How to Make a Secret Book Safe

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 7, 2010 · 137 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

I love anything with secret compartments. From the big (secret passageways) to the small (a secret pocket in a jacket), there’s just something delightful about things that are hidden away.

Which is why I’ve always been drawn to book safes. They combine my love for secret compartments with my love for books. And they’re just a lot of fun.

Book safes are an age old way to stash one’s treasures–the key to a safe, a private document, a flask, a gun. And you can use them while traveling to hide your ipod, back up cash, or other valuables from would-be thieves. And of course if you end up wrongfully imprisoned, they work as an excellent place to stash a rock hammer for tunneling to freedom (salvation lies within!).

Not only are book safes fun to possess, they also make a cool, unique gift. If money is tight this year, consider making a few book safes for your friends or family. The supplies you need only cost a few bucks, and each will take you about 2.5 hours or so to create. Here’s a step by step rundown of how it’s done.

A side note: I know there will be people who cry foul at this project-arguing that cutting up a book like this is sacrilege. I personally don’t understand that kind of fetishization of books. Books are not intrinsically sacred. These are generally books that no one wants and will otherwise go to waste. You’re not destroying the book, you’re turning it into something else. There’s value either way.

1. Buy a Book. Head to your local used bookstore and pick one up. It doesn’t have to be fancy; they always have bargain books that you can snag for just a dollar or two. Personally, I love the look of vintage books, especially for a project like this. Of course if there’s a book on your shelf that you’re not fond of and wouldn’t mind hacking up, all the better.

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a book. First, consider what you’ll want to hide in it and how much time you’re willing to put into making it. Thick books will allow you to make a deeper cavity, but carving out that cavity will require more time. A thin book will hold less treasure, but necessitate less cutting time.

Second, choose a book that will fit in on your shelf. If you’ve got a shelf full of new mystery paperbacks, a large vintage medical textbook will look suspicious and out of place.

Finally, consider picking a book that people aren’t likely to pull off your shelf out of curiosity. Think The Economic History of Kazakhstan instead of The Secrets of Better Sex.

But if you’re giving the book safe as a gift, choose a volume that suits the personality and interests of the intended recipient. For Whom the Bell Tolls for Dad; Nancy Drew for little sis.

2. Gather Your Supplies. You’ll need:

  • a book
  • a box cutter
  • a brush
  • puzzle glue

You can also use regular glue mixed with water. I’ve seen the recommended glue/water ratio as 80/20 or 70/30. I’ve haven’t tried it myself, so you may want to experiment to get the ideal consistency. Too much water and you’ll warp the pages and book.

I also recommend grabbing a ruler to mark the outline of your secret compartment and a few extra blades for your box cutter. The blades get dull quickly and rotating and replacing them helps the cutting step go much quicker.

3. Mark off a few pages in the front. You don’t want to start carving out the secret compartment on the very first page. Leave a few pages in the front untouched, so the compartment is covered and the book looks normal when initially opened.

4. Wrap the cover with plastic bags. To keep glue off of the cover, wrap it with plastic bags. Stick one in-between the pages you marked off in the front and wrap it around the front cover. Then wrap another bag around the back cover.

5. Brush glue on the outside of the pages. Brush the glue on the outside of the pages all around the book. Put on a few layers, but make sure to smooth out any globs as they will dry white. Press the book firmly in your hand to keep the pages together as you glue them.

6. Place the book in a vice or under a weight. To cut down on warping, place the book in a vice or under a heavy weight such as several large books. The pressure will hold the pages together as the glue dries. Let the book dry for about an hour.

7. Draw the outline of your secret compartment. Using a ruler, trace an outline of the secret compartment on the first page of the glued together section of your book. It can be any size or shape you want, but leave at least a half an inch border all around it.

8. Cut out the secret compartment. Using your box cutter, cut along the outline of your secret compartment. Take it slow-don’t try to do too much at one time or you’ll end up with ragged edges. The hardest part is the corners; every now and then go back and clean them up.

This is the part of the project that takes the most time-so just put on some tunes and get in the zone. Rotate and replace the blade of the box cutter a few times in order to keep it sharp and efficient.

If you have one, you can also use a scroll saw to cut out the compartment, which obviously saves a ton of time and also allows you to make the compartment into more creative shapes.

9. Brush glue on the inside of the cut pages. You can also add another layer of glue to the outside of the cut pages if they look like they need it. Using puzzle glue, I didn’t need to.

