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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good idea, bad execution.
But, as you can see, it turned out OK.
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.
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!
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.
After 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!
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for coming by and taking a look. Hope your home projects are as successful as this one was for me!