21 December 2017

A bookcase of necessities

In the raw
Frequently it behooves a woodworker to build something that will stand as convincing evidence to settle impromptu disputes with regards to the amount of money spent on tools, books, and other necessities of life. It followed, therefore, that I needed to build a bookcase to house my ever growing book collection, which can stand in the livingroom to create a more peaceful home environment. I bought Schwarz's The Anarchist Design Book primarily for his information on seating furniture, but as it happens, I followed and completed the plans for the boarded bookshelf first.
I don't know whether I reached the conclusion from experience or from one of Schwarz weblog postings that he wrote during the writing and research on the book, but I knew that I preferred fixed shelving. I won't bother with my own reasoning since the Kentuckian lays out his case fairly well. I'll go through some of what I have learned in making this piece of basic carcase construction and point out my own variations and the one place where I think Schwarz's design can be significantly improved.

The first point that requires attention is that this is a large piece, larger than most projects for those who primarily use handltools. It requires a correspondingly large assembly area and adequate tools to the task, which I learned conclusively that I didn't have. Because of the nature of globalism, I was only able to buy a single 48" parallel clamp and 3 at 36" from a Taiwanese distributor. At least, I thought I bought the 36" clamps, but the maximum capacity as I learned from making this piece is 31", which is what I had to cut my final width down to, removing 5" from the 3 shelves.
15" of excess beech banded shelving
But it's easier than trying to cut boards longer after discovering a snag in the middle of construction. Only because there was somebody else in the woodshop making tabletops from imported beech, did I have a handful of strips which I then glued to the edges of the shelves with the expectation that this will reduce problems with abrasion and denting. This detail is not intended to be equated with the dropped edge that Schwarz mentions. That construction method limits the height capacity of the shelves with little structural benefit in my opinion. I chose nominal dimension pine lumber for this piece because that is what I readily can obtain. This required glueup to make the 13" sides that Schwarz recommends. After resawing to approximate thickness, adding the beech strips was just another part of the process of sizing the major stock pieces.

Clamping up the three shelves into their corresponding dadoes is an acrobatic challenge even if all the pieces are uncupped and perfectly fitted. Trying to apply warm hide glue beforehand only adds to the complexity. I found that I could partially assemble the shelves and then allow some hide glue to trickle into the joints before tightening the clamps. Because I was working in an unheated workspace, I squirted some hot water into the joints to help the glue flow down the full length. The main function of the glue at this stage is to hold together the assembly until the nails are driven in.

Gluing the kickplate to the main ssembly
Schwarz made his bookcase in a minimalist, modernist style, eschewing ornamentation, except beaded backboards, and moldings. This makes construction fast and easy, yet it also allows for individualist flourishes to express themselves. I decided that the bottom kickplate merited some attention. It helps to provide rigidity to the bottom shelf and squareness to the carcase. If I make this piece again, I will trim it just above the floor level. As it is. I assembled the kickplate proud, gluing it in the dadoes and to the lowest shelf, planing it flush afterwards.
Playing card shims
the historically accurate back

Rabbeted top rail back discreetly receiving the backboards
There is one element of the boarded bookshelf design that I suggest be altered to improve the function and simplify the construction. I think that this detail also follows more closely to the handicraft tradition. After resawing construction lumber to dimension the 3/4" stock, I was left with stock that I used for the shiplapped, beaded backboards. There was severe cupping in this waste stock, which I split before surface jointing. The backboards are effectively random widths, ripped to create stock without voids nor problem knots. The thinner stock was rabbeted with a tablesaw on the backsides and the thicker stock was rabbeted and beaded  on both edges with an upgraded Veritas plowplane and beading blade to the frontside. These pieces also received dadoes to receive the shelves, lending support and stiffness to the frame. I chose to make a top rail with a rabbet along the back for two reasons. It hides the back completely from view. More importantly, it saves effort and material when attaching the backboards, allowing the use of odd lengths that don't require a flush edge along the top since it is tucked underneath the top rail. I also made the top rail cap the ends, covering any potential gap in a clear line of sight. This type of top rail also gets inserted into a rabbet in the sides rather than a dado, which immensely simplifies the joinery. Even in perfectly clear stock, cutting out a rabbet is easier than chopping out a groove.
The knot around which the bookcase was constructed
A dimension of the top rail is specified as 4" wide. This also happens to be the same width of the kickplate so the number was likely chosen to keep the parts list easy to remember. While the kickplate's is determined by the height of the lowest shelf, the top rail's width isn't so constrained. The wider the top rail can allow for using shorter length of backboards; if the top rail is too wide, however, the beaded back details will appear out of place. I chose to allow a defect of the stock to determine the width. I chose to stop the rabbet on the sides that receive the top rail just above a knot to avoid the difficulty of paring close. I let the tree determine the final appearance.
a painterly effect
I always intended to paint this piece. Pine and other softwoods lend themselves to painting despite recent trends and modern aesthetics. The idea to paint the stripes on the highlight the dado joints came to me as a means for obscuring the nail heads. Milkpaint doesn't adhere to metal surfaces reliably well. I use Tremont nails, which are effective fasteners but not decorative. And with the paint in hand, the muse, Moulariprionia, casually whispered to me: "it will be ever so lovely to paint a false leg detail along the side bottoms." And she's correct with her guidance as usual. I chose iron oxide black to hide the nails because I had the pigment in stock, but in retrospect, I think the Umber/Sienna pigment would be more appropriate. The trompe l'oeil lightens the mass of the piece.   

Completed and awaiting a librarian's touch as soon as the BLO has dried

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