Originally written August 20, 2021

I blogged the construction of these over many of the months I spent building them, so if you want excruciating detail on the construction, the previous entries in this series is place to look.

Short version, each shelf is a separate box. Should I ever need to move again, I can fill each box with packing paper, then screw a front onto the box, and it's ready to move. Some of the largest cases will be heavy for one guy to move, but I can pick up every one of them myself if I have to. And should I decide to rearrange them, I can do that without taking all the books out of the cases.

They're built of ¾ pine. Mitered through-dovetails on the corners, with the back rabbetted in, and in most cases made of two boards ship-lapped so they can move with the changing humidity. The backs are glued top and bottom, and nailed on the sides, again so they have an opportunity to move without tearing themselves apart.

I count 70 boxes. Took me over a year, but there were plenty of distractions along the way. When all is going well, I can complete about three or four boxes in a week, including finishing, which is two or three coats of shellac.

The bedroom bookcases - the tallest stack is 9 cases high

The hallway cases, plus a stack behind the door between the bedroom and the hallway

The art-book cases, a single stack of four cases in the living room

Thanks for looking!

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #project

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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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Originally written January 29, 2021

Been a couple pretty slow weeks on the bookcase front. I've had a few other projects pop up, most notably a sign to go on the dog-poop-bag-dispenser station I'm going to be putting at the corner of our lot once the ground thaws a little more, which has required me to learn how to carve round letters better (because there's lots of curves in “POOP”), and just getting a bit fatigued with building bookcases.

I've started on three new (small) plinths to go in the hallway. They'll hold stacks of four cases of paperbacks each. Between that and another tall stack of paperbacks behind the door, I'm hoping I can get closer to getting all the boxes unpacked.

Plus there's been time reorganizing the books I do have unboxed. The Jefferson cases have made some of this easier, as I've done significant reorganization by moving entire cases of books around, rather than having to take them out of one case and put them into another. The library isn't organized yet, but it's getting closer, and I may actually stand a chance of finding a book when I go looking for one.

I've also lost a couple days to sloth. I spent the days just reading a book in the house, rather than heading out to the shop, and that felt pretty good too. But my new gouges (a 15mm wide #5 and #7 so I have the right radius gouges for carving the Os I need) should arrive in the mail today, so I can make some progress on the sign, and I've cut the lumber for the three plinths to size and cut the dovetails and the curve for one, which I'll glue up this morning. Maybe I can finish gluing up the other two before the mailman gets here with my new tools.

So that's the update. No photos with this update. I'll probably wait until I get the next three stacks of cases built, or at least get a good start on them, before I update again.

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #progress

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Originally written Jan 6, 2021

I'm still building cases. I'm down to ten boxes of books remaining to open, but I have thirteen rows of paperbacks waiting for me to build small boxes to hold them. Looks like my library is going to expand into the hallway, with three stacks of four or five paperback cases, and another stack of a bunch of paperbacks living behind the door (behind where this picture was taken from). The current panorama shows 47 completed cases.

Panorama showing 47 cases in eight stacks

I've donated four boxes of books to the library, and have another almost ready to go. I suspect they'll be selling most of the books I've donated. Or passing them on to prisoners who can't use the prison libraries because they're closed due to COVID. Regardless, better that someone gets to read them.

I picked up the fourth load of pine just after Christmas. I'm pretty sure this will be enough to finish the job, but I said that after the third load, too.

Oh well. Back to cutting dovetails…

Totals so far: * Number of pencils sharpened down to less than 2 inches: 5½ * Number of dovetail saws resharpened by RMSW: 3 * Number of pounds of shellac used: 4.5 * Number of gallons of alcohol used: 3

A pencil, sharpened to less than 2 inches

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #progress

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Originally written Dec 8, 2020

As I was building another book case today, I thought about some of the little things I do that make the process easier. These aren't all things I've been doing all along, and while there's nothing surprising here, it took me a while to incorporate these into my process. Maybe this will help someone else.

Square up the stock, making sure opposite sides of the case are the same size.

Two boards held in a face-vise

Since I tend to cut the lumber to size in batches, all of the pieces are pretty close in size. There's less than 1/16 inch difference in length, usually. But straight from the lumber yard, there are some boards that are a little wider than others. I've had two pieces that differed in width by 1/8 inch, which will cause issues. So I generally take a couple minutes before starting on a new case to make sure that the two opposite sides are the same size. If not, I'll throw them in the vise and plane them to the same width.

Lay things out from the front of the case.