10. Glue felt inside the secret compartment. This isn’t necessary but it’s a nice touch, especially if you’re giving the book as a gift. The felt covers up the ragged edges and gives it a finished look.

Now no one will steal my precious $2 bill and half dollar coins!

Have you ever made a book safe? Do you have any tips for variations and improvements? Share your comments with us!

{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Joshua October 14, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Thanks! This is actually very helpful. I’m making a book safe from an antique-style book as a cover for my Nook ereader, embellishing with steampunk elements as I go. This is the simplest and most practical method of making a book safe I’ve seen thus far!

102 Sean-Michael October 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm

An equally easy way to glue multiple pages (without visible glue on the edges, as I have done this with a book with gilt edges) is to clamp the book pages together and drill through the entire block just outside your planned opening. Add PVC or hot glue at each corner. If you also drill four holes at each corner of the planned opening, you can use a scroll saw or jig saw to cut the safe portion from the already glued block.

103 jake December 4, 2012 at 7:24 pm

I’ve not only made one, I used it to hide the ring when I proposed to my wife.

Not a shabby little ruse.

104 Lisa December 5, 2012 at 4:43 am

Jake, that’s awesome! :)

105 Mark December 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Very nice write up. I have an idea for the corners, you could use a small drill. Drill down the desired depth in each corner and than just connect the dots with your rock kinfe. With the felt glued in place you will never see the rounded corners.

106 David/Sharpie December 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Perfect project for those “Twilight” books.

No self respecting thief would pick one of those up.

107 Chris December 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm

LOL at David. I went to a used bookstore today to so I could make one of these for my sister’s Christmas present. Couldn’t bear to cut through any of the books I saw until I saw a fat Twilight book on the shelves. I thought it’d be perfect, no one will want to read it and I’ll feel awesome cutting it up.

108 Jacob December 19, 2012 at 10:03 am

I made one of these last night, I found it to go much faster after I drilled a hole in each corner. The holes made it much easier to clean out the corners and to save the integrity of the top few pages.

109 James December 22, 2012 at 9:24 pm

I cranked out a half dozen of these today, but slightly differently:
I sliced the cover off, then removed the outer pair of singatures. After that, I drilled the corners and used a bandsaw to cut the void, and used a cheap old paintbrush ot spread glue across the pages at the interior of the void and then glued the whole book back together, save the front signature, so it can be opened.
Many folks may not have access to a bandsaw, so clamps and a hacksaw or coping saw may work better.

110 Ryan January 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm

So I really liked this idea. I went onto amazon, added the puzzle glue, a paint brush, a craft knife and a book to use (none of these items were in my house and I love my books too much). Just as I was about to click ‘place order’ I noticed that with the products and postage and packaging it came to about £15 (I’m English). Curiously I searched for a safe book. £12 and has a lock box in it. Thanks anyway!

111 Dylan January 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I built one 4 or 5 years ago and it’s still in use today! I chose a vintage handyman book, kind of like a pocket ref of the 50′s. I don’t keep too many real valuables in it, but it’s handy for keeping small christmas/birthday/valentines day gifts you don’t want people seeing.

112 trevor January 10, 2013 at 7:27 am

as an ex-police officer I must point out that a professional thief,after searching the obvious, clothing and drawers and vases, under the carpet,always searches the book shelves.Safes are a trap.Even if they are installed professionally chances are the fitter augments his income be selling your address.
Keep it in the bank.

113 this link January 15, 2013 at 8:50 am

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When I look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine but when
opening in Internet Explorer, it’s got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, fantastic site!

114 Chad January 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm

this link … the first mistake was opening Internet Explorer ….

I’ve always wanted a book safe, this was great!!!

115 pezgrande January 28, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Fantastic, I have an old dictionary, 9th edition websters that I am going to use, got it for free at a garage sale. Haven’t started yet, but will when I get time too. Thanks for the tutorial and pictures!

116 Averie February 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Thanks! This is really cool. Would it work if the outside pages were not glued or would it all fall apart?

117 Larry Pena February 20, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Thanks! I made one of these for my little brother this Christmas. He LOVED it. Totally legit.

118 Andra February 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Hi, just wanted to ask. Is the puzzle glue drying transparent on the edges of the book if spread really well? I have a book with golden edges and i want to keep them like i plan to use it as a ring pillow for my wedding.

119 Wasim March 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Technically, the advice in the “Buying a book” section isn’t completely true if you are inviting over the treasurer of Kazakhstan.

