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How to Build a Little Free Library

Host Kevin O’Connor and general contractor Tom Silva visit a local school. The pair enlist the help of Tom’s daughter, Kate, to build a Little Free Library.

Host Kevin O’Connor and general contractor Tom Silva visit a local school and realize it’s sorely lacking in one area: It doesn’t have a Little Free Library. The pair enlist the help of Tom’s daughter, Kate, to build an awesome Little Free Library that will drive the students wild.

All they need is a design, some of Tom’s handy templates, and some help from their friends at Brookside Elementary.

To see the installation, click here.

How to Build a Little Free Library

  1. Start by creating a template for the sides and ends of the box. The best material to use for these templates is MDF. There are no standard sizes, so cut one panel to approximately 20 to 22 inches long and about 16 inches wide, and the other panel to 16 inches wide with a curved roof starting with a maximum height of 16 ½ inches and sides 16 inches high. Carefully layout and cut windows in each of these templates. For the longer panel, leave a 1-inch gap between the middle two windows to allow for a door later in the project.
  2. Mark the MDO using the templates as a guide. Cut the straight edges with a track saw and use the jigsaw for the curved edges. You’ll need two sides and two ends.
  3. Stack the two end panels together, lay the template on top, and carefully clamp them in place on the work table. Using the template as a guide, use a templating bit and collar to slowly rough out the majority of the windows. Start high and work low, taking off little bits at a time until the windows are cut out.
  4. Switch the router to the flush-cut bit with a bearing on top, and use this bit to mill the windows to their exact shape. Next, switch to the ⅜-inch rabbeting bit and mill a ⅜-inch shelf around each of the windows for the plexiglass to sit into. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 5 for the end panels, as well.
  5. Using the table saw, a cross-cut guide, and a stop block set at the appropriate width for a window, cut the plexiglass for the windows to size on the table saw. Next, tape all of the windows together and sand them on a belt sander until the corners are rounded. Test fit them but don’t install them yet.
  6. One of the side panels will serve as the door to the library, so the doors need to be cut from the panel. Adjust the table saw to cut off approximately 1 to 1 ¼ inches off the top of the panel (above the windows). Adjust the table saw again to cut approximately 3 ½ inches off the bottom of the panel. Set the top and bottom aside. Adjust the table saw again to cut the panel perfectly in half, leaving two windows on either side. Remove approximately ⅛ to 3/16 off of the edges of each of these doors to leave room for the hinges.
  7. Hold the doors so the hinge side is facing up. Draw a pencil mark down the middle of the door from top to bottom. Align the piano hinge on this line, drilling holes for screws. Attach the hinges with the screws.
  8. Assemble the box using exterior grade wood glue and the brad nailer. Measure the inside of the box and cut a floor to fit inside. Be sure to hold the floor up 3 or 4 inches to allow it to sit securely on the post. Also, drill small holes in the backside of the doors and corresponding holes in the cabinet. Install earth magnets in these holes, using CA glue to hold them in place.
  9. Cut the ⅜-inch AA plywood to roughly 1 ½ inches wide and longer than the assembled box. Place this board on top of the box, aligning it so the center of the board is in the center of the end panels. Drill pilot holes and screw this board in place. This will create an overhang and help shed water and snow.
  10. Create little touches like wheels, headlights, and an engine compartment from the MDO plywood.
  11. Sand the entire library, making sure to get rid of any rough edges or splinters. Be sure to remove the wheels and headlights and sand them as well.
  12. Paint the entire box. Use school bus yellow (or any other desired color) for the front, back, sides, and top. Roll the majority of the body with the roller and touch up hard-to-reach spaces with the brush. Use the white spray paint for the headlights, and use the black and white spray paint for the wheels and tires.
  13. Apply lettering to the side of the school bus, as well as black vinyl tape to mimic the design of a traditional school bus.
  14. Apply a bead of silicone to the rabbets inside each of the windows. Place the plexiglass windows in the rabbet and press down slightly. Use a chisel and push-in glazier clips to hold the panes in place.
  15. Allow everything to dry completely before reattaching the wheels and headlights. Check everything over one last time and touch up anything that needs it.


At the studio, Tom and Kevin build a little free library for Brookside Elementary School. Then, Tom and Kate paint and decorate it.

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