Arrister Bookcases

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BarristerookcasesBPhotobyAlParr ish56Popular Woodworking April 2007

Almost everyone likes thelook of barrister bookcases. But what makesthem so appealing? I think thereare a number of characteristicsthat make the barrister designpopular and enduring.First is that the individualunits of the case stack together.And because they are separateunits, they can be arranged in anydesired height configuration to fitany area of your home or office.Second, they are elegant aswell as functional. The woodframed glass doors, when lowered, protect your books or othervaluables from moisture and dust– not to mention those tiny pudding-laced fingers of the littleones. They also allow you to lookthrough the glass for a specificitem without the undo stress ofoperating the doors. In the openposition, with the doors raised andslid back into the case, you haveeasy access to those leather-boundsources of knowledge.Third, as you will see, werethought the construction sothese cases can be built with theeasiest techniques – without sacrificing any classic design elements.These are the easiest barristerbookcases you will ever build.We decided to build a stackof three units – each identicalin construction and design, withone slightly different in height.There are two larger units for oversized books and special keepsakes,and one that is slightly shorter inheight. Those, along with the topand bottom units, add up to theappropriate design for our bookcase needs.Your set can be created withonly one unit, or it could be astack of five, along with the topand bottom sections. (More thanfive units is unwieldy and potentially unstable.)One Panel Chops into ThreeWe wanted the grain on each caseside to be consistent from top tobottom as we stacked our individual units. This is a matter ofaesthetics, not a necessity. (I’msure somewhere during this case’slifetime, the units will be stackedwithout regard to the grain.)What is a necessity, in orderto get the units to stack withoutproblems, is to make the width ofeach unit equal in size. This is bestaccomplished by starting with onelarge glued-up panel of the correctwidth that is then crosscut intothe appropriate lengths.Once the sides are milledaccording to the plan, there arethree rabbets that need to be cutin each side panel. One rabbetSacrificialfenceUsing the widest setting on a dadostack along with a sacrificial fence isthe best choice for creating rabbetsfor these case sides. This will ensurethat the cut clears the waste entirely.height of 1 8". With this setting, asingle pass over the blade will create the 3 4"-wide x 1 8"-deep rabbets at the top and bottom edgeof the side panels.Next, again with the blademoving, raise the height to 7 16".We’ve rethought this classicwith techniques so simpleeven a beginner can do it!goes at the top and bottom of eachside panel. Those rabbets are forthe full-width case bottom and thefront and back rails at the top. Youalso need a rabbet at the back edgeof the side panels that will housethe backboards. That rabbet hidesthe backboards when viewing thebookcase from the side.A dado blade is the best choicefor cutting the rabbets. Install asacrificial fence, set the blade forthe widest cut (at least 3 4") andposition the blade below the sawtop. Adjust the fence to the bladeso that 3 4" of cutting width isexposed and with the blade running, slowly raise the cutter to aThis is to create the rabbet forthe backboards. They fit into a3 4"-wide x 7 16"-deep rabbet. Ifyou are trying to keep the grainaligned, as we have, you need todetermine the front edge of thebookcase prior to crosscutting theindividual side panels into smallersections. Or, choose the best edgeof your stock for the front face atthis time and cut the backboardrabbets into the opposite edge.Your Groove is ImportantCreating the groove in which thedoors slide is the most difficult taskinvolved in building these bookcases – but all it takes is a plungeby Glen D. HueyComments or questions? Contact Glen at 513-531-2690 ext. 1293 You can view his work and books at the blade height is the onlyadjustment needed to cut the backboard rabbets. The front edge of thisside looks as though it is raised fromthe saw top because of the previousrabbet cut.router with a guide fence and a 1 4"upcut spiral router bit.Positioning this groove is thetrick. It needs to be located correctly from the top edge of thesides, so the guide fence of therouter becomes key. Set the fenceso the router bit plunges into theside with 11 8" of material betweenthe top edge and the groove. The1 4" cut will then be perfectly setfor the placement of the centeredbrass rods in the bookcase doors,and it builds in the necessary 1 8"spacing so the top edge of the doordoes not bind when opened.Next, you need to find thestarting or stopping point of thecut depending on which side you’reworking. On each right-side panelyou’ll plunge at the front edge andfinish the cut through the backboard rabbet. On the left-side panels you’ll begin coming throughthat rabbet and complete the cutby stopping at the correct location and removing the bit fromthe work surface. Attacking thegroove this way registers each cutoff of the top edge of the side panels and makes the best use of theguide fence.The location that you need tostop on is 3 8" in from the frontedge of the sides to the beginningof the routed groove. Where didthis number come from, besidethe plan? The 1 4" brass rods thatpopularwoodworking.com57

