So, right when I started to dive head first into my tool chest I was asked to build a bookcase. If you have never built a bookcase before, don't worry, they are not very difficult to build if you set yourself up correctly. First, you have to figure out what type of wood you are going to use. This can be as easy or as difficult as you would like to make it. If you live in the US the easiest thing is to go with is Red Oak and a simple finish. Why, well Red Oak is cheap, really strong (it resists sagging more than other woods), and you can get sheet goods in Red Oak anywhere.
Here is my version of a supper simple bookcase. In all the bookcase is about 6'3" tall, 15" deep and the frame is 32" wide. I built this bookcase about the same way you would build a kitchen cabinet. Or should I saw, the way that I build kitchen cabinets. It also only took me a good weekend to build and then I applied a Danish Oil finish over the next few days.
So, you might be asking, how did I go about building this bookcase. Well first I start with cutting all of my sheet goods for the two sides and for all of the shelves. They are cut all to the same width, so just set up the table saw and just start sending the material through. The one thing I do a little different from others is that I put a rabbet 3/8" by 3/8" on the front and back of the two side pieces. Both on the side that will facing inward. This is so that I will have a place to install the back as well as a tongue to be inserted into the side pieces of the frame. This is also the procedure that I use for each shelf. But, we will get to the shelves in a moment.
When I cut all the solid Red Oak I did so out of one large board. This is an important point because with one board producing all of the hardwood I don't have to worry so much about color matching at the lumber store. The one thing I did concern myself with is that I used the tightest grain patterns for the face frame of the bookcase. This way all of the frame pieces look the same. All of the frame pieces are 2" wide. I should also mention that all of the stock for this bookcase is 3/4" stock. Again, this selection of material helps to speed the process along, no time spent milling lumber at all for this project.
The first major operation that needs to be done is get the two sides cut. Put in all the rabbets and dados that we will need and get there face frame pieces glued on. Once the sides are ready to go we can move onto the shelves and the rest of the face frame pieces while the glue sets up on the two sides.
Besides the rabbets in the sides, I also cut a dado for each shelf. The dados are cut with a 5/8" router bit that rides between two fences that are set to width by using the actual shelf that will be installed in the dado. This assures an exact fit. If you just use a straight edge and a 3/4" bit I seriously doubt your shelves will fit tightly. These dados are 14" apart. I am not one for adjustable shelves. Why, well..... first most people will do two things with adjustable shelves. Either they will equally space the shelves which completely voids the point of having adjustable shelves, or, they will adjust the shelves in an unorganized fashion making the piece of furniture you just built look horrific. Another good reason to build shelves into dados is that it makes the entire structure that much more sturdy and secure.
The top is made of three pieces of Red Oak and a piece of sheet good. I mitered the corners and ran a 1/8" by 1 1/4" piece of Red Oak through the miter as a spline. The left over piece of the spline are trimmed off first with a saw and then with a chisel.
To complete the top I put another rabbet on the top inside edge of the solid wood frame and a rabbet on the underside of the plywood. Thus creating a perfect fit between the two and then glued the frame together. This however is a two step process. I first put the mitered and splined hardwood frame together and then installed the plywood center.
Now about the shelves. I put a rabbet on the front of each shelf on the front top edge. This rabbet is again 3/8" by 3/8". So, when I cut the rabbets for the sides I also cut the rabbets in all of the shelves. This rabbet again forms a tongue that will be inserted into each piece of the face frame.
One thing you will notice at this point is the use of a 3/8 rabbet and the grove that needs to be cut in many of the pieces. This is done by design. Not only does this make a very secure and strong glue bond, it also speeds the entire process along. All you need to do is cut the grooves, apply glue, clamp, and walk away.
With the shelves there are three extra steps that need to be done.
First, so that the face frame of the shelf will sit flush to the front, the rabbet will need to be removed along the end to avoid the frame on the sides. This is done easy enough with a small saw and a little chisel work.
