(Yet another?) Bookshelf

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Blog entry by Alin Dobra posted 04-20-2008 08:51 PM 10336 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The design of this entry in the Challenge04 contest is based on a bookshelf I build for my son ( you can see the project here: )

This design and the actual bookshelf I build for my son try to address a number of things I do not like about most bookshelves I see in stores, the web, this site, etc.

1. Non Boxy I do not particularly (or at all) like bookshelves that are boxy. A completely enclosed bookshelf traps the items inside and makes them out of reach. This is the last thing you want to do with books which, in my opinion should be as accessible as possible (otherwise they never get opened).

2. Shallow not deep Most bookshelves are designed for the worst case scenario: holding enormous books that need 12-14” of space. While this great depth makes the bookshelf (arguably) more versatile, it does eat a lot of the air in the room. As a consequence, unless the room is enormous, the room will feel crowded. A lot of clasic furniture styles owe a great deal to the French 16-18 century. That furniture was designed for enormous rooms; if the furniture is not bulky (think Baroque stile), the room looks empty. Well, at least I do not have enormous rooms in my house.

3. Lots of empty spaces There are two main reasons to have a lot of air in a bookshelf. First, it significantly reduces the amount of material required which reduces weight and cost. Second, makes the bookshelf look even less bulky. The combination of shallow depth and empty spaces gives the bookshelf the feeling of light and surreal. This does not reduce the actual carrying capability of the bookshelf if books not large iron pieces are placed on shelves.

4. Less is more I think woodworkers are at least partially obsessed by complexity (me included). We thrive on complexity since it makes the project even harder to build, thus makes us the builders look more skilled. The biggest temptation I have to resist when I design a piece is the complexity temptation. Any object has to look and feel good and overwhelming looks never good. Lot of details or complications look impressive for a first look but add pressure to the room. I like clean smooth lines that make the furniture less intrusive and easier on the eye.

5. Fixed shelves The main advantage of adjustable shelves is the fact that you can adapt the spacing to allow for a variety of situations. While this is great, here are the reasons to use fixed shelves that, if the bookshelf is designed appropriately, will make fixed shelves more appealing than adjustable shelves. a. Fixed shelves deflect 3-5 times less than adjustable length shelves of same length, width and thickness. This means that the width of the shelves can be reduced (they do not have to be full width thus adding more air). It also means that the shelves can span larger distances, thus making the bookshelf look leaner. By selecting a non-uniform spacing, room for a large variety of books can be provided. Interestingly, the placement of shelves will be a lot more precise for fixed positions so interesting effects can be achieved. In particular golden ration or related ratios look interesting if precisely used but weird if off by 1/4-1/2 which you inevitably get for adjustable shelves. This means that the spacing will looks rigid and unnatural most of the time. b. Fixed shelves look part of the furniture, which makes the bookshelf have even less of a mass-produced feel. Virtually all bookshelves sold commercially in large quantities have adjustable bookshelves, which makes a fixed shelf bookshelf automatically interesting.

6. Imperfect wood tolerant design A bookshelf design that looks good even if executed with imperfect wood is a big plus. First, imperfect wood is cheaper. Second, if imperfect wood was used, means that more of the actually raw material is used. A lot of the wood cut and dried into boards is chopped since it is not perfect enough for furniture making. A simple, sleek design will look with imperfect wood as my project demonstrates (wood used is full of wholes and knots).

This is the design which, in my opinion, fits the above requirements.





As I mentioned, the design is inspired (copies) this real bookshelf I build for my son’s room:





The Sketchup design can be found here:

In terms of building the bookshelf, the round part in the middle should be some decoration to make the piece more interesting, all the joints should be mortise and tenon except the way the back and sides are attached, where a miter joint is fine (long to long grain gluing in this case).

The spacing for the bookshelf in the design was selected to allow for a variety of book sizes to be shelved. The ratio between two successive distances is (1.618)^(1/4)=1.128, i.e. the forth square of the golden ratio. This results in spacing that follows a geometric progression, which always looks natural (since it appears in nature quite a lot).


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

7 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3985 days

#1 posted 04-20-2008 09:20 PM

Very nice bookcase!

Good luck.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Grumpy's profile


23916 posts in 3848 days

#2 posted 04-21-2008 01:27 AM

Beautiful work Alin & a very practical design. Good luck in the contest.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3819 days

#3 posted 04-21-2008 01:55 AM


I liked the bookcase when you posted it and I like this bookcase entry as well.

Good luck in the contest.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3885 days

#4 posted 04-21-2008 02:36 AM

Thanks guys.


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View darryl's profile


1795 posts in 4324 days

#5 posted 05-19-2008 03:54 AM

wow! that’s a beautiful bookcase.
and it holds you son’s collection so well!
what a great collection of work to pass on to him.

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3885 days

#6 posted 05-19-2008 04:23 PM

Thanks Darryl.


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View SamT's profile


5 posts in 3632 days

#7 posted 06-14-2008 10:44 AM

Reading your design objectives was like an epiphany for me. All my projects have tried to be big on size and big on impact but I realise now that this is often inappropriate; especially in small rooms.

I agree also with your stance on adjustable shelves. If you taper the spacing appropriately there should be no need to adjust them; and the compromise in stability of adjustable shelves is difficult to accept.

You inspired me to design this:

It would have been monstrous, heavy, and rectangular until I saw your project. Thankyou sincerely for opening my eyes and my mind!

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