My first bookshelf--lessons learned

  • Advertise with us
Project by Chad posted 01-15-2013 03:31 AM 2327 views 2 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was my first major piece of furniture. The only power tools I had were a circular saw, a cordless drill, and a palm sander. It lived in my office unfinished for several months because I ran out of time before finishing it. I wanted to post it only because it reminds me how much I have learned (and may serve as an encouragement to those who are just starting out). About the only thing I wouldn’t have done differently is building it in two pieces. Here are a few things I learned:

1. Birch ply has its place, but it’s not the ideal material for everything. Like the trim work, which I made out of edge-banded birch ply instead of solid wood. Can’t remember why.
2. There’s this stuff called edge banding.
3. Don’t use your wife’s iron for edge banding.
4. Edge banding doesn’t solve all your problems.
5. A router with a flush trim bit would have cleaned up a lot of those edges.
6. Pre-marking multiple cut lines without accounting for kerf thickness causes problems; the problems get worse as you go.
7. Shelves need to come close to filling the space they occupy—otherwise they stress the cheap plastic shelf pegs to the point of failure.
8. They call it a “face frame” because it goes on the face.
9. A $7 plastic miter box isn’t perfect.
10. They make these things called “stop collars” for drill bits to keep you from going through your material. In a pinch, a hex nut epoxied onto a drill bit will work—for the first few holes…
11. A drill press would have been a much better way to drill holes for shelf pegs.

Looking back at some of my older projects, it’s encouraging to see how far I have come (although I still have a long way to go). But the journey never ends, and that’s why I am drawn to things like woodworking, where there is always room for improvement. A new tool…a new technique…a thousand mistakes—I learn a little every day.

-- Chad in Charleston, SC,

19 comments so far

View jakub76's profile


56 posts in 2645 days

#1 posted 01-15-2013 04:24 AM

Nice piece. And thanks for your openness, I totally relate.

View Derakon's profile


89 posts in 2340 days

#2 posted 01-15-2013 05:25 AM

If I ever learn nothing from a project I’ve completed, I’ve done something wrong, I think. Fortunately, I’m a long, long way from that point. :)

It looks like a nice bookshelf!

View wood2woodknot's profile


96 posts in 2147 days

#3 posted 01-15-2013 08:58 AM

Nice wood. How will you finish it?

-- ajh

View ejvc's profile


107 posts in 2134 days

#4 posted 01-15-2013 09:22 AM

This seems way better than what I am doing for my first project! I think the only lesson that you’ve learned that I would have known is 3. Actually, I also know 6. I wonder what a flush trim bit is? Oh, I also know that routers are expensive. But then again, so are bookshelves.

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29962 posts in 2511 days

#5 posted 01-15-2013 11:55 AM

I think most of us have made most of the mistakes you have listed. Every one was worthwhile if you learned from it.

Good job

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View EEngineer's profile


1115 posts in 3787 days

#6 posted 01-15-2013 12:13 PM

They call it a “face frame” because it goes on the face.

Been there, done that!

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View DouginVa's profile


490 posts in 2446 days

#7 posted 01-15-2013 01:16 PM

Wow. Looks like to learned (you lesson) a lot on one of your first projects. That’s more than most of us can say. It usually takes many of us several projects before we learn. Well don’t stop there, keep going. It’ll only get better. Nice start.

-- Just a man with his chisel.........

View Ben Simms's profile

Ben Simms

191 posts in 2465 days

#8 posted 01-15-2013 02:24 PM

ha ha, thanks for the lessons. it looks great in black

-- I played with Legos as a kid and I never had the part I thought I needed, so I learned to improvise. Now I'm an engineer with a woodworking hobby.

View dustyal's profile


1299 posts in 3648 days

#9 posted 01-15-2013 03:03 PM

Yeah, I totally relate… and it always helps to have a mentor in your corner… you know, the guy with the big shop, the big tools, and 30 years experience… fortunately, I had the fella’s from the Mason Dixon Woodworkers org to help me… uh, fix my mistakes—i.e., the other way to learn woodworking.

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View Charlzecheeze's profile


16 posts in 2142 days

#10 posted 01-15-2013 03:35 PM

Case finished nice. It matches your amp and that shorty little tele…Good job.

-- Chuck

View a1Jim's profile


117273 posts in 3750 days

#11 posted 01-15-2013 04:13 PM

Don’t think of it as a book case think of it a lesson one in your woodworking class :))

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Chad's profile


20 posts in 3018 days

#12 posted 01-15-2013 06:59 PM

Thanks to you all—I learn something new every day in the shop.

Ejvc, a flush trim bit is a straight router bit with a bearing on the tip that is the same diameter as the blades. It lets you trim a piece flush with either a template clamped to your piece, or in this case, trim a face frame that overhangs a bit so that it is flush with the sides of the case. Routers are relatively expensive, but you don’t need a fancy one and you can build our own router table. They are probably the most versatile tool in the shop—can shape edges, cut dados/mortises/rabbets, act as a jointer to straighten a board, plane the surface of a large stump, make a bowl, carve a sign…I’m sure there are a thousand other uses. Mine was well worth the money.

-- Chad in Charleston, SC,

View NaFianna's profile


524 posts in 3199 days

#13 posted 01-15-2013 07:50 PM

Looks great….....and I hope that bodhran gets the occasional workout and is not just there to look cool on top.

-- Cad a dheanfaimid feasta gan adhmad.......?

View sixstring's profile


296 posts in 2416 days

#14 posted 01-15-2013 09:09 PM

Nice tip with the drill bit stop collar. Need to pick up at least one. In the meanwhile, I just pre-measure the depth and use painters tape to mark the limit on my bit. Then I use my ninja skills to make sure I stop at the line. Works well enough for me.

-- JC Garcia, Concord, CA : "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission..."

View jeffswildwood's profile


3551 posts in 2150 days

#15 posted 01-15-2013 10:30 PM

Nice book shelf. Finished product looks great. Remember “if you never make mistakes, you will never learn to fix them.” I’m new (sort of) to woodworking and I still make some good ones. Measure twice cut once, woops board an inch short. Tape on drill bit, starts to pack in and woops, hole gets longer. Roundover bit on the edge, woops, didn’t tighten it up enough and now I have a raised edge. And now the one I fight the most, take the line or leave the line! The last one drives me crazy!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

showing 1 through 15 of 19 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics