Build this timeless bookcase and Learn the ins and outs of using a router table for advanced woodworking techniques.
This bookcase is truly a classic. The design has been in style since the ancient Greeks were busy building temples. But it’s built with tools those temple builders never dreamed of—like a router table, with its amazing capacity for creating moldings and intricate joinery.
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$1300 using cherry
If you’re considering buying or building a router table, this bookcase is the perfect excuse. It’s a big project that requires some woodworking know-how beyond what’s covered in this article. But if you’ve built furniture before and are ready for a masterpiece project, this bookcase will give you the opportunity to learn top-tier woodworking skills like building fluted columns and raised-panel doors.
Unlock your router’s potential
A handheld router is an essential tool, capable of a huge range of woodworking tasks. But mount it to the underside of a table and it can do even more. In this article, you’ll see how a router table lets you create intricate moldings, raised-panel doors and precise, interlocking joinery. Along the way, we’ll demonstrate the use of featherboards to guarantee smooth, consistent cuts on your moldings and perfect joints on doors and drawers. Featherboards are the key to smooth, burn-free moldings that require little sanding. If you want to build your own router table, click here for plans.
MAKE THE TRIM
Cut the column blanks (FF) from your straightest boards. Mount a 1/2-in. cove bit in the router and set the depth by eye. Use a test scrap the same width as the column blanks to fine-tune the height of the bit until it cuts a 3/8-in.-wide flute (see Figure A in Additional Information below).
Set the router table fence to cut the center groove (Photo 1). Cut a flute through the test piece. Turn the router off and set the test piece on the table centered over the bit and tight to the fence. Position a featherboard against the edge of the stock. Apply pressure to the featherboard until you see the fingers flex, and clamp the featherboard in place. Then install an upper featherboard. Hot-glue a spacer to the upper featherboard to apply pressure near the middle of the board. Run a test scrap through the featherboards and adjust the pressure if necessary. Stock should feed without a lot of effort on your part.
Cut the middle flutes on all four columns, then adjust the fence and the table-mounted featherboard to cut the flutes on each side of the center flute. These two flutes are both cut with the same fence setting to guarantee even flute spacing. Rout one flute, then rotate the column and cut the flute on the other side of the center. Repeat for the two outer flutes.
1. Make fluted columns. Don’t guide the column across the router table with your hands alone. Featherboards hold the column flat on the table and tight against the fence for straight, clean cuts. They also let you concentrate on keeping the column moving, so you can avoid burn marks caused by stopping.
Featherboards: Flawless moldings, safer routing
Clamped to the fence and table, featherboards apply even pressure on the stock in two directions: down on the table and tight against the fence. The constant pressure prevents bumps and burns in the finished molding. Featherboards also save your fingers from hazardous duty close to the bit.
A featherboard is just a scrap of wood or plywood with lots of saw kerfs cut into it. Making the cuts on a band saw with a fence works best, but freehand cuts with a jigsaw will do the trick. Start with a scrap sized for the task. Cut a 30-degree angle on the scrap, then mark a 30-degree stop line about 6 in. from the end. Mark cutting lines every 1/4 in. and cut the kerfs.
Cove and ogee moldings
Rout the molding profiles on the router table using two featherboards much like you did for the fluting (Photo 2). When you’re making moldings, the goal is to avoid tear-out, which can wreck an entire piece of trim. First, select straight-grain stock for your routed moldings (JJ, KK, QQ). Curly grain is more likely to tear out when routed. Dull bits also cause tear-out—make sure yours are sharp. Finally, cut the profiles in two or three light passes rather than a single cut.
Start with the bit low for the first cut. Raise the bit and repeat until the desired profile is achieved. Use a test scrap for each step to check the bit height. Save the lightest pass for last to ensure a glass-smooth finish cut. For the narrow moldings such as the cove (QQ), it’s best to rout the profile on a wide board first, then rip the profiles on the table saw (Photo 3). The wide board is easier to handle and feed through the featherboards than narrow stock.
2. Shape the moldings. Position the upper featherboard with a spacer block so it doesn’t apply pressure directly over the cutout profile—that can cause the workpiece to tip slightly. Push at a steady rate; fast enough to avoid burning, slow enough to avoid tear-out.
3. Rip after routing. Cut the coves on oversize stock, then cut to final width with a table saw. The final size of the cove molding (3/4 x 3/4 in.) is too narrow and flimsy to feed across the router table.
Dentil molding has been around for thousands of years. And you might think it takes a thousand years to mark and cut all those notches. But there’s a great way to ensure perfectly spaced notches without tedious measuring (Photo 4).
Install a 1/2-in. straight bit in your router table and set the height. Attach a wooden fence to your router table’s miter gauge so it extends well beyond the router bit. Turn on the router, slide the miter gauge forward and cut a notch in the fence. Remount the fence so the notch is 3/4 in. closer to the miter gauge. Glue a 1/2-in. index block into the notch and you’re ready to make the dentil molding. Cut the stock for the dentil molding blanks (GG, HH), fire up your router and cut notches (Photo 5). There’s no need to make full-length moldings. Three 5-ft. lengths will be plenty.
