Limbert-Style Book Rack

Comments (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. 

Rout the angled slots. Position the parent template for cutting each angled slot in the master template in turn. As before, rough out each slot using a bushing and spiral bit first, then trim it to final size with a pattern routing bit. 
Cut the trapezoid openings. Use plywood strips and pocket screws to create a guide for cutting the trapezoid openings on the master template. Then rout them out, roughing and trimming in the same manner. 

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.

Rout the side mortises. With the master template clamped to the rack side, rout the mortises using a guide bushing and upcut spiral bit. After cutting the through-mortises as shown here, readjust the cutting depth to rout all the 1⁄2"-deep mortises. 
Rough-cut the cut-outs. With the router still outfitted with a spiral bit and guide bushing, rough out the trapezoid and foot cut-outs on the rack side.
Flush-cut the cut-outs. Trim away the offsets on the trapezoid and foot cut-outs using a 1⁄2"-diameter, 1"-long pattern routing bit. 
Rout the haunch mortise. Align a straight-edged board with the through-mortise walls and use a 1⁄2"-diameter × 1⁄2"-long pattern bit to rout the haunch mortise on each rack side. 

Saw the tenons to thickness. Start cutting the tusk tenons by guiding the bottom shelf past the dado blade with the miter gauge. Make multiple passes, and use the rip fence as a stop. Note that the sacrificial fence here was used when cutting the 1⁄2"-long tenons on the rails and angled shelves.

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. 

Saw the tusk tenons to width. After laying out the four individual tusk tenons, stand the bottom shelf on end against a tall miter gauge fence. Raise your dado head to the haunch line, and then make the cuts with the workpiece clamped to the fence, realigning and reclamping as you go.
Cut the wedge mortises. Drill and chop out the wedge mortises, working from both sides to prevent exit blowout. Cut slightly beyond your innermost layout lines to allow the wedge to draw the parts together tightly. Taper the outer wall of each mortise as shown to match the angle of its wedge.

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. 

Taper the sides. My sled for tapering large panels is guided by a single runner that rides in a table slot. A hold-down screwed to a block at the foot and one in a workpiece opening secures the panel to the jig. 
Fit the wedges. Belt-sand each tusk tenon wedge until it slips halfway into its mortise. (A combination square serves as a good height gauge.) Don’t glue the wedges yet. 
First glue-up one side... With one of the rack sides lying on padded risers on the bench, apply glue to the joints and insert the shelves and rails. Cover only the innermost 3⁄4" of the tusk tenons with glue.
…then the other. After brushing glue onto the remaining joints, carefully place the opposite side atop the assembly and tap the parts together.
Pull it all together. Clamp the sides to the shelves and rails to draw all the joints tight. Also spot-glue the tusk tenon wedges into their mortises, and pull the rails up against the bottom shelf. 
Screw through the rail. After the glue dries, remove the bar clamps and lay the unit down. Drill pilot holes into the bottom shelf, and reinforce the rail/shelf connection with screws. 

Applying the glaze. After one final inspection of the surfaces and removing any residual glue squeezeout, I apply a coat of dye, which I top with shellac, glaze (shown), and then lacquer.

Finishing up

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. 

1 Comment

Write Comment
  • DB from Sandia Park
    No material list

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page