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Bookshelf Bench


This project is a low bookshelf, built to go at the end of my daughter's bed. (See my Shaker Style Bed From Reclaimed Wood project from 2012.) It could double as a bench, and is certainly strong enough for it. It is constructed entirely from solid black cherry. I used the lye aging method that I recently experimented with as part of the finishing project. (See my Aging Cherry With Lye article.)

Please read on for photos and other details:



Here is the design that I came up with. These were my design guidelines/constraints: The bookshelf had to fit at the end of the bed. It needed to not be taller than the footboard. I wanted it strong enough to sit on (or stand or jump or... you get the idea). I wanted to build it entirely from solid wood, so it would have a shiplapped back as on my previous Small Oak Bookcase. It is intended to hold books, but primarily library books, as we are a big family of readers. I wanted it to have a unique design.

The height restriction (approximately 22") made it tricky to be able to fit tall books. The left hand section is therefore open all the way up. You can fit the tallest of tall books there, or other items. The shelf on the right is adjustable, and in the typical configuration you can fit two shelves of nine-inch tall books -- which should accommodate most books.

Here is another angle, showing the design details of the sides of the bookshelf. I like to work with thicker stock, where possible, and these sides are close to a full one inch thick. As well, I designed in a pair of V-shaped grooves, to break up the large expanse of the sides. As well, they serve as the "edge" of the feet,where the bottom is cut away in an arch.

The two long arched trim pieces that fit under the bottom shelf, and under the top shelf, are also important to note. Without them, the piece is quite square and blocky. They echo the arches cut into the sides, and with them I think the whole piece looks more complete.

When working with solid wood, you almost always need to start with gluing up some stock. This is the time to sort and arrange your boards carefully. I like to spend time arranging and flipping and arranging and pondering... trying to get the best grain arrangement which I find the most aesthetically pleasing.
For the sides, I simply printed out full-size templates from my sketchup plan, and traced them onto the side pieces before cutting them out. After that I routed in the V-grooves using the router table.
I planned to use stopped dado's for attaching the shelves to the sides, as well as for the vertical divider. I found some plans online for a nice dado jig, which made this much easier. (Just Google "Adjustable Dado Jig" and you'll find something. It is a pretty straightforward jig. Mine was from Woodsmith.)
After the dados are cut, I could put together the first test dry fit. It looks nice, but compare this photo to one of the later photos that has the added curved pieces under the shelves, and see if you don't agree with me as to it's importance.
I resawed my 4/4 rough cherry in half carefully, and then planed it down to approximately 3/8" of final thickness. This gave me the pieces for the shiplapped back.
I was careful to mark and keep track of the pieces as they were resawed, so that they could be bookmatched when I attached them to the back. Bookmatching is the process of laying open a board, after it is resawed, so that it opens up like a book (hence the name). This reveals a mirror-image of grain in the two pieces.
Each piece was numbered, so that I did not mix things up, and rabbeted on each side, so that the pieces can be shiplapped.
After another dry-fit, I then finish-sanded it all, before gluing and clamping it together. The back pieces were also sanded, and chamfered as well, where they come together.
Once the carcass was assembled, the back pieces were nailed into position. These are mostly cross grain connections, so you can't glue them. I did use glue on the vertical members. As well, take note that there is one extra-narrow piece. This was positioned to "hide" behind the vertical divider. The other pieces were the more lovely bookmatched pieces, placed to be as prominent as possible. I know, you almost never see the pieces of the back, since the books will block the view, but I still like to make the effort. This does take time, but not much, and the end result is worth it. This is what makes the difference between an ordinary project and a custom heirloom project.
A simple wooden jig is used to drill evenly spaced holes for the adjustable shelf. It is not necessary to have holes the entire length of the side; they are only needed in the central third.
Almost done at this point, just need to attach the curved trim pieces.
And here those are glued and clamped into place. No mechanical fasteners are needed here, just glue.
I took it outside on a clear dry day for the lye finishing. I won't go into detail here, as that is explained fully elsewhere.
Watch the colour come alive as the lye solution is wiped on.
An interesting comparison: The top board, with the shaker pegs, is the same cherry, with just a light coat of shellac followed by varathane. The bottom board is the shelf, which has had the lye treatment and then a few coats of varathane.
The shelf pin holes are fitted with a brass sleeve, which is inserted with the special tool shown here, along with a few "delicate" taps from the dead-blow hammer. (This is a test board shown here.)
And here is the final shelf, installed in my daughter's room, at the foot of her bed.
Another slightly lower angle.


Thanks for reading!