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My Bookcases


I have a lot of books.  I also have a lot of magazines, notebooks, photo albums, comic books, and stuff.  Lots of stuff.  A few years ago I decided to make a couple of bookcases to put all of the books and stuff into.  That would get them out of the garage where they were slowly rotting away in the dampness.  It would also allow me to better use my own things.

So I began construction on my first bookcase.  I could have just gone down to Home Depot and bought a prefabricated one which would most likely have been cheaper in price and perhaps better in overall quality.  However, that would not then have been my bookcase.  I wanted to make one for myself.  That was an interesting experience.

The bookcase I designed was going to be big.  It had to be as I have a lot of books to stuff into it.  I carefully measured the height of the ceiling in the room where the bookcase was to go.  Then I carefully cut the wood, assembled it all, and painted it well.  Once the paint had fully dried I then proudly hefted the bookcase into my house.

Getting it into the front bedroom, which I have converted to my office, however proved a problem.  I had measured the height of the ceiling and that was a fine thing.  I had not taken into account the narrowness of the one hallway connecting the rest of the house to the front bedroom.  It was so narrow and my bookcase so long that there was no way I could work the bookcase into the hallway and then into the front bedroom.  I tried everything.  I even thought about removing the door frames to get those few extra inches that would provide.  I measured it out and found that wouldn't have been enough.  The bookcase was simply too tall.  I had to cut it down by almost a foot.  This was after I had already finished the work on it.  I was not happy.  I did it though.

Some short time later I made a second bookcase to go with the first.  This one matched the height of the re-finished finished bookcase.  I now had a nice matching pair of bookcases that really helped me get my books & stuff up on the wall where they belonged.  Still though, it was not enough.  Some of the books, notebooks, photo albums and stuff that I have really don't fit well in my foot deep bookcases.  Something deeper was needed.  I had just the space for that.

Between the edge of the second bookcase and the open door to the front bedroom there was left a space of just under two feet.  I figured that would be perfect for a deep bookcase.  This one would be a full eighteen inches - a foot and a half - deep.  Plenty deep for the wider books, notebooks and things that I had.

In December of 2000 I worked up the design for this bookcase and for two "boxes" which would sit atop the existing two bookcases.  These boxes would also be eighteen inches deep.  Together they would make a nice contiguous set of eighteen inch deep smooth sided built-in furnishings.  I had great plans for this stuff.  I then went out and purchased the sheets of plywood that I needed.  I had the hardware to make them but the time to make them though seemed rather elusive.  For many months the precut wood (I'd had the bigger pieces cut at the store where I bought them) just sat there leaning against the side of my garage under the breezeway of my house.

I did go out and buy a little orbital sander and sanded down the sides of these boards.  I decided to use 1/4" plywood for this project as opposed to the pine boards I had previously.  I wanted this bookcase to be lighter and maximize the interior volume of the piece.  I also wanted to see what it was like working with such a thin material.  I sanded the boards down smoothly because I wanted a better finish on this project than I had achieved in the past.  Once sanded, I then primered the boards.  I always primer the wood in my projects.  I do this on both the interior and exterior sides so as to better protect the wood.

Once I had gotten done primering the boards I leaned them back against the side of my garage.  There they sat for many more months.  They sat there so long that they began to bow from their own weight.  To fix this I simply turned them around and left them sitting in place for a while longer.  The bowing worked itself out.  Mostly.

Finally, in the late Summer of 2001 I made enough time available to get going again.  I had gotten tired of staring at the unfinished pieces and decided to do something about it.  To get going again however, I had to essentially relearn the design which I had figured out back in December of the previous year.  I had forgotten a lot of things about it.  It was also slow going initially.

All I had at the time were a bunch of large cut pieces of plywood.  The plywood was so thin that I couldn't even stand it together to get some idea of what the finished project would look like.  I could do that with the 3/4" thick pine boards I had previously worked with as their edges were both thick enough and squared enough to support themselves.  Not so the plywood.


 
Bits and Pieces The first thing I did was use some of the wood beading that I had purchased.  I knew that 1/4" ply is too thin to screw into with any hope of having a secure enough attachment that doesn't destroy the wood in the process.  So, I needed something which would provide more area for me to use wood screws in.  Yet I did not want something so large as it would obstruct the items I wanted to put into the bookcase.  3/4" x 3/8" wood beading did the trick.  I bought a whole bunch of this and used it along all of the join seams in the project.

By carefully positioning it I could attach the beading to one piece of plywood in such a way that it would provide a good anchoring point for the next piece of plywood.  That is what you see in the photo above.  The white pieces of wood are the plywood boards that have been primered.  The tan strips are the cut pieces of beading that I have attached to what will become the back of the bookcase.

Once I had the beading attached it was then time to attach the sides to the back piece.  This proved tricky.  One of the side pieces had become very warped from its many months outside and leaning against the side of the garage.  I selected the side piece which wasn't quite so warped and set to work on that.  As I did so I recognized that both pieces, the side and the back, had their own bowing.  Neither were true.  This meant that I had to work incrementally.  I matched the two pieces at one end and worked my way forward, straightening them and attaching them as I went.  This forced them both into alignment.

