Around the House #1: Challenge04, Cherry Bookcase

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Blog entry by jgourlay posted 04-14-2008 02:17 AM 1287 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Several years ago, while pondering a pile of books that had for too long served as a coffee table, I thought it might be good to stop building jigs for the shop and actually make something useful. I found it unsatisfying that most book cases offer a “flat” front and that if the piece had aesthetic features they either took the form of “decoration” such as overdone moldings or curving of the form on the sides.

Decoration is, well, decoration. I am not a “highboy” sort of fellow. On the other hand, a rectangular box is boring while some shape features on the side are a waste of space. This piece needed to go next to another piece of furniture on one side and a door on the other: this would have muted the effect of an “asian influenced” piece. To my eyes, that style of furniture loses its punch if the piece is not isolated in space. “Isolated in space” is possible if the kids are in college and the furniture rests in the house you moved into after the fire….

Bookcases are flat fronted, but a grouping of books is more like a crowd of people: tall, thin, fat, wide, short, all different confirmations. Does it make sense to put a typical paperback in a 10” deep shelf? Does it make sense for a woodworker not to accommodate large format art books? The answer to that hit me as I pondered a battleship grade bookcase inherited from my father. Big bookshelf for a big WWII collection. But, the shelves were too deep and shadowed read the spine of “tailgun Charlie”. Yet, these shelves weren’t deep enough for other books. And on top of the bookshelf was the “Fighting planes of the Army Air Corps” that was too tall to fit.

The beauty of making it ourselves is that we can take all the books we want to store, lay them out the way we want to store them, and size the bookshelf that way. The pleasant surprise is that the bookshelf has now had two different groupings of books in it, and it fit the second set as efficiently as the first. I don’t know how Ikea engineers size their shelf ratios, but the “let’s fit these actual books” method seems to work better.

With the exception of a thickness planer, this bookshelf was built entirely with hand tools. The curves made this a particular challenge, and really my hand tool skills were not up to it: there is a good bit of tearout here and there. Nonetheless, I worked to make pleasing the small details of the design. For example, each shelf is curved, but the curve is progressively less pronounced from bottom to top. The shelf thickness declines from bottom to top, and this is fine as the top shelves will hold less weight. The tongue and groove back is both load bearing and cosmetic: it was made from a single cherry board with beautiful figure that was far too warped to make into anything else. This will provide a pleasant surprise for whichever ungrateful brat inherits it. Finally, the shelves were curved using a round spoke shave, giving a pleasing relief from the usual “4 Square” looking shelf.

The net effect is twofold. First, it holds a surprising amount of books. Second, it does so without “looming” over you, keeping instead a graceful, light posture. Pictures and plan in the gallery.

-- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

2 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4277 days

#1 posted 04-14-2008 04:47 AM


View CharlesWilson's profile


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#2 posted 04-14-2008 04:51 AM

I found the pictures in the Projects section.

I think they are supposed to be linked to the entry for the contest.


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