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Project by R.A. Ray posted 06-03-2010 05:15 PM 2621 views 5 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My second wood project and my first serious attempt at furniture design and construction is finally (sort of) complete. This bookcase (system) is the result of six months of effort on my part as well as my father, wife, sister-in-law, and especially my father-in-law who aided greatly in the design, who tutored me through the construction process, and in whose home all the magic happened.

The design is fully modular and is able to be assembled in-place and without tools, though a rubber mallet helps. Nothing but wood and glue went in to the construction, just like my coffee table. Strong, clean lines, exposed structure, rhythm and movement, and maintaining the natural beauty of the wood were the principles that guided the aesthetic.

The entire system breaks down into a pile of wood (pictured) for easier transport and storage. We actually brought the whole thing up from Houston to Dallas in the back seat of our little Saturn. The bays can be stacked in any configuration that balances which, it turns out, is great because we weren’t able to install them fully stacked due to a space issue in our apartment.

While this particular set is complete and in use now, eventually we hope to build enough of the system to house our entire library.

  • Woods: Chinese Maple ply and solid Red Oak
  • Finish: 6 coats of Tung Oil
  • Weight: 165 lbs
  • Height (fully stacked): 6’10”

18 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3575 days

#1 posted 06-03-2010 05:19 PM

Interesting shelf system. I can’t help but wonder if your going to get racking with just butt joints.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3462 days

#2 posted 06-03-2010 05:27 PM

very interesting design. i also wonder about the racking…. are those dowels that I see? cant tell from the pic.

View R.A. Ray's profile

R.A. Ray

19 posts in 2933 days

#3 posted 06-03-2010 05:32 PM

Yes, the rails on the sides each have three pegs that fit into the shelf they hold.

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3462 days

#4 posted 06-03-2010 07:29 PM

cool. I’m trying to imagine any sort of more stable design for the joinery that’s so easy to make and still be knockdown without any additional hardware. I imagine that the side-by-side configuration of the last imagine is incredibly stable, but wonder about the fully stacked version. could you comment on how stable the 6’ tall assembly is?

View R.A. Ray's profile

R.A. Ray

19 posts in 2933 days

#5 posted 06-03-2010 07:49 PM

@AaronK I was rather surprised by how stable the stack ended up being. It is at least as stable as any other free-standing bookcase I have. Granted that those are of the Wal Mart pre-fab variety but they do a fine job of holding books and not crushing my cats.

Of course, what is pictured is not the most stable configuration possible as the bays are a bit off-set. Also, keep in mind that it was designed to be a system for an entire library of books which would call for far more interlocking bays.

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 2949 days

#6 posted 06-03-2010 07:58 PM

Very unique! I imagine this would be very useful when moving. I built my own bookcases in 2002 and have moved five times since then—-something like this could have been convenient. ;-)

As a book nerd, I noticed that the oak on the inside corners makes the books sit a little crooked. I would suggest using bookends because the books should sit perpendicular to the shelf, otherwise the spines will become cocked.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3462 days

#7 posted 06-03-2010 08:36 PM

sounds good. Yeah, i figured it’s probably at least as good as particleboard walmart stuff! I wonder if/how things will loosen up over time… probably not a whole lot, since the forces are usually static – you probably wont be taking it apart and rebuilding it TOO much.

View R.A. Ray's profile

R.A. Ray

19 posts in 2933 days

#8 posted 06-03-2010 08:38 PM

@BrandonW That’s great advice. I was wondering how I would deal with that, and some really unobtrusive bookends would do the trick. Thanks!

View mafe's profile


11725 posts in 3087 days

#9 posted 06-03-2010 10:15 PM

Thats a nice idea, since I was a boy I have moved 17 times in my 40 years, so I could also have used some knock down bookcases.

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3462 days

#10 posted 06-03-2010 10:23 PM

instead of bookends, you could always suspend some more of those red oak strips along the insides… I’m thinking held in by dowels about half-way up the sides.

View NedB's profile


659 posts in 3563 days

#11 posted 06-03-2010 11:14 PM

very cool design, and kudo’s to your FIL for hosting you and helping with the design!

-- Ned - 2B1ASK1

View RexMcKinnon's profile


2593 posts in 3193 days

#12 posted 06-04-2010 03:26 PM

Cool a LEGO bookscase. LOL


-- If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

View Abe Low's profile

Abe Low

111 posts in 3844 days

#13 posted 06-04-2010 06:06 PM

I too would be conserned with a racking problem, especially if they were stacked high. But I love the design. Sooo, I would put a screw in the upper corner and opposite lower corner, connected with a fine stainless steel wire and a small turnbuckle which would reside behind some books. The wire would be visually unobtrusive and allow me to sleep better as I live in California where earthquakes are common.

-- Abe Low, Fine furniture, Sacramento, CA

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3462 days

#14 posted 06-04-2010 06:47 PM

I have an idea on how to solve that racking issue. here’s a sketchup model… one normal, one with faces transparent to show things somewhat more clearly, i hope.

Right now dowels go into the face of each shelf and into the oak cleats. Racking might be eliminated by inserting blind dowels through the edge of the shelf into the face of the side. Then push dowels (attached to the oak strips along the top and bottom) through the face of each shelf and into the oak cleats underneath.

This way the shelves are secured in two dimensions and the whole thing is still entirely knockdown without hardware or visible joinery. you do end up with 2 loose oak strips per shelf. also the design is slightly modified: originally the oak strips were offset – and in this design they are symmetrical across the length of the shelf.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3671 days

#15 posted 06-04-2010 06:49 PM

Nice bookcase.

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