Simple DIY Miniature Woodblock Bookcases
I’m no pro at terrain building, but I’m always looking for neat ways to add a little extra charm to tabletop RPGs and miniature games.
These little woodblock bookcases aren’t super detailed, but they will add some extra depth and character to any setting—they’re extremely durable, and they only take about 15 minutes to make.
Quick note: The hands-on work in this project is 90% painting, so if you’re not interested in painting crafts, a quick YouTube search for “DIY Terrain Bookshelves” will reveal some incredible tutorials for beautifully realistic bookcases that use foam core instead.
Another quick note: There’s some fiddly freehand painting involved in this project, but the great part is that you’re working on a super small piece that will blend in with the rest of your scenery and miniatures. So if you’re struggling to make perfect lines or get your shelf adornments looking just like you want them to, take a look at how imprecise my painting is in the photos below, and trust that as long as you create an approximation of a shelf, it’ll look good on the table.
Okay, shall we begin?
- Miter saw (hand or power)
- Measuring Tape or Ruler
- Painting Supplies
- Small brushes, palette or another mixing surface, paper towel, and a retired cup/mug for water.
- 1×2 Board—Look for boards with squared corners, unlike 1×2 lumber (furring strips), which has rounded corners.
- One 4′ or 6′ board is enough to make dozens of these bookcases.
- Acrylic Paint
- Dark Brown, Light Brown, Tan (or Beige), White, assorted other colors for adornments.
Step One: Cut the wood block
Cut a 1.75″ block from the end of your project board.
You will need access to a saw for this part. I know lots of DIY videos mention that big box hardware stores will cut down your wood for you, but the employees are not allowed to make cuts within 12″ of the edge of the piece. We’re going to be cutting 1.75″ from the edge, so it’s all up to us.
The height of our bookcase will be 1.75 inches.
If you want to make a few bookcases at once, cut as many blocks as you’ll need. They can all be the exact same height, or they can differ in height to add some variance among your pieces. For D&D and other games with similar miniature scale, aim for between 1.5 – 2 inches.
I don’t bother with sanding the wood block once it’s cut. If yours is particularly rough or chewed up, you can certainly sand it some, leaving enough texture to simulate the wear on the bookcase.
Step Two: Shadow Layer
Paint each face of your block, except the bottom, with your Dark Brown paint.
This layer represents the shadows in the cracks of the shelf, as well its darkened interior between the shelves.
Make sure to apply a good layer of paint and brush into all the nooks and crannies. You don’t want any of that original wood color showing through.
Paint vertically with the grain of your wood so that your shelf doesn’t end up with an unnatural looking thatch-work of grain lines.
Allow to dry 3-5 minutes.
Step Three: Base Layer & Shelves
With your Light Brown, lightly paint over the Dark Brown faces—EXCEPT the front.
We’re leaving the front face of the shelf Dark Brown to give the interior of the shelves some shadows and depth.
I say “lightly paint” because it’s okay for the dark brown to remain in any cracks and grooves your piece might have.
In Light Brown, paint straight lines to represent the bookshelves, as well as the the front edges of the bookcase’s frame.
Free hand paint 2-3 shelves.
These shelves do not need to be perfect lines, but if you’re especially concerned about your steadiness while free-handing, you can use a straightedge like a piece of paper or index card. Below you can see a little shelf stencil I whipped up by cutting an index card in half and taping the pieces with a slot between them. (It worked okay, not great.)
You’ll also want to add a thin Light Brown frame around the top, bottom, and sides of your front face. This represents the depth of the boards from which our imaginary shelf was built.
Step Four: Highlight Layer
Mix a small amount of your Light Brown paint with your Tan—about a 1-to-1 ratio.
Using your mix, paint a thin line along the top of each shelf, overlapping partially with the Light Brown shelves. I use the Army Painter Highlighting Brush or smaller detail brush for this step.
Paint the same thin line along the top and bottom edges of your Front Face.
Very lightly paint the entire Top face of your piece.
This paint layer represents the highlights of your piece—the areas where we want to make it appear as though the light is striking it.
Step Five: Adornments
Add adornments to your shelves. This can be anything you wish.
Books: Paint your books two brush strokes thick. Then mix your book color with a small amount of White and add highlights. A little gold leaf text on the spine for some extra whimsy.
Candles: I like to add a silver or gold candle holder. The candle itself is Tan, and the flame is a dab of Orange, then Yellow.
Ink Bottle: One of my favorite adornments—paint a small bottle shape in Black. Then add tiny strokes of White along the top edges where the light would catch, and another stroke more centered on one side. Add a feather quill in whatever combination of White/Black/Gray you like.
Webs: I have yet to add this in, but some simple spiderwebs would be a great filler for an emptier shelf, like the bottom one here.
In the bookcase pictured above, I tried adding thin lines of the light brown paint to give the shelves some perspective and depth. It might work with a little more practice, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
My favorite part of these shelves is that I know I can just stack them and toss them into a terrain bin without worrying about damaging them. They’re lightweight, but they’ve got just enough density to stay standing if the table gets bumped.
Again, I’m no pro at this, so if you have ideas on how to improve the look and illusion of these shelves, I’d love to hear about them.
Time to go back and add a spiderweb to that bottom shelf!