Second, once the grove is cut in the face frame, put the frame piece and the shelf together, WITHOUT GLUE, and flush the top of the hardwood up with the top of the shelf. When this is done I number each shelf and hardwood piece so that they are now a matched pair. I don't install the hardwood to the shelf until the shelf is installed in the bookcase. This is important because we still have to flush the sides of the hardwood up to avoid gapes in the frame.
The last thing you will need to do is cut the shelf so that if fits perfectly between the front face frame and the rabbet in the back. If this is not perfect there will be a gap between the shelf and the back of the bookcase. And everyone will see that.
The next thing that needs to be done is one massive glue up. All of the shelves and the two sides need to be glued up and then left overnight. This should complete your first day of building.
Now the second day of building should actually be easy. The first thing that needs to be done is to get the face frame installed and cut the curve in the top rail piece.
The face frame is easy enough. Just mark and cut each piece one by one for its matching shelf. Once, each piece is cut I drill for one pocket screw for each side of the hardwood frame. This pulls the frame tight together. This is not done to pull out any gaps , it is only done to prevent gaps from happening in the future. The face frame should be gap free before you glue and screw each piece onto its shelf. I used three clamp to hold each frame piece while the glue dried and then one to hold the sides tight while I drove in the screw.
Now for the top rail we need to first cut a piece of hardwood 3" by whatever the width is between the frame. Then we make a mark for the center of that piece and measure for 2" from the top down. So, basically the curve will start at the 3" wide ends and only travel and inch high into the piece.
To mark the curve I used a thin off cut, held it on my three marks and held it bent like that. This is when having a third hand is useful. My wife drew the curved line while I held the piece of scrap in the curved shape. If you don't have a third hand or a wife then you could drive three small nails in the back side of the rail piece to the bend the piece of scrape around with the nails holding it you can then draw the curved line. Easy easy.
Once everything was marked I cut the excess away with my bow saw and cleaned it up with a spokeshave. Because this piece is not connected to a shelf it will be held in place with two pocket screws on each side and three pocket screws up into the top.
Now for the fun part. Cutting the molding for the base. The molding for the base is about 4 1/4" tall. I cut the molding by hand with a complex molding plane made by Sandusky Tool Co. about 100 years ago. If you are thinking. WOW, how long did that take? Well it took me about 2 min to cut. How long does it take you to find a router bit, set the depth, cut the shape, then come back and sand the molding? I bet longer than 2 min. Sometimes hand tools are just a way better way to go. Best part , no sanding needed.
I cut the miters on my miter box and then screwed and glued the molding to the base of the plywood and bottom shelf (the hardwood piece). I also then came back and installed glue blocks into each corner for support of the miters. I know traditionally this is not the way this process is done but in this case it was much faster.
Now to secure the top I did something that I usually would not do. I already stated that I secured the top rail with three pocket screws up and into the top. That is part of installing the top, but what about the side? Well, I put 4 screws through the hardwood top straight down into the sides. Then I made and installed 4 Red Oak plugs into the wholes to cover up the screws. Not very traditional, but who will ever look at the top of this bookcase? No one, unless they are on a ladder or stand about 7 feet tall. I'm not worried about it.
And now for the last piece of construction. Installing the back. For the back I just cut a piece of 1/4 plywood to fit exactly and then started installing screws. Why not nails? Well nails can pull out. I used small brass screws. Three per shelf and two on the sides between each shelf.
With the back secured and every surface sanded and cleaned its now time for the finish.
I used a Danish Oil for the finish. Danish oil is a mixture of a thinner, oil, and a varnish. It works well for something that you would like to protect but not have a film finish on. Danish Oil soaks into the wood and then hardens. Thus protecting the wood from stains while keeping it very natural. I applied three coats of Danish Oil and then let it set to gas off for a week.
And the best part of getting the bookcase done.
Now I can get back to building the Anarchist's Tool Chest.
Starting today there will be a series of blog posts and SHORT videos that will document the building of my version of the Anarchist's Tool Chest.
If you have not read the book written by Chris Schwarz you should. You can get your copy at his website Lost Art Press. It also comes with a DVD now that is full of other great information for those looking to build furniture by hand.
And if you have any question or comments don't hesitate to contact me through my website or by commenting below.