First project: Bookcase #1

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Project by AaronK posted 12-29-2008 09:44 PM 2874 views 9 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This completes my first ever true woodworking project. (I’m not including some pine utility shelves I put up, although I did practice some finishing skills on those.) The bookcase design is the “contemporary bookshelves” design from the Popular Woodworking website. I liked the simple lines of the design, the open back, and the minimalistic two-tone contrast. However, I changed the plans quite a bit:

1. used poplar, not oak
2. finished with several coats of minwax antique oil (not straight poly). I applied each coat by rubbing in a small amount and leaving it, not flooding and wiping as instructed. It did raise the grain a little bit, but I smoothed things out with 0000 steal wool. finally, a coat or two of paste wax.
3. stained the vertical member a combination of “cherry” and “walnut” instead of ebony/black
4. most importantly, I used traditional joinery, not screws and nails. Meaning, dados, tongue/groove, and mortise & tenon.

Being a first attempt, I think I’ve made a pretty, useful piece of furniture. Changing the joinery also meant I had to change the dimensions, and I think that was the source of my mistakes. So, things I learned:

1. best to glue up narrow boards even if wide boards are available because of warping
2. work through mortises from both sides to eliminate chipout/punchout.
3. if applying multiple coats of stain, wait until previous coats are good and set first! (I blame cold weather for this though!)
4. use chisels for finishing up/planing joints, and saws for the stock removal.
5. never ever drop your chisel(s)!
6. the wood looks good in spite of your (my) ineptitude.

Some more pics:
tonuge and groove  / rabbet the tongue is a little sloppy.

came out ok.

but just dont look too closely at all those grooves/dados for the shelves on the left side! they’re pretty tight in the vertical direction, but too deep horizontally. Fortunately they’ll be loaded vertically. Still, If they do come loose, I’ll have to add some metal to this project after all. At least the cat won’t mind.

finally, I had the most fun with this project when it came to the layout of the actual lumber, and I am the most pleased with and proud of that aspect of it.

19 comments so far

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3724 days

#1 posted 12-29-2008 09:59 PM

It looks great. I like your joinery.

One of my first projects, years ago, was a bookcase – virtually built on the dining room table with hand tools. It’s still in use at my daughter’s house.

Be sure to sign it somewhere, with the date.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3427 days

#2 posted 12-29-2008 10:08 PM


good idea… maybe on the side of the bottom tenon/leg.

yeah, the good thing about bookcases is that they’re always useful!

View Dusty56's profile


11819 posts in 3650 days

#3 posted 12-29-2008 10:57 PM

What kind of “stain” did you use ? You only mentioned the minwax oil and why did you change the application process . Sounds like you made more work for yourself by doing it that way . The whole reason for using the oil is that it soaks into the fibers of the wood and protects it that way instead of just sitting on top of the wood like poly does . The bookcase looks good overall .

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View lew's profile


12017 posts in 3718 days

#4 posted 12-29-2008 11:07 PM

I think it looks great!

You have pointed out a couple of place where you were dissatisfied with the results. These can be areas to concentrate on the next project. As you gain experience, you will be happier with your results.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View russty's profile


45 posts in 3401 days

#5 posted 12-29-2008 11:24 PM

Very nice
Like the lines and look
Make sure you sing and date it
remember we are not just building something
we are creating a heirloom

-- With God's help all things are possible- even woodworking

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3427 days

#6 posted 12-29-2008 11:35 PM

Dusty: thanks. I guess what I was trying to achieve was a super thin film application. Something in between oil and poly. I’d read about wiping on multiple super-thin applications of the minwax antique oil to avoid having the oil pop back up again. It was kind of a lot of work, but compared to the shelves I finished with poly, it was very easy – didn’t have to worry about brush marks, and a lot less about dust and such. But I guess that would be the case with the usual approach as well.

as far as the soaking in goes, different parts of the wood acted differently. The denser and lighter color areas didn’t absorb as much (and formed a somewhat thicker film on top), while the less dense and more figured parts absorbed much more and so that surface has more wood texture.

the “stain” was minwax poly-stain mix. Although the color is nice, I wouldnt use it again. It doesn’t offer any advantage that I can see, and trying to keep the finish film thin also made the stain less dark than I had originally intended.

so in the future: I’ll try the conventional oil-varnish method, “stain only” stains, and possibly just oil finish – something like this won’t be getting too much wear.

View Todd Thomas 's profile

Todd Thomas

4969 posts in 3411 days

#7 posted 12-30-2008 12:57 AM

I think it looks great…you did a very nice job..I like the look of poplar when the green goes to brown. I’ve seen it stained, haven’t done it myself yet and it looks good.

-- Todd, Oak Ridge, TN, Hello my name is Todd and I'm a Toolholic, I bought my last tool 10 days, no 4 days, oh heck I bought a tool on the way here! †

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3784 days

#8 posted 12-30-2008 01:21 AM

This looks pretty good to me. Poplar can be a challenge to stain because of its tendency to blotch, similar to pine and the inevitable greenish cast that some of the wood shows. But yours looks real good. I like the contrasting stains as well. This adds to the visual interest of the bookcase.

Nice job.

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

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3427 days

#9 posted 12-30-2008 02:21 AM

oh yeah, the blotching – i read about that and took the precaution of putting a layer of regular finish on before the stain. that could also be what made the stain kind of light.

as far as the coloring of the wood, the part that was stained was probably the most uniform piece of the lot, without any of the green or purple bits to it. just nice straight grain.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4181 days

#10 posted 12-30-2008 04:12 AM

That’s really cool. A great first project!

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3635 days

#11 posted 12-30-2008 06:50 AM

Nice bookcase.

View Quentin's profile


47 posts in 4109 days

#12 posted 12-30-2008 07:27 AM

I love the design. Did you come up with it on your own, or is it from a plan/magazine?

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4123 days

#13 posted 12-30-2008 03:29 PM

great design! And a job well done. I’m impressed.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3427 days

#14 posted 12-30-2008 03:42 PM

Q – the design is from and the joinery is modified by me.

View Quentin's profile


47 posts in 4109 days

#15 posted 12-31-2008 12:10 AM

Aaron: I like yours better

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