Build a Shop Library
Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill
|INFO:||DIFFICULTY – 3/5, LENGTH/TIME – 3/5, COST – 3/5|
Why not use this shop project to show off your skills a bit? Surrounding yourself with nice pieces of furniture can only lead to trying to better yourself down the road by making even nicer pieces. And I guarantee the nicer you make this cabinet, the more likely you are to use it in the future. If it ends up looking far too nice for your workshop, just bring it inside where the family can use it, and make another one for above your workbench.
Almost all of the design and construction details are reasonably simple. I didn’t see any reason to get fancy. The KISS theory works well on cabinets like this, not to mention most things in life. The overall design was loosely inspired by some of James Krenov’s cabinets. The size of this cabinet is very easy to modify, so feel free to build it to suit a specific area in your shop or home.
The trickiest aspect of this build is the maple leaf carvings on the doors. If you’d rather simplify the cabinet, just skip this step and make standard straight-sided doors. It’s not as hard as it looks, though, so I encourage you to challenge yourself. The construction details for the leaf carving are in the Finer Details column of this issue.
Material & breakout
I was lucky to find some wide planks of quarter-cut African mahogany. They were perfect as the straight grain and lack of glue joints made machining easier, and the grain was in keeping with my KISS approach.
I cross-cut the two blanks so each would include a side and either one top or bottom. This would allow me to dress the shorter sides while still attached to the longer top/bottom. After cutting the two blanks to rough size I marked them so I could ensure mating the parts up afterwards so the grain would flow around the cabinet.
Because I don’t have a jointer wide enough to accommodate 13" wide stock I used my hand plane to flatten one surface of each of the blanks. At this point I could run them both through my planer and bring them to final thickness. I then cut the top, bottom and two sides to finished dimensions, making sure to cut the extra material off the front edge of the sides to keep the grain flowing around the cabinet. Before hitting the joinery I rounded over the front and side edges of the upper surface of the top, as well as the lower surface of the bottom. The rear edges of these two parts stayed square.
I then set up my table saw and sacrificial fence to add a 15° chamfer to the inner edges of these parts. This could also be accomplished with a sharp hand plane.
No Chipping – With a piece of scrap clamped to the back of the top, a router bit wouldn’t chip out the trailing edge of the cut.
Slight Angle – An angled table saw blade and sacrificial fence can be used to create a 15° angle on one edge of the top and bottom. Brown leaves a 1/16" wide flat section on the edge of the work-piece once this cut is complete, but it can be sanded smooth later.
A series of 3/8" dowels secure the four main case parts. I started by making a hole drilling jig that would help me locate dowel holes in the upper and lower ends of the sides. With the jig clamped to the end of a side I drilled a series of holes, a bit deeper than required, to ensure none of the dowels would bottom out before the joint was brought together.
You can also use the same drilling jig to locate the holes in the top and bottom, though I find it more accurate to use dowel centers to transfer the hole locations. With some dowel centers in the sides, I aligned the parts with the help of a cleat that was clamped to the top or bottom. The cleat would give me something to butt the side up to while positioning it in place over the top or bottom. Align the parts, press them together and small dimples appear where the holes are to be located. After setting the depth on my drill press to ensure the holes didn’t come through, I drilled mating dowel holes in the top and bottom panels.
Lots of Dowel Holes – This simple jig can help drill a series of dowel holes in the ends of the gables, as well as the inner surfaces of the top and bottom. Brown just used it for the gable holes, then used dowel centers to transfer hole locations to the top and bottom, before heading to the drill press to bore the mating holes.
Rabbet for the Back – With the cabinet dry-assembled, and clamped together, Brown creates the rabbet to accept the back panel on his router table.
I used knife hinges for these doors, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use butt hinges or even European-style kitchen door hinges. Knife hinges are harder to install, but as long as they are installed properly they have a very subtle look and a very long life. You must plan ahead if using knife hinges, as it is much, much easier to rout the mortises that accept the hinges before the cabinet is assembled. I routed the four mortises in the top and bottom now. Read the article on installing straight knife hinges in this issue to learn how I installed them on this cabinet.
A through rabbet is easy to cut, but if I machined one into the rear, inner edge of the top and bottom panel it would have been visible at either end. Instead, I inserted some dowels into each corner joint, clamped the cabinet together, turned it on its back and, in multiple passes, routed a rabbet for the back panel on my router table. I decided to leave the corners round, though you can square them up if you like.
I made the back panel assembly now, and fit it to the cabinet, but didn’t glue it in since I was going to apply a finish to the entire cabinet before assembly. I machined the two rails and stiles to rough size and roughed out a back center panel. I proceeded to cut the rails and stiles slightly over finished length, and then ran a groove in the inner edges of the four parts to accept the back center panel. I then cut the rails to finished length and machined stub tenons on their ends. After the parts were sanded, I assembled them and let the glue dry. Once dry I fit the assembly to the opening, which included rounding the four corners.
Finish the cabinet
With the parts that make up the case complete, I unassembled it, sanded all the surfaces and applied masking tape across the dowel joints on the top, bottom and gables. I used Osmo TopOil Clear for this library cabinet. I wiped on five coats, letting the finish dry adequately between applications. The application is very easy and the resulting surface is smooth and feels great on the hand.
