Bookcase with Flair

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This article is from Issue 38 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Curved parts, veneered panels, and adjustable shelves add up to stylish storage.

Overall dimensions: 37"w × 60"h × 16"d

As part of my Dora furniture collection, this bookcase features certain design elements that you can see throughout the line. The first, and probably most important, is that all of the pieces have a curve to their sides as evidenced by the tapered corner posts. Still other gentle curves appear in selected rails. These give the piece drama and artistic flair. The second common element is the use of a heavy 13⁄8"-thick top with a large coved profile. The solid wood side panels displaying bird’s-eye maple veneered surfaces and coved edges serve as the final element. They provide a contrast in color and figure. The panels appear to “float” within their frames. Working together, these elements create a unique style without compromising the project’s utility as an attractive place to display books, art, and other worthy items.

For you, the bookcase teaches valuable techniques guaranteed to improve your woodworking skills. These include making snug mortise-and-tenon joints, cutting identical curved parts, creating veneered panels without a vacuum press, and forming large coves on a tablesaw using a setup jig and sacrificial fence. So even if you give away the bookcase, the very act of building it will reward you with a rich and fulfilling learning experience.

Making Seamless Post Laminations

To form a seamless lamination (or laminations, in this case), joint, plane, and crosscut a 60"-long board to 13⁄8 × 6". Set your tablesaw for a 25⁄8"-wide cut, and then rip two pieces from the board as shown in the three-step drawing below. Fold the outside edges of the pieces down or up, and examine the quality of the seam of the inside cut edges. You want the best possible grain and color match. Now, mark the set of matching edges for easy reference. Apply glue to the faces, flush the matching edges, and then clamp the pieces together. Wait until the glue hardens slightly, and then scrape off the excess. Allow to dry overnight, and then mill the lamination to 21⁄2 × 21⁄2" square. The matching grain makes the seam almost disappear, particularly with straight, paralleling lines. In effect, you create a book-matched edge. The opposite edge will likely be a color match, but the grain may not be as accommodating. At this point you’ll want to select the most desirable edges to face the outside.

Make and mill the corner posts

1 From 10/4 (21⁄2") stock measuring 60" long, joint and plane enough cherry for the four square corner posts (A) shown in Figure 1. If you can’t find 10/4 stock locally, consider a mail-order supplier (such as or or laminate two pieces of 6/4 stock to create each of the 21⁄2" square posts as discussed in the sidebar “Making Seamless Post Laminations.” Then crosscut the posts to the final length in the Cut List.

2 Locate the laminated posts so that seamed edges face the sides of the bookcase, and label each post on its top end to reflect its placement in the bookcase assembly as shown in the Post Orientation Detail in Figure 2.

Carefully set the fence on your mortiser and bore holes at the ends of the mortises; then remove the waste with succeeding cuts.

3 Referring to Figures 1 and 2 (including the Mitered Tenon Detail), lay out the mortises on post faces #1 and #2 with a marking gauge or combination square. There are two mortises on each #1 face, and three mortises on each #2 face.

4 Using either a mortising attachment in your drill press or a mortising machine, cut the 3⁄8"-wide mortises as shown in Photo A. Don’t have either? Then use your plunge router, spiral upcut bit, and a mortising jig like the one featured on page 28 in issue 28 (April/May 09) and available as a techniques download at under “Loose-Tenon Options.”

5 Mark the shelf-pin holes 2" apart on the #1 faces of the posts with the centers 1⁄2" in from the inner edge of each post where shown in Figure 1. Then set up a fence on your drill press, and bore the 1⁄4" holes 1⁄2" deep. Each post has 18 holes.

Bend the fairing stick to align with the template layout marks; then strike the curved line.

6 Lay out a template using the curved post profile in Figure 2

on a 21⁄2 × 585⁄8" piece of 1⁄4" plywood or hardboard, marking the top, bottom, and middle widths. Now, bow and align a fairing stick with the marks as shown in Photo B, and strike a curved line from one end of the template to the other. Bandsaw the template’s curve, cutting just outside the line. Fair the edge smooth and to the cutline with a sanding block.

