Dec 2010
I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. -- Anna Quindlen
Seat of the pants bookcase construction:
or Why use boards and cinder blocks when your dad likes to play in the basement?
I had a request for a bookcase, about 2 feet wide by 5 ft high, depth not specified.
I have several 3/4 in oak boards, but not enough of the same thickness to make 2 matching sides that tall, even glued up. Checked prices at Lowes - it would cost $70 - $100 for that. Too much, so make do with what I have, and make it shorter.
I have several boards circa 4 ft by 8 in, and some shorter pieces. Some are table leaves, possibly antique, certainly old. Some are pieces of a church pew, fairly new. (No, I didn't rip it out of an active church.) Some are leftovers from a recent project, and a bit thicker. One scrap of stair tread, about 1.25 in thick. I don't have a thicknesser, but could use a router and table saw if really necessary, but it wasn't.
Tools: Ryobi BT3000 table saw, Porter-Cable router, orbital sander, drill press, hand tools

1. Look to see what size books come in, to see how deep the shelves should be, and how far apart. 11.5 in by about 9 is a standard textbook size. Shelves are 12, 10, 9 1/2 and 8 1/4 in. apart, in the end.
2. I need sufficient boards for 2 uprights about 10 in. wide, 4 shelves about 9.5 x at least 24 in, 1 top about 11.5 x (shelf length + 3), 2 feet about 11 x 1 1/4 x 1 1/2 in. The final bookcase width/shelf length was based on the lengths I finally had available after glue up.
3. Board preparation: the boards are flat, but the edges need work - I cut plugs with the drill-press from cutoffs for the dowel holes in the edge of the table leaves. Some of those end up being cut away in the scrap later, but it's easier to do them all now. Used boards require more juggling than new ones to get sound, good-looking sections. I have a jointer, as an attachment for my Shopsmith knockoff, but it's a pain to set up, so I don't. The 80-tooth laminate blade on the table saw burns the wood, and does not leave a clean cut, surprisingly, but the regular carbide combo blade works well to get flat, smooth mating surfaces.
Check the edges I want to join for gaps when placed together, while matching grain direction and board source. Spread edges with wood glue, clamp with light duty bar clamps overlapping the seam, then squeeze boards together with pipe clamps. Scrape off glue squeeze-out when it sets up, before it gets hard. The seams are not perfect, but pretty close, when the panels are checked  later. Sand away glue, old finish, etc.
4. Decide which boards go where. The sides need to match, and the top can be different if needed (it is). The uprights will be supported on feet, and the stair tread is just right for that.
5. Shape the uprights, since they determine several other important dimensions. Rip to the same width. Remember to carefully adjust the cross-cut table on the table saw so it is accurately 90 deg (the Ryobi needs this). Trim the ends of both uprights at once, while clamped together, and flip to cut the other ends, with the same long edges against the fence. When squared up, the uprights are 10 in wide by about 46 inches.
6. Cut the feet from the 1 1/4 in. stair tread, 1 1/2. x ~12 in. Square 3 sides (the extra length will be cut off later.)  I cut 4, thinking this might be a finicky part, which was a good idea.
7. Calculate the top size, 3 in. longer than the shelves, 2 in. wider than the uprights. Cut to size. Do not cut shelves yet.
8. The uprights will be held in the feet and top by dovetail mortises. The feet and top will extend in front of the uprights, so the mortises are to be cut from the back, and ended blind. This is too large a quantity of hard wood to hog out all at once. Looking at the 3/4 in. dovetail bit for the router, I see that if the depth is about 3/8 in., the neck will be about 1/2 in. across. So using a 1/2 in. straight bit in a router table, I routed just under 3/8 in., along the center of the feet, in 2 passes. I had intended to stop the mortise before the end, but started from the wrong direction on the 2d pass, so the mortise went all the way. The dovetail bit was then used, stopping before the end. I cut & glued matching pieces to plug the straight-bit mortise section, which allowed the end of the mortise to be square without chiseling.
9. Set-up error for the upright ends: I thought it would work well to pass the uprights between the dovetail bit (unmoved from cutting the feet) and the fence. Wrong. It did work for some, but with a low fence and tall boards there was not enough control, and too much was cut. I had to cut off the bad section and do it the
Right way: a sacrificial fence was pushed into the bit until only a little was exposed, tested with scraps and adjusted until the tenon fit the mortise.
10. The top required the router to be hand held. I measured the wood "carefully," but forgot that the Porter-Cable router base is 5 3/4 in. across, not 6 (poor design choice). The dovetail mortises were to have their centers 1 3/8 in. from the edges, and a slot mortise along the back. So the uprights were a bit closer together than intended, and the slot for the plywood back a bit farther from the rear edge than intended. However, not a serious error. Again, the straight bit was used to hog most of the material, making  dead-end mortises. (A stop block would be a good idea. So would a mock router template) The depth of the dovetail bit was tested on scrap to fit the already-cut tenons of the uprights before cutting the top. The mortise along the rear was with a 9/32 straight bit (sized for typical "1/4 inch" plywood.)
11.  Cut dadoes along the length of the uprights, on what will be inside rear, using 3/8 in. bearing bit, 3/8 in. deep, which will seat the back panel.
12. Cut blind mortises from the back, 1/4 in. deep, to about 1/4 in. from the front edge, with 23/32 straight bit (made for "3/4 in". plywood), in the uprights, for supporting the shelves. Important: remember the uprights are mirror images, not identical. I have a jig for making such cuts: 2 pieces of wood, each about 16 x 1 x 3/4, crossing at right angles about 1/3 along their length, sandwiching a triangle of Plexiglas between their long arms. The lower arm is a fence along the board edge, and the upper one is the router fence. The board fence is clamped across the board, and the face is clamped down to the board with light-duty bar clamps.