are used to hang the doors arelocated in the center of the 3 4"thick doors. The outer 1 4" of doorstock along with the design feature of the 1 8" offset of the doorto the front edge of the case addsup to that exact location.With the setup and locationlocked in, rout the 5 16"-deepgrooves into the sides as shownin the picture at right.The doors will be held in position toward the front with twobrass rods per side. The top rod iscentered 13 4" from the top edgeof the side and in 1" from the frontedge. These two rods act as a pivotfor the sliding door.The second rod location ispulled from the bottom edge ofthe sides and is also set at a measurement of 13 4". It too is located1" in from the front edge. This rodplacement gives the door something to close against while holding the door parallel to the casefront when closed.Assemble the BoxMill to size and thickness thematerial for the top-front rails,Creating the groove for the door pins to ride in is the mostexacting step of the process. A plunge router with a guidefence makes it short work. Check the layout before routing.rear rails and the catch rails, aswell as the bottoms. You can getaway with using a secondary woodfor the rear and catch rails, as wechose to do, because these pieceswill not be seen as you view thebookcase. All pieces connect tothe sides with pocket screws.Cut three pocket-screw holeson the worst face of the bottoms,leaving the best face for the insideof the piece. Position a hole at 11 2"from each edge and one that iscentered across the bottoms. Therails used for the top also attachwith pocket screws. Place twoholes at each end of both rails.Now you are ready to assemblethe boxes. Position the bottom onThere are pin locations at both the top and bottomthat act as guides for the doors. Use the drill press forthis step – unless you’ve a steady hand and good eye.your bench and match the twosides to the bottom, making surethat the bottom fits into the shallow rabbets. Next, slide the toprails in place – the oak at the frontand the secondary wood at therear. These rails fit into the rabbets at the top edge. Add clampsas shown below then attach therails to the sides with the screws.Flip the box then add the screwsto attach the bottom.With the box set on its top,position and attach the catch railto the bottom. Align the piece offof the front edge of the unit andcenter the rail from side to side.Each rail lines up with the insideface of the side, not the edge of therabbet area. Attach the rails to thebottom with wood screws.Creating the frames for the topand base units is next. We foundthat building the frames and thenattaching the mouldings was thebest way to approach this part ofthe project. It also allowed us touse secondary wood for these hidden areas.Each frame starts with theassembly of a box. The end supports receive the pocket-screwholes and are attached to the railsthrough that connection. Also,while you have the pocket-screwjig out, add a number of holes tothe top frame that you’ll use forattaching the top.The catch rail is fastened to the box bottom. It is important to properly align the piece to fit the other units.Assembling the boxes is a matter of 14 pocket screws. Clamping the box ensures that it will besquare. The opening in the top is for the adjoining catch rail on a second unit.58Popular Woodworking April 2007The catch rail forthe top unit restsinside the end rails.To keep the railfrom sliding downward as the screwsare installed, restthe piece on ablock cut to thecorrect size.

