A Veneered Accent Strip
One detail that gives this bookcase a truly “classic” feel is the burl veneer glued to the upper stretcher that runs across the front of the piece. If you are thinking of building this piece but are uncomfortable with the practice of veneering, you could always skip this step and use a really attractive piece of solid walnut. But this sort of veneer work is not hard, and it might just help you to become more comfortable with this truly handy technique.
I cut the upper stretcher to size from a piece of solid walnut and milled it about 1/16″ under 1/2″ thick to accommodate the added thickness of the front and back veneer. A piece of 1/2″ plywood or MDF actually would have been better for this task, but frankly, I didn’t have any on hand and was not going to buy a whole sheet of plywood to make a 2-1⁄2″ x 35″ strip! Next, I selected my veneer from a flitch of 6 or 7 pieces. (A “flitch” is several sequentially sliced pieces of veneer. Because they are very thin slices, the grain is nearly identical on each of the pieces.)
Examining the veneer, I found a nice place to start my book-match, placed the stretcher piece on top of the veneer and carefully sliced around it about 1/4″ oversize with a utility knife. (I used a fresh blade!) It is important to note that this piece will cover only half of the stretcher. Taking the next piece of veneer from the flitch, I located the same grain pattern and cut it to rough size as well. I overlapped the veneer slightly at the center seam and used a small straightedge to slice a clean square cut where I would join the two pieces together to form the book-match.
With that done, I taped the veneer together, forming a long narrow strip that was just about a 1/2″ wider and longer than the upper stretcher. (What kind of tape should you use? Veneer tape is the proper product for this task … but again, I did not feel like buying a whole roll of it, so I used blue masking tape. It is not great for this task, but it worked for me.)
I put some newspaper on my workbench to catch the glue drips. Then I applied a coating of regular wood glue (white or yellow, it makes no difference) to one face of the stretcher and the non-taped face of the veneer. A thin, smooth coat of glue is required. If, as happened to me, the veneer fractures (burl is notoriously fragile), just carefully tape it back together and keep on going. The good thing about burl is that its exceedingly wild grain will hide a few little imperfections, and they probably will end up not being noticeable.
I allowed the glue to dry completely and, while that was happening, I dug out my clothes iron. The iron, set to its hottest temperature, is used to push the veneer down on the substrate. The heat from the iron activates the glue, and it sticks in place instantly. One important point: once that hot iron hits the veneer, you can’t move the veneer side to side or up and down on the substrate, so I make dead sure that I have it exactly where I want it when I start this process. Press the iron down along the whole length of the stretcher to secure the veneer. I again used the utility knife to trim off the excess veneer. Then I repeated the veneering process on the back of the stretcher. (If the stretcher had been made of plywood, I would not have felt the need to put veneer on the back of the stretcher. Because it was made from thin, solid wood, I chose to balance the layers to keep it from distorting.)
At this point, I raised the tenons on the ends of the upper stretcher, fitting it to the mortises I had chopped earlier. I also made the lower stretcher and machined its tenons at the same time. When they fit well, I glued and clamped them in place. (I did take the time to sand them before I attached them to the case.)
Adding the Top and Trim
The project was getting closer to completion with every step. I moved on to the top, which I had glued up earlier. Now I cut it to size and shaped the sides and forward edge with a Roman ogee bit installed in my router table. I tested its fit on the bookcase, and then set it aside. Following that, I made the trim molding. Because it is very narrow, I shaped the edge of a wider board first with an ogee bit in the router table and then followed that by shaping the bottom with a roundover bit. With that completed, I ripped the trim piece off of the board at my table saw. This method is far safer than working with thin stock on a router table. I cut the pieces to length, mitering them around the bookcase and then glued and clamped them in place. After the glue had cured, I mounted the top to the bookcase using screws driven up through the hidden internal frame.
After thoroughly sanding them, it was time to mount the back slats to the bookcase using one small brad nail through the center of each slat, top and bottom. I started with the center slat and worked outward. The last slats on each side required a bit of extra fitting. I glued the outside slats into the shallow rabbets on the back of each frame-and-panel side.
At this point I also attached the bun feet using small hanger bolts. They mount to the bottom stringers.
The last step in the construction process was to bore four holes for the shelf mounting system. (See the Drawings for the hole locations.) It was the first time I had used these little pins with the odd flat wings on them, but I have to admit, they worked pretty well.
Finishing went smoothly on this piece. Because I had taken the time to sand the pieces before I assembled them, the final hand sanding to 220-grit did not take too long. Now, some folks might think this is odd, but I find some walnut gets a bit flat and gray looking with just a clear finish. So, to combat that, I used a red mahogany oil stain to add red highlights to the walnut. Then I followed with three coats of clear poly. It looked great.
While I’m not going to get into full-time casework projects, this bookcase was an enjoyable change of pace for me. I hope that you enjoy building it and that it finds a fitting place in your home.