7 Lay the plywood template on one #3 face of a post blank. With the curve oriented toward the outside corner, align the template’s straight edge with the blank’s inside edge. Clamp the template in place and trace the curved cutline onto the post blank. Do the same on the remaining three post blanks and then bandsaw the curves. Reapply the template to the adjacent #3 face, again aligning the straight edges, and trace the template’s curve. Then bandsaw the curves.

With the spokeshave at a slight angle, employ a pushing (or pulling) action to shave the rough face of the bandsawn edges, creating semi-fine shavings.

8 Clamp a post (A)—curved edge up—to your workbench or other sturdy stand, and clean up the sawn edges using a spokeshave as shown in Photo C. (See “Spokeshaves” on page 40 for advice on sharpening and using this valuable hand tool.) A sanding block would also work, but it takes longer. Clean up the other curved post edges in turn.

9 Follow the spokeshave work with a card scraper to create a more refined smooth surface.

10 Sand the inner faces of the posts (A) through 220 grit. Now finish the inside faces only (I use a wipe-on Danish oil). Leave outside edges unfinished at this point.

Use a spacer the same thickness of the tenon and saw blade to make the inside cheek cuts.

Cut the tenoned rails and bottom

1 Using 5/4 (11⁄4") stock, mill the top side rails (B), middle side rails (C), bottom side rails (D), top front/rear rails (E), and the bottom front/rear rails (F) to the sizes in the Cut List. Using the dimensions in the Front And Side Rails Parts View, Figure 3, lay out a tenon on a scrap test piece that’s the same thickness as the rails. Next, label the outside faces and the orientation of the tenons on each rail to prevent confusion and miscuts. (Consider using the triangle marking system tip on page 10 to orient the parts.)

Note: The following description explains how I cut offset tenons, using a spacer on a tenoning jig to make the second cheek cut. However, rather than using a spacer, you could simply adjust your tenoning jig for the second cut.

2 To begin cutting the tenons, raise your tablesaw blade to 1". (While the tenons are initially cut to 1" long, they are later miter-cut to 13⁄16".) Now clamp a rail test piece to your tenoning jig, and adjust the jig to saw the outer tenon cheek, which is inset 3⁄16", as shown in the Tenon Detail in Figure 3. Make the cut and then double-check the offset measurement. Adjust the jig if needed, and then make this outer cheek cut on all the rails (parts B, C, D, E, and F), paying attention to the orientation marked in Step 1.

3 Make a spacer that’s the same thickness as the tenon (3⁄8"), plus the thickness of the saw blade. With the spacer sandwiched between the test piece and the jig, and with the previously-cut outer tenon cheek facing outward, saw the inner tenon cheek on the test piece. This should result in a perfect 3⁄8"-thick tenon. But to make sure, saw away the outer waste at both shoulders and insert the test tenon into a mortise. It should slip into place with just slight resistance. If the tenon is too fat, plane the spacer down a bit. If it’s too thin, “build out” the spacer with a layer or two of masking tape. When the test piece fits perfectly, saw all of the inner cheeks on the rails (parts B, C, D, E, and F) as shown in Photo D.

Set up a stopblock to make consistent shoulder cuts 1" in from the rail ends. Adjust the blade height when switching to the inside shoulder cuts.

4 With the saw blade at the same height, turn the rails (parts B, C, D, E, and F) 90° in the tenoning jig and clamp them in place, ensuring that they remain square to the table.

Now adjust the jig to make shoulder cuts 1⁄4" in from the edges on all but the upper shoulders on the top side and top front and rear rails (B, E) where shown in Figure 3.

Make the cuts. Place the opposite edges against the jig and saw those shoulders. Adjust the tenoning jig and make the upper shoulder cuts on the top side and front and back rails.

5 Equip your tablesaw miter gauge with an extension fence, square it to the blade, and raise the blade to 3⁄16". Make the shoulder cuts on the outside faces of the rails (parts B, C, D, E, and F). Raise the blade to 7⁄16" and make the shoulder cuts on the inside faces of the rails as shown in Photo E.

