Bevel top bookcase/sofa table

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Project by jsheaney posted 10-18-2010 07:09 AM 4836 views 4 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is a bookcase/sofa table I made for myself. The first picture shows most of the features. This is my own design, which I first modeled in SketchUp. I’ll mention right up front that there is something peculiar about the top row of through tenons. I reveal what it is at the end of this; maybe you’ll have figured it out by then.

The wood is quartersawn white oak and Brazilian cherry. The wedges and the keys in the miters are also Brazilian cherry. The finish is two coats of Bush Oil with four coats of poly just on the top panel. I then rubbed out the top with rottenstone, which I highly recommend for a nice polished finish. I got away with not doing any pore filling, but I think it would have been just a little nicer if I had.

When I started this project, it was going to be my first piece of furniture. It got interrupted by the hall table, so it actually became the second. As such, I was mainly interested in using it as a learning project. My local Woodcraft store happened to be low on QSWO when I went shopping for wood, so the wood selection isn’t particular consistent. But you can see some very prominent flecking on the inside face of the left side. Of course, you have to catch the right lighting. I’m amazed by how different QSWO looks in different lighting from different angles.

I really wanted to use wedged tenons on this project, so the shelves are all haunched into dados in the side with three wedged tenons. The haunch becomes a tongue along the entire back that fits into a groove in the back support. Both shelves have very good support on each side and the back. The bottom shelf also has support in the front from the kick panel. It feels very solid. Even with the open back, it’s pretty heavy.

The top panel sits raised in a mitered, beveled frame. The panel itself is 8” wide and the sides are 11” deep or so. Therefore, I figured I needed to account for wood movement. I cut a centered groove around the outside of the panel and around the inside of the frame, so they interlock. I inserted a square peg at the center of each of the four sides of the panel, extending down from the bottom face. I then cut a matching notch at the center of each side of the frame, so as the panel expands and contracts it will always stay centered within the frame. The panel is then screwed directly to the case along the center and the outer edges of the panel are connected to the case with those angled metal tabletop fasteners. It kind of pinches the beveled frame between the two. It’s as if the frame is floating centered between the top panel and the case, but it’s the case and the top panel that are moving in unison.

Much of this was done with hand tools. I don’t have a jointer or a planer, so all of that was done with hand planes. Each of the two shelves and the two side are glued up panels, so that was a bit of work. I routed all the dados and grooves, but pretty much all the other joinery was done with hand tools. I did the cross grain tenons on the ends of one of the shelves mainly with a rabbet plane, but even with the skewed blade I was getting some significant tearout. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t matter because it would be hidden, but I couldn’t tolerate it in this case because it creates gaps in the through tenons. I hogged off most of the cheeks of the second shelf with the tablesaw. Then I finessed the cheeks and shoulders with a shoulder plane.

OK, so here’s the secret of the top row of tenons. There’s no way I could drive wedges into tenons that are so close to the top of the case. It would have just busted out the top. If you look carefully you might be able to see that the bottom of those tenons are inline with the bottom of the three upper supports. That’s because just the bottom part of those tenons are actually through tenons. The upper part and the center strip, which is the “wedge”, are inlays to make them look like the other real wedged tenons. I knew when I modeled it that I couldn’t use wedged tenons at the top, but I wanted to use them for the shelves, so this was my solution.

This was a very educational project. It’s one of those projects I’d like to do all over again because I know I could do it better. But I have other projects ahead of me that are more important. Maybe someday.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

5 comments so far

View Brit's profile


7376 posts in 2842 days

#1 posted 10-18-2010 11:29 AM

Great design and beautiful joinery. As a beginning woodworker, whenever I see a great design like yours, I try to disect it and understand why the craftsman made the design decisions that they did. I ask myself what, if anything, I would have done differently. The only thing I could see was that I might have set the kickboard back from the front of the bottom shelf about 1/2” to throw a shadow on it. Just personal taste.

I’m a big fan of wedged mortise and tennon joinery and I understand how you did the top tennons. I hope you’ll permit me three questions because I think I can learn a lot from your work and you are obviously someone who thinks long and hard about the design of a piece before they build it.

