Build it yourself and save $151,900!
My neighbor, CT,
asked me to help
him build a bookcase he
found in an old Stickley furniture
catalog. I love Craftsman
furniture and CT is a great
neighbor. How could I refuse?
This bookcase is inspired by a Gustav Stickley model that sold
for $12 in 1910. One of the original Stickley models recently sold
for $152,000, but you can build ours for about $100.
Using the picture in the catalog as a start, we sat down to do a little
research and figure out the
details. CT wanted a slightly
larger bookcase, so we
stretched the width from 22
in. to 36.
I told CT we could build it in
his garage with nothing more
than a table saw, a drill and a
pocket hole jig. If you don’t
own a pocket hole jig, you
owe it to yourself to buy one.
Pocket screws aren’t as
strong as most other types of
joinery, but they are plenty
strong for this bookcase, and
you can’t beat their speed
and simplicity. CT agreed,
especially when he found out
that for $40 he could buy a
complete pocket hole system.
(For tips on using pocket
screws, see “How to Use Pocket Screws.” ) You’ll also
need at least four pipe
clamps for this project, which
will cost about $60
Build this Craftsman-style bookcase with basic tools.
Figure A: Bookcase
This is the perfect first-time
useful and satisfying.
Overall Dimensions: 36" wide, 16" deep, 42" tall. For Materials and Cutting List, see Additional Information.
Wood selection matters
At the home center, we took
our time picking through the
oak boards. We wanted
straight, flat boards, of
course, but we also looked
closely at grain pattern.
Novice woodworkers usually
skip this tedious process, but
they shouldn’t when building a bookcase. It has a big
impact on the final look of
the project. For the legs, we
examined the end grain and
chose boards with grain that
ran diagonally across the
ends (see Photo 4). This “rift
sawn” wood has straight
grain on both the face and
the edge of the board. (“Plain
sawn” boards typically have
wilder grain on the face.)
Straight grain will give the legs a look that suits the
Stickley style. Also, glue
joints disappear in straight
grain wood, so the legs—which are made from sandwiched
For that same reason, we
chose boards with straight
grain along the edges to
form the bookcase top (see
Build a box and add face frames
After cutting the plywood
box parts to size (see the Materials and Cutting List in Additional Information), we added the
3/8-in.-thick edging (J) to
protect the bottom of the
cabinet sides (A; Photo 1).
We applied the same edging
(H) to the plywood shelves
(C). Then we drilled the
pocket holes in the box top
and bottom (B; Photo 2).
After that, we drilled holes
for adjustable shelf supports
in the plywood sides and—finally—we assembled the
box (Photo 3).
With the box assembled,
we turned our attention to
building two identical face
frames. (Since the bookcase
has no back, it needed two
face frames.) Unlike a standard
face frame, which has
vertical stiles, our face frame
has legs (E) made from two
layers of 3/4-in.-thick boards.
We glued up the
(Photo 4), ripped
both blanks into
two legs and
sanded out the
CT figured that curves were complicated, so
he was a little intimidated by the arched upper
rails (F). But I showed him a neat trick for
marking out a shallow arch (Photo 5). His
curved cut (Photo 6) wasn’t perfect, but a little sanding smoothed it out (Photo 7).
Assemble the face frames
With the rails and legs complete, we were
ready to drill pocket holes in the rails and
assemble the face frames (Photo 8). It’s easy
to make mistakes during face frame assembly,
so—before driving any screws—we clamped
the frames together, then set them on the box
to make sure everything was aligned correctly. We used similar caution when we
finally attached the face frames
to the box: We dry-fitted the face
frames (Photo 9) before we
glued and clamped them into place (Photo 10).
Back to Top
Top it off and finish up
CT figured that making the top
(D) was a simple matter of edge-gluing
two boards together
(Photo 11). That’s mostly true,
but there are a few tricks that
make it easier. First, always do a
complete dry run by clamping up
the boards without glue. That will
alert you to any clamping or
alignment problems before it’s
too late. Second, start with
boards that are an inch or so
longer than the final top. It’s
much easier to trim the boards
later than to fuss with edge alignment
during glue-up. Finally, to
ensure that the tops of the
boards meet flat and flush, use
pocket screws on the underside
of the top. A couple of pocket
screws won’t provide enough
pressure to substitute for clamps,
but they will hold the board flush
while you crank on the clamps.
When the top was trimmed to
size and sanded, CT drilled elongated
holes (Photo 12) and
screwed on the top (Photo 13).
When I asked him to remove the
top, he gave me a look that said,
“What’s the point of that?” I had
two answers: Finishing is always
easier when furniture is disassembled,
and more important,
both sides of the top need to be
finished. Wood absorbs and
releases moisture as humidity
changes. Wood finishes slow that
process. So wood with a finish on
only one side will end up with differing
moisture levels in the finished
and unfinished sides. That
leads to warping.
So we finished both sides of
the top (and the rest of the bookcase)
with a coat of General
Finishes Mission stain ($14 a pint
at rockler.com) followed by polyurethane.
That’s it. Not bad for a
weekend of woodworking. I
wonder how much CT’s bookcase will be worth in a hundred years...