1"35"3 8"33"131 2"1211 16"32"3"33 4" 33 4" 33 4"1 8"2"15"15"2"12"1 8"Chamfer111 2"11 8"1 4"17"11 4"17"Illustrations by Mary Jane FavoriteWith the narrowness of theframes, you should arrange thepieces so the screws are to the outside of the unit. The drill, withthe square drive installed, is toolarge for the inside of the frame.You should also attach the centersupport, the piece that runs fromfront to back and is centered alongthe width of each frame, throughthe outside with four #8 x 11 4"wood screws.From this point the construction of the frames differs. In orderfor the top and base units to fit thedesign of the bookcase, the topunit must have a catch rail whilethe base unit receives a front andback flat rail.The catch rail of the top unitfits between the frame’s side rails,with a 1 4" extending beyond theside rails, and attaches to the center support with two #8 x 11 4"wood screws.Make sure that the catch railis aligned to fit into the top rails ofany of the bookcase units – theyare all consistently positioned,making them interchangeable.In the base unit the front andrear flat rails are set flush with thetop edge of the frame and attachedusing the pocket-screw method.Remember that the front rail isonly 3" wide, whereas the rearrail is 33 4". Each of these flat railsalso attaches to the center supportwith #8 x 11 4" wood screws.The mouldings are next. Millthe material for the crown moulding, the base moulding and thebookcase top to size and thickness. The top edge of the basemoulding has a 3 8" chamfer. Cutthe edge with a router equippedwith a chamfering bit, then fitthe pieces to the base. Becausethere is a solid frame backing themouldings you can nail the piecesin place with brads. Add a smallbead of glue at the mitered cornersas you assemble the mouldings foradded strength.3 8"Chamfer33 4"3"4"123 4"2"SectionThe 3" rail in the base unit is toward the front while thewider rail is held to the back. Each rail is not only connected to the frame sides, it is also attached to a centersupport.ElevationThe chamfered base moulding is fit to the base frame onthree sides. The secondary wood of the frame is hiddenwhen the bookcase is stacked.popularwoodworking.com59

Make the Crown MouldingThe crown moulding is a bit morecomplex than the base moulding.It begins with a cut at the tablesaw. Tip the blade to 10º and position the fence so that the bladeexits the stock about 1" down fromthe top. This will leave about 3 8"of material at the bottom edge ofthe stock. This setting will need tobe fine-tuned at your saw. Run thecut for both pieces of stock – onefor the front and one piece that iscrosscut into the two ends.I elected to make a pass overthe jointer to clean up the sawmarks on my mouldings. Set alight depth of cut and be sure touse push sticks. If you choose notto use the jointer you can sand themoulding face smooth. Once thepiece is cleaned and sanded it canbe attached to the top frame.I work counter-clockwisearound the unit to get an accurate fit when wrapping mouldings.This allows for easy marking ofcutlines as well as easy positioningof the cuts at the miter saw and itallows me to make my mitered cutswithout changing the angle of thesaw. Cut and fit the first miteredWhile the setupis involved, theripping of thecrown mouldingis straightforward. Just makesure to have apush stick handy.corner and clamp the pieces tothe frame. Slide the third piece,with its end cut square, to meetthe back of the front crown pieceas shown in the photo below andmark the top edge on the frontmoulding.At the miter saw, align themark with your blade (saw angledto the right) and make the 45º cut.With the top edge up it is easy tomatch the blade to the layout line.Now to cut your final miter, simplyplace the end piece at the saw withthe top edge pointing down whilethe face side is out and make thecut. The angle of the saw doesn’tchange and the cuts are correct.This is also how I would cut thefirst mitered corner.Place the top unit, with themoulding now applied, onto thebookcase top, centered from sideto side and flush to the back edgeof the top unit. Use pocket screwsto attach the frame to the top thenset the completed top unit aside.The Doors are a SnapThe only easier method that couldbe used to build doors would bea f lat-paneled door and thatwouldn’t give us the glass panelsthat we need for these cases. Thesecret for these doors is accuratecutting of the pieces.R ip t he m ater i a l to t herequired width then set stops atthe saw to allow for accurate cutting of the required lengths. IfThe cutting of the crown moulding can leave saw kerf indications and burnmarks. A quick run over the jointer knives works best to clean the face.SidemouldingFrontmouldingCut miter hereThe crown moulding is attached to three sides of the top frame. Miter the corners and add a small amount of glue to reinforce the area. Brads will affix thepieces to the frame.60Popular Woodworking April 2007Complete the work on the top unit by attaching the moulded frame to thecase top. Pocket screws are quick and easy.