I always make sure the side boards and top and bottom boards are aligned on the side that will be the front of the case. If there's a mismatch, I generally plane the boards even after the case is glued up, but it's a lot easier to do that on the back of the case. The fronts are generally aligned to within one pass of the block plane, which I like to do anyhow, just to clean up the wood.

Make sure my pencils (and other tools) are sharp before I start

A very short pencil in a pencil sharpener

It's not the end of the world if the pencil isn't sharp, but having to get up and sharpen it throws me out of my rhythm, so I've gotten in the habit of making sure the three pencils I have on my bench are all sharp when I start in the morning. Similarly, if a saw or plane needs sharpening, I'll set it aside and switch to a sharp one before starting for the day. If I have to stop to sharpen tools in the middle of the day, it throws me off a little. Easier to make sure everything is ready to go before I get started. And then when it's time to sharpen, I concentrate on that.

Make templates

The five different templates for cutting dovetails for the various size cases

I figured out the spacing of dovetails once for each size case, and I keep those templates handy. If I make a new size of case, I make a new template, and label it appropriately. It saves me having to figure out the “right” spacing from scratch again.

Have fresh shellac mixed up

Two jars of shellac, one on a magnetic stirrer, and one on the bench top, with other assorted tools scattered around

It takes about an hour to mix up a new batch of shellac using the magnetic stirrer. I find it's a lot easier if I just have two jars of shellac always ready to go. When one gets empty, I'll finish the case I'm working on, and then mix up another batch right away, so I don't have to wait for the shellac to be ready.

Here's a photo of the progress as this was written. I had to switch to panorama mode in order to capture all the cases. There are 37 cases in 8 stacks at this point.

A panorama showing 37 bookcases in eight stacks

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #tipsTricks #progress

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Originally written Nov 23, 2020

I made a big case recently, and since that will be at the bottom of a stack of cases of books, I needed to make a special-sized plinth for it. And I have a spot behind the bedroom door where I will build a stack of cases with the largest case being the middle-sized case, so I needed a smaller plinth to hold that.

The nice thing about building other sizes of plinths is that they're all the same width, so the front, back and glue-blocks are all the same, it's just the sides that change to accommodate the different depths of cases.

cut list for the basic plinth, with added notes for the other two sizes

As before, the plinths have the following measurements:

Front and back: 2 – 1×4×31 Internal front brace: 1 – 1×4×29½ Glue blocks (front): 2 – 1×1×2⅝ Glue blocks (rear): 2 – 1×1×3⅜

And the sides for the various sizes of plinths are: Small: 2 – 1×4×8¼ Medium: 2 – 1×4×12 Large: 2 – 1×4×15¼

I used the same template for constructing the curve on the front piece, and the same template for the dovetails. As before, the tops of the pieces got a chamfer equal to 8 passes of my block plane at whatever thickness it was set to before. I'm not sure of the exact measurement, but it looks right.

large, medium, and small plinths

With the dovetails cut and everything glued up, I smoothed the sides with my smoothing plane and hit everything with shellac. A second coat of shellac after a quick pass with the 400 grit sandpaper, and they'll be done and ready to hold more stacks of cases.

small, large and medium plinths, with shellac on them

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #cutList

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Originally written Nov 22, 2020

I needed to make a little case for some small hardcovers. It's also the size I will need for paperbacks if I don't put them in tall skinny cases.

Cut list for smallest (paperback) case

If that's hard to read, the measurements are (to hold 5¼x7¼ books)

2 – 1×6×30¼ 2 – 1×6×8¾ 1 – 1×8×29⅝

Smallest case, sitting on a piece of cardboard

I didn't have a 30 inch long 1×8 offcut, so I put two shorter ones together. They're ship-lapped. Otherwise it's just like the other cases, just smaller.

Smallest case, medium case, and art book case

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #cutList

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I have a bunch of art books that are formatted landscape. They're basically coffee-table books, and they don't fit well in the cases I've built so far, so I decided to make a special case for them. The main problem is that when I figured out the dimensions I'll need, I will need a 1×16 to make the case, and I can't buy 16 inch wide pine here in New Mexico (and shipping a board from the east coast didn't seem especially wise).

Handwritten cut list for the art book case

In case that's hard to read, the measurements are: 2 – 1×14½×30¼ (top & bottom) 2 – 1×14½×15¼ (sides) 2 – 1×8×29⅝ (back)

So I glued up a couple boards. For the sides, I had two 1×12 offcuts left from other cases. I added a piece of 1×4 to the edge of those and was good.