6 Angle the tablesaw blade to 45° and, with the rails (parts B, C, D, E, and F) inside face down and supported by the miter gauge extension fence, bevel-cut the tenon ends as shown in the Tenon Detail of Figure 3, arriving at a final tenon length of 13⁄16".

7 Mark the locations of the slot mortises on the top, middle, and bottom side rails (B, C, D) where shown in Figure 3. (These will receive the coved ends of the side panels.) Now, using a router table setup and stops, cut centered 1⁄4"-grooves in the rail edges to the needed depths of 3⁄8" deep. The slot lengths differ while playing a role in accommodating wood movement as discussed later.

8 Adjust the router table setup to cut the 1⁄4"-deep grooves in the inside faces of bottom rails (D) and front and back rails (F) for receiving the rabbeted 1⁄2" plywood bottom as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 3.

9 Use a fairing stick to mark curves on bottom rails (F) and the top front and rear rails (E) where shown in Figure 3. Bandsaw the curves to shape and clean the edges as before.

10 Cut the bottom shelf (G) to size from 1⁄2" plywood. Then angle-cut the corners where shown in Figure 1. Install a 1⁄4" rabbeting bit with bearing in a handheld router. With the bottom face of the bottom up, rout along the edges, creating the 1⁄4" tongue. Later, you’ll cut the mating notches in the posts (A) to receive the bottom. Now, sand and finish the rails and bottom.

With the workpiece against the fence, cove-cut the ends of the panels with a panel-raising bit (inset). Adjust, and cut the remaining edge coves.

Veneer the side panels and cove the edges

1 Edge-joint 3⁄4" cherry stock for the four side panels (H). Plane the panels to 5⁄8" thick, and cut them to the finished width and length shown in Figure 4.

2 Trim eight pieces of bird’s-eye maple veneer (I) to the size of the cherry side panels (H) plus 1⁄4". Now adhere a piece to each face of a panel using white glue. Clamp the glue-up by creating a sandwich like the one shown in Figure 5. Note how waxed paper is used to prevent the MDF platens from adhering to the veneer. Use clamping cauls and clamps to ensure a complete bond, letting the glue-up sit overnight. Repeat for the remaining three veneered panels (H, I). Using either a block plane or a laminate trimmer with a flush-trim bit, trim excess veneer from the panel edges.

3 Adjust the router table fence and the height of a panel-raising bit to match the longer profile of the veneered panel end coves in Figure 4, and make a test cut to check the setting. Now cut the end coves as shown in Photo F. Next, adjust the setting to match the profiles of the edge coves and cut them.

4 Mark and bandsaw the notches at the bottom corners of the veneered panels where shown in Figure 4. Doing this hides the lower slot mortises from view while allowing for edge-to-edge wood movement.

5 Sand the veneered panels to 220 grit and finish both faces.

Keep materials close at hand during assembly for tapping and clamping parts together. Measure diagonally across the assembled frame for square.

Assemble the bookcase

Note: To work ahead of the drying glue with projects that have a lot of joinery, I solicit a helper to assist with the assembly and clamping work.

1 Dry-fit the side assemblies (parts A, B, C, D, H, and I) as shown in Figure 1. Insert the veneered side panels in their rail slots, and then add the posts. To keep the “floating” panels from rattling and to ensure a snug fit top and bottom, I insert “Space Balls” in the slots receiving the top edges. Check the rail locations and trim any tenon edges that may be preventing proper joint alignment. When everything is correctly dry-fit, mark where the grooves in bottom side rails (D) intersect the posts (A) to establish the notch locations for bottom shelf (G). Disassemble the case, then saw and chisel the notches on the inside corners of the posts, and check the fit.

2 Apply glue in the post mortises and to the mating tenons, and fit and clamp the parts together as shown in Photo G. Check the side assemblies for square, and make sure the panels are evenly spaced between the front and rear posts. Let dry.

