A Classic Display Case For Books and Collectibles

For Books and Collectibles

Designer/Builder/Writer: Craig Bentzley

This handsome display case inherits its good looks from Philadelphia furniture built during the Chippendale period (roughly 1760-1785). Classic architectural elements such as flutes, finials, and pediments, and balanced proportions played a huge role in the furniture of that time. I strived for the same elements when I designed this piece. Along with practical purposes, furniture was also a way to display wealth and status during the 18th century. Cabinetmakers gave customers a list of options from which to choose, similar to buying a car nowadays. You have options in building this piece as well. Think the pitched pediment is an impediment? Feel free to leave it off (see photo, page 2). Find the fretwork too fussy? Don’t fret. Or go with cherry instead of walnut. Select biscuits or other joinery over dovetails if it saves time. The point is that furniture should suit your needs and tastes, so build it the way you want to.

Start with the lower case

1 Mill the material for the lower case sides (A), and the top and bottom (B), and cut the parts to the sizes in the Cut List. Next, using your table saw or router, create the ½" deep × ½" wide rabbet on the rear edges of the top, bottom, and sides to house the back (K).

Note: As shown in Figure 1, I used hand-cut dovetails to join the lower base because they are strong enough to support the weight of an upper case fully loaded with books. Don’t let the handwork scare you; carcase dovetails don’t need to be pretty since they’re rarely seen. Should you choose a power tool-assisted joint such as biscuits, skip most of steps 3-6.  Also, if you choose such a joint, adjust the lengths of the top, bottom, and sides to create a case that’s 10 3/8" high × 43" long.    

2 Lay out the dovetails on the sides (A) (or pin boards) where shown in the Dovetail Detail using a sharp knife and a marking gauge. Next, cut on the waste side of your scribed lines with a dovetail saw. Hog out the bulk of the waste with a router and a downcut spiral bit, as shown in Photo A. Chop out as much waste as possible with a chisel and a mallet; then pare away the material remaining on the sides, back, and bottom with a sharp chisel as shown in Photos B.

Note: I used air-dried walnut for the display cabinet. If you don’t have access to that, use kiln-dried hardwood and consider hardwood plywood for the sides, tops, bottoms, and shelves. To order helpful supplies, see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide on page 32.

By using an edge guide, you can use your router to remove the waste to within 1/16" of your layout lines.
Use a chisel to pare down to the scribed lines and clean out the corners.

3 Scribe the ends of the top and bottom (B) using the same marking gauge that you used to lay out the depth of the sockets on the sides. Position the sides on each piece as shown in Photo C and mark out the tails using a knife or fine-point pencil. Extend the tail lines across the board ends.

4 Clamp the parts (B) in a vise and saw down to the scribed base line. Now clamp the parts (B) to the benchtop and remove the waste. Begin by lightly tapping ahead of the base line to remove a small wedge of material. You can then set your chisel into the scribed baseline and chop down as shown in Photo D. Next, chop in from the end to remove some waste as shown in the Inset. Continue alternately chopping down, then in, until you reach the middle of the workpiece. Flip it over and repeat the above steps until all of the waste is removed. Test-fit the parts (A&B) together.

5 Glue and clamp the lower case box; check your case for square and adjust as necessary.

6 Cut the upper (C) and lower (D) drawer rails to size.  Then mark and cut the mortises for the vertical drawer divider (E). Make the vertical drawer divider (E), cut the tenons, and test the fit in the upper and lower rails.

Clamping your sides to a simple right angle jig takes the struggle out of holding them in place while marking the tails.

7 Make the lower case back (K) and fit it in place. 

8 Brush glue into the mortises in the drawer rails (C, D) and on the tenons of divider (E), assemble the partial face frame. Glue this assembly to the front of the lower case box, as shown in Photo E. When the glue is dry, reinforce the joints with six 1¾" brads across both rails.

9 Cut the center drawer guide (P). Attach it to the lower case using two countersunk #8 × 1½" flathead screws through the bottom and into the guide.

10 Cut the outer drawer runners (Q) and the center drawer runners (R) and attach each with three 1½" brads where shown in Figure 1.

Angle your chisel back when chopping down to create a slight undercut. After chopping down, light horizontal taps remove the waste quickly (inset).

Use scrap to protect the rails from clamp-caused dents. Make sure the joints are flush and the case is square before tightening the clamps.