1x12 glued up with a 1x4 to make a 16-inch wide board

1x12 glued up with a 1x4 to make a 16-inch wide board

For the top and bottom, I glued two pieces of 1×8 together to get the needed width, and so that the glue seam wouldn't be in the same place within the board (plus I have more 1×8s on hand – I'm out of the 1×12s except for offcuts).

Two pairs of 1x8s glued together to make two 1x16s

Once the glued up boards came out of the clamps, it was time to flatten them. I did a pretty good job of aligning them, so it went pretty quickly. First some diagonal scrubbing.

Hand-plane oriented diagonally across the seam of the glued-up 1x8s

Then planing with the grain to smooth things out.

Hand plane aimed down the seam between the two boards

Make one side straight, and get the boards to the same width.

Two glued-up 1x16s held in the face vise to put a straight edge on the two boards at the same time

Then square up the ends.

Using a shop-built square to mark an end square to the edge which was just planed straight

Using a low-angle jack plane to plane down to the line drawn in the previous photo

And then cut the dovetails as I have with all the others.

Two boards with the end grain up and the tails marked on them

Three completed cases resting on a piece of cardboard

The only snag is that finishing it is a little trickier because it's so deep, and reaching the inside back corner was a little harder than with smaller boxes.

Next up, the special oversized plinth to hold this case.

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #cutList #jointing

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Originally written Nov 11, 2022

Realized over the past couple days that I'm going to need more stacks of cases, which means more plinths.

I'm going to have one case (at least) which will be 16-ish inches deep, so it can hold coffee-table books. I'm aiming for 15½” total depth, which means a plinth 16¼” on the outside. And I'll need a small stack of cases (made up of the medium case and smaller) which will be able to fit behind the door.

So today I dug out my templates for the plinths (really glad I made templates now), and cut six front-and-back boards (31 inches long) and a set of small, medium, and large sides (8¼, 12¼, and 16¼ long), and then cut the curved cutouts on the three boards that I decided were the fronts. I still cut the boards that will brace inside the front of the plinths and also the corner-blocks, but that can happen tomorrow when I need a break from dovetails.

A total of 25 cases shown in a bedroom

Just as a reminder, here's what the cases look like today. The cheap wood-grain case on the right will get replaced by a stack (the back is coming off it, which means it's far less sturdy than it should be), and two more stacks will get added.

My sweetie is glad I've decided to make more stacks, even though it means it'll take a few extra days to get the cases done. She was worried she would discover me buried under a pile of books some day after one of the stacks tipped over.

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #progress

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Originally written Sep 20, 2020

Fourteen cases completed with books on each of them

Having finished the three extra-large cases, plus the twelve large cases, it was time for a break. If nothing else, the two block planes and smoothing plane I use to clean up the boxes all needed a sharpening. The smoother has almost a half-dozen divots in the edge of the blade, and was leaving tracks. The last few cases I ended up finishing off with a card scraper.

With the sharpening behind me, and having knocked out another picture frame, plus some other shop maintenance (I need to get a cleat on the north wall of the shop, plus I've been sketching a design for a set of drawers to hold hardware I need in the shop), it was time for the next size of cases. These are the medium cases for hardcovers.

A graphic showing the different sized books I've identified in my collection

According to my notes, these need to hold books 9½ x 6½ inches in size. And there are a few that are ever-so-slightly oversized, so I decided to build the boxes roughly 10×7. They'll actually be about a quarter inch larger than that, as my 1×8s are 7¼ wide. And I'll figure out the exact size of the back once I get the first box built, so here's the preliminary cut list.

A cut-list for the medium-sized cases

Rather than make 12 of these, I'm going to start with eight. And I only have four 1×12s left, so I'll need to either go buy more or piece them together out of a pair of 1×6s. I'll figure it out when I get there. It still takes me about a day per box to knock these out (minus interruptions that happen, like taking a day off to plant flowers), so I don't need to make a decision for a couple more days.

After putting together the first box, I now know I need to cut a ½ inch strip off the edge of a 1×12 to make a properly sized back-board, so the final cut-list is:

2 – 1×8x30¼ 2 – 1×8x11½ 1 – 1×12 (minus a half) x29⅝

I'm probably going to need to build a total of 12 or 16 of these, but I'll get the first four built and a few more books unpacked and then decide if I need to make a trip to the lumber yard for more lumber.

A sharp-eyed reader noticed the Lava Lamp (which I've had since 1978) sitting on the shelves and asked for an action shot of that.

A lava lamp in the "many small bubbles" stage

There's also a picture of the first “medium” case completed and added to the stacks.

First medium-sized case at the top of a stack

And more medium cases completed

Jefferson Bookcases Contents #woodworking #bookcases #cutList #lavaLamp

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