Jefferson Bookcases – The Home Stretch?

Originally written April 10, 2021

Been a while since my last update. I've been busy building bookcases, turning bowls, and carving birbs. Plus it's yard-work season here in New Mexico, and we've planted eight smaller plants and three trees already this year.

Here's what the stacks of cases look like today.

The cases in the bedroom - seven stacks are visible

The "art" cases in the living room - a single stack of 4 cases

The hallway books, three stacks of three cases each

There's going to be one more stack of cases, and maybe two before I'm done. I have four boxes of books to unpack yet, plus 11 rows of paperbacks, each of which should get its own case. But I may donate some to the library. Or I may leave some on the shelves built into our master closet.

Some things I've learned in the process of building this many cases:

  1. Make sure the opposing boards in a case match in size. A sixteenth of an inch variance doesn't look like much, but it can make for quite a head-scratcher trying to figure out why a guy can't get the case square while the glue is setting up. Check ahead of time!
  2. The depth of the cases (the width of the boards) is much less critical. But it's not very hard to fix either before cutting the dovetails or even after the case is glued up. Planing a little width off a board isn't a big deal. And even if the cases vary in dimension by as much as a quarter inch (6mm), they can be stacked with the fronts aligned, and everything will look ok.
  3. It's a lot easier to inspect boards for checks, knots, etc before starting to cut the dovetails. If there's a flaw on the back of a case, it's not a big deal. If it's on the front, it kinda sticks out.
  4. While a flaw on the back of a board is not a deal breaker, it's even better to cut it or plane it away entirely before starting to cut the dovetails. Because having the cases vary in depth a little isn't a big deal, and because I got the boards long enough from the lumber yard that I have a few inches of waste from every longer board, which makes a top or bottom and a side of a case, I find I can get rid of a lot of knots and dings that would otherwise either take extra work to hide later, or which will give me fits while trying to plane the surfaces of the box flat later.
  5. Similarly, because the backs are rabbeted into the cases, I've cut a 3/8 inch square piece off the edge of every board. That's a great place to put a flaw so I can throw it away. As long as I know it's there before I saw the first dovetail and lock in the orientation of the board.
  6. When planing the sides of the box smooth, remember that a concave top or bottom is fine. A convex one will cause rocking. So when planing from the end towards the middle to clean up the dovetails, make sure to do more passes on the middle of the box than the ends. And make sure to do more passes (even if it's only one or two) on the middle of the board than the front or back.
  7. When building the plinths, have the back legs be a tiny bit shorter than the front, so the stack of cases will tend to lean closer to the wall, rather than toppling into the middle of the room. For stacks three or four cases high, it's not a big deal, but when they're stacked seven or eight cases high, it will definitely be noticeable which way the plinth leans.
  8. If you do have a plinth that's off, put it under a shorter stack of cases. The lean will be a lot less noticeable.
  9. Not all publishers use the same sizes for books. I've had to make at least two cases of each size in a “tall” version, which is an inch taller than all the other cases of the same depth. I've also been able to make a few “short” cases, but they're generally not worth the extra effort.

I think that's it for now. Fifty-seven cases down. Roughly a dozen to go.

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #progress

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