Casework projects are not exactly my bread and butter. Although I have been making my living as a woodworker for more than 30 years, my focus has always been more in the area of chairs and dining room tables.
A Series of Subassemblies
It would be really hard to think of a more classic project than a walnut bookcase, and this one is traditional — even down to its joinery. But, as you’ll see later, I do add a twist or two that makes the whole thing a bit easier to put together. All in all, though, there is nothing really tricky about this project.
As with most of my furniture pieces that are made entirely from solid lumber, my first tasks were determining which pieces of stock would go where on the finished bookcase, and then gluing up narrow boards to make the flat panels.
Fortunately, I had a long, nicely figured board in 1/2″ thickness that was wide enough to make the side panels without butt joints. (Again, I took considerable care selecting this stock, because the panels are a major visual component in the bookcase.) After I rough-cut the pieces to length, I machined them down to their proper size on my table saw. If you will have to glue up stock for the side panels, try to make sure that you match the grain pattern across the glue-up as well as you can to blend the glue seams.
When it came to the top, shelf and bottom, I did need to glue up stock sufficiently wide to create those pieces. So I took the time to prepare stock and glued up butt-joined panels for each of these “show” pieces. This entire bookcase is made from solid walnut lumber, with the exception of the bottom stringers (which I made from some thick oak stock I had set aside in my shop for just such a situation). You could substitute walnut-covered veneer sheet stock for any number of the parts if you’d like … but I prefer the look and feel of solid hardwood, and in a project of this size, you would not likely realize significant cost savings by using the sheetstock.
I set the side panels — along with the three clamped-up pieces I just mentioned — aside for now and moved on to making the stiles and rails, which I constructed from 3/4″-thick stock. After cutting them to width and length (remember to factor in the length of the rail’s stub tenons in this calculation), I needed to machine grooves and tenons. Once again at my table saw, I outfitted it with a dado head to plow grooves in the center of the appropriate stile and rail edges.
To help control the cut, I used a shop-made featherboard in this operation. Then I placed my big crosscut sled on the table saw (keeping the dado blade in the saw) and raised the tenons on the ends of the rails — taking care to fit them to the grooves I had just formed.
Once the stiles and rails fit together properly, I needed to chop a couple of mortises into the stiles. I used my old mortising machine to chop the openings. When I make mortises like this with a machine, I always start the process in the middle of the mortise and move to either side. I believe I get better results as the cutter does not deflect during the cut this way. These mortises are open at the top of the rail so they will accept both the veneered front stretcher and the lower stretcher that sits just below it. They both slide down into the same long mortise.
With that done, I grabbed the two side panels and got to work machining them to fit into their respective frames. Once again I used my trusty table saw, in this case to form a rabbet all around the edges of the side panels. The joints are formed such that the panels fit into the stiles and rails so their inside faces are flush. (Later, when mounting the shelf into the bookcase, it will make perfect sense why I did this.) One important note: because they are made from solid lumber, the panels must have room to expand and contract seasonally within the frame. I test-fit the components of the side subassemblies, and once I was satisfied that everything was well and proper,
I glued and clamped them together, allowing the panels to float within the frames. When the glue had cured, there were just a couple more pieces of machining to get through. I formed shallow rabbets on the back edges of each frame-and-panel side assembly into which the outermost back slats fit.
There is also a stopped rabbet right at the bottom of each side assembly. I cut this rabbet with a handheld router guided by a straightedge. I needed to square up the stopped end with a sharp chisel, but that was easily accomplished. With that hand work done, I set the machined sides aside.