book shelfI seem to spend my life needing more and more storage. If it isn't boxes to store things, it shelves to store the boxes on. At one time I need book cases to store all my books but now with so much information on-line, I thought I could start dispensing with most of my book cases ... no, no, no ... now they are re-purposed as storage shelves and I still need more of them.

I have made a number of book cases over the years and despite the fact that there are few pieces and the build is fairly simple, I am always amazed at how long it take to build these things. I think a big part of it is the finishing. In the past I have always finished book shelves after they are built and it's a real pain trying to get paint, varnish, stain, dye ... what have you, into all the angles and sides ... so this time. I vowed to PRE-finish all the piece.

 But to start off with, I really needed some wood ... so for this build I selected something called "utility" Pine. All the boards were about 10" wide and were all one piece, that is to say none of the pieces were laminated together, which is both good and bad ...

I like working with laminated wood, it is far more stable with little or no warpage. The only real problems are unmatched woods, like having dark wood next to light colored wood ... but even that I can often work around.

The end gables were slated to be 40" tall, this was a half size shelving unit designed to fit in a special location in my work office. I wanted to have 3 shelves, plus the top and AND .. most important, I needed access to the electrical plug under the bottom shelf AND I need storage for large boxes, also under the bottom shelf, so the only known measurement was the underside of the bottom shelf needed to be 15-1/2 inches off the floor.

I started off squaring off the the 2 gable ends, then cutting them to length. At that time I noticed one of the boards was quite warped. DANG ... it was fine when I bought it a few weeks ago but the additional drying in my shop over the past few weeks, the board has become a propeller. These are VERY hard, if not impossible to try and fix.

In the past I have always used dado cuts in my bookcases, to set the shelves into. It's a traditional cut most often used for shelving type units. I pondered using pocket holes joinery but was not confident how strong it would be given that the carcass is pine. I also though about using "L" brackets ... easy to use, but they look clunky. I finally decided on using dowels. I have never used dowels for a bookcase / shelving unit, so this would be a new adventure.

After cutting all the pieces of the unit to size, I then needed to start boring the holes for the dowels. First of all I needed to set the drill bit length, then decide on the placement of each shelf. I layed both gable ends side by side on the workbench with the insides face up, this way I could draw straight lines across both ends to make sure the shelves all lined up perfectly.

I used a scrap piece of wood that was straight on one edge, then used self-adhesive tape to attach it to the gable ends. It held fast and was easily strong enough to hold my doweling jig so that I could drill all the holes for all the shelves on both gable ends. I then used the same measurements to drill holes for the dowels in each of the shelves. The dry fit went together perfectly. The one gable end was still warped but I surmised that if I glued the dowels into each of the gable ends, let the glue dry hard, then assemble the unit and clamp it together overnight, that between glue and the dowels, the little bit of warpage int he gable end could be forced flat ... and ... it was. If you look closely you can still see a bit of warpage under the lowest shelf but only if you look very closely, otherwise it looks great.

As mentioned earlier, I did pre-finish all the parts of the shelving unit and what a joy it is to be able to finish all the parts without having to dig into the corners to get finish material in there. I made sure I did not put any finish on the dowels that were pre-glued in place so that nothing would inhibit their holding power.

For the color, I used a water based dye, and yes it lifted the grain a bit, but with a fine sanding of 320 grit (Icould also have used a sharp scraper) the dyed wood was left with a silky surface. The top coat was three coats of water based varathane, in a satin finish, with a very light, 320 grit sanding between coats.

The end result is perfect for me ... no it's not a piece of artwork, it was only ever meant to be a utility shelving unit. If I were making fancy furniture, I would have used Oak, Maple or another more exotic wood than pine and next time, maybe I will, I have always loved the look of Barrister Book Cases, with the glass flip up doors .. they are beautiful, especially when made from Oak ... hmm ... maybe ... someday ...

Copyright Colin Knecht