the pieces are all cut to the samesizes (two matching sets of the railsand stiles per door) two things willhappen – one, the doors will besquare when assembled and two,the assembled doors will correctlyfit the openings of the boxes.Cut the stiles to be 3 16" lessthan the opening of the box andthe rails to be 41 8" less than thetotal width of that opening. Thiswill build in the appropriate revealaround the doors.These doors are also assembled with pocket screws placedin the rails, and the location ofthe holes is important. If the holeis too close to the outside of therail, as you drive the screws thereis potential to crack the end of thestiles. If the hole is set too near theinterior of the rails, as you rabbetfor the glass, you have the possibility of cutting into the screwarea. The best location is at 5 8"from both edges.With the pocket-screw holescut you can now assemble thedoors. Place a clamp over theintersection of the two pieces,a rail and a stile, and drive thescrews. Work the four corners ofeach door in the same manner.Rabbeting the doors for theglass and glass-retainer strips isanother router operation. Installa rabbeting bit, set for a 3 8" rabbet, and cut the interior of theframe. It is necessary to positionthe door hanging over the edge ofyour table or bench so the bearingscrew does not rub the bench.If you try to make the entire cutby running the router in the standard manner, into the bit rotation,you’re likely to have areas, especially in quartersawn white oak,that will splinter and tear out. Toremedy this you must climb cutduring a portion of this process.Start by climb cutting the first1 8" of the rabbet then reverse therouting procedure and completethe rabbet. By having a small shelfClimb cutPositioning the pocket-screw holes in the door rails isimportant. Too close to either edge can cause problems.Don’t forget to add glue at the joint.The 3 8" x 1 2" rabbet for the glass and the retainer stripsrequires that you climb cut a portion to eliminate anytear-out.Squaring the corners left rounded from the router bit is ajob for the chisel. It works best to begin with a cut acrossthe end grain and to then take small cuts with the grain,removing the waste.Adding a small bevel to the edges of the piece will helphide the joints between the separate units. This edgework also allows the doors to flip up and slide back intothe case without binding.of routed area from climb cutting,the removal of the balance of thewaste material will shear off at thatpoint and prevent most tear-out.To complete the rabbet you’llneed to square the rounded corners left from the router bit. Usea straightedge to continue thelines to reveal the exact cornerand use a sharp chisel to bring therounded corners to square. Cleanthe corners until you’re level withthe bottom of the rabbet.Before moving forward now isthe time to create the small bevelon the edges of the doors as well asthe edges of the boxes themselves.Chuck a chamfer bit in a routerand set it to cut 1 8" and run theprofile around the doors outsideedge and along the top and bottom of the boxes, including bothsides and the front.Each door edge, at the top ofthe door, needs to have a holedrilled to accept the short brassrod (available at any hardwarestore) on which the door willhang and travel in the groove asit is opened. A shop-made jig isjust the trick to complete this stepquickly and accurately.Build the jig using a scrap ofthe cutoff material from your doorpieces. Locate the center of thepiece, which will be 3 8" from theedge, and also mark a line that is3 8" in from the end. At that crossing is where you need to drill the1 4" hole completely through theblock. Use the drill press becauseyou need the hole to be straight.Next, add t wo pieces ofMasonite, or other thin plywoodtype material, to both sides of theblock. To use the jig, slide it overthe long grain of the stile, keepingthe 3 8" space toward the top edgeof the door. Add a clamp to holdthe jig and drill the hole using thejig as a guide. Set the drill bit tocut to a depth of 3 4".Drill two holes per door, installa 1" piece of brass rod using noDrillingjigDoorAligning the holes for the doors topivot becomes easy work with theuse of this shop-made jig.popularwoodworking.com61