Make and attach the base molding

1 Using your router table and classical bit, mill 78" of base molding (F). To save time, rout an additional 75" for later use as the waist molding (X). Note the different dimensions.

2 Miter-cut and fit the base moldings (F) to the case. Attach with glue and 1½" brads.

3 Install the lower case back (K) with twelve countersunk #8 ×1½" flathead wood screws.

Shape and attach the feet

1 Starting with dimensions listed in the Cut List, cut stock into three 17"-long blanks to make three pairs of foot facings (G). Copy the Foot Pattern on page 76 to make hardboard templates of the foot’s front and side profiles. Trace the ogee profile on both ends of each blank. 

2 Cut the concave portion of the ogee shape on the table saw as shown in Photo F. The easiest way to lay out the 5 /8" deep × 2¼" wide cove is to make a cardboard template like the one shown in Figure 2. Raise your blade to the finished height of the cove, then position the template so that the right-tilting tooth touches the right side of the template. Now swivel the end closest to you until a left-tilting tooth touches the left side of the template. (Note that the teeth need to be at the point where they’re just emerging from the throat plate.) Once the angle is determined, make a pencil line on the saw top, and then clamp a board to the saw. To make the cut, lower the blade to 1/8"  and gradually raise it—1/16" at a time—until you reach the final profile.

3 Remove the saw marks with a gooseneck scraper. A piece of 2"-diameter PVC pipe wrapped with self-adhesive sandpaper works well for the final smoothing.

4 Clamp the foot blank in a vise and create the convex curve with a block plane or a small bench plane. See the full-sized End Pattern on page 76. Wrap sandpaper around a rubber block to remove the facets left by the plane and refine the curve.

5 Cut the miters for the front feet in the center of the blank on the table saw.

6 Place the cardboard foot pattern on the feet blanks to trace the outline. Bandsaw the feet as shown in Photo G. Smooth the edges with an oscillating spindle sander or files.

to cut the cove use a non-slip pushblock to safely pass the blanks over the blade. Making the foot facings in pairs makes the shaping process more manageable.

7 Cut the 3/16"-deep spline grooves 1/16" in from the inside face of the front feet pieces using a table saw, simple 45° splining jig, and a 1/8"-thick blade as shown in Photo H.

8 Cut the 1/8×3/8" splines to length and glue up the front feet as shown in Photo I.

9 Cut a 1/4" dado 3/16" deep on the rear inside face of the rear foot facings (G). Make the rear feet (H) and cut the matching tenons to fit into the rear foot facings. Glue and clamp the rear foot assemblies (see the feet details, page 25.)

Make the cut at the bottom of the foot first, back out, then cut the curved areas.
This splining jig straddles the fence, improving accuracy and safety when cutting the spline grooves in the feet.

Placing scraps of leather under the clamp heads prevents clamp slippage and marring your work.

10 Attach each assembled foot to the lower case with glue and a couple of carefully placed brads through the underside of the foot and into the base molding.

11 Make the vertical foot glue blocks (I) and then glue and clamp in place. Finally, make and install the horizontal foot glue blocks (J). Apply glue, rub back and forth until the glue starts to grab, or tape the blocks in place, and let dry (see the Front and Rear feet details.)

Build the drawers

1 Cut the drawer fronts (L), sides (M), and backs (N) to sizes as listed in the Cut List. Using a table saw and dado set, cut a ¼" × ¼" groove in the ends and the top edge of the front where shown in Figure 3. Now cut ¼"-deep grooves in the back face of the drawer front and the inside faces of the sides for the drawer bottom (O).

2 Using a router and ¼" diameter cove and bead bit, rout the thumbnail edge on the drawer fronts. Drill the holes for the pulls.

3 Dovetail the drawers or go with a simpler lock-rabbet joint as in the Lock-Rabbet Detail. (Although I hand-dovetailed mine, I sized them so that you can use a dovetail jig, such as the Porter-Cable 4210, Woodcraft #146048.) When finished, glue them up and check for square.

4 Cut the drawer bottoms to size. Bevel the front edges and the ends with a hand plane or on the table saw. (See the Bevel Detail.) Slide them into the assembled drawers and tack in place with two 1" brads through the rear edges of the bottoms into the bottom edges of drawer backs (N).

Construct the upper case

1 Cut the upper case sides (S) and the upper case top and bottom (T) to the sizes in the Cut List. Next, make the ½×½" rabbets on the rear inside edges of the upper case sides where shown in Figure 4.