120 Jim March 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm

My buddy and I used to make these all the time in our high school shop to hold our Ipods.

121 Tish March 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I was looking for an idea that my 4 year daughter could make for her daddy on his birthday. I came across this site and this is an awesome idea! I will of course do the cutting, but she can put the glue on, draw a rectangle, and glue the felt pieces in after I cut them. she will of course put little ‘treasures’ in there for him too. He will love this, thanks! :)

122 Steffany April 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

I manage off campus apartments, and one of my former tenants showed me his “purchased” book safe as a suggestion for my son, as he will be leaving for college soon. He said that he keeps his check book in there along with some spare cash, and his room mates, or visitors have never known about it. I have a ton of graduations to attend this year, and will be making my own book safe’s as graduation gifts, as well as making one for my son! Thank you so much for your step by step directions!

123 Iain April 9, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I found using the scrap pages as lining worked really well; you already have all you need for the lining!


124 Bradley May 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I’m in the process of making a couple of these for gifts. A fun beginner level project, as you don’t need to many tools or expensive items to get it done. I love some of these comments, and I have to think that no one will be hiding their life savings or nuclear launch codes in a book safe. I’d rather use it for some old photos, your granddad’s pocket knife, or some old coins from an out of the country vacation.

125 Chad Helton July 14, 2013 at 9:54 pm

They make great places to stash your kindle too… Only thing with that is you need a solid closure mechanism. I’m planning on a super strong magnet (from a hard drive) and velcro. I’ll send an update when I’ve finished this project.

126 Steve July 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

I made one of these out of a nice thick dictionary quite a few years ago. Only difference was I then went ahead and installed a rotary lock (three digit, like luggage) locking cash box inside the cavity. I ended up giving it to a friend as a housewarming gift when he moved out on his own for the first time. He still has it and loves it.

127 Liz August 9, 2013 at 10:49 pm

i saw this walkthrough and thought it was perfect only i really didn’t want to cut up a book but i had a big stack of rolling stone magazines in my room. i cut through those and it works really well. Thanks for this

128 Triston August 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Making this for my daughter’s desk at work to store her office supplies as her desk has minimal drawers….

129 James August 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I recommend placing a wood “cutting board” in between your pages and the back cover. Otherwise you will score the back cover when you use a knife to cut the pages.

130 Julien Vedrene October 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Awesome practical idea. I’m making one from the Fountainhead as we speak. Although, I must say, it was a dreadfully painful choice.

131 Jonathon November 16, 2013 at 2:08 am

I used a saw on my dremel rotary tool. It worked out well but caused lots of friction and I got some burnt edges on some of the pages. My original source of instructions said to use an X-Acto knife and that was taking too long, so that’s when i switched to the dremel, Did a really fast job and then touched up the rough/burnt areas with the X-Acto.

132 Jesse McAvoy December 4, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I’m planning to make one this evening. I’m using an old but undesirable cookbook, and I’m going to store all of my own and altered recipes on index cards in it. Sort of a cookbook within a cookbook! Though I suppose hiding valuables in a cookbook on a shelf full of them might be clever as well…

133 Ryker December 11, 2013 at 12:08 am

I do have to tell you that I did this when I was about 10 or 11 so I could hide my diary and continue to this day. I took a book the size of “War and Peace” figuring that no one would ever want to read that, cut it out, glued it and hid my diary and other “valuable” things that a young girl thinks important. No one ever guessed. Now I use it to hide gift cards and other special items that I don’t want Grandchildren to find. Works great. I know this is like 3 years after the posting but I just now saw it. Good job, mine didn’t look that tidy. PS I do have a different title on it though. That is also easy to change.

134 taylor e December 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I’m going to make one out of an old dictionary, and it is big, too. It is going to be for my cousins Christmas present.

135 Fiona January 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm

I’m making this for my boyfriend’s birthday present!! I know he’ll love it (:

136 BarryV March 4, 2014 at 9:54 am

Thanks for the write up! I was about to buy a book safe online, when I found this DIY. I wanted something special to help with my 10th anniversary gift, and this was perfect!

137 Scot March 6, 2014 at 11:05 am

Here’s a faster method that just uses the dust cover of a hardback, and uses a fake book cover made out of cardboard and tissue paper to conceal the safe inside:

I’ve also made a book safe by cutting out a hole in a book; this method is faster and easier, and gives you more space inside since you don’t need to leave the half inch thick wall of paper on the edges.

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