Arts & Crafts Bookcase

Learn a few tricks constructing this traditional furniture favorite.

Overall dimensions: 43 3⁄4"w × 14 3⁄4"d × 60 1⁄8"h

Arts & Crafts Set

This piece matches the styling of the Arts & Crafts TV Table featured in the June/July 2011 issue of Woodcraft Magazine. Here, biscuits are used instead of pocket screws, and the drawer simply slips into the case opening without metal slides.

 Remaining true to the look of Arts & Crafts furniture, this spindle-sided bookcase features adjustable shelves and a roomy drawer, accented with period pulls (See Figure 1). Corbels and an overhanging top uphold the style, along with through tenons in square, straight legs. Chamfers accent edges, while quartersawn oak (here, red oak) provides desirable ray fleck figure throughout.

Because capturing the prized quartersawn look on all four leg faces presents a challenge, as does the cutting of perfect through mortises, I chose an approach that satisfies both needs. I face-glued three layers of oak for each leg, creating spaces in the middle layers for the through tenons. To match the ray fleck look of the legs’ side faces, I resawed and glued thin layers of quartersawn oak on the front and back leg faces. In addition–though not in keeping with original Arts and Crafts furniture–I added a few shortcuts for speeding construction without compromising the end look.

Laminate the legs

Note: As shown in Figure 2, each leg consists of two 3⁄4"-thick sides, three 3⁄4"-thick core parts of different lengths, and two 1⁄8"-thick faces. I cut all of these pieces longer at first, except for the 401⁄4"-long middle core. During the glue-ups, I used waxed 6"- and 71⁄4"-long spacers to separate the core pieces.

1 Cut 3⁄4"-thick stock for two sides and a core to 21⁄8 × 62" (3" longer than the leg finished length) for each laminated leg (A). Select the parts with the best quartersawn figure for the sides. Then group two sides and a core for each leg. For proper placement later, mark the top ends of each group with their location (LF and RF for left and right front and LR and RR for left and right rear, respectively).

2 Cut the longest core parts for each leg to the length in Figure 2 and the end core parts a few inches longer than shown. Cut the two mortise spacers from the core pieces or 3⁄4" plywood scrap. To keep the mortise spacers from adhering to the sides during glue-up, apply a little paste wax to the spacers. Then apply glue to both faces of the remaining core segments (not the spacers), and glue up the legs, as shown in Photo A. I placed 1⁄4" plywood strips between the jaws of the C-clamps to protect the wood surfaces.

With the mortise spacers snugly in place and the parts aligned, glue and clamp the side/core blanks.
Glue and clamp the 1⁄8"-thick leg faces to the side/core blanks, centering the faces on the blanks.

Insert a 1⁄4" or 3⁄8" flush-trim bit into the 1⁄2" holes, and rout the mortise openings in the leg faces.

3 Once the glue dries, tap out the mortise spacers with a mallet and a scrapwood block. Then scrape away any excess glue, and joint one edge of each leg (A). Now plane the opposite edge to make each leg blank 2" wide.

4 Cut four 3⁄4 × 2 1⁄2 × 62" face blanks and resaw each one in half. Plane each half to 1⁄8" thick to make eight leg faces. Then glue and clamp the faces to the edges of the leg blanks, covering the mortises, as shown in Photo B and where shown in Figure 2.

5 With the glue dry, drill 1⁄2" holes through the front and back faces of the legs (A) and centered in the mortises. Then flush-trim the mortise openings in the faces, as shown in Photo C. Square the corners of the openings with a chisel, and pare away any excess glue on the inside of the mortise. Now flush-trim the protruding leg face edges.

6 Trim the top of each leg (A) 3⁄4" from the top edge of the upper mortise. Transfer the leg location label to the top of the leg. Then trim the bottom of each leg to the finished length of 59" while adhering to the dimensions in Figure 2. Now chuck a 45° chamfer bit into your handheld router, and rout 1⁄8" chamfers along the edges and bottom end of each leg. Finish-sand the legs to 220 grit.

Make the rails, spindles, spacers, and corbels

1 From 1"-thick stock, cut the upper rails (B) and lower rails (C) to the sizes in the Cut List. Then form the tenons at your tablesaw, where dimensioned on Figure 2. You can cut the tenons in several passes with a dado blade, positioning the rip fence as a stop and guiding the workpiece with the miter gauge, or use a tenon jig. Test-fit the tenons in the leg mortises. Should your tenons be too thick for the mortises, touch them up with a shoulder plane or sanding block.

2 Rout 1⁄8" chamfers on the long edges of tenon ends, using a handheld trim router and chamfer bit or block plane. Mark and chamfer the short edges at the disc sander to avoid tear-out. (See the shop tip on page 20 for more on chamfering board ends.)

