Beginnings of a Bookshelf

For far too long now, I’ve been in dire need of a proper bookshelf. As you’ll see in the photo to the right, my stack of woodworking books is inconvenient to say the least. There’s no risk of overloading the brackets (yet!) but, when I want to reach a title that’s near the bottom, I have to remove half the stack above.

Back in November 2008, I began building a bookshelf using some English cherry boards I’d bought from Interesting Timbers, earlier that summer. Not having worked with this species before, I was keen to see what it was like (having previously thought of using ash for this project… :roll:). These boards were the remnants of a much larger stack. Dead knots are a common ‘feature’ of 1in cherry native to these lands and, looking at the light sapwood, which provides a stark contrast against the darker heartwood, I realised I was only going to get narrow boards from my selection and would have to edge-joint them to achieve the desired 230mm width of the unit.

After lots of planing, attempted knot-filling, sanding and setting out, progress came to an abrupt halt as the winter weather suddenly kicked in (I’m a bit tougher, these days! :-D). Not only were my fingers freezing but my back was in agony as well – my old workbench (at 2ft6in/762mm high) was inadequate for me (6ft2in-ish) hand-cutting dovetails in such a low vice. This was when I began to realise how badly I needed a new workbench, which you hopefully saw in my previous blog at UKWorkshop [currently unavailable]. Of course, that was completed last summer (2009) and yet, I’ve still been putting this one off for several months more!

Well, in actual fact, I did attempt to pick up from where I had previously left off (twelve-months on!!), armed with my new ‘bench and a comfortable 900mm working height. But then, I was suffering with my Bosch mitre saw and, although it wouldn’t cut a 230mm width perfectly square, I was more concerned with the irregularities of this inaccuracy; how each board would be one degree or two out from every other! Shooting the ends square by hand worked to a point; at which my right-hand was blistered in the palm! I tried leaving a bit on to be chiselled off later and, well, you can see the results of that trial for yourselves!!

Erm... Spot the gap!!

Recently, I picked this one up again and I’m now determined to get it finished. I’ve decided to reduce the overall dimensions from 1000mmx600mm to 800mmx500mm, meaning I’ll do away with an idea I had previously for a 1oomm high drawer below (I don’t have enough spare cherry, anyway). Also, I’ve decided to replace the side panel I had previously decided would go against the adjacent wall – there was originally a large knot in the centre and my attempt at inlaying over this with a ‘clean’ slice of cherry did nothing to hide or make a feature of the defect! Also, the grain of this one is quite abstract against the others I had purchased.

New and the Old

On another trip to Interesting Timbers to purchase some English oak last year, I also picked up another length of cherry. More recently, after a little bit of planing and sawing, I had a new board for the sides glued up and almost ready to go. This was the first time I had used Titebond I, incidentally, and a quick ‘sheer test’ this weekend with an offcut and hammer shows that the grain gave way long before the glue joint or biscuit – a very good sign! I’m always on the lookout for alternatives to cascamite where appropriate. It’s not that I don’t like urea formaldehyde; I find it quite expensive and wasteful as I always mix far too much. There is an argument that suggests the addition of biscuits or splines eradicates the threat of creep, anyway. So, in future, I may just stick with PVA and aliphatic resin glues for table tops! I do like the fact that Titebond (I and II) only requires thirty-minutes in the cramps, provided the conditions are right and you don’t stress the joint for twenty-four hours… Trying to wipe away any excess while it’s still wet though seems to create a terrible mess!

I’ve since stuck the new board back through the thicknesser to flatten it although, I wasn’t able to achieve the 22mm finish I had before; meaning, both sides will be (20mm) 2mm less than the finished top and bottom parts.

Right now, I’m ready to start marking out the dovetails, having squared the end [close enough!] using a brand-new Atkinson Walker blade in my Makita mitre saw. The blade I’ve been sent is a “portable saw” blade with a positive hook angle. I’ve always believed that a blade with a negative rake angle is desirable on both mitre and radial arm saws but, provided you cut on the push stroke, it works okay (looking at the original Makita blade, I can see that also had a positive rake…). I should also mentioned that these glue lines are not central – I joined 120mm and 110mm widths to gain 230mm; believing (at the time) that this might somehow obscure the blatant centreline running the circumference of the unit… Whether or not this will actually work, well, that still remains to be seen!! If I was doing this again and was unable to source sufficiently wide boards though, I’d consider purchasing 2in stock and deep-ripping them on a bandsaw to get a book-matched effect.

Next time, I put my recently-handled Atkinson Walker dovetail saw in to action!

Thanks for reading.

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