If your table doesn’t have a miter slot, make a simple plywood sled. Screw a strip of wood to the underside of the sled. That strip will glide along the edge of your router table and guide the sled. Add a fence and an index block, and you’re ready to go.
4. Build a dentil jig. Mount an auxiliary fence on the miter gauge. Run the fence across the straight bit to cut two notches 3/4 in. apart. Glue an index block into one notch and you’re ready to make dentil molding.
5. Cut the dentil notches. Cut the first notch with the stock against the index block. Fit that first notch over the index block and make the second cut. Continue repositioning the stock—notch by notch—until all the notches are cut.
BUILD DOORS AND DRAWERS
With a rail-and-stile router bit set, you can build interlocking door frames just like those made in a pro cabinet shop. The set shown here includes two bits: the stick bit and the cope bit. The stick bit cuts the profile you see on the inside edge of the rails and the stiles. It also plows the groove that holds the door panel. The cope bit is used only on the ends of the rails to create the joint that locks the frame together. Some sets consist of just one “stacked” bit that gets reconfigured for both types of cuts. Stacked bits start at about $60; two-piece sets, about $80.
There are two tricks to using a rail-and-stile set. The first is to set the height of the bits precisely. That’s mostly a matter of cutting test scraps and making sure they fit together correctly. When you get it right, save your final test scraps and use them for future setups. The second trick is to get the lengths of the door frame rails right.(The stiles are easy; they should be the door height plus 1/16 in. for trimming.)
To get the rail length, subtract the width of the two stiles from the door width, then add the length of the tenons that will be cut by the cope bit. The tenon length can vary depending on the bit you’re using. The bit I used creates a 1/2-in. tenon, so I added 1 in. To be safe, I always add an extra 1/16 in. too. It’s a lot easier to shave 1/16 in. off a door than to rebuild a door that’s too small. To avoid errors, it’s smart to build and install the bookcase’s face frame before you measure the door sizes. That process is shown later in this article.
When you have all the door measurements figured out, cut the door frame parts (S, T, U). The rail-end cuts must be dead-on square to ensure a square door frame. Tip: Cut your door frame stock from straight-grain wood. The straight grain looks better, machines better and is more stable, so there’s less chance for warp.
Always make the cope cuts first to avoid ugly tear-out on the stick profile. Install the cope bit in the router table and eyeball the bit height. Set the fence so it lines up with the bit bearing. Make a test cut. Adjust the bit height to the desired setting. Our bit centers the tongue, but this can vary depending on the thickness of the stock and the appearance you desire. Next, make the stick cuts along the inside edge of all the stiles and rails (Photo 7).
6. Cut the stile ends. The cope bit creates a tenon on the rail that fits neatly into the stile’s groove. Clamp the rail to a wide backer board to hold it square to the router table fence and to prevent blowout at the end of the cut.
7. Rout the rail and stile edges. The stick bit plows a groove in the rails and the stiles to hold the door panel. This bit also cuts a slight decorative chamfer on the face of the door frame. Some bits cut more dramatic decorative profiles.
Making the raised panels is simpler than building the frames. Make the width of the panel 1/8 in. less than the overall length of the stiles (from tenon to tenon). That will allow the panel to expand in higher humidity (wood expands mostly across the grain). The panel height can be a snug fit.
Take care in choosing the wood for the panels. You want wood with similar grain patterns and color, not a random collection. If you have V-shaped “cathedral” grain patterns in your boards, remember to make mountains, not valleys, for a more pleasing look. Panel stock is typically 5/8 in. thick. You can plane down 3/4-in.-thick stock or, if you don’t own a planer, go ahead and use 3/4-in. stock and cut shallow rabbets on the backs of the panels.
There are two types of raised panel router bits: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal raised panel bits are very large and generally require a slower rpm setting to run safely. You’ll need a powerful, variable-speed router for that. A vertical raised panel bit requires you to run the panels vertically against the fence, but it doesn’t have speed restrictions. I used a vertical bit on this bookcase. A router table and a tall auxiliary fence are a must (Photo 8).
Once your panel blanks are ready, raise your panels, taking several light passes until the desired profile is reached. Always start with the end-grain passes and progress around the whole panel with each bit setting. Pay attention to the panel edge thickness. You want the panels to have a snug fit but still slip easily into the frame grooves.
8. Shape raised panels. Run the panel upright along the fence if you’re using a vertical raised panel bit. Raise the featherboard with a spacer block to apply pressure above the bit. If you’re using a standard raised panel bit, lay the panel flat on the table.
