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My messy life … and what I did about it

Posted by joeabbott on February 28, 2016

A few weeks back I found myself struggling for desk space in my home office. It’s not for lack of actual desk space, but more because the space is used poorly. I have a desktop computer, my work laptop, a couple of Xboxes (yes … more than one), some games, maps, and a ton of woodworking books and magazines. You see, I don’t know what to do with the space.

In the climbing season, I use my extra space for planning my hiking outings, in the evenings I’ll chill with a bit of gaming, and the woodworking books and magazines … well, I just envisioned that having an area to plan my projects and reference plans would be great. So it all piled onto my second desk. As I looked at it, I thought, “there’s gotta be a way to clean all this up.”

Well, Suzy helped by selling many of my old, already-played Xbox games, I moved the maps to a storage location (honestly, I almost exclusively use online maps these days), and the woodworking books … well, I decided I’d do what a woodworker would do: build a shelf for them.

imageInitial idea

I doodled around in SketchUp and came up with the design to the right.

I usually start these sorta project by looking at the space I want to fill. In this case, I was looking for a tabletop bookcase that could comfortably be about 30” high and 24” wide.

My original original plan had just a standard bookshelf with rectangular sides and shelves all of the same dimension; the sides and back would be closed. It was just a block of wood. So I stretched and played and ended up with the model you see here.

As I stretched and played, I liked the three shelves but wanted to create some cut-away holes in the sides to lighten things up. That seemed to work OK but, as you can see here, I varied the length and width of the cut-away holes a bit … in the name of visual interest.

I was liking how this was turning out when I realized that I have books of various sizes so I made the shelves different depths. While I liked the idea, my flaw was, rather than keeping the largest shelf about 12” deep and subsequent shelves shallower, I grew the middle and lower shelf by a few inches.

As you can see, that leaves me with the lowest shelf being two-feet deep! A ridiculous proportion!

Fortunately, I seldom design something and then run to the shop to build it. I ponder and look at things, give time a chance to educate me, and then come back. When I came back, I asked myself just what I was thinking!

Next up

After scoffing at my prior effort, I took the parts that I really liked and built them into a similar, but different shelf.

I liked the three tiers, I liked the holes in the sides, I liked the open back except for a lip to keep books and things from tipping off the back, and I liked the height and width. But, I also decided I needed a drawer in the bottom for my loose notes, pictures, and a tablet of paper for sketching.

Here’s what I ended up modeling:

image

Most of my books are of a large format size and so I needed two shelves that would take books of that size; so I lost the different depths of the three shelves and ended up with just a smaller upper shelf. Because the shelf would be mostly backless, I made the vertical backs to the shelves just a bit bigger … I argued I’d need this extra wood to help keep the overall unit from racking.

Oh, and, yes, I built this from bamboo that I had left over from other projects. That seems to be a source that keeps giving! But, I only have a few boards left so I’ll soon be moving on to other wood varieties! And, maybe at that point, all my sheet-good dimensions won’t be 3/4” thick.

The drawer turned out to be a wonderful addition with my only regret being for not making it a touch deeper (to hold more) and not to have given the overall unit just another inch front-to-back so I could put a clipboard that I use into the drawer.

imageBuilding

I start all my projects about the same way: measuring out the lumber I have, figuring out which boards will go into which parts, and then start cutting. As I gathered my resources for the shelf, I realized I’d need to change up my dimensions just a bit to use the material I had efficiently. So, the overall unit ended up being probably two inches shorter and about a half inch narrower … not big deals to me.

Shelves

After cutting the rough dimensions for the sides and shelves, I built the shelf: meaning, I cut biscuit slots into the shelf bottom and back, glued them together, and ended up with three L-shaped shelves. Pretty simple.

image 

Sides

WP_20160206_13_24_05_Rich_LI[3]The sides were by far the more complex.

After cutting the sides into rectangular piece, I drew out the slots and created a master template. I’d rough cut the slots using a jigsaw but then come back through with a router to clean up the edges using the template as a guide. Finally, I’d swap in a round-over bit and give the slots some nice, easy edges.

Unfortunately, I cut the template just a bit small (I argued that the top two slots were smaller size and just wanted one master) and this meant I was constantly moving and fiddling with the position. In the end, I gouged the template on one side and that made things worse. And, by making the template from stock that was on the smaller size (I was being “efficient” … in this case, “stupid”), I didn’t have a lot of room for the clamps to hold it down without a lot of jostling about.

