How to Build a Little Free Library

little free library
Little Free Library (and Model)

Traughber Design was pleased to recently deliver its latest creation, a Little Free Library, to the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center in Horicon Wisconsin.  If you haven’t heard of the Little Free Library movement that’s sweeping the nation, I’ll give you a quick overview of the revolution, talk about the glorious new Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center, then wrap up with some crucial tips for making a little free library.

The Little Free Library Revolution

You may have already seen a Little Free Library  in your neighborhood since there are now over 60,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide and they are in all 50 states and over 80 countries.  The concept is simple.  You take a book you’re interested in from the library and/or leave a book of your own:  easy.  If you make a Little Free Library, you may want to consider registering it so more people will know about it.  Apparently, some people are making pilgrimages to as many of these libraries as they can.  For more on Little Free Libraries visit the official website at littlefreelibrary.org.  There are also many plans on this site if you would like to build your own, and you can even order prebuilt kits.

The Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center

The location for this particular Little Free Library is an interesting one.  It’s at the new Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center and will allow visitors to “check out” bird books before they hit the trails behind the center.  You can check out the Center’s website here.  The staff at the Center was very supportive of installing this library to commemorate Jerome R. Traughber (Dad), who passed away in 2017, and who was a big supporter of the Center (and reading in general).  If you get a chance, I highly recommend hiking the nature trails behind the Center and also checking out some of the exhibits inside.  For much more on the memorial site and to see much better photography than mine, I highly recommend the blog Horicon Marsh Nature Photography.

How to Make A Little Free Library

This project was a lot of fun to make.  We started with a basic design from Wood Magazine (click here for the link), then made several significant modifications.  Wood Magazine also has a comprehensive YouTube video if reading plans is not your thing.  Click here for the video.  If you are looking for plans, I recommend Googling “little free library plan” on Google or searching those terms on  YouTube.  As mentioned earlier, littlefreelibrary.org has plans as well.

The original plan called for 3/4 inch plywood, but since this library was going to be so visible, we decided to upgrade with cedar for a couple reasons.  Cedar is a little more pleasing to the eye than plain plywood, and holds stain well.  In addition, cedar is insect resistant and should last longer than plywood.

Since cedar boards are not as wide as plywood, you will need to join several 8 inch cedar boards together to get boards that are wide enough.  We used our trusty mortise and tenon joints for extra strength to join the boards along with TiteBond III glue which is well suited to the outdoors.  For more tips on glue technique, check out our post Woodworking Glue Technique, a Metephor for Life.

One quirk of the plan was that it called for an 1/8 inch (or. 125 inch) acrylic window.  Acrylic doesn’t typically come in that width, so we used .08 inch acrylic instead, which introduced a variable you need to be careful of.  Since the acrylic was thinner than called for in the plan, the wooden stop blanks (the thin pieces of wood that hold the acrylic in place) that were to hold them left a slight gap.  Looking back on it, I should have made wider stop blanks, but I was committed at that point, and going back to remill and stain the blanks would have taken a long time.  To ensure you don’t have any visible unstained cedar, including cedar you think is going to be underneath the acrylic, make sure you eyeball the stop blanks from every angle including from within the door and outside the door, or else some unstained wood will be slightly visible through the door.  I was able to easily adjust for this by staining the stop blanks on all sides, which is usually not necessary.

As far as the stain, we tried a redwood stain, but it was a little too “orange” for my taste so we went with the rosewood stain in the original plan.  Always stain a test piece first.  This is part of the fail fast and fail cheap mantra we talked about in our post How to Fail Fast and Fail Cheap in Woodworking, Entrepreneurship, and Life.  Stain is so variable from wood type to wood type that a test piece is a must.  Rarely does stain look like the color palettes you get in the store.

Last, we decided to go with a cedar shingle roof to add some pizzazz and make it blend in with the natural environment.  I had considered asphalt shingles, but when I was poking around the hardware store noticed some cedar shingles that I thought would look much nicer.  To make the shingles, I used cedar shims and laid them out to hang over the edge of the library about a half inch.  I also left about 4 inches exposed in each layer.  I highly recommend the video How to Install Cedar Shake Shingles on YouTube before starting out.  After the shingles were nailed and glued, I added a cap using cedar with a bevel equal to the angle of the roof (see the video).  I screwed the cap on the library using deck screws then coated the shingles with Thompson’s clear stain.

little free library Horicon Marsh Education Center
Little Free Library at Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center

This is a view of the Little Free Library as you approach the front door of the Center and you can see the beautiful Horicon Marsh in the background.  If you are ever in Wisconsin, I highly recommend visiting the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center.

 

Rumor has it, there will be a bike trail going from Mayville to the Center soon, then another trail going to Horicon which will connect to the 34 mile Wild Goose Trail.  If you are a rails-to-trails fan, this will be right up your alley, since the Wild Goose Trail is a rail trail (see the link here for more on Rails to Trails).  This new trail should open up the Center for even more visitors to enjoy and spur an innovation boom in Horicon and Mayville (see our post Having a Mental Block with a Thorny Woodworking or Start-Up Problem? Get on the Bike!)

If you get a chance to build a little free library, go for it!  I’d be glad to answer any questions via this blog post’s comments section or the Contact Us page.

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