A rabbeted corner is the simplest drawer joint. Wood glue and a few well-placed nails make it strong as well. For 1/2-in. drawer stock, I use a 3/4-in. straight cutter or a rabbeting bit. It allows part of the bit to stay inside the fence so you’re cutting with just the edge of the bit for a smooth cut. Cut the drawer parts (G – Q). Again, make sure your cuts are square so your drawers will be square. Cut the rabbets in all the drawer side ends (Photo 9). Then rout grooves to support the drawer bottoms.
9. Cut the drawer joints. Rabbet the drawer sides with a straight bit or a rabbet bit. A blocked-out featherboard on top guarantees a consistent rabbet depth. Use a push block to guide the drawer side through the cut.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Cabinets and face frames
Cut the bookcase cabinet parts (A – D). Prefinish the interior faces before assembly.
Assemble the middle cabinet with screws and glue. You can also screw one side of each of the side cabinets, since they’ll join the middle cabinet. But the sides that face out will be exposed, so fasten them with glue and clamps only. Machine the face frames and adjustable shelf edging (Y, Z, AA, BB, CC, LL, MM, NN, PP). Assemble the face frame with pocket screws, dowels or biscuits. Remember to place the wide stiles on the outside edges of the end cabinet frames (Figure C). Sand to 180-grit. Glue and clamp the face frames to the cabinets (Photo 10). When the glue has dried, join the cabinets to one another with connector bolts, which look neater than screw heads and allow for easy disassembly.
10. Build boxes and add face frames. Tack the face frames into place with a nail gun. That will lock them in position while you add clamps. Cauls spread the clamping force evenly.
Doors and drawers
Trim and fit each door in its opening. Use shims to hold the door in place. Try for an even 3/32-in. reveal on all four edges. Though you could use standard hinges, I used “Euro” hinges because I liked their instant adjustability. To hang the doors, measure 3-3/32 in. down from the top of the door opening and make a mark on the back of the face frame. Hold the mounting plate centered on the line and drill pilot holes. Mount the top door hinge on the mounting plate. Snap the other mounting plate onto the bottom hinge. Hold the door in position and drill (Photo 11).
Machine the drawer mount blocks so they’re flush with the cabinet face frame. Mount the drawer slides along the bottom edge of the blocks, then screw the blocks to the cabinet. Use a spacer to position the middle blocks (Photo 12).
11. Hang the doors. For easy access, install the doors before you add the backs to the cabinets. Install the upper hinge first so it will hold the door in place while you screw on the lower hinge.
12. Install the drawers. Screw drawer slides to mounting blocks, then screw the blocks to the cabinets. A scrap wood spacer ensures perfect positioning of the blocks.
Columns and crown
Add bases (RR) and caps (SS) to the columns (FF) as shown in Photo 13. Use biscuits, dowels or pocket screws to reinforce the joint. Mount the column on the cabinets by driving screws through the face frames (Photo 14). Set the top on the cabinets and drive screws from above into the cabinets below (Photo 15). Be careful not to overdrive the screws or they’ll poke through the tops of the cabinets.
13. Assemble the columns. Clamp the base and cap to each column. A pipe coupler lets you join two pipes to create extra-long pipe clamps. Join the parts with biscuits—glue alone isn’t strong enough for this assembly.
14. Mount the columns. Lock the columns in position with clamps, then secure them with screws through the face frames. When you drill the pilot holes, be super careful not to break through the faces of the columns.
15. Top it off. Position the top on the cabinets and attach it with screws only (no glue!). That way, you can remove it later for easier finishing and moving.
Next, attach the dentil molding. For the front edge, simply butt sections of dentil molding together; locate the splice where a notch meets a dentil and the joint will be invisible. Before you cut the front sections at the ends, lay them out on top of the cabinets and shift them left or right. Find a position that will allow you to cut the mitered ends at a notch rather than on a dentil. When the front molding is in place, miter the side sections to match (Photo 16). When the dentil molding is installed, miter and screw the top molding over it (Photo 17).
16. Install the dentil molding. Miter the side sections of molding so that the dentils on the side and front are the same distance from the corner. Screw the molding to the top.
17. Complete the crown. Screw the top molding to the dentil molding. Then disassemble the bookcase for finishing. That may seem like a waste of time, but by working with smaller sections you’ll avoid frustrations and flaws when finishing.
All that’s left is the cove molding, but it’s best to install that after the bookcase is assembled in its new home (Photo 18). The cove molding is small and fussy. And even a slight change in the alignment of the adjoining parts will affect it.
18. Cove molding comes last. Attach the cove molding after the bookcase is in place and completely assembled. A 23-gauge nailer is perfect for this job; the tiny nails are nearly invisible.
The cove molding wraps around the columns, so there are some tricky little returns. Use a coped joint on the inside corners. It’s best to cope one end of a piece that’s long enough to hold on to. Then, when the joint fits well, cut the miter on the other end and install. The coped joints will make it possible to disassemble the bookcase by backing out the screws behind the columns on the center bookcase. That will free up all three bookcases for future moving.