Fix It

Refinishing a Bookshelf Using Paper

I wanted to try a few different methods of upcycling bookshelves, so last week I tried using fabric and today I tried using paper. I found this patterned paper at Walmart in the fabric/craft section. It was $3-something for the whole roll. It feels just like nice, thick wrapping paper.

Here’s what I started with:


I’m sure there’s an actual name for it; I call it cardboard. If your paper roll isn’t long enough to cover the whole back, first draw a line at the top and bottom of one of the shelves so you can hide the line between the two lengths of paper behind the shelf.

Now, remove the back. I have to say, I though this part would be easier. Wish I would’ve thought about covering the back BEFORE we put the bookshelf together. I’m assuming that on an older bookshelf the back will come off a lot easier. This one is only a year old and was nailed in really tightly.

On the nails at the top, I started scoring around them with a knife so I could control where the cardboard would rip.

Once I finished the top, I slid a knife in near the top of each nail and lifted the side of the knife that was closest to the nail and the cardboard would rip there. I then did the same thing on the bottom of each nail.

This part went A LOT faster than the top. Use a butter knife to do this, not a steak knife like I did. Luckily we’ve had these knifes since our wedding day, or else I might have been on my way to get stitches today. Am I the only one who does dumb things they know they shouldn’t, but just decide to deal with the consequences when they come? Ugh. Anyways, here’s what the removed back looks like. Not very pretty, but we’re covering it, so it’s okay. If you find a better way, let me know!



I made sure that the bottom of the paper was lined up right in the middle of the two lines I had drawn on the cardboard.


I used the same spray adhesive I used for the fabric bookshelf.

Spray the front of the cardboard and smooth the paper down, running your hand over it to make sure there aren’t any bumps (this paper is pretty thick, so it wasn’t hard to get it really smooth).

I flipped the board over and sprayed and folded the sides. To fold the top and bottom, I cut the corners off first and then folded it over.

For some reason, the sides kept popping up, which didn’t happen with the fabric. I’m not sure if it was the paper that was the problem or the cheap cardboard (for the fabric bookshelf, I used a thicker material for the back that I bought at Lowe’s). I laid the shelves on the paper for about half an hour to see if a little pressure would help it stick. It didn’t.

I started thinking and decided to grab the Gorilla Glue from the cupboards on top of the fridge. While I was there I found the giant bag of peanut butter M&Ms that I had hidden there so the kids wouldn’t eat them all. You can’t un-see a bag of peanut butter M&Ms, but it wasn’t too big of a problem because I’m pretty sure if you only eat 4 or 5 at a time and just keep going back sporadically throughout the day for more, then the calories don’t count. The Gorilla Glue worked because…it’s Gorilla Glue. I’d still use a spray adhesive for the front side because that way you don’t get any glue lines showing up under the paper. The spray adhesive was sticky enough to keep the front on just fine for some reason. Another option would be to use decorative duct tape on the back, just making an inside border to keep the paper down.

Wrap the bottom part the same way, making sure you match up the pattern. If you look to the left of the board in the picture below, you can see where the paper starts…the line really isn’t that noticeable. A shelf is going to cover it, but just in case we ever need to the move the shelf I’d rather have it less noticeable.


Mine was white, so I kept it the same color. If you want to paint yours, there are instructions here. You can use this easy chalk paint recipe.


Using new nails, line up the back on the bookshelf. The bookshelf doesn’t hold its shape without the back on, so I laid one of the shelves on the floor inside the top end to keep the bookshelf square. Hammer a nail in every 4-6 inches around the entire border. Make sure to keep the nails towards the outer edge of the bookshelf so they don’t end up getting nailed through to the front.



Since this is my first time using paper to decorate, I wasn’t sure what could protect it. I’m guessing matte Mod Podge would probably be the best thing. Since I didn’t have any, I sprayed Rustoleum Protective Satin Finish over the top of it. I was scared to spray on paper, and was pretty sure that it wasn’t a good idea, but it seemed to work. You can’t see it at all, but you can feel that there is a protective layer over the top of it. I’ve seen a lot of people cover bookshelves and not protect it at all. If it’s for a decorative bookshelf where people aren’t going to be moving books, etc., around, it’s probably fine.