Spacing is tricky, with varying shelf heights, plus shelf thickness, plus router offset. Work it out on paper first, then along the board, then do it again.
My shelves have their bottoms 1/2, 13 1/4, 24, and 34 1/2 in.  from the bottom of the uprights. I should have started 1/4 to 1/2 in higher, to be more confident the bottom shelf is well supported.
13. Measure for shelf length. Do this by waxing the upright's top tenons and sliding then into the waxed mortises. This is also testing the mortise and tenons, of course. I did not need to adjust them. Clamp the bottoms of the uprights  to a crosswise board at exactly the same distance the tops are apart.  Measure across the shelf mortises, cut a stick to test that, and repeat until satisfied. Cut shelves to length and width (final size was 9 3/8 x 23 1/2).
14. My shelves were all a bit thick to fit the mortises, as expected, but a piece of 3/4 in. birch plywood was exact. I used that to set the saw to the fence, and tested with scrap to get the right depth. The shelf sides are run thru the saw on end, trimming the bottom side, and fit the mortises.
15. The front edges of the shelves were notched with a dovetail saw and chisel to fit over the blind part of their mortises.
17. The feet were shaped to cut off the plug excess, cut to length, then their "toes" rounded with a sanding disk.
18. Ease all the edges that will be exposed with a plane or sander. Final cleanup of surfaces with sander and scraper. This is the best time to stain the pieces, if desired. Mine needed it, because they were of different ages and previous finishes. Maybe this would be a good time for the first urethane, varnish, or oil.
19. The feet were waxed, slid over their tenons, and screwed into place with one 2-inch brass screw drilled and countersunk from the bottom, near the front. (This allows the uprights and top to expand and contract with the weather.)
20. The shelves are slid into place (no wax), checking the blind-end fit. Clamps were needed to held the uprights together. The bottom shelf was screwed into place, to hold them all in, with 3 2-inch brass screws per side, drilled and countersunk. (The other shelves and top are still movable, and need adjustment. It might a good idea to staple them in place temporarily from the back.)
21. Cut a panel for the back. I had a piece of lauan plywood, rather than oak, but the color is similar, and I stained it, too.
22. This is when I applied urethane finish. It is much easier to do it now than before the back is attached. Doing it at the time of staining might be premature - it might get  marred. Two coats of water-based clear urethane floor finish.
23. Attach the back. It should slide into the slot in the top, locking that in place. It is screwed down with 1-inch pan-head screws to the back edges of the shelves. It is trickier than it seems to get the screws into the shelves. Try marking the locations with lines on bits of tape on the uprights.
router jig
router jig
joint detail
routing detail - top back
bookcase, without back panel

I've been refinishing a dresser, probably made in the 1920s or 1930s. It's made of red oak, with poplar drawer parts and a softwood back. Some fool painted it white, and it's been a bitch getting nearly all  the white out of the grain and crevices. The style is plain, Mission-like, and the construction is medium quality.
    Question: why are drawers usually made with flimsy bottoms that are just lightly tacked into the thin back? I've worked on a couple dozen desks and dressers, and it's a general problem. Light weight is good, thin wood is cheaper than thick, and the thin stuff can just be slid in after the rest is done, but it's a bad design because the bottoms pull out and sag with weather changes, age and drawer content weight and pressure. Good design would be to use plywood panels that fit somewhat loosely into dadoes on all 4 sides.
    The paint was removed first with a heat gun and scrapers, using different scrapers for the flat surfaces, corners and molding. This works well as the first step. Then used an orbital sander with 50 and 60 grit disks for nearly the whole thing, and a (noisy) quarter-sheet pad sander for the inside corners, followed by finer grits. Actually, I used the heat gun again to help with some tough spots. And a chisel to get into corners with thick paint, and hand sanding of the molding, sandpaper over rubber shapes.
    There are 2 large and 2 small drawers. They track with a rib on the drawer bottom middle sliding between ribs on the carcase (rather than being guided on the sides). The drawer ribs are part of the drawer-bottom problem, being lightly tacked in, with some poor repairs. I glued the front end of each rib to the drawer bottom, reinforced with a screw from inside. I added 2 more ribs to each of the large drawers, to support the bottom. I glued a long poplar cleat to the back of the large drawers, and used that as a much stronger screw hold for the 3 ribs than the original tiny glue block with a brad. I drilled a recess into the drawer bottom edges from the back, at each of the screw locations, to allow for wood movement with humidity. The front edge of each drawer bottom was glued into its dado. The small drawers were done the same way, but without additional ribs.
    Some ribs on the carcase were missing, some loose. They had been glued and tacked into place. I made new ones, and realigned some old ones. This part was awkward because access is difficult, with the dresser top already in place. I ended up attaching the ribs with hot melt glue - we'll see how well that holds up. (It didn't. Done again with screws and wood glue.)
    I knocked out the casters, glued dowels into the holes they had been in, and attached slide buttons instead. All the drawers originally had locks, with 3 remaining, but I have no key, so I pulled them out. I don't care for bail handles on drawers, unless space in a room is a limitation, and bought new, rigid handles that suit the style. Drawer pulls are made for new projects, with small holes through the wood, but the old holes are too big (a general problem in refinishing), so used brass washers inside and out to support the pulls and screws.
    The finish is 2 coats of MinWax Golden Oak stain/sealer. I may touch up some places where paint was in gouges, etc., but it's okay if some character or history shows through. A pencil was used to darken the white paint in patches of grain on the top, which works surprisingly well, and the top got 2 coats of water-based urethane.
    Looks pretty good, but the color is more uneven than I'd like. The keyhole brasses are missing, and I haven't found a good fix yet.
refinished oak dresser.