The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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I’m often inspired by curtains.


The Inspirational curtains.

Sometimes we build things because we are inspired by something we saw. Sometimes we build things because we feel the need to build. And sometimes we build things out of necessity. My latest project was born out of necessity.

I have been on a reading kick lately that has not been rivaled since I was a young boy. Subsequently, my book collection, which was already quite large, has grown to the point that it can no longer be contained. The closet in our spare bedroom/home office has become the latest storage area, and the shelf system I built for it has become an ersatz extension of my library, with two and a half of the five shelves containing spill over books. Last week I decided that enough was enough, and something had to be done, and oddly enough, it was the curtains I use to conceal the contents of the closet that served as an inspiration in the construction of a small bookshelf.

Quite a few years ago I made a shelf system for the spare bedroom closet that took up approximately 1/3rd of the total closet width, with the rest having a typical closet rod for clothes. Those shelves were supposed to hold items such as spare silverware and linens, but my books slowly crept in, like locusts, until they took up half of the shelf space. Originally the closet had two, cheap sliding doors, which I removed not long after we moved into the house. Because the geniuses who framed our house framed the closet openings to finish size without taking into account the trim boards, it is impossible to find off-the-shelf closet doors that will fit into the opening. For one of the other bedroom closets I actually purchased closet doors and trimmed them to fit, which literally took days, partly because my skill as a trim carpenter is average at best, and partly because trimming 2 inches around from bifold doors involves re-routing hinges, and re-setting dowels etc. which is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Regardless, the closet in the spare bedroom has two curtains which when closed look like a bookshelf; I really like the look. So as strange is this may seem, I based my little bookshelf off of the print on the curtains.

The bookshelf print on the curtains isn’t really overly unique, but the shelves have a shallow groove routed into the front that I decided to mimic. I wanted the bookshelf to be 34 inches tall and 15 inches wide so that it would be the same height as the top of my campaign desk and fit next to it snugly. Most importantly, I wanted this to be a quick project, something I could build and finish in a few days time. Now, for the sake of full disclosure I will freely admit that I initially attempted to buy a bookshelf that would fit in the space I had set aside, but I couldn’t find one that I liked, or at least I couldn’t find one that I liked and that would fit into the area where I needed it to fit. So a few days before Independence Day I picked up (2) 1 x 12 x 72in pine boards from the home center along with a 4×4 sheet of 1/4 inch plywood along with a small container of Minwax walnut stain. Total cost, including tax, was around $90.00. The Monday after Independence Day was a work holiday for me, so that was when the bulk of the construction was completed.

The case has three shelves, dadoed into the case sides, with the top shelf open and shallower than the others, which I may use to display a portrait or some other decorative items. I glued and nailed trim at the top of the case to hide the end grain, and the plywood for the back was nailed into a rabbet. And to stiffen up the case even more so I also nailed the plywood backer into the shelves. But the only aspect of the construction I would like to mention in any real detail is the use of pocket holes joinery

I’ve used pocket hole joinery here and there, mainly to make the occasional face frame. Unlike some woodworkers, I have nothing against using pocket holes/screws. Some view it as blasphemy, in particular the keyboard warriors on the internet forums (if you ever want to be lectured on Japanese hand planes by an accountant from Ohio then internet woodworking forums are the place for you) But as far as I’m concerned, do whatever works for you. However, I guess I am something of a snob, too, because I shied away from pocket screws as well. The one place I do often use them are as clamps for glue ups; the pan heads on the screws do a nice job in that task. And, they work well for repairs, as it is easy to drill out a pocket in an inconspicuous place to add a mechanical fastener along with the glue joint.

With that all being said, on this project I used pocket screws to add two “stops”, for lack of a better word, at the back of the two interior shelves. Because the back of the bookcase is just 1/4 inch plywood held with finish nails, I wanted something to keep the books from pushing against it. So I cut two cleats, added a chamfer to each, and used pocket screws to fasten them to the case sides. Not only will the stops protect the plywood backer, I believe they also add to the overall appearance and strength of the bookshelf. I then used pocket screws to attach the backer of the top shelf, which was initially just a friction fit in a shallow dado. I had planned on nailing it from the outside, instead I used pocket hole joinery, which was then hidden by the plywood backer.

Today I gave the case an overall light sanding and planed down anything that was protruding, also adding light chamfering on all of the corners. I then applied the walnut finish and one coat of Sam Maloof poly/oil blend, tomorrow I will apply a second coat and call it done. Though the instructions on the can recommend three coats, I don’t want the case to be too shiny, and two coats are plenty for where this bookcase is being placed.

Overall I enjoyed this project. Building a “down and dirty” bookcase on my day off wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind, but in the end it was worth it. One of the nice things about having a few tools and some basic furniture making skills is being able to quickly make a bookshelf that looks half-decent and fits where it needs to fit. Less than $100 and a few hours of my time and I was able to fill a need. And of all things, it was a printed pair of curtains that gave me the kick I needed to get it done.

The nearly completed bookshelf…needs one more coat of poly/oil.
Shelf filled with books..


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