1. When the bookcase is full of books it will be heavy. If someone wanted to move it to clean behind it, they would probably try to pick it up under the top edges at either end. Do you feel the joinery between the top and the sides is of adequate strength to resist the weight of a laden bookcase, or is there a risk that the wood above the tennons (or even the tennons themselves) would break?

2. You said at the end of your excellent write up that you knew you could do better if you did it again. Where do you think you could improve it? The design or the execution?

3. Is there any chance you would share your Sketchup drawing of this piece so that I can take a tour of it and learn more about how it was builit?

Please don’t think I am being critical, I love your work and I’m genuinely interested in your design decisions.

Best wishes and thanks for posting,


-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View gul's profile


400 posts in 2961 days

#2 posted 10-18-2010 06:10 PM

That looks just great.

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2933 days

#3 posted 10-18-2010 07:16 PM

Great work. Loves the grain on that wood.

I wonder if you have a picture on the actually seeting as a sofa table.

I could use a combo.

Thanks for posting.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View jsheaney's profile


141 posts in 3987 days

#4 posted 10-19-2010 01:18 AM


1. I was certainly concerned about that very problem. If someone lifted by grabbing the overhanging beveled top, they would likely do some damage. But the overhang is not that much. With the open back, it’s more likely they would grab underneath the front and back support for the top, which utiltilzes 1/4” thick through-tenons. The actual supports themselves are 3/4” thick. The beveled frame might provide a bit more support beyond that. I think it would probably hold up OK. The other thing, though, is the back support for the middle shelf is also easy to grasp and is much stronger. That would be my prefered hold.

2. I would like it if the top had a bit more overhang. I actually had a little oopsy on the tablesaw when I beveled the frame after I assembled the top. I clipped one of the corners as I was clearing the back of the blade. I was able to fix it by trimming the frame all around.

I would have like a better wood selection. I would either choose wider boards to avoid gluing up panels or I would make sure I had enough would for a good match for all of the panels. Also, the kick is much lighter than the rest because I bought it after I realized I had come up short.

The three supports across the top did not come from the same piece of wood, so they don’t match very well. It’s really only the end grain of the tenons that matter, but the color of one of them is pretty stark. Also, I should have kept the waste from making those tenons to use for the inlay so that they would match.

I needed more long clamps for the glueups. I had done a test of the wedged tenon with some scrap pieces of white oak. I still have it sitting around. I did use glue in the wedged tenons in the bookcase, but I did not use any glue in the test joint. It’s still rock solid. In fact, driving in the wedge actually pulled the joint together, so I kind of tricked myself into thinking I didn’t need so many clamps. As a result, I had an anxious glue-up where I was moving clamps, driving in a wedge, moving clamps, etc. I really should have bought more clamps. Specifically, I should have had cauls for the middle tenond of the middle shelf.

The bottom shelf is slightly thinner than 3/4” In fact, I put in on the bottom for that reason, so it would get the extra support from the kick. It’s a bit thin because I tried to make it 3/4” I don’t have a jointer or planer, so I tried playing around with a router sled setup. I realized as soon as I did it that I was being an idiot and I didn’t make that mistake with any of the other panels. If you’re doing this stuff using hand tools then this is the lesson: flatten one face, flatten the other face parallel to the first. Forget about taking it down to some specific, arbitraty thickness. It really doesn’t matter if one shelf or one side is 1/16” or an 1/8” thicker than another.

3. I would be happy to share my Sketchup model. Just send me your email address in a message.

Finally, I’m an engineer, so I welcome critique. I want to build good stuff that will last generations, if possible.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

View jsheaney's profile


141 posts in 3987 days

#5 posted 10-19-2010 01:26 AM


I’m not sure what you’re asking. Did you mean “seating”? My definition of a sofa table is a table that would be placed behind a sofa that is in the middle of a room. One would typically display stuff on the table. In my case, I wanted it to function as both a bookcase and as a table to display stuff, so the top is more like that.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

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