2 Join the case sides and top and bottom using the same method you used to join the lower case. Adjust the part lengths as needed if using biscuits. Glue up the case, squaring the assembly.

3 Cut the upper case stiles (U), top rail (V), and bottom rail (W) to size. Cut the biscuit slots where shown in Figure 4, including the slots for attaching the pediment.

4 Using a router jig like the one described in “Expressway to Stopped Flutes" on page 36, flute the stiles.

5 Glue up the face frame assembly with biscuits and attach it to the upper case with glue and 1½" brads.

6 Miter and attach the waist molding (X) you milled while making the lower case with glue and 1½" brads.

7 Machine the back boards (Y). Note that the two outer back boards are ¼" wider than the other five backboards to account for the rabbet. Also note that one has just a tongue and the other just a groove. Make these first. The remaining five back boards are identical and interchangeable. Cut the tongue-and-groove joints on the table saw. Adjust the width of the outer boards to create the reveals between backboards. (See the Tip Alert above.) Remove the boards and stain them so that bare wood can’t be seen when they shrink. Attach them to the case with two countersunk #8×1½" flathead wood screws at the top and bottom of each board, and seven screws along the edge of each outer board. Even spacing.

8 Make a 1/4" PLYWOOD template shown in Figure 5 for drilling the shelf pin holes. Use double-faced tape to affix the template in place. Butt the bottom of the template up to the top face of the case bottom. Then use a ¼" Vix bit to drill the ½" deep shelf pin holes.

9 Cut the shelves (Z) to the sizes in the Cut List. Using your table-mounted router and 3/16"  radius core-box bit, mill the 3/8"-deep plate grooves where shown in Figure 4.

10 Using your table-mounted router and an edge-beading bit, shape the edge of a wide board, then use your table saw to rip the shelf facing (AA) strips. Glue and clamp the strips to the shelves.

Trim Out the Upper Case

1 Cut a 78"-long strip for backer parts (FF) to the sizes in the Cut List. Mark a line ½" down from the top of the upper case. Miter-cut and attach the upper case cove backer parts with glue and 1" pins, making sure that the top of the backer part is even with the line.

2 Cut the strip for the upper case cornice cap (GG), referring to the Cut List. Using a router and ½" radius bull-nose bit, mill the upper cornice cap (GG) to the profile in the Upper Case Molding Detail in Figure 4. Miter-cut and attach the caps (GG) to the backer  parts (FF) with glue and 1" pins.

3 Rout a ½" radius cove in a 78" length of 11/8" stock. Cut a 11/8" strip for the upper case cove molding (EE). Miter-cut and attach the needed pieces to the upper case cove backer (FF) with glue and ½" pins where shown in the Upper Case Molding Detail and Figure 1.

4 Referring to the Upper Case Molding Detail, rout the identical profiles for the lower frieze bead moldings (BB) on   1/2" -thick stock and the upper frieze bead moldings (DD) on 5/8"-thick stock using a ¼" radius bull-nose bit and ¼" radius cove bit. Rip the moldings to width. Miter-cut and attach the upper frieze (DD) molding with glue and 1" pins.

5 Cut and plane the blank for the frieze fretwork (CC) to size and use it as a spacer to locate the position of the lower frieze bead molding (BB). Miter-cut and attach the lower frieze bead molding with glue and ¾" pins.

Scrollsaw the fretwork

1 Miter-cut and fit the frieze fretwork (CC) blanks in place and mark the pieces as to their location before scrolling them. Next, use the Fretwork Pattern on page 76 to make a cardboard Mylar template. Starting with the shorter side pieces, draw a line ¼" in from each end. Divide the space between the lines into three equal parts and trace the pattern. 

2 Chuck a  3/32" drill bit in the drill press and bore blade start holes at inside corners. Thread a spiral-tooth blade  through a drilled hole, secure the blade, and start cutting as shown in Photo J. This blade lets you cut in any direction, but at first the blade may seem to have a mind of its own. For this reason, make practice cuts on scrap first. Once sawn, sand the back side to remove loose fibers. Clean up the fretwork’s inside edges with small files.

3 Glue the finished fretwork to the upper case. To apply a thin, even coating of glue to the back face, spread some glue on a sheet of wax paper and work a hard rubber roller into the glue until it’s evenly coated. Roll the glue onto the back of the fretwork. Use 23 gauge × ½" pins to secure the fretwork while the glue dries.

a taut blade and a slow, steady feed rate produces the best results when using a spiral tooth blade.

