This article is the first one I wrote for the website. I am re-releasing it as a post. In my ignorance of website design I created this as a page. If you were mislead by this, or have already read it, I am to blame. What follows below is a (mostly) unedited transcription of the article:
You have clicked on my first little article. I built these bookshelves for a friend of mine shortly after I came to live at this house. The lumber is red oak and was fairly costly. I made mistakes with this particular piece of furniture very early. That was the best thing that could have happened. A mistake can make you look at a thing in new ways. It can make you want to weep, throw things in frustration, or even want to quit. Instead it made me do all this by hand. The tools used to make this consist of several sizes of chisel and a rubber mallet, with an old handsaw used for cutting. It was begun with a router, and that was the mistake.
Before I switched to using just these I had managed to bore a hole all the way through the right leg of these shelves with a power tool called a router. A costly mistake and one that grieved me terribly. You see, I am a recovering perfectionist. I told my friend about this and he encouraged me to go on with the furniture, leaving the imperfection. It was then I made the decision to do it all by hand.
I am already something of a Luddite. Doing things without outside help, in this case electricity, has been a, well frankly it seems to be a compulsion with me. After I repaired my unsightly mistake with wood filler, I got down to business. Starting with the mortises, the holes in the legs on either side which would support each shelf. If you wrap a bit of masking tape around your rule it makes gauging depth a bit faster as you cut with the chisel. You can also do this with one of your chisels if you don’t have a rule. Usually the littlest of them, for me the 1/4″ one. The tape gets messed up less on that one for some reason.
Below is the beginning of a tenon. Much like doing it with power tools, marking is the most important thing to do first. After you have marked and defined your waste, hand and eye take over. I found myself humming songs and letting my mind wander as I cut. Scoring along your lines with mallet and chisel or a knife and a rule, you then take little bites across the grain. Before long you have a tenon.
So after plodding along for a couple months, I had my pieces cut. (It was not in truth quite that long, I overestimated the duration when first writing the article.) That is a long time to get a set of shelves built! Even by hand, I estimate it would have taken about a week to finish, without complications. My wife and I were back and forth to the hospital during her pregnancy during this time. Before the baby came though, I managed to get everything fit and glued.
Clamps, and band clamps especially, are a vital tool. I do not think it is possible to have too many of them. I purchased a set of band clamps specially for this project.
The weight plates were used as a matter of convenience. The fitting was done dry several times before the first shelf was glued into place. Once the gluing began it was finished over the course of a night and the next day.
The top rail fit on top of the two legs with mortise and tenon as well. Instead of the ends fitting into the legs, the legs fit into the top shelf board. Partly for looks, partly for strength.
The last piece was a sheet of luaun plywood that was cut down to be the skin. Glued on without nails, clamps and weight provided pressure until the glue was dry. A wet rag to clean up glue spills was handy as always.
The finished product was quite enjoyable to look at. It was done over with a few coats of linseed oil. The most fun for me was seeing my friend’s eyes light up when he saw it for the first time.
I hope you have had as much fun reading this as I have had writing it. I am glad you got to see something that feeds Wulf’s fire.
I again hope you enjoyed the republishing of this little article. I had a lot of fun with the shelves and the writing. Thank you for reading, and be safe wherever you may fare. If you want to read more, you can click a button below.