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Thread: Small Bookcase -- looking for feedback

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    London, Ontario

    Small Bookcase -- looking for feedback

    Our living room is separated from the dining room (not used as a dining room) by a 6' wide opening. So there are two 32" wide walls on either side of this opening. We used to have two old floor-to-ceiling bookcases there up until February. I removed them when we ripped out the carpet and put in hardwood. (details on that in this thread.)

    We originally intended to replace the bookcases, but decided we like the larger/brighter more-open feel to the LR with them gone. However, this has lead to a lack of book shelving space in the living room. We're big readers, our kids also, so we usually have anywhere from 20-40 books out from the library at any one time. So we really would like to have at least one small bookcase in the LR to hold our "current reads".

    So I set out to design something small to go against one of those stub walls. So the maximum width is 32". Allow a bit for baseboard and I started with a 31" width. We wanted to keep it short, so for height I started with the height of our mission loveseat, or 30".

    For inspiration, I was partly following this photo of an arts and crafts bookcase from FWW -- I don't have the article, I'm not following their plan, just working off the photo. (this plan is for a 12 1/2 deep by 36 in. wide by 43 7/8 in. tall case, so it's rather taller than our constraints.)
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    Actually, I first doodled up a design with solid/slab sides and it somehow looked very thin and empty, so I quickly moved over to a design with a raised-panel side as on the FWW bookcase.

    As I worked with the design, I felt that something was off with the proportions. Sorry, I didn't keep the earliest plans. I think that our space constraints were affecting the design. I wanted a 12" gap for the bottom shelf, to accomodate tall books. But then, there was really only room for one more shelf, and the space just looked sort of spindly, too much gap. So I raised up the bottom shelf a bit. I added some curve to the front rails (top and bottom) and this is where I am right now for my "first" option:
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    I still felt that the top shelf section just seemed a bit off, but I couldn't quite put it into words. I felt almost like the bookcase "wanted" to be taller. So I stretched things vertically by four inches to give this:
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    This makes the second shelf actually shorter, and also gives room for a third short five-inch shelf (for magazines or books laying on their sides. This look okay, but it is a bit taller than we were hoping.

    So I went back to the first option and instead pulled it down by just 3/4 of an inch to give this:
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    And now my wife are at the "let's just sit on this for a while and see if we think of anything else, or if we decide we like one design over another". Which means it's a good time to post this here and see if anyone else has some good comments or ideas. Anyone?

    Also, I'm looking for ideas on shelf attachments. I'm not really much for adjustable shelves. Neither is my wife. We find that we set them, and almost never touch them again. So I generally prefer to think out the design in advance and just build in fixed shelves. It's usually a lot simpler. Having a raised panel for the side complicates that a bit though, I suspect. Can I just attach the middle shelves with dowels -- to the stiles, not the panel? (I recently obtained a Dowelmax jig). Movement might be an issue there. Even for the bottom shelf, having a rail and stile introduces a cross-grain connection... Hmm.

    ps: This probably will be a summer project -- got two others ahead of it in the queue, so no rush. And I will likely build it with some very nice (select-n-better) red oak, 5/4, that I recently scored. SO the above is not the best wood grain pattern for the sketchup drawing, but it was the best I had.
    Last edited by Art Mulder; 03-29-2008 at 01:33 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    No, not all of SoCal is Los Angeles!
    Like you, the FWW article caught my eye due to a current need. I also have a pile-o-books on the office floor despite having three bookcases in there already. There may be something to this books-on-media thing for space conservation but, I still like holding mine.

    I like shots 2 and 3 depending on your shelf requirements. If you are like me you have lotsa "real" books and then a snowdrift of paperbacks. I would fix the top shelf to hold the tallest of my smaller items and make the lower shelf at least somewhat adjustable (on pins). That way when that one tall book comes along, it can live there instead of tucked away.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Hi Art.

    I do not know what are your requirements as far as the height of the piece is concerned apart from what you've said, but you could also think about making some sort sort of double deck ( I do not know if this the expression) and this could allow you to have room for taller books or objects.

    See crude skecht attached.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Gráfico1.jpg  
    Best regards,

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    I also dream of a shop with north light where my hands can be busy, my soul rest and my mind wander...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Monroe, MI
    Art, I like both two shelf versions. I'm not crazy about the proportions of the 3-shelf one. I understand what you are trying to do with it, but it doesn't look right to my eye.

    I don't see why attaching the middle shelf with 4 dowels would be a problem. If you were using shelf pins, you'd just have a 5mm or 1/4" steel pin at each corner. If you are concerned about the shear strength of the dowel, substitue a piece of hardware store 3/8" steel rod in place of the 3/8" dowels.

    If you are concerned about wood movement you could leave a slight gap at the back of the middle shelf and enongate the back holes by moving the DM jig forward and back and back 1/16-1/8" and redrill to create a slot for the back pin. The carcase should prevent the sides from spreading back there. The gap at the back will be hard to see, especially once loaded with books. For the bottom, attach the the bottom to blocking inside the side frames underneath where they can't be seen. Slot the holes the way you would for a table top. I did something similar on a set of red oak night stands and haven't had any movement issues, and they are a few inches deeper than this shelf.

    You could also use plywood for the shelves to eliminate wood movement issues.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    London, Ontario
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Meiser View Post
    You could also use plywood for the shelves to eliminate wood movement issues.
    Wash your mouth out with soap, Matt!

    (actually I use plywood all the time. But on this project I was thinking of going with 100% hardwood, even with a shiplapped back. Just because.)

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