I keep looking at these shelves as I pass by them and thinking that they need something more. So I went and bought 2 – 1×4 furring strips for just a couple dollars each.



Cut boards to size, sand and wipe down. I used Gorilla Glue Construction Adhesive to glue four cut boards onto the top and put weights on the top and waited for a few hours.

Just to make it extra stable, I turned it upside down, drilled holes using a countersink drill bit and screwed in some screws.



Always start with a wood conditioner or else your stain will turn out splotchy and ugly. I like Minwax wood conditioner.

For this top, I used a VERY light coat of Minwax Dark Walnut stain.  Then I sanded that down so all of the boards were barely brown. Next, I used 2-3 coats of Minwax Classic Gray stain. I’ve found that the easiest way to apply stain is with a piece of a t-shirt. Just dip it in the stain and wipe it down. Wear gloves if you don’t want stain all over your hands. If you decide not to wear gloves, you can just get a little bit of oil…vegetable or baby both work…and rub it on your hands. Then wash off with soap. Oil removes the stain. Sometimes you have to do it a few times, but it’s the best thing I’ve found to get the stain off.

I wanted this to have a heavy gray look along with the brown, since the paper I used was light blue and I really like blue and gray together.

I love how both bookcases turned out, but I have to say that the fabric was easier to work with. So if I decided to redo a bookcase again, unless I found a paper with a design that I absolutely LOVED, I’d be more likely to use fabric.

Have you tried covering the back of bookshelves? What did you learn from it? Please share your photos and experiences! Don’t forget to follow FindFixBuild on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram to see upcoming projects.


  1. Sara, talk about coincidences. I am in the middle of doing some bookcases and thought I’d add a little interest by adding paper to the back. And lo and behold I pop into your blog and see this. Now I was originally thinking to just mod podge it onto the back, but this is a great idea too because it give us flexibility. Thanks for giving more ideas. Yours turned out great.

    1. Glad I could help:) I just used the extra paper I had on another project and I put Gorilla glue around the perimeter of the hardboard, then sprayed the spray adhesive on the paper and it went on really easily that way. I’d love to see a picture of your project when you’re done with it!

    1. Thanks Julie! I think you’re right…it’s a more flimsy version of the hardboard I buy at the hardware store, but it’s probably still called hardboard. Where in the UK are you? I have so many ancestors from that area and would love to visit the UK sometime. If there’s anything you think I can’t miss seeing while I’m there or any cities you’d recommend visiting, let me know!

  2. I have a bookshelf in my daughters room just like this and I really love your idea of adding the paper to the background! I also love the top you’ve added, it gives it a beautiful farmhouse vibe! so pretty! Thank you so much for sharing at Sweet Inspiration, we hope to have you again next week!!

  3. I love how you made this bookshelf look so great. I have a couple of these myself, and have often thought about changing them somehow. I just wasn’t sure how. I love the paper in the back, and the design on the paper is perfect. But the wood on the top is pure genius. It transforms the entire piece, and looks fantastic!

  4. I love the addition of the stained wood on top and the paper! It really takes the shelf from boring to beautiful! Thanks so much for linking up at the Pretty Pintastic Party!

  5. It looks lovely Sara, such a big difference. Strange, I wonder why the paper didn’t want to stick on the sides. Thank goodness for Gorilla Glue and M&M’s though 😉

  6. Great idea to use paper for the background. I have used contact paper for the background but the options and patterns are limited when you want to buy in stores. I really like the idea of using wrapping paper. I will try this next time with some pretty wrapping paper backgrounds. But for wood textures, contact paper is the best. Really love how your bookshelf turned out. #HomeMattersParty

  7. I love how you added the paper to the back of the shelf. It helps add color and personality. The wood top on the white shelving looks really nice, too. Thank you for sharing your DIY bookshelf project at the #HomeMattersParty this week.

  8. Both version came out beautifully. I am getting ready to do something similar to the back of a book shelf I have and can’t decide on a fabric or a paper pattern. Still looking at selections but thanks for sharing some great tips for whenever I finally get around to it. #HomeMattersParty

  9. I have a little bookcase that has a back that needs to be replaced, I was actually thinking of covering it with either fabric or paper beforehand! #HomeMattersParty

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