Build a Hidden-Door Bookcase

Specialized hardware and careful trim work mask an existing doorway to create a secret passage.


Whether you yearn for the mystique of a hidden door that reveals a secret room or you just want to reclaim storage space from a little-used doorway, this project is a great way to exercise your creativity and DIY skills. The bookcase is simple to build; the challenge lies in customizing the design to match your décor and in installing the hardware (from the Murphy Door Co., see shopping list), which is robust and a bit counterintuitive. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the hardware before getting too deep into the design phase — we even mocked up the bottom third of the doorway to make sure everything worked.

Customize Your Design
The bookcase shown was built to fit a doorway in a 1920s-era home. To blend in with the oak trim around the existing door, the bookcase is made out of solid red oak and red oak plywood and stained to match. When designing your bookcase, consider the room it will be facing. Similar trim, wood and colors will help with the camouflage effect. Also keep in mind that the back of the door will have extra space on the sides to accommodate the hidden hinges. That might not matter if you’re hiding a storage room, but if the back is going to be visible from the other side, you should think of ways to incorporate it into the surroundings. We painted the back of the bookcase in this story white to blend in with the walls of the hallway, and we added a mirror to draw attention away from the gaps.

Once you have a plan sketched out, you can start building the bookcase. We used a table saw, miter saw, jointer, planer and router to cut and mill the pieces for this project. A simpler design could be made with just a few basic tools. If you’d rather not build the door yourself, the Murphy Door Co. also sells prefabricated units.

Build the Bookcase
Cut the pieces to size and then cut rabbets in the ends of each shelf. With a table saw, this is a two- cut process. First position the fence at 3/8 in. and make a 3/8-in.-deep cut in each end. Then adjust the fence to 1/2 in. Position the face of the board against the fence and finish cutting the rabbet (photos 1 and 2). Note: Both of these cuts are done with the table saw guard removed, so use extra caution.

1. Use a table saw to cut the rabbets in the shelves. First set the blade height to 3/8- in. and make a cut in one end of the shelf 1/2 in. from the fence.

2. Turn the board upright with its face against the fence and make another cut to finish the rabbet.

Next, cut dadoes in the bookcase sides using a router, a straightedge and a 1/2-in. straight bit. Lay out the shelf spacing on both sides of the bookcase in pencil. Then set up the straightedge (we used a straight wood scrap) offset from the line so the edge of the bit is lined up with the pencil mark. Set the router to cut 3/8 in. deep; then do a couple of test cuts in scrap stock and make sure the shelves fit before you cut the actual workpieces (photo 3).

3. Use a straightedge and a router with a 1/2-in. straight bit to cut dadoes for the shelves. Set the cutting depth to 3/8 in., align the router with the layout marks and cut.

Once you’ve made all of the cuts, dry fit the bookcase to make sure all of the pieces line up (photo 4). It’s better to do this before staining so you can modify parts if needed. We found the easiest way to assemble the bookcase was to put the shelves in one side on a large, flat surface and then tip up the other side, keeping the shelves aligned.

4. Dry assemble the parts before staining and gluing to make sure everything fits together.

Next, disassemble and finish sand and stain the parts. Staining before assembly is easier because you’re not working in nooks and crannies. However, you need to leave some bare wood for the glue to adhere to. You can stain the sides without getting much stain in the dadoes pretty easily. But on the shelves, you’ll want to mask off the rabbets (photo 5).

5. Disassemble and stain the pieces, being careful not to stain the areas where you’ll apply glue. Use tape to mask the shelf ends.

After you’ve stained the pieces, glue up the bookcase. Assemble the basic cabinet first; then attach the front trim pieces, which conceal a 2-in. gap around the cabinet for the hinges and clearance for opening and closing.

Install the Bookcase Door
The first step in the installation process is preparing the doorway. You want a flat, unobstructed opening. You’ll need to remove the old interior trim and hinge hardware (photo 6). You may also need to patch and fill holes from any hardware that was removed if the holes are visible from the front of the opening.

6. Prep the door frame by removing any trim and hardware, and fill any holes that may be visible from the front.

Next, attach the hinges to the bookcase door. Both sets of hinges are mounted on blocks that allow for an offset from the frame so the door swings freely. For the bottom, align the hinge, following the recommended offsets (photo 7). Repeat for the top hinge, making sure both hinges line up.

7. Attach the hinge plates to the bookcase door. The bottom hinges are on an offset block to provide proper spacing for the door to swing.

Attach the other halves of the hinge hardware to the door frame. We used a piece of 1/2-in. plywood to make sure both top and bottom plates were offset the right amount from the door frame (photo 8).

8. Attach the hinge hardware to the door frame. Use a piece of wood (1/2-in. plywood is shown) to maintain a consistent spacing from the frame.

To install the bookcase door, set the bottom plate on the hinge (photo 9); then line up the top hinge plates and put the pin through both. The plates are notched; once the pin is through both plates, you turn it to lock it in place.With the door in place, attach the doorstop plate and hardware (photo 10). This takes a bit of trial and error to get the correct alignment. An adjustable bolt on the door lets you fine-tune the amount of opening and closing pressure you need to move the door.

9. To install the door, first align the bottom hinge parts and set it in place. Then align the top hinge plates and insert the pin. The plates are notched to allow the pin in; you rotate the pin to lock it in place.

Install the doorstop and hardware. The adjustable bolt on the door allows you to fine-tune (through trial and error) how much pressure it takes to open and close the door.

With the door in place, attach the remaining trim pieces to the existing door frame (photo 11). These pieces hide the openings around the edges of the bookcase, completing the built-in look.

11. With the door installed, nail the remaining trim around the outside of the door to hide the gaps.