glue (we need to be able to removethem over the remainder of theproject). Once the rods are inplace you can test the door to theopening. If you have a problem itwill most likely be binding at thetop or bottom.In either case you will needto remove a sliver of material toallow the fit. This can be done atthe jointer or with a plane. Bothsolutions require you to work carefully around the end grain. Allthat’s left is to cut the plywoodpieces that comprise the backsof the individual units and mill anumber of pieces to use as the glassretainers from some scrap.Finish as Easy as the ProjectThis finish technique was developed by Popular WoodworkingSenior Editor Robert W. Lang.If this method had been aroundyears ago when I was working withoak, I would have built many moreprojects from this hardwood. Youwill not find an easier finish anywhere that I know of.To begin, don’t waste a hugeamount of time sanding. I knowyou like the sound of that! Bringthe piece to #120 grit with the random-orbit sander and finish sandby hand using #150-grit sandpaper. Done! Now you are ready tostain the bookcase.The staining process continues in the easy category. Rag on acoat of Olympic oil-based “SpecialWalnut” stain. Apply an even coatand allow it to sit for 15 minutesbefore wiping any excess away.That coat needs to dry for 24 hoursbefore moving on.Next up is one coat of DarkWalnut Watco Danish Oil. Applythis in the same fashion as thestain. Rag a coat onto the stainedbookcase and allow that to curefor 15 minutes, then wipe awayany extra oil with a clean rag. Inthis process the oil acts as a tonerthat will even the shading as it62barrister bookcasesNo. item 2 Case sides 3 Bottoms 3 Top front rails 3 Top back rails 3 Box catch rails 2 Top frame rails 2 Top frame sides 1 Top frame center support 1 Top frame catch rails 1 Front crown moulding 1 Side crown moulding 1 Case top 2 Base frame rails 2 Base frame sides 1 Base frame center support 1 Base frame front flat rail 1 Base frame back flat rail 1 Base moulding/front 1 Base moulding/sides 6 Door rails 4 Door stiles/tall 2 Door stiles/short 9 Glass retainer strips 1 Short unit back 2 Tall unit back* QSWO Quartersawn White Oakdimensions (inches) material commentsTW L3 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 43 45 163 43 412111 433 433 433 43321 233 433131 24431 4333 4442225 16147 85 1650303 4303 4303 4303 432101 2101 2301 236263532101 2101 2301 2301 23626263 8151 16131 1628317 16317 WO*QSWO*QSWO*QSWO*QSWO*QSWO*QSWO*QSWO*Cut to length shown in drawingMakes both sidesMakes both sidesRails for three doorsStiles for two doorsStiles for one doorsFor three doorsPlywoodPlywoodThe barristerbookcase getsan Arts & Craftslook with thesimple finishing methoddescribed for thisproject. It worksgreat for oak– both whiteand red.adds color to the project. Again,let the oil coat dry for a day.The rags used in both of theprevious steps can become a firehazard if not disposed of properly.You can lay the rags out on thePopular Woodworking April 2007floor of your shop or put them intoa bucket of water. Combustion isa result of these rags thrown intoa pile either in the trash can or acorner of the shop. Always disposeof rags properly.The final step in the finishingprocess is to apply a coat of ambershellac. Can you guess how this isapplied? You bet: Rag it on. Keep awet edge on the wide-open areasand on any other areas simply coat

a snap. A bit of wax on the threadswill ensure easy installation.Sliding the doors into theboxes is the last step before filling the bookcase with your books.Slide the door into the case on aslight angle to the front, lift thebrass rod on the side toward therear of the case into the grooveand position the other rod to moveinto the groove as you bring thedoor square to the front.Lift the door so it is perpendicular to the case and slide it tothe rear of the case. Holding thedoor up to the top of the unit,install 3 4"-long brass rods into theremaining holes. Your barristerbookcase is ready to use.The great thing about thisbarrister bookcase design is thatas your collection grows, and youknow it will, so can your bookcases. You can add to the existingstack or start another bookcase.They are easy to build and addingto the stack is something you willenjoy. pwSuppliesHorton Brasses800-754-9127 orhorton-brasses.com6 knobs, 3 4" semi-bright#H-42Call for pricing.Illustration by Mary Jane FavoriteWith the finish complete,an easy way toinstall the glassfor the doors iswith matchingretainer strips.They are cut andfit then attachedwith a 23-gaugepinner.Center supportExploded viewthem. That’s it. Once the shellacis dry (the next day) add a coat ofpaste wax after knocking downany nibs with a non-woven abrasive pad.The Finishing TouchAttach the plywood backboards tothe back of the units with screwsafter the finish is complete. Allthat is needed is to run four screws,one at each corner, through thepieces and into the unit bottomand the rear rail of the unit top.Use a countersink and woodscrews for a professional look.Installing the glass and knobswill complete the bookcases. Have1 8" glass cut to fit the openings ofthe doors and fit a glass-retainerstrip around the inside of the rabbet holding the glass in place.The knobs are like the rest ofthe project; simple and elegant.What would finish this projectbetter than a simple brass knob?Find the location and drill a pilothole to make installing the knobsNo glue is usedto hold the brassrods in place.They can beremoved if thedoor should everneed to be takenout of the bookcase.popularwoodworking.com63

These are the easiest barrister bookcases you will ever build. We decided to build a stack of three units - each identical in construction and design, with one slightly different in height. There are two larger units for over-sized books and special keepsakes, and one that is slightly shorter in height. Those, along with the top

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