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Small Oak Bookcase


Usually, I design a project first. Then I choose the lumber to fit the design. This time, the wood came first.

A year (or so) ago, a friend and I came across a deal on some very nice Red Oak lumber. It was beautiful, mostly clear, and 5/4 thick. Almost immediately, I starting thinking "bookcase". We had recently redone our Living Room and Dining Room floors in solid hardwood, and needed a compact bookcase to go in the corner.

The 5/4 thickness played a big part in shaping the design. First, it allowed me to design the sides and top to be a full 1" thick, rather than the more ordinary 3/4". I didn't want the whole shelf to appear heavy, so the shelves were still planned to be 3/4" thick. In addition, the 5/4 thickness is thick enough to be resawed in half, yielding 3/8" thick (the finished thickness) boards to make a shiplap back. I've always used sheet goods for backs before, and I've been itching to try a project that was made up of nothing but solid wood. It is possible to resaw 4/4 boards in half, but it is a lot easier with 5/4 stock. (4/4 boards would need to be exceptionally flat to begin with.)

The sides are, I think, a rather unique feature. I first considered making raised-panel sides. However after wrestling with it for a while, I discarded that as too complex. Still, I didn't want the plain look of a flat side. So I designed this piece with two different kinds of grooves cut into the side of the piece. First are two 1/32nd deep grooves on either side, which give the side an illusion of having legs. This is continued by the arch at the bottom which reinforces that illusion of feet growing out of the base of the side. In reality, of course, each of the sides are one solid piece. Second, are three V-grooves routed in the centre of each side. This breaks up the big flat side, and I think gives nice visual interest, as well as tactile interest, since there is the urge to touch the piece to feel the grooves.`

I do like Mission style furniture, and drew on that in part by designing the overhanging top, as well as the corbels along the top of each side. (actually, I think the vertical grooves on the side also evoke the Mission influence) Here I used pattern routing to ensure that all four corbels were identical to one another.

For finish I wiped on a coat of shellac (mixed from dry flakes). This gave a nice amber hue to the red oak, and also some nice depth. I then applied several coats of water based clear satin Flecto Varathane. For a bookcase I like the protection of a film finish like this, over that of a danish or tung oil. I'm reasonably satisfied with the results, but I think next time I should experiment with a pore-filling method when working with red oak, as it has very large pores.

Photo Gallery

I designed the project first in Google Sketchup.

Here is a double closeup of the sides, showing the grooves to be cut into it. It isn't so easily visible in the photos below

Most of the dressed lumber, ready for the next step.

The two sides cut out, with layout lines marking the places for the shelves, before drilling the dowel holes.

A shot of the dry fit. I decided to try building this bookcase with dowels, using a DowelMax jig. I've used this on some other projects, and wondered how it would work on this kind of a project.

(A close up of two joints in the dryfit.) The glue-up stage was a bit crazy, with getting glue into all those dowel holes and then getting it all to line up and be clamped. But it did work, and I'm pretty pleased with the result. Is it better than other methods? I haven't made up my mind on that front, but it does work.

Assembled, but without the back at this point.

A closeup of the bottom of a side, showing the arch, and the vertical grooves.

The 3/8" pieces for the shiplap back.

Again - closer view.

Gluing the corbels in place.

Finished - in it's final home.


Thanks for reading!