Built-In Bookcases and Mantel Surround #1: Project Overview.

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Blog entry by Jonathan posted 05-18-2010 06:44 PM 1583 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Built-In Bookcases and Mantel Surround series Part 2: Getting Things Underway... Bookcase Mock-Ups »

About a week ago, I finally began the built-in bookcase and mantel surround project for our living room that I’ve been talking about in a lot of other posts. I need to post less and work more, I think ;) I originally started a blog on it here: but have since decided to start over. You can check out that initial blog for a couple of pictures of the space the project will be going into, as well as my thoughts on everything from several months ago.

I have decided to start, or restart, a blog on the project, either in hopes of helping someone else out down the road, immediately entertaining a few of you (with my newbie mistakes and all), and just documenting the process so that I might some day look back and say, “I remember when…” and maybe get a chuckle out of it.

This project will be my first large build of anything (other than a cedar picket fence that the neighbors, my wife and me built). And this will be permanent, so I want to get it right… the first time. How hard can it be though? It’s just some boxes and frames, with a timber floating overhead, right?

I figured I’d get a few smaller projects under my belt before really diving into this one though, familiarizing myself with my tools and various construction and finishing techniques. Besides being good practice, these projects have mostly been for other people, so if I made a mistake, I won’t have to sit there and agonize over it every day (sick, maybe, but maybe some of you are nodding your head, knowing what I’m talking about?). Oh, and did I mention that I’m a procrastinator by nature, so these other projects naturally fed and justified me putting the bookcases off… “I just have to finish this,” or “that needs a bit more work first.”

See, I’m procrastinating already by giving you all this unnecessary backstory!

Let’s get down to it then, shall we?

I have been promising my wife that I would build her this project in our living room around the fireplace that’s in there. The fireplace sticks out 8-9-inches into the room, creating a recess on either side of the chimney, with each recess about 40-inches wide. Seems like a perfect place for this then, no? And every fireplace needs a mantel, so why not combine the two for one cohesive look? So that’s what we decided on.

I thought quartersawn white oak would be a perfect fit for this project, as we live in a 1932 brick American Tudor, but it looks like a bungalow on the inside. However, my wife does not (at least at this point), care for all the flaking in QS wood. So, I threw out the riftsawn idea. We went and looked at some, and it seemed to work for her, so we came home with a long, awkward and relatively heavy piece of 8/4 riftsawn white oak that’s over 9-feet long, about 8.5-inches wide and 1-23/32-inches thick after milling. That was fun getting it into the house and around tight corners, I can tell you. The mantel will only be about 64-inches wide, so I’ll have a good amount left over. I may use some of it on top of the bookcases, but mill it thinner… not sure yet?

Measurements have been taken, dimensions have been discussed, although not finalized, as we figure we might want to adjust a few things on-the-fly, and materials have been decided upon.

I will make the bookcase carcasses out of 3/4-inch riftsawn white oak with an MDF core. The back of each bookcase will have a piece of 1/4-inch MDF core riftsawn white oak to enclose it. The bookcase faceframes and door frames will be made out of riftsawn white oak hardwood. The mantel shelf and bookcases tops will also be made out of riftsawn white oak hardwood, and likely attached with clips to allow for movement. The doors will have glass inserts. The mantel surround framework has not yet been figured out, but will probably be all riftsawn white oak hardwood for aesthetic purposes (maybe I can throw in a bit of QS for a little flaking?) There will be a fixed bottom shelf in the bookcase and then two moveable shelves made of RS white oak hardwood. Pins and sleeves will be used for the two moveable shelves. Blum concealed hinges will be used for the door frames. We have not yet picked door handles. We also have a rough idea of the finish color.

OK, fast-forward to about a week ago. I think I’m finally ready to start construction. However, I’m not going to “practice” with the expensive plywood. At $124/sheet, plus tax for the RS White Oak, I think the mock-up might be best off built from something else… anything else… don’t you?

So, I went to the Big Orange Store and picked up a full sheet of red oak plywood for about $40 and a couple of sheets of 5mm underlayment for $7ish for each 4×4 sheet. I had them crosscut the sheet once and then rip down the sheet until it was close to what I needed for the shelves and carcass pieces. Way easier to transport that way, not to mention carry down my steep and narrow basement staircase.

I had also just gone to Rockler and picked up the JIG IT Shelving Jig, plus the 9/32” bit as we want to use the sleeves to hold the pins, affording us better weight bearing capabilities since these shelves will be holding lots of books.

Th mock-up materials are in the basement and it’s now time to make some sawdust! (Carb 2 sawdust, by the way, so it should be OK to inhale a little of it.) (Or, “Finally!” as my wife might say. But in all honesty, she’s been verrrrrryyy patient with all this, including the turtle’s pace, million-and-one questions, back-and-forthing on certains things… just plain patient with me, so thank you!)

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

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