I thought a few people might be interested in photos of a bookcase I
built last year, using mostly old tools. I bought the lumber in March,
and finished the project in September, so this was a rush job by my
standards. My daughters have needed a larger bookcase for a long time,
and it was time for another project.
The cell phone camera is a convenient excuse for a rest and
procrastination, so I documented the whole process. I've been meaning to
write it up for a while, and finally got around to it. For those who
don't want to read my tedious prose, here's the gallery up front:
If you're interested in how a book-and-internet-taught neanderthal
does his work, read on, and maybe this will cure your insomnia.
We start out with some dovetails for the top of the carcase, after
figuring out which boards to use in order to maximize shelf width. I lay
DTs out tails first, using the center of a paring chisel for the centers
of the first and last tail.
Pick the centers for the other tails using a diagonal ruler (Stanley 36"
four-fold), then lay the rest out dropping the paring chisel on the
center of the mark (by eye), and making a tick on either side it. My
favorite bevel gage for this is a nifty SOHACO patent job.
Sawing begins with an Atkins 10" backsaw, using a Moxon-type vise on the
benchtop. I saw waste out with a couple of Atkins coping saws, then
clean up with the chisel I used for marking.
Having done tails, it's time to mark the pins on the carcase sides. These
are six feet long, so I supported the end and then wedged them even with
the tail baseline. I use a shop made scribe for marking the end grain,
and fill it with pencil because here in my mid-40s, presbyopia sucks.
How does one cut pins in a 6 foot long board? The ladder is a naive way
that sort of works, but there are obvious alternatives. Just say, it's a
good thing these will be covered by a moulding.
Now, the width of the carcase has been determined, so we can get to work
on the shelves. These will be sliding dovetails, and the ol' dovetail
plane needs a bit of sharpening. Using that plane is the (only) fun part
of sliding dovetails.
Somewhere in this process I discovered that my favorite 11" Moulson
Bros. try square was not square, so that was a good procrastination
The smoke from forest fires on the west coast was so bad that I was
wearing a half mask in the shop to lay out the width of the shelves. At
least, I think that's what I'm doing here with the panel gage (shop
made; Bubinga, hard maple, and wenge scraps, with a rhododendron screw).
Note the marks in the end of the board from my planing stop.
With the shelves done, the case needs a back. I saved the widest boards
for that, and resawed them with my frame saw. This was pretty good
exercise, and I was wearing a respirator that day because the air
quality was off the chart in the Hazardous range.
With the back thickness and shelf width known, I was able to locate the
groove for the back. Looks like a Stanley #45 here, for whatever reason.
It's nice for grooves, when I don't feel like farting around with the
wedge-arm plough and don't need the skew of my favorite Stanley #46.
Now, the part of sliding dovetails that I hate: the socket. I pick the
maximum width of a given tail with a caliper, then use it in combination
with a bevel gage to mark the tail profile on the edge of the board.
Extend the lines across with the big try square (knife these and pencil
in the knife line). They're all different because I flattened the
shelves by hand, removing the minimum amount of wood rather than going
to a common thickness.
If you do this, make sure to mark which shelf board goes in which
position. I use chalk or pencil for that, depending on how likely the
mark is to get rubbed off.
Having marked them all, it's time to cut. My usual backsaw for this
is a Type 1 Bad Axe 16". After cutting to the lines, I use a stair saw
(Atkins again) to run a kerf down the middle of the waste. This makes it
much easier to chisel out the waste, as the chunks don't get stuck.
After chiseling out the waste, clean up with a NOS Moulson crank neck
chisel (5/8"), a Stanley router plane, and a Record 2506 side rebate as
With a bunch of farting around and tuning the sliding dovetails, the
carcase is finally put together, and shelves are seated to the back
Well, now we have back boards to join. I tuned up my 3/8" match planes
for that task, so the faces actually lined up fairly well. I weighted
the back boards when not working on them, to try and avoid some cupping.
The back boards need beads, so out comes the Chapin center bead. I'm not
trying to use beads to hide the joints in this case. The boards are just
too thin to get clever, so I lay the beads out in a proportion that I
I didn't bother uploading all of the crown moulding step photos, as
they're pretty boring. All rebate, hollow and round work (shop made
and vintage). I did get some cool shavings, though, and a chance to use
my Malloch sash fillister with the fancy boxing.
Cutting the crown moulding was a bit of a wrench, but the miters cleaned
I decided it needed trim around the base, so went with a simple moulder
for that. This is a vintage Mathieson, I think. Sash ovolo?
The crown moulding was attached with hide glue and nails, per advice
from the Porch. The rear floats on blocks. It ain't pretty, but you
can't see it from the floor. The great thing is that all of the joinery
is now hidden from the front of the case: dovetails are the athletic
supporter of joinery, meant to do their job without being seen.
Completed bookcase, and painted, much to the chagrin of some members of
the family. The back still looks, uh, handmade.
Anyway, congrats if you made it all the way to the end of this, or
perhaps condolences for such poor judgment are in order. This was a
fun project, and the new challenge was the composite crown moulding
and its attachment, as well as being the first big resaw job for my
frame saw since I made it *mumble* years ago.
Benton City, WA