Limbert-Style Book RackComments (1)
This article is from Issue 97 of Woodcraft Magazine.
A diminutive showcase for treasured volumes
I love Arts and Crafts style furniture. I also like angles in furniture, as they often add visual appeal to a design. This book rack provided a great way to marry those two interests. The trapezoidal openings in the sides are inspired by the work of Charles P. Limbert, a renowned Arts and Crafts furniture designer working in the early 1900s. However, the overall design, with its tapered sides and angled shelves, also incorporates design elements drawn from other well-known Arts and Crafts designers such as Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbard.
This white oak unit incorporates mortise-and-tenon joinery throughout. The rails and angled shelves join the sides with a simple form of the joint. However, I joined the bottom to the sides with tusk tenons. This variation of through-tenon joinery incorporates wedges that insert into mortises in the projecting tenons to draw the parts together. Normally used for knock-down furniture, the tusk tenons here are strictly for style. The rails below the bottom shelf provide added support and visual weight. The two angled shelves orient book spines upward for better display in this diminutive rack.
One of the keys to building this rack successfully is to template-rout (or pattern-rout) the sides. Using templates makes efficient work of both shaping the sides and routing the mortises. It also ensures perfect symmetry from side to side.
When you’re done, you’ll have a classic book rack just begging to display treasured volumes that invite you to pick them up for a leisurely read.
Mortise and tenon lock-down
This book case is rock-solid due to its extensive mortise-and-tenon joinery and angled shelves, which help protect against racking forces. The wedged tusk tenons that join the bottom to the sides are strong, but are primarily stylistic here in that they don’t actually allow disassembly of the unit, which is entirely glued-up.
“Parent template” gives birth to master template
Referring to the drawings, lay out the parent and master templates. I used 1/4" MDF for the parent, and 1/2" MDF for the master. Install a 3/4"-diameter straight bit in a table router and set up the router table fence and stops to rout all four slots in the parent template. Then clamp it to the bottom end of the master template and use it as a guide for routing the four bottom-most slots. Cobble together a plywood A-frame guide for routing out the trapezoid openings. For the foot cutout, simply saw and sand to your layout lines. Mark one face of the template “left” and the other “right.”
Order of Work
- Make templates
- Rout mortises and cutouts
- Saw tenons
- Saw tapers and assemble
- Apply finish
Slot the parent template. Set up your router table fence and stops to rout the first of the bottom shelf mortise slots. To make a plunge cut with a straight bit like this, carefully scrub the board side-to-side while lowering it onto the spinning bit. Next, flip the board end-over-end, and repeat to make the second shelf mortise slot. Then reset the fence and stops, and rout the rail mortise slots in the same manner.
Start slotting the master template. With the parent template clamped to the master template, rout all four of the slots. Outfit your router with a 1⁄2" O.D. bushing and a 1⁄4" upcut spiral bit to rough out the openings. Then follow up with a 1⁄2"-dia. pattern routing bit to remove the cut offset.
Mortise and cut out the sides
Make up finished-size panels for the two sides and the bottom shelf. Also cut the four angled shelves and two rails to their finished sizes, and mark all the parts for their final orientation in the project. Outfit your plunge router with a 1/2" O.D. bushing and 1/4"-diameter upcut spiral bit, and clamp the master template to a rack side. Rout all the mortises and cut-outs in that side. Switch to a 1"-long pattern routing bit, and trim away the offsets in the trapezoidal and foot cutouts. For perfectly mirrored sides, make sure to orient the left face of the template against the inside of the left-hand rack side. Vise-versa for the right side. Next, remove the master template, clamp a straightedge adjacent to the through mortises, mark out the ends of the haunch mortise, and rout it as shown. Finally, chisel the ends of the through mortises square.
Saw the tenons
Saw the tenons on the shelves and rails using a dado head as shown. Sneak up on the thickness, testing the fit by tucking the corners of each tenon in its mortises, and finessing the thickness with a shoulder plane if necessary. Make sure that the shoulder-to-shoulder length on all the pieces matches exactly. Precisely mark out the tenon widths and the haunch, and then make the cuts as shown. Also bandsaw and sand the wedges to the dimensions shown in the drawing. Dry-assemble the rack and mark each tusk tenon where it projects from the side. Then disassemble the unit, radius the tusk tenon ends, and lay out and cut the wedge mortises.
Taper and assemble
With the joinery complete, taper the sides from full width at the bottom to 8-1/2" at the top. I did this using a table saw tapering jig, but you could use a simple guide board instead. (See page 22.) Rout a 1/8" radius on all shelf edges, the bottom of the rails, and both faces of the sides. Drill counterbored clearance holes in the rails. Smooth the parts through 220 grit, scrutinizing surfaces under raking light for any remaining dings or mill marks. Then do a final dry-clamping to ensure the joints fit well and the rails pull tight to the bottom shelf. Assemble the unit as shown, gluing all the mortise-and-tenon joints, including the tusk tenons. Lastly, install the wedges, spot-gluing them in place, and fasten the rails as shown.
Apply your desired finish. I used Golden Brown, water-based Transtint dye, pre-raising the grain with water and scuff sanding the dried surfaces before applying the dye. I followed the dye by spraying on a coat of Zinsser Shellac Seal Coat, which I also scuff sanded when dry. Then I applied a coat of General Finishes Antique Walnut Glaze, wiping it back until I reached the desired color. Finally I sprayed the whole thing with two coats of satin sheen lacquer. This multi-layered coloring process yields a rich look that lets the golden brown dye shimmer through.
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