3 With a dado blade in your tablesaw, form a centered 3⁄4" groove 1⁄4" deep in the bottom edge of each upper rail (B) and in the top edge of each lower rail (C). Then, use a router slot cutter to cut 1⁄8" slots 1 1⁄2" long and 1⁄2" deep on the inside faces at the front of each upper rail. Locate them 3⁄8" from the top edges, where shown in Figure 3. (Later, you’ll use the slots to install the tabletop fasteners.) Finish-sand the rails.

4 Cut the spindles (D) to size, checking the fit in the rail grooves. Finish-sand them.

5 To make the spacer blanks (E), cut two 3⁄4 × 1 1⁄2 × 8" pieces. Chuck a chamfer bit into your table-mounted router and rout 1⁄8" chamfers along the edges of each board. Then rip 3⁄8"-wide strips from each chamfered edge. Finish-sand the blanks. Now crosscut two 1"-long spacers and one 2"-long spacer from each blank, and set aside the remaining pieces. (The remaining four spacers are cut to final length from these pieces during assembly.)

6 For the corbels (F), cut four blanks from 1" stock to the size shown on the Cut List. Print the Corbel Full-Sized Pattern from onlineEXTRAS and adhere it to a 1⁄4" piece of plywood with spray adhesive. Cut the 45° angle at the bottom of the corbel on your tablesaw or mitersaw. Bandsaw and sand the curve to the pattern line. Now use this corbel template to trace the outline on the corbel blanks. Cut the bottom angle on each blank as before, and bandsaw the blanks just outside the traced line. Now align and adhere the template to a corbel blank, and flush-trim the curve, as shown in Photo D. Trim the remaining corbels.

7 Rout 1⁄8" chamfers along the corbel edges, where shown on the Corbel Half-Sized Pattern. Finish-sand the corbels.

8 Drill evenly spaced 1⁄4" shelf-pin holes in legs (A) in clusters of seven, where shown in Figure 3 and as shown in Photo E. I used a Kreg shelf-pin jig and three story sticks of different lengths to locate the jig from the top end of each leg. After drilling the first hole in each cluster with the jig clamped in place, I removed the clamp, fitted the jig locating pin in the hole, and continued drilling the remaining six holes.

Download the full-sized corbel pattern from onlineEXTRAS, below.
Adhere the template to a rough-cut corbel with double-faced tape and flush-trim the edges. To avoid tear-out, rout the curve from top to bottom.
Hold the shelf pin jig to the leg and bore 1⁄4" holes 3⁄8" deep, 1" in from the inside face of each leg.

Alternating spacers and spindles, glue the spacers into the rail grooves and tap the spindles into place.

Put together the leg assemblies

1 Spread glue on the upper rail (B) and lower rail (C) rear tenons, and slide them into the rear leg (A) mortises. Make sure the legs are in the correct orientation and that the best face of each rail faces out. Clamp the assemblies.

2 Glue 2" spacers into each rail groove with the spacer ends against the rear legs. Then slide spindles into the grooves and tap them into place against the spacers. Now, alternating spacers and spindles, add two more 1" spacers and two more spindles to each leg assembly, as shown in Photo F. Cut the remaining spacers to fit flush with the tenon shoulders, and glue them into the rail grooves.

3 Spread glue on the front tenons, and add the front legs (A) to the side assemblies.

4 Glue and clamp the corbels (F) to the legs, flush at the top and centered.

Tip Alert

When buying red oak plywood for the case, buy plain-sliced veneer. The grain pattern is more pleasing than rotary-sliced veneer on the cheaper grades of plywood.

Add the drawer case and stretchers

1 Before cutting the case parts to size, check the dimension between the legs (A) on the leg assemblies. The cases must fit between the legs. Then from 3⁄4" plywood, cut the case tops and bottoms (G) and ends (H) to size.

2 Using a pocket-hole jig, drill pocket holes in the bottom faces of the top and bottom (G) for attaching the bands (I), where shown on Figure 4. Then drill pocket holes in the outside faces of the ends (H) for assembling the case. Finish-sand the case parts. Now glue and pocket-screw the case parts.

3 Set one side assembly on a bench. Now, set the drawer case on the inside face of the lower rail (C), flush with the top edge. Drill pilot and countersunk shank holes through the case ends (H) and into the lower rail, and drive the screws, as shown in Photo G. Lay the assembly on its back, and fit the other side to the opposite lower rail. Screw it in place.

