Ikea Ivar Bookshelves


This blog post is a little late (since I finished the shelves in October) but I thought I should post it for anyone who’s looking for a cheap way to make a custom bookshelf wall. 

I used the 4 section IKEA Ivar which spans almost the whole length of my 140″ wall space and is 89″ tall. It fits about 8 shelves of book-space per section (x4 sections = 32 shelves), and we used 9 horizontal slats per section total (x4 sections = 36 slats). The 4-section Ivar only comes with 22 slats, so we bought 14 additional horizontal slats to fill it out (it seems designed for pantry storage). The base cost $180 and the additional shelves cost $10 each so in total the wood part of the shelves cost $320 (plus tax, so like $350).

The Ivar bookshelf is unfinished, so I researched finishes and decided to try Minwax Water-based wood finish in Oriental Ginger to match our kitchen cabinets. It came out a bit darker and more reddish than I expected, but I like it! It’s a very deep, rich color.


Here’s the basic steps I used (mostly following the instructions on the cans):

  1. Lay out something to protect the ground and work in a well-ventilated area. (I worked in the garage with the side door open and used the cardboard the bookcase came in as a dropcloth – watch out for cardboard sticking to the painted shelves, though! Wearing a bandana over the lower half of your face helps prevent inhaling wood dust.)
  2. Prepare the shelves by putting thin blue painter’s tape over the plastic ends.
  3. Sand with the grain with fine sandpaper, then wipe off with cloth or shop towel.
  4. Put on plastic gloves.
  5. Apply a coat of Minwax water-based pre-stain wood conditioner to the top and edges of one of the shelves. Apply coat to the next board, then go back and wipe it off the first one (this gives it some time to soak into board #1). Use a shop towel to wipe off and wipe in the direction of the grain. You want to leave it on for 1-5 minutes before wiping it off.
  6. After you’ve finished applying and removing the pre-stain wood conditioner, wait 15 minutes and then sand again in the direction of the grain. Wipe off the dust after sanding.
  7. Open the can of wood stain and apply to board, going against the grain (or back and forth) so it fills in all the pores of the wood. This step is more about speed than accuracy. You can be a little sloppy with applying it, since you’re going to wipe it off right after. I used an extra-wide synthetic Purty brush, but some people use sponges. Wait until it looks dry-ish (1-5 minutes), then wipe it off with a shop towel, going with the grain so all the pigment gets locked in those pores. Make sure to wipe it off really well or otherwise you might get streaking or dark patches. You may have to use more than one coat if it’s not dark enough for your liking. Do not sand after staining. Lean the boards up against something (so they don’t stick to the ground) and wait a day before applying the top coat.
  8. Apply top coat, going with the grain (I used Minwax water-based polycrylic for the top coat). Let dry 2 hours, then do a second coat. After the second coat, sand with the grain to make it smooth, then apply a third coat. If it looks done, you can stop after the third coat, if not, you may need to sand it and apply a fourth coat. Wait a day, and then you can swap painted boards for unpainted and do the next round!

I ended up doing rounds of 6 or 8 boards each, and each round would take me about 4 days to a week. The project ended up taking from July to October (4 months!), so it was a little more time-intensive than I thought, but listening to Youtube vlogs and music made the work go faster. It actually felt very relaxing, just me and the boards and music.

If I were to do anything different, I would take more time on the vertical pillars. I did them at the end and was getting kind of impatient so I rushed them a little, but they’re probably one of the most visible parts of the shelf. They also don’t seem to absorb the stain as readily as the horizontal planks, so they could probably have used a second coat of stain, but oh well. It looks good enough. ;) The other thing I might have changed is I might have tried using satin instead of semi-gloss… semi-gloss was still a little high on shine for my taste, but it’s not bad.

As for stability, it says the shelves can hold up to 77 lbs of weight each, and I hope it will hold okay. The snap-in connections are made of a heavy plastic which seems pretty sturdy, but you know, it’s still plastic. I have noticed that the bookshelf is leaning a little bit away from the wall, and if you wiggle it, it wobbles. We have it nailed to the wall with the included heavy cloth strips, but if I can think of some more steady way to secure it that might be good. This bookshelf is seriously huge and our entire book collection from the apartment only took up about a quarter of it!


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