This will likely be the last entry in the Working My Wood series. As demonstrated by Star Wars, going past a trilogy is often un-warranted and disastrous. And all this public working of my wood is hard and it chafes. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy, and bruised. Actually it’s not all that hard, but I think I’ve probably overplayed it. And I’m mostly out of mesquite planks anyway, maybe only another picture frame or two.

But now onto what you’re actually all here for, the working of wood. Or the excessive juvenile double entendres. Whichever. Here, I describe the building of a small book case.  Note – I suck at article layout, especially in an image heavy article.  So minimal effort to prettify it – I’ve shrunk the images down to make it presentable and just center aligned them. Each image is a link to a bigger version in the media library.

Here’s the layout of the planks after planing but not cut to length. The 2 sides pieces are on the right, the 3 shelves in the middle and the pieces that will become the back supports on the left. The back supports haven’t been cut length-wise yet.

The design is dictated by the length and number of planks I have left. So I end up with a 34x28x8, three shelf book case. I apologize in advance to UCS, but it will also be a rough, rustic edge piece. I actually don’t have a raging clue for rustic, but given the constraints – no jointer, already relatively small width panels even before truing up – I decided to deal with the complication of uneven edges. Normally, on a book shelf, you put a back piece in, usually 1/4″ plywood to provide both lateral strength and keep the books from falling out the back. Given the unevenness of the planks, that’s not feasible, but one still needs to provide that strength and keep books from falling out the back, especially since the shelf edges are uneven, so I designed thin supports to stretch across the back of each shelf.

Layout to get sides lined up somewhat uniformly. End cuts are made on the lines perpendicular to the grain. Vertical lines roughly follow the grain and were scribed to keep the wavy edges of each side lined up with each other as best possible.

The next step is to cut the sides and shelves to the correct length. This is complicated by the fact that you need to keep things somewhat parallel even without true edges to reference off – it would suck to have the sides line up at the front to back on the bottom but be 5 inches out of line near the top; would make it real hard to install shelves. So the procedure is to overlay the sides and orient them so they have roughly parallel edges both on the top and bottom. Then clamp them together and draw vertical lines roughly down the center of each and scribe perpendicular lines across. I can then cut the boards at that line and have roughly parallel sides. Did I use the word roughly enough? The procedure is repeated with the shelves to ensure that they will remain approximately lined up vertically (i.e. if you drop a plumb line from the front edge of the top shelf, it will mostly line up with the front edges of the other two shelves. Roughly.).

Sides (left) and shelves (right) after squaring procedure. Everyone is trimmed to their final ~squared and true shape. Front of case is to right, back to the left on the sides.

Left – Shelf support cutouts on one of the side pieces. Right: Final cuts on both sides with the shelves. On the right, all the boards have also been sanded down to an 800 grit. Note you can also see the cutouts for the back supports on the side pieces.

Close ups of the back back support cutouts (Left) and rough fit (Right).

For straight boards as opposed to the totally LGBQTRWPUO ones I have here, the next step would be to make dado cuts straight through (or ‘stop’ dados) on the sides to support the shelves. Here, since the front and back edges of the sides and the ends of the shelves are both uneven and unique, need to custom cut the ‘dados’ – can’t be through cuts and have to be hand shaped to fit each shelf uniquely. So I laid out horizontal lines on the sides and then lined the individual shelves on each side and traced out the shape of the end pieces onto the sides. Thereafter, can use a plunge router to define the rough location of the recesses and hand chisel the shape of the shelf ends. The same idea applies to the back support – hand chisel out mounting slots custom for each back piece.

Glue up. Book shelf “case” on the left, back supports going in on the right.

With all the cuts made, everything sanded down sequentially to an 800 grit, parts fitted, it’s time to glue up. The first glue up is of the case itself. Just drop some glue into the shelf cutouts, insert shelves and clamp it up. We let that set-up for 24 hours and then glue up the back supports.

Once it’s all glued up and set, sand the back supports even to the sides and do a final hand sand of the entire case down to 1600 grit. I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow of the 2 coats of natural stain (with a 1600 sand in-between the coats) and 3 coats of poly-urethane (with a steel wool ‘sanding’ in-between the coats).  In some ways it’s the part of the project that makes me most anxious – 10 minutes of work, followed by 12-24 hours waiting for each round.  I hate waiting.

With that, the book shelf is complete! I think it turned out OK. There’s some gaps in the fitting, mostly in the back supports; that’s partially due to twisted, warped wood with unusual shapes and partially due to my lack of skill. One limitation, driven by the narrow widths – set by the size of the limbs – is that it’s not ideal for larger books.

And here concludes the “Working Wood” trilogy. If there was a Woods 4, this would be it’s M-Fing Theme Song


Final book shelf from a couple of different angles.

Close up of the shelf in action. Also my entry into the next “what we’re reading”.