete the hem by gently hammering the fold closed with a flat-faced mallet, as shown in Photo K. Hem all four sides of each piece of flashing. Next, fold one of the hemmed pieces of flashing in half to form the cap piece.

7 Paint the flashing with a metal primer and enamel topcoat. Next, run a bead of construction adhesive around the perimeter of the sheathing boards and a squiggle down the center, and then fasten the metal in place with 13⁄4" aluminum roofing nails equipped with neoprene washers. (Be sure to drive the nails into the rake boards (O) along the edges; otherwise, the nails will poke through.)

8 Cut a piece of 1⁄8" acrylic to fit in the rabbet in the door. (Make it about 3⁄16" undersize in both directions to allow for expansion.) Bed it in a bead of silicone caulk. Now, cut the (prepainted) retaining strips to fit, and screw them in place with 1"-long flathead brass screws. Attach the handle and latch (made from 1⁄8"-thick aluminum stock. See Latch Detail, page 23), and then hang the door.

9 Determine the posthole depth (see “Installation Notes,” above), and then cut the mounting posts (Z) so that the library will sit about 32" above the ground. Miter the top ends to 45°, and round over the corners with a 1⁄2" round-over bit. Prime and paint the posts before attaching them to the library with 5⁄16" galvanized lag screws and washers, where shown in Figure 1.  

Installation Notes

I set the posts in 3'-deep holes, but since building code footing depths vary from one region to the next, you should check with your local building department before you pick up a posthole digger. Make sure to ask about buried cables and pipes. Most areas offer a free “Call before you dig” service to prevent expensive (and potentially dangerous) surprises.

About Our Author

Ken Burton has been working with wood since his father gave him a real set of tools at age six. He currently operates Windy Ridge Woodworks and still smiles when he thinks about working in his dad’s basement shop.


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