Here you can see how I went about this.  The piece of plywood on its side in this photo is the backpiece of the bookcase.  The piece on top is one of the side pieces.  I have used a set of corner clamps on each end to align and hold the edges of the two pieces of plywood.  I am also using a beam clamp to hold the two pieces together in the middle as I work my way through the piece.  You can see one of the two handdrills I was using on this.  One was set up with the 1/16th inch bit the other with the 1/4."  You can also see the countersunk holes along the edges of the backpiece.
Coming together - slowly
Almost there!


 

In this shot I have just finished attaching the bottom piece to the bookcase.  I had already attached the two side pieces and was now finishing the assembly of the box itself.  Its final shape is now much more apparent.  You can also see how the wood is warped towards the top of the bookcase.  Placing the top piece and the individual shelves did much to fix this problem but it did not eliminate it.

The pieces of plywood visible in the background of this shot are the parts for the boxes and what was to be the door to this bookcase.

I found that the piece I had identified to become the four shelves for the bookcase had been incorrectly cut at the lumber yard.  I wanted it to be twelve inches wide, it came out at eleven and change.  That was too narrow for what I needed.  So, I decided to use the piece that was to be the door for the thing.

I did this because it was twelve inches wide and because the bookcase was going to be so far out of true as to make fitting a door to it an exercise in frustration.

I also did this to get moving.  I really did not want to put off assembling this thing until I had purchased this extra piece of wood, sanded it, and then primered it.

Well, done at least with the basic assembly.  Here I have finished attaching the top piece and finished installing each of the four shelves.  The sides of the bookcase now are almost straight.  It was a very satisfying thing to get to this point.

This has easily been the most complex piece of furniture that I have yet made.  Years ago I did make my platform bed and that is a larger piece, but it was also a simpler thing to assemble.  The wood on that one was mostly three quarter or half inch thick plywood and pine boards. 

I also didn't really have to worry about it being warped since its mass and its final position (flat on the floor of my bedroom) would tend to even all that out.  A few years back I did make a cabinet for my microwave oven.  That used half inch ply and was an easier piece to build.

The combination of thinness of the material and the size of this piece are what makes it the most complex one I've made yet.

Done!

Details

Here is a better view of some of the details of the shelf attachments.  I used at least four screws per side per shelf.  If the wood was particularly warped then I might have used more.  This is also where fully designing and marking up the pieces would have helped.  Had I done so I could have made better use of the drill press to drill the holes and also to make the countersink cuts.

I may actually try this one the boxes.  I have a CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software program, TurboCAD, but have not gotten around to using it.  Perhaps for the next step I might.

I am generally pretty good at envisioning the completed piece and do a pretty good job of working through things at each step in the process.  Having it all designed up front however, would be a major step forward for me.

That would enable me to really think through all aspects of the design and head off and problems before they occur.  By this I mean that by designing my projects fully before I cut even the first piece of wood, I could see if I was setting the screws from one side of the piece into screws set from the other side, or if the clearance on the shelves would be high enough, etc.,.  This is exactly the benefits that CAD offers to manufacturers and it is also within my reach.  I just have to learn how to use the software first.

The Finish!
 
Almost there! Just about two feet away from being done.

In late November I had finally managed to get everything painted and finished.  I think it took three coats of paint before I had things sufficiently covered.  I also used steel wool to sand things smooth between those coats.

Then came the moment of truth.  

I brought the bookcase in again and drilled the holes through the bookcase and into the wall to place the toggle bolts into the wall.  Then I removed the bookcase and drilled those holes large enough to fit the toggle bolts.

What you see here on the left is the bookcase as it is ready for pressing up against the wall and having the toggle bolts secured.

The unfinished wood strips along the sides are to provide a level surface for the bookcase to pull into the wall with.  I had already cut away the beading along the kickboard at the floor but I wasn't going to cut through the kickboard itself.  As that kickboard is about 3/4 of an inch thick, I had to provide something to "fill the gap" along the side of the bookcase.  Otherwise it would twist into the wall as I secured the toggle bolts.  Hence those strips along the edges.

Success!

A done deal!  The bookcase installed!

You can see how much deeper and taller this bookcase is compared to the previous ones.  It fit nice and snug in the space I'd measured for it.

From the hallway

Here's what the bookcase looks like from out in the hallway looking in to the front office.

Success!
The Whole Thing
The Whole Thing!
From Top to Bottom

Boy!  Did that ever take too long!  At least though it is now all done and installed and being put to use!  As I feared, the quarter inch plywood is not up to the task of bearing up to such weighty tomes as I have put into it.  Already the bookshelves are begining to bow.  I'm not sure what to do about that.  Perhaps some metal rods to brace them.  We'll see.  Right now though, the bookcase is done and installed!


 
 

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In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!

Madoc

This page was last updated on: 04 June 2005  


Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.

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In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!

Madoc