3 Dry-fit the side assemblies (parts A, B, C, D, H, and I) with the top front and rear rails (E), bottom front and rear rails (F), and bottom shelf (G). Make any needed adjustments, and then glue and clamp the shelving unit together.

4 At this point, all of the surfaces—with the exception of the outside curved faces of posts (A)—have been sanded and finished. To wrap up the framework, sand the curved faces through 220 grit, and apply finish to them.

Add the top and shelves

1 Joint and plane two (or three) pieces of 6/4 (11⁄2") stock to just over 13⁄8" thick for a rough-size panel that measures 18 × 40". Now edge-join the pieces and plane or sand the resulting panel smooth. From it, rip and crosscut the top (J) to finished size.

2 From 3⁄4" plywood, build the adjustable Cove-Cutting Setup Jig as shown in Figure 6.

From 1⁄2" plywood scrap, cut the 3⁄4"- and 13⁄4"-wide spacers used with the jig.

Holding the jig and spacer firmly in place, strike alignment marks along the front edge of the spacer across the tablesaw insert.
Press the workpiece firmly against the sacrificial fence and table when cove-cutting on a tablesaw. Control is everything.

3 To cut the end coves in top (J), shown in the Top Cove Details in Figure 7, raise the saw blade to 3⁄4". Now spread the jig’s long rails to 31⁄2" and center the jig over the blade, placing it on the table. Angle the jig from right to left so that the blade’s edges touch the long rails. Holding the jig in place, lower the blade, counting the number of cranks. Now, slip in the wide spacer as shown in Photo H. Mark its location on the tablesaw insert. Remove the jig without disturbing the spacer, and make marks along the spacer’s front edge. Using these marks for alignment, firmly clamp a sacrificial fence (a straight 2×4 works well) to the saw table.

4 Raising the blade in small (1⁄16") increments or a crank equivalent of about a one-quarter to one-half rotation, begin forming the end coves, cutting one end and then the other. It shouldn’t feel like you are making a hard cut. Now, raise the blade another small increment and repeat the cove-cutting process until you have elevated the blade the desired number of cranks or until you have achieved 11⁄2"-wide end coves 3⁄4" deep as shown in Photo I.

5 Reset the fence for the 3⁄4 × 3⁄4" front and back edge coves by working through the same process as that described in Step 3. Only here, space the jig’s long rails 11⁄2" apart and use the narrower 3⁄4"-wide spacer. Now, cut the coves on the edges of the top (J), raising the blade in increments as before.

6 Use a convex scraper and sandpaper to remove saw marks and smooth the coves.

7 Next, chuck a 1⁄2" round-over bit in your table-mounted router (or handheld router), and shape the top edges of top (J). Sand through 220 grit and finish.

8 Drill shallow recesses in the top edges of the top rails and install four Figure 8 tabletop fasteners. (For more on this process, see “Tabletop Fasteners” on page 24 in issue 35 [June/July 10]. It is also available as a downloadable technique at Now center the top and screw it in place through the Figure 8 fasteners.

9 Edge-glue enough stock for three or four shelves (K). Cut these to size. Mark the locations of the 1⁄2"-wide by 1⁄4"-deep recesses on the bottom faces of the shelves at the corners where shown in Figure 1. These are centered 9⁄16" in from the edges and are used to corral the brass shelf pins. Because a router feeds in a counterclockwise rotation, two of these cuts will enter from the ends of the shelf. The other two will begin as plunge cuts working from your location marks and exiting at the ends of the shelf. Now using a straight bit in a handheld plunge router guided by a straightedge, rout the recesses.

10 Sand and finish the shelves and insert the shelf pins in the posts. Fit the shelves in place, locate the bookcase, and fill as desired.  

About Our Designer/Builder

Jim Probst is an award-winning designer and builder who has crafted fine furniture for over 26 years at his shop in Hamlin, West Virginia. He and his crew of two produce several furniture collections that sell through dealers nationwide. For more information on the Dora furniture collection go to


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