006 — Building a Bookcase

Needs another coat, but you get the idea.

Way back in November last year I was lucky enough to get a place on a Paul Sellers 2 day course, just down the road at his Sylva Centre workshop near Abingdon. It was a wonderful experience and seeing his passion for the craft and for sharing that craft, is something that will stay with me. For a few reasons, general busyness at the time being one of them, I didn’t write about it here, but I hope to in the near future.

My time on the course rekindled a love of simple joinery and basic timbers, and it lead to me making this bookcase for our home. It’s been a real joy to make and, while I enjoy it as furniture, what it means to us as a family, the tidiness it brings, has a joy of its own.

As with all good projects it had modest beginnings but quickly blossomed in complexity once I got down to it. The design was based loosely on another bookcase we had elsewhere in the house. But the main use for this one was to be a home to my growing collection of woodworking, art and design books, many of which are quite large.

I measured a selection of my books of various sizes to get an idea of shelf dimensions. I had planned for the case to be a simple job, one board deep. Quick. Simple. But the more I looked at those big books, I knew this case would have to be deeper. That was ok though, it would just be an opportunity for learning. An opportunity for biscuits!

Biscuits are used to strengthen the joint when joining boards along their thin edge, and in lots of other places I’m sure. They are oval in shape and fit in small slots cut into each board.

(Above) This is a neatly stacked set of narrow boards ready for jointing together with the biscuits to become the shelves.

On top are a few much loved tools for the job. A Japanese pull saw, marking knife and combination square.

The router plane is a joy to use for finishing the job a chisel starts

And here is a case side which has been jointed. Here I’m half way through making the joints for the shelves, and I’ve shaped the relief curve to what will be the bottom of the side. You can see the pencil line of where I had originally intended to cut the curve, but I decided that was too severe and reduced it to what you see.

Something I took great pleasure in was trying to leave each joint neat and clean with no ratty edges, even if it couldn’t be finished in one sitting. Taking care and working with pride.

With soft wood and nice sharp tools the going was good. The joints were all cut in no time, and ready for a dry fit. A good housing dado joint should push together tightly and be strong enough to lift the weight of the mating board when lifted. Mine were alright and with the exception of one which I had to adjust they all fit well.

This good fit, with a bit of grab makes the dry fit an easier task, with boards more likely to stay where you put them and not pop out left right and centre leaving you like a plate spinner with greasy fingers.

Here is the result of the dry fit (prior to shaping the tops). All looks good so its back to the bench to shape those tops.

Then with all the parts complete its time to add glue and clamps. How easily that trips of the tongue! In reality it was the most stressful part of the job. My wife helped and we had to wrestle with it, every, step, of the way.

It was mostly of my own doing though. The job needed 8 long clamps, and I only have 4. It was a wonder we won the battle, but win we did. That was one cup of tea well earned.

While the main case was gluing, and thinking long and hard about the stress it had caused, I turned to a more enjoyable task. Shaping the bottom rail and case back.

I had sketched out a rough pattern for this shape in my sketch book while designing the unit which I was happy with. It got transferred to an A3 pad, so it could be drawn to scale and then cut out.

This was, hands down, the most enjoyable piece of work I’ve done in a while. Curves were made solely with a wide chisel and a few stop cuts with a saw. Reading the grain of the wood, switching direction and cutting left and right handed — it became a completely absorbing process.

Here is the rail in place

I tested the fit, as always, but before I glued it in place I used it as a template for the top of the case back which shared the same detail. This was cut the same way.

The order was important to me. I knew I wanted to shape the bottom rail first, because it would be further from the viewers eye line. Then, with my hand in, I could carve the top, having had a practice run in a less prominent place.

Having said that both went pretty well. I was happy with how my sketch had transferred into he real world, and the result I think is quite pleasing.

More pictures to follow once it’s had another lick of paint and is in place.

Can I make you something? Please do get in touch, it’d be great to hear from you. And thank you for reading.