Revolving Bookcase II - and a story

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Project by Don Johnson posted 11-02-2011 06:32 PM 3752 views 6 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A rather sad tale is attached to this bookcase:

About eighteen months ago, my friend John designed and made a revolving bookcase, and I so admired it I made one myself

A couple of months ago, a mutual friend of John and I asked John to make one for him. When I enquired how John was getting along with the job, he advised that he had started, but had not been feeling too well, so had not visited his workshop since. Eventually, after some pushing from John, his doctor sent him for tests to discover why he felt so ‘below par’. On the day that he got the results, John called in on the way home to reveal that he had cancer of the colon, which had spread to his liver, and that it was inoperable. During our conversation he told me I was ‘needed’, and I assumed it would be help his wife Vanessa with driving to the hospital, etc.. However, John said that he wanted me to finish the bookcase for him. When I pointed out that I am not in the same class of woodworker as John, he said we could do it as a ‘masterclass’, with him sitting in his workshop, directing me to do the physical work, so I agreed.

I visited John a few days later, but he was already bedridden, so we could only talk about the project, but he showed me a sketch of how he had intended to do the top

My reaction was to say that I hoped he didn’t expect me to use this design as it was beyond my capabilities. However, he had more faith in my skills than me, and said he was sure I could manage. We left the subject there, with me expecting to be able to talk to him about it again, but a few days later – 16 days from getting his test results – he died.

A little while after the funeral, I asked Vanessa if she wanted me to proceed, and she showed me the shelves, central columns, and side bars that John had roughed out, so I brought them home and started to wonder how to do the top. I have no experience of marquetry, and didn’t have much idea of where to get veneers. I tossed the problem around in my head for a long time, trying to decide what to do – lying awake in bed, staring unseeing at my computer screen, etc. Eventually, I thought I might try a sort of intarsia/marquetry approach – on the basis that I would have plenty of thickness to sand down to get the tops of all the pieces level! I had some oak similar in colour to the oak-veneered mdf shelves, and there was some spare mahogany I could cut to make the small squares, so I started designing in Sketchup, and ended up with this:

I milled the oak to 1.5 inches thickness, then cut off strips about 1/8th inch thick. I did this on the table saw, which although more wasteful than a bandsaw, has a nice blade which produces surfaces almost as good as from a planer. I set up a sledge and cut 49 3 inch lengths, plus the various shorter and narrower bits required. I laid them out, and although everything looked ‘square’ there was some variation in the sizes of the square ‘holes’. As there were 64 of these, I blenched at the idea of sizing each individually, and came up with the idea of using a woodfiller – dyed to a mahogany colour to match the side bars – to fill the holes. When I asked my style guru – wife Avril – she declared the idea totally ‘naff’, and told me to do the job properly using real wood!

I glued the strips to one of the shelves with pva, but the design is such that it was difficult to do anything else but put them in position and hope for the best. When this was done and set, I cut some mahogany lengths to a square cross-section just larger than the largest ‘hole’. I then sat and chopped slices and fitted them using the sander portion of an old bandsaw which had been previously cannibalsed for this purpose rather than just junked. Surprisingly, it took less time than I expected to fit all 64 slices, and they fitted pretty well at the end – although there was a certain amount of filler required to make the job ‘perfick’. I thought that using endgrain would make the squares more ‘anonymous’ but still match the side bars.

Now that I had the top, I felt more relaxed about completing the job as I had my own version for reference. The only problem was that I was making something that the buyer was expecting to be of ‘John’ quality! For this reason, I worked much more slowly than my usual ‘rush to get it finished’ pace, and took greater care than I have ever lavished on a project, in the hope that the buyer won’t be too disappointed. I have to say that this has probably done me a great deal of good, and – if it is possible – I wonder if John is ‘up there’ looking down at me thinking that he has at last got me to work to a higher standard.

There are a few more coats of Danish oil to apply before I show the finished job to Vanessa – and the buyer! – so the saga is not quite over yet. I’m sorry if you find this rather long, but somehow I needed to tell other woodworkers who might understand my situation.

-- Don, Somerset UK,

15 comments so far

View Pdub's profile


924 posts in 3179 days

#1 posted 11-02-2011 06:49 PM

Don, sorry to hear about your friend John. The top looks great!!!! I understand your situation. The top would have scared me also. I usually procrastinate when it comes to projects that I am not comfortable with, but in the end I am glad I attempted them. You’re probably right, John is smiling down on you thinking ” I knew you could do it”. Thanks for posting the project and the story.

-- Paul, North Dakota, USAF Ret.

View Elizabeth's profile


817 posts in 3143 days

#2 posted 11-02-2011 08:32 PM

That is a really great story. I look forward to hearing the rest of the saga. Your friend has left you a great legacy.

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 3434 days

#3 posted 11-02-2011 09:03 PM

Don, John had a good friend in you. I think we all appreciate the story, very touching.
The top you have made and the effort you have put into it, manifests your friendship and honour towards John.
It is a fine tribute, Very Well Done.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3114 days

#4 posted 11-02-2011 09:06 PM

sorry for your loss of a great freind
but he was right about you , having tenfold skills of what you think you have
I wuold never have try´d with veneer work but maybee the degoose way if I had the maschinery

well done
thanks for sharing both the shelf and the history behind it

take care

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

20488 posts in 3105 days

#5 posted 11-03-2011 03:36 AM

So sorry to hear about your friend. I lost my best friend to lung cancer so I know how it makes you feel.