4 Cut the bands (I) and stretchers (K) to size but 1" longer than listed. Measure the distance between the legs at the drawer case, and cut the stretchers and bands to length. Then cut 1⁄4" rabbets 1⁄2" deep on the rear bands to accept the back (J). Drill pocket holes in the back faces of the stretchers (K) and three evenly spaced slots 3⁄8" down from the inside top edge for tabletop fasteners, where shown on Figure 5. Finish-sand the parts.

5 Clamp the stretchers (K) in place between the legs 1⁄2" back from the front and rear faces of the front and rear legs (A) and flush at the top, as shown in Photo H. Drive the pocket screws. Then glue and clamp the bands (I) to the case edges, and drive the pocket screws.

6 Cut the back (J) to size. Drill countersunk screw-shank holes through the back, where shown on Figure 4. Finish-sand the back. Test-fit the back, but do not install it at this time.

Assemble the drawer

1 Plane stock to 1⁄2" thick, and cut the drawer fronts and backs (L) and drawer sides (M) to size. Check to make sure the drawer sides are 3⁄4" (the thickness of the drawer face) shorter than the depth of the drawer case. Cut 1⁄8" dadoes 1⁄4" deep in the inside faces of the sides and 1⁄4" rabbets 3⁄8" deep at the ends of the fronts and backs, where dimensioned on the Drawer Detail in Figure 4. 

Then cut grooves in the parts for the drawer bottom. Dry-fit the drawer box together, and measure for the drawer bottom (N). Cut it to size and finish-sand all the drawer parts.

Tip Alert

When you have wood pieces that are too narrow or have blemishes for parts that will be seen, edge-glue them to make wider stock, then plane the glued-up
stock for drawer-box parts.

2 Apply glue to the drawer joint and drawer bottom grooves, and glue and clamp the drawer box. Work on a flat surface, and measure the drawer box diagonally from corner to corner. If the measurements are unequal, apply pressure diagonally with a bar clamp. When the diagonals are equal, the box is square. Apply weight to the drawer box to hold it flat and square while the glue dries.

3 Measure the drawer opening in the case, and cut the drawer face (O) 1⁄8" smaller in each dimension than the drawer opening. Drill holes in the drawer face, counterbored on the back, for the drawer pulls, where shown on Figure 4. Finish-sand the drawer face.

Build the top and shelves

1 From 1"-thick stock, glue up an oversized blank for the top (P). With the glue dry, cut the top to finished size, and sand it smooth. Rout 1⁄8" chamfers along the bottom ends and edges. Center the top on the bookshelf, and clamp it in place. Insert the tabletop fasteners in the slots in the upper rails (B) and front stretcher (K), and mark the locations of the screw holes. Now remove the top, and drill pilot holes for #8 screws at the marks. Finish-sand the top.

Tip Alert

Make staining and finishing easier by unscrewing the stretchers and removing the drawer case. Stain and finish the parts and assemblies separately. Re-fasten the stretchers, replacing the 1 1⁄4" screws with 1 1⁄2" ones.

2 Edge-glue oversized blanks for the shelves (Q) from 3⁄4" stock. With the glue dry, cut the shelves to finished size, and then measure and cut the notches for the legs (A) in the ends. Finish-sand the shelves.

Finish and final assembly

1 Inspect all parts and assemblies and finish-sand where needed. Then apply a stain, following the manufacturer’s instructions. (We stained all the oak parts with a one-to-one mixture of General Finishes water-based brown mahogany and black cherry wood stains. The drawer box received only a clear finish.) With the stain dry, apply two coats of semi-gloss polyurethane, lightly sanding with 220-grit sandpaper between coats.

2 Position the case back (J) in the rabbets in the rear bands (I). Using the holes in the back as guides, drill pilot holes into the bands and drive #8 × 3⁄4" flathead wood screws. Slide the drawer box into the case and insert shims to keep it centered. (I used pennies.)

3 Install the drawer pulls on the drawer face (O). Then position the drawer face on the drawer box, as shown in Photo I. 

Carefully open the drawer, and clamp the face to the box. Now drill pilot and countersunk shank holes through the drawer box and into the drawer face. Secure the face to the box with #8 × 1" flathead wood screws.

4 Position the top (P) on the bookshelf, and fasten it to the upper rails and stretchers with the tabletop fasteners, #8 × 3⁄4" flathead wood screws and 1 1⁄4" pocket screws. Install the shelf pins and the shelves (Q).  

About Our Designer/Builder

For over 20 years, custom furnituremaker Tom Svec has maintained a workshop and studio on Great Island, just east of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. It’s here where he creates and builds his signature lines of tables, benches, beds, and home accents, many in the contemporary style, using local hardwoods. For more, visit his website at

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