Assembly – Three Stages
With the parts finished and buffed to a nice sheen, I removed the tape and prepared for final case assembly. Doing the glue-up in two stages was necessary, as it would take too long to apply glue to all the dowels and bring the cabinet together before the glue dried.
The first step was to apply glue to the dowels in only one side of the bottom panel, then bring that joint together. With that complete I only had time to put a few dry dowels in the other three joints to assist with alignment and bring the four case pieces together. I added the back to ensure the joints would be fixed squarely and clamped the joints. While using clamps on these finished surfaces I was sure to use smooth cauls with some padding between the cauls and the finished cabinet.
With the first stage dry I removed the unglued side, top and back, applied glue to the dowels and dowel holes in the other bottom/side joint, brought the parts together and clamped the assembly. When dry I repeated the process one last time, and quickly glued everything together. I immediately applied glue to the back panel and rabbet. A few clamps, and some soft cauls, and the case was assembled for good.
Finish it Early – Though it takes a bit of planning, you generally get a nicer final result when you apply a finish to the cabinet parts while they’re apart, then assemble them once the finish has cured.
Mark a Radius – Brown was able to find a cap the exact dimension he required to trace an arc on the corners of his back panel. If you’re not that lucky, a small compass will do the trick. The corners need to be rounded only if you leave the corners of the back rabbet round.
Assemble the Cabinet – Because the mahogany parts are already finished Brown used carpeted clamping cauls so the clamps wouldn't damage the finish. During the first step, shown here, Brown glued and assembled one corner joint only. When dry he clamped a second joint. Brown brought the last two corners together for the final assembly. The back panel was put in place each time to ensure the joints were square.
Rip and Re-glue – To minimize the seasonal movement of the doors Brown ripped flat cut material into strips, then rotated and re-glued it.
Because of the carving work I added to the joint between the two doors I made the doors a bit differently than is typical. A pair of frame and panel doors, or even veneered doors, would look great here, and you should feel free to go down that road. If you’re up for a challenge you can follow the steps I took.
If these doors swell much at all they will bind in the opening. However, because of the carving I was doing, I needed solid wood doors. This is why I opted for cutting strips of wood off a flat cut board, rotating the strips 90° and gluing the strips back together. The result would be a pair of doors with quartercut grain that would not move much with the seasons. I glued up one wide panel for the doors, then cut them apart so the grain would run continuously.
I was aiming for a finished door thickness of 7/8". Because the doors were taller than I could obtain from one 32" length of 5/4 rough lumber I had to cut two 32"-long lengths and rip my quarter- cut strips from them, alternating the strips from each board as I glued them up to ensure the pattern and colour was as even as possible.
After cutting two blanks to rough length, I jointed and planed them until their surfaces were smooth. With one long edge jointed I ripped 1-1/8" wide strips from the two boards. I also made sure to keep the strips in the same order as they came off the board.
With the strips cut I rotated them and glued them back together. I used a few longer cauls clamped to either face of the panel to ensure the strips were glued together as flush as possible. Once the glue was dry I planed the 32"-long panel to a final thickness of 7/8" and cross-cut one end square.
Door Stop – With the cabinet upside down, position one door in its closed position. Butt the magnetic door latch up against the inside of the door, mark the hole locations and add the screws. Once you attach the washers to the back of the door they will stay closed until a press of a finger opens them up.
Lay out the maple leaves
At this point I determined where the maple leaves would go, and used a scroll saw to create the gap between the two doors. For more information on how I designed, laid out and completed the maple leaf carving, read Finer Details in this issue. With the two doors separate, I machined the hinge mortise and hung the door with the straight side.
Once the first door is swinging perfectly, put the second door in place and mark where it should be trimmed to length in order for it to mate nicely with the first door. Remember, it’s fairly easy to remove wood from between the two doors to adjust the gap, but it’s very difficult to add any wood to ensure an even, nicely spaced gap. Rout the last two door hinge mortises and hang the final door. If it swings perfectly you’re in luck. If not, some small adjustments should be made.
You could easily drill holes in the doors and install standard door pulls, but if you want to go to the trouble of adding the maple leaves, or another design, to your doors, you probably don’t want anything to take away from the look. I used a double magnetic latch so a press of either door would open it up. A small washer is attached to the back of each door so they stay closed when not in use.
With the doors now working perfectly it’s time to sand them and apply a finish.
To hang the cabinet, I selected a spot in my shop for the library to live and located the studs. After some measuring, and layout on the cabinet, I drilled a few screw and countersunk washer clearance holes in the upper rail of the back then fastened the cabinet in place with a few #10 screws and countersunk washers. If you plan on loading this library completely full, and possibly storing tools on top or hanging below the cabinet, it might be a good idea to add a few more screws through the bottom back rail.
Now comes the fun part: collecting all your woodworking reference books, and all the magazines you plan to build projects from, and finally giving them all a proper home. What books or magazines will you store in your shop library? Add your thoughts to the comments section at the end of this article.