Very nice project and thanks for sharing the layup of the basket weave. I need to try that some day!...........Thanks, Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View jeepturner's profile


939 posts in 2792 days

#6 posted 11-03-2011 04:05 AM

Sorry to hear of your loss. There is more than one lesson to your story, and the one that I would urge all of us to par attention to is to get screened for colon cancer. It’s uncomfortable to talk about but if you can find it early you have options.
The other lesson that I am taking from your story is that we can’t know our own talent until we push our selves.
That is one fine looking top, John would be proud.
Thanks for the long story, well told.

-- Mel,

View ronniebo's profile


128 posts in 2664 days

#7 posted 11-03-2011 06:58 AM

Don, you are truly a great friend of John. Let`s hope this story is never lost and that it travels with the revolving bookcase. Is it the wood that brings us all together so harmoniously??—-I think so.

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3050 days

#8 posted 11-03-2011 08:15 AM


I am sorry for your loss of a good friend, but am proud of the way you pushed yourself to finish his final project. He was right to have depended on you to do this. He knew your abilities better than you, and as a final gift to you, he made you a better artisan than you ever believed possible.

It would be nice to think of him smiling down, at peace knowing his last responsibility was fulfilled well and truely. You were a good friend to him as was he to you. Well done, my freiend. Thanks for telling us your story. Stay well.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View mafe's profile


11725 posts in 3088 days

#9 posted 11-04-2011 12:32 AM

That was a really beautiful way to say goodbye to a friend, I can not imagine a better way for him to leave than beeing with his wife, and a good friend in the middle of a project. That you finished the project is really touching and a beautiful way to let him live on.
You have done a exelent job and that bookcase.
All my best thoughts to his wife.

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

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4299 days

#10 posted 11-06-2011 06:05 PM

Congratulations on the completion of this beautiful project!

You are a stalwart friend by carrying out his final wishes.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Don Johnson's profile

Don Johnson

685 posts in 2780 days

#11 posted 11-08-2011 08:09 PM

A little more saga – particularly for Elizabeth:

I had applied the third coat of Danish oil, and I have to say it was looking good!

Turning it round on its lazy susan I was admiring the top when I noticed a bright line on the end of one of the oak strips !


I realised that the strip was not absolutely flat to its neighbours – but what to do?
Leave it and hope it wouldn’t be noticed, or try to correct.

I knew I would never be able to relax if I did nothing, so I gently sanded down in that area. Got it flat OK, but after re-applying Danish oil, that area looked ‘different’. I realised that besides removing the three coats of Danish oil, I had also removed the grain filler, so sanded it again, and applied grain filler. After some Danish oil I could still see a slight difference, so I asked myself why I hadn’t left it alone ??

Now what ? If I tried to re-do the whole top, I would have trouble getting into the corners created by the top beading – which if I tried to remove would surely cause damage to the strips. Indecision reigned! Finally decided to keep applying coats of Danish oil in the affected area and build up the colour to match. Thankfully, doing this and then applying a couple of coats over the whole top, this approach worked, and the affected area is invisible to anyone (but myself).

I applied Renaissance Wax (super product) over top, and it now looks fine – what a relief!


The potential owner is heavily engaged with moving his son’s butchery business to a new site, and is working about 16 hours a day on the task, so he has little interest in the bookcase at the moment. So I’m stuck with my impatience to learn whether he will find it satisfactory for at least another week. In view of the background, the suspense is driving me mad! So the saga continues . . . . .

As an aside to Mads , John would have loved your ‘rhykenologist’ title. He was very keen on language, and we used to swap e-mails about odd words we had encountered in books or articles. A few examples: aliquots, chatoyance, jejune and quiddity.

-- Don, Somerset UK,

View mafe's profile


11725 posts in 3088 days

#12 posted 11-09-2011 01:33 AM

Now you got me Don, I will be busy looking up words!
Could not wait so I looked up jejune and this made me really laugh.
I am an architect of trade and look what is written in point 3.
I love also words, but since I’m Danish I have fun but struggle with the English.

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

View Don Johnson's profile

Don Johnson

685 posts in 2780 days

#13 posted 11-25-2011 01:00 AM

I guess that probably no one will be following this ‘saga’ any more, but just for completeness, I’ll report that the bookcase has – at last (there’s another saga there!) – been collected.

The new owners are delighted, saying it as better than they ever hoped, and that the top is wonderful, so at last I can relax. I must say that although John told me he was sure I could do a good job, I was not so confident that I could live up to his standards, so getting approval meant a lot to me.

– for Mads – I did so NOT want to produce a jejune effort ——- Smile


-- Don, Somerset UK,

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3114 days

#14 posted 11-25-2011 02:21 AM

thank you for the update Don :-)
glad you can relax now ….... wait a minut …. you can´t relax …..
there is still dust to make and chips to be flown …. and Chrismas is just around the corner :-)

take care

View mafe's profile


11725 posts in 3088 days

#15 posted 11-26-2011 02:40 PM

I know and I am and was really touched by your will and heart.
Happy to see now that the circle has closed, it will be a beautiful memory, and was a beautiful gesture.
The best of my thoughts, and yes I had to look this one up also, what a beautiful word Jejune.

Jejune, [From Latin iinus, meager, dry, fasting.]

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

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