Red Oak Arts and Crafts Style Bookcase

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Project by StickleyStyle posted 01-17-2012 10:05 PM 7036 views 17 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Synopsis version: A couple bookcases I put together using some red oak lumber I have had sitting around the shop since the mid nineteen eighties, seriously. The basic build follows a FWW plan I purchased but altered after an initial dry assembly session at which time I decided the original design was a bit too clunky so I lightened it up a little by adding the arches to the bottom stringers and shaving a little off the top stringers. The posts were laminated with shop made veneer and using the less desirable grained lumber as a core. Floating tenons were used for all joinery using for the first time a Mortise Pal jig I bought a while ago. Great tool, highly recommended if you don’t want to spring for a Domino joiner. The back is made from ¼ inch ship lap planks made from resawn 4/4 lumber. Lastly came the part I dislike the most about this hobby, the finishing. The finish consists of Lockwood aniline dye (Sheraton dark, I think. If someone really wants to know I can confirm), several coats of Zinsser SealCoat, a coat of GFs gel stain, and finally Arm R-seal. I did all finishing prior to assembly and the top was fastened using those wonderful little figure 8 table iron gizmos.

Thanks for looking!

Long winded version: Looking at the shop some time ago I said: I have to get rid of all this plain sawn red oak lumber that I have had sitting around since the mid eighties, back when contemporary furniture was all the rage. Since my primary interest now lies with the Arts and Crafts style, the pronounced grain of the red oak, especially flat sawn, has little use. This project was more an experiment in finishing technique than it was furniture construction exercise: how to make a piece I could live with and still use up the red oak. Having diddled with aniline dyes a little I knew they were better at coloring the entire wood surface, not just the open grain as is the case with stain. I experimented with some sample pieces and was reasonably satisfied with the outcome, so things were looking up. For those that have never used water based aniline dye before its wonderful, little overlapping marking as long as you flood the surface enough. The only down side is grain raising and it will dye your hands if you don’t use gloves. I think this is the same material used for spray tanning. The build went pretty problem free. I am somewhat of a purist and up till now have used real mortise and tenon joinery in most of my recent builds. But, for the sake of trying other methods I did buy one of those router based mortising jigs I discovered in the LJ tool review section. I love this thing, I can knock out floating tenons/mortises much faster than traditional methods and will use this tool more often unless making through style tenons. Since the tops of the posts were hidden I just made a core of the raunchy grained lumber that I had and reserved the more straight grained lumber for the post veneers and the case tops. The tops were glued up from lumber I perceived had the best grain, boy was I in for a surprise. Fast forward now to finishing time: everything is going smoothly, all the little parts are done ( I finish before ass’y) and what remains now are just the case tops. Well, I flood the dye on and the tops sparkle, wow, this is going to come out really nice I thought. You can bet my exasperation when I notice the panels (tops) are not drying evenly and what’s more, the section that is drying slower is turning dark and blotchy. Frustrated, I sanded it all off (just the top panels, the other parts did not do this) and tried it again thinking I did not wipe off the excess adequately. I dyed them again paying more attention and the same thing happened. I then thought maybe the fact that I used tap water for the dye mix up was causing the blotching due to tannins present in the oak so I did some tests to see if plain tap water would cause the darkening. I did some internet investigating calling on the expertise of those more finish savvy. I was told I need to apply a wash coat of the SealCoat and apply the dye over that. So I sanded it all off and tried again. It still came out the same (see last picture) so in a fit of rage, and I’m not proud of this moment, I threw the tops in the dumpster and took at them with a garden axe. I feel much better now! I bought new QSRO lumber for the tops and everything came out great. I still don’t know what the problem was but I’m now permanently spooked from using red oak in anything but the simplest of projects.

Thanks again for looking!

14 comments so far

View Chipy's profile


374 posts in 2828 days

#1 posted 01-17-2012 10:16 PM

Nice Job!!! To be honest I didn’t read all of your post,did you spray on that finish?

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 3186 days

#2 posted 01-17-2012 10:17 PM

Those look great! Sorry to hear about your finishing woes!

Most of the pieces look pretty straight-grained for being flat sawn. The backs, which will probably be covered by books anyways, looks flat sawn, but the rest look great.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View a1Jim's profile


117416 posts in 3812 days

#3 posted 01-17-2012 10:19 PM

These are wonderfully built book cases with a super finish.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View saucer's profile


61 posts in 3182 days

#4 posted 01-17-2012 11:34 PM

They really look nice, love the finish. Great job on it all.

-- It has been deemed bad for you hence there for it is illegal.

View doncutlip's profile


2832 posts in 3791 days

#5 posted 01-18-2012 01:09 AM

Those really came out great

-- Don, Royersford, PA

View dubsaloon's profile


621 posts in 3028 days

#6 posted 01-18-2012 08:37 AM

Beautiful work. Love the color and grain.

-- The works of evil people are not the problem. It is the "Good" people standing by and watching not speaking up. Dubsaloon

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2644 days

#7 posted 01-18-2012 02:46 PM

Excellent job! Nice design too.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View MichaelAgate's profile


398 posts in 2558 days

#8 posted 01-18-2012 03:42 PM

wow, those are beautiful! Great work!!

-- Michael and Matthew

View TomFran's profile


2959 posts in 4229 days

#9 posted 01-18-2012 04:10 PM

Gorgeous bookcases and fine craftsmanship! The finish is also excellent.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View StumpyNubs's profile


7689 posts in 3035 days

#10 posted 01-18-2012 04:16 PM

WOW- Really nice! Thanks for posting!

-Jim; aka “Stumpy Nubs”
(The greatest woodworking show since the invention of wood is now online!)

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Al Wojcik's profile

Al Wojcik

43 posts in 2725 days

#11 posted 01-18-2012 08:08 PM

Wow looks good, I do like the finish on it. Nice job !!

-- Woodman12608, cedar Lake, IN

View StickleyStyle's profile


73 posts in 3470 days

#12 posted 01-24-2012 09:56 PM

Thanks for all the nice accolades everyone. I hope others can benefit from some of my trials and tribulations along the way.

Chipy: No, nothing was sprayed. The shellac sealer was brushed and the rest wiped on.

Brandon W: I reserved the better boards for the most visible portions. The tops like I mentioned above is where I sprung for QSRO the second time around. I wanted to mitigate what happened the first time.

Thanks again for looking!

View Chipy's profile


374 posts in 2828 days

#13 posted 01-25-2012 10:45 PM

StickleyStyle You might think about using a HPLV turbine system like an EARLEX.I have one and I don’t think I will ever use a brush again, well never say never OK 99.9999 percent sure.

View WhattheChuck's profile


345 posts in 3795 days

#14 posted 11-15-2015 05:08 AM

I hear you about the red oak. Oak is vastly overrated. But those bookcases sure came out nice. And you got to relieve your frustration with your garden axe!

-- Chuck, Pullman, WA

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