Using a jig and clamping system, cutting the acute angles is safe and accurate. 

Top it off with the pediment

1 Cut the scroll board (HH) to length and width from 5/16" stock. Cut the biscuit slots on the bottom edge to mate with the slots that you cut in the top of the upper case top rail (V). 

Note: If the upper case isn’t exactly 45"wide, you’ll need to adjust the length of the scroll board. To save wood, make a full-scale cardboard template to double-check the fit and make any needed changes. 

2 Layout and bandsaw the 25½° angled edges of scroll board (HH), staying on the waste side of the cutline. Clamp the scroll board to your benchtop on top of a piece of ½" material to raise it off the benchtop. Use a bench plane and shoot the bandsawn angles until you meet your pencil line. A sanding block and 100-grit sandpaper can substitute.

3 Cut the two 90° angles at the top of the scroll board (HH) by setting your sliding compound mitersaw to 64½° and making a cut 18" up from the 25½º angled corners. 

4 To cut the flat at the top of the plinth, set your table saw fence 4 7/16" from the blade and lower the blade. Center your scroll board (HH) over the arbor and clamp it to the saw top. Raise the blade until the cut is complete.

5 Make the circular cutouts (Figure 6) with a handheld jigsaw. Use an oscillating spindle sander or drill press-mounted drum sander to clean up the cutouts.

6 Cut enough molding stock for the pediment bead molding (II), cove molding (JJ), cove backer (KK), and cornice cap (LL). Rout to shape as you did for the upper cabinet moldings using the same bits. Now, cut the 25½° angles on the lower ends of all the pediment moldings. To cut the acute angles, use a mitersaw set at 19½° and a matched pair of simple jigs, like the one shown in Photo K and Figure 7. Clamp the jig to the saw and clamp the stock to the jig. Be sure to slide the opposing fence out of the way to avoid trapping the offcuts, which could kick back.

7 Position the moldings on the scroll board and scribe and miter-cut the upper mitered ends. Attach the moldings with glue and ¾" pins.

8 Miter-cut the ends of the return moldings (JJ, II) by positioning them on the scroll board, scribing the lengths, and cutting them to length. Attach the returns with glue and ¾" pins.

9 Cut the cornice cap (LL) to length, rout the upper end, and attach it to the pediment with glue and 1" brads.

10 Cut the vertical plinth block (OO) and glue in place.

11 Rout the bottom front edges and both ends of  the plinth cap (MM) with a cove and bead router bit. Attach it to the scroll board (HH) with glue and 1" pins.

12 Locate and bore the ½" diameter, 1" deep hole for the finial (NN) on the drill press.

13 Add the final touch by turning and installing the finial. (Refer to “Turning a Showy Finial,” page 33.)

14 Make the pediment glue blocks (PP) and glue them to the back of the pediment 7¾" in from each end. 

Apply a finish

1 Fill the nail holes with color-matching putty and finish-sand to 220 grit. Next, raise the grain with a dampened cloth and re-sand when dry.

2 Stain the entire piece with a 50/50 mixture of Homestead TransFast medium walnut and orange dye powders which give the walnut a rich, mellow, aged look. Re-stain all the exposed poplar parts with straight medium walnut to darken them a bit more. Once dry, rub the stained surfaces down with a gray abrasive pad.

3 Apply a coat of General Finishes Antique Walnut gel stain to the entire piece. This stain coat pulls light and dark areas together and gives the piece a more homogeneous look. Allow the stain to dry completely.

4 Apply two coats of dewaxed garnet shellac. Allow the shellac a day or two to dry before rubbing out with #0000 steel wool. Apply a coat of paste wax.

Final details

Position the upper case on top of the lower case. Drive two #8 x 11/2" flathead wood screws through the top of the lower case into the bottom of the upper case to lock the two together. Finally, install the drawer pulls and position the pediment to the upper case with biscuits. All that’s left is to sit back and admire your masterpiece. 

About our Designer/Builder

Craig Bentzley is a native of Pennsylvania where he has spent nearly 40 years restoring antiques and building furniture. His primary interest is 18th century American furniture and the processes that were employed to create it. He has authored articles for numerous woodworking magazines. An active member of the woodworking community, he also teaches at guilds, woodworking shows, and Woodcraft stores.

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