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Good idea, bad execution.

But, as you can see, it turned out OK.

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After getting the slots cut in, I cut down the depth of the top-most shelf with a jigsaw. I don’t have a high quality tool and the blade deflected slightly, meaning I had a lot of cleanup to do to get the curves on that top edge to be square and matching.

Finally, I used the router again to cut some grooves in the sides with the intent that the shelves would nest into these. This included a vertical slot at back for the back of the shelf to fit into. I was going to use pocket screws (a new toy I got late last year), but this application seemed like it’d enjoy the strength I’d get from a dado joint. Again, I was worried about the racking … which didn’t manifest itself at all as a problem.

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Assembly

I was now ready to square the corners of the dados (when a router is used to cut a stopped-slot, you always end up with an round end), smear in a little glue, and clamp that baby up!

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This part worked reasonably well. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the results you get when you apply the better part of a dozen parallel jaw clamps to a job, but this worked out pretty well. The carcass was square, edges lined up, and most of my dados were the perfect size … a couple were a hair’s breadth too wide, but it was only noticeable because the others were near-perfect.

Drawer

WP_20160214_17_08_33_Rich_LIAfter drying up and having the clamps removed, the project sat for a couple weeks. I’d smear in a little wood putty and continue to sand it, I had one small spot where I over-routed a dado and actually needed to make some wood shims (bamboo hides these areas very nicely), and I worked on removing the glue drips that had squeezed out. But, mostly, I was just waiting for my muse to nudge me on.

And it did.

One day I was talking to Suzanne before dinner and thought, hey, time to build that shelf. I tromped into the garage, took some measurements, tossed a few boards together, squeezed in a bit of glue, and added a bunch of clamps. I’m not sure why it took so long to do this, it was actually pretty simple.

I didn’t like that I used butt joints for the drawer instead of a locking joint, but my muse was talking fast and sloppy so that’s what I got. But, with a drill, a drill bit of the right size, and a piece of dowel, I whipped up a quick template, drilled a couple of holes in each of the four corners, and glued the dowels into place. After drying, cutting off the excess dowel, and then planing them perfectly flush, I had a drawer!

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The last piece to this was making sure the drawer slid smoothly (a bit of sanding and some wax worked well here), I had to install a rail between the slides for the drawer to slide on, and then I had to position them just-so to make sure the drawer closed flush to the front. Mission accomplished.

Finishing

I sanded the overall project from 60 to 80 to 100 to 150 and finally to 220 grit. It’s likely overkill for a bookshelf, but the parts are mostly rectangles so it wasn’t that hard.

I decided I’d try a stain on this one, both because I had never used stain before and, mostly, because I had a small can of stain that was on my shelf. Why would I have stain if I’d never used it? Search me! But, I had it so I wiped it on, buffed it off, let it dry a couple days, and then used some leftover wax finish we picked up from IKEA years ago. Yup, before I started building my own furniture, we went to IKEA.

Done

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And that was it. I hauled it upstairs, rummaged around for all my woodworking books (that just about perfectly filled the lower shelf), put all my smaller books and CD/DVD resources on the top shelf (nice!) and then used the second shelf for those books related to projects and building … everything from wiring to bike maintenance, to constructions topics. And I have enough space to grow my collection and to display a few other items in the interim.

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Thanks for coming by and taking a look. Hope your home projects are as successful as this one was for me!

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3 Responses to “My messy life … and what I did about it”

  1. Jay said

    Look at that! Sweet!!!
    Well done Joe – hope all is well – looks like it is! 🙂

  2. joeabbott said

    Thanks, Jay … I should have provided better pics of the completed shelf without stuff on it. But I can’t go back to that messy life of piled books on the table! Not even for a few photos! 🙂

    Joe

  3. Momma said

    Oh my word, I can’t believe your patience! And ingenuity! And, I must say, your ideas for design. Such a fine looking book shelf! I have the feeling that either I waste a great deal of time doing absolutely nothing, or you have the uncanny ability to s-t-r-e-t-c-h t-i-m-e more than most. I needed a break from cleaning off my own desk, and knew that checking in with you and your blog would be time well spent, which it was. Thanks for sharing. It shows such a generosity of spirit!
    Your Momma

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