Project - Bookshelf in a Weekend

mall bookshelves around the house make great storage units and often add interest to otherwise dull walls. Even kitchens could do with small bookshelves to store cookbooks, spice bottles and so on. They can be painted, polished or laminated as per choice. Because a nicely made shelf looks good and is utilitarian, I make one every few months. And mostly I want to do it fast and easy because these pieces are usually not considered fine furniture; there is no need to think too much about them or use up good and expensive wood.

Utilitarian bookshelves are best made with board or ply. I prefer finger jointed rubber board because they do not require milling and take on a good finish or coat of paint. Ply and regular board usually need to be laminated or veneered for a really nice finish. Nowadays a lot of excellent veneers are available locally and they can be glued on like regular laminates. The advantage of veneer is the wide variety of grain patterns available and the fact that it can be polished beautifully. A well veneered piece is truly a beauty - but more of that in some later posting.

Board makes for quick furniture making precisely because it does not need to be milled, joined and so on; it is ready to be cut and joined. As for all projects, I make a quick design and work out a rough cutting diagram. 

It is a good idea to make a rough design and cutting list for every project

Basically, only five pieces – two sides and three across - need to be cut out as well as a sixth of ¼ inch ply for the back. Cut these pieces, then plane them to size and sand them clean. Next cut a dado across the top of the two sides to take on the top shelf which will be glued and screwed on. For the bottom, I have cut half blind dovetails but this could as easily be fixed by a butt joint. 

The various cuts are clearly visible: dovetails, grooves and the dado
I then rout a quarter inch slot along the back of the four pieces which make up the box for the bookshelf. This groove is for the ¼ inch ply that will slide in. I drill holes in the inside of the two vertical sides to fit shelf pins and drill two holes for the screws that will go into the edge of the top shelf. In the photograph below shows the rear of the bookshelf and it should be apparent that the quarter inch plywood back has not been nailed in but secured in the slot routed along the rear edge of the carcass.

Plyood back fixed in slots
As one makes more and more projects, the tendency is to pay more attention to the small detail. I have of late begun to pay more attention to filling up screw holes. I have begun using a plug cutter to cut perfectly matching wooden plugs to cover unbecoming screw holes. I tried plugging screw holes with putty, wood-glue mixture, sawdust-super glue mixtures and so on but found wooden plugs to be the best. In the photograph below, you can see the cutters, the plugs and two covered holes. The other four screw holes are exposed and will not be plugged because they will later be covered by moulding.

Plug cutters

I prefer to sand all the pieces before assembly because it saves trouble and my sander can more evenly cover the pieces of board. In this project I have sanded the board starting from 80 grit sandpaper to 120, 240 and finally 320. The surface is smooth to the touch and ready for staining and polishing.

I assemble the piece with four corner clamps and two parallel clamps. Drying time for most modern glues is about 3 hours. The clamps can be taken on after that for the finish to be put on. The shelf pins are inserted into the pre-drilled holes and, viola, the one-day bookshelf is ready! 

However, while I could stop at this stage and have a perfectly functional bookshelf I decide to add an extra touch.  Mouldings attached to the tops add a fine classical touch to many projects and I decided to do the same with this bookshelf.

Fixing the batons
This requires two additional steps. First, I have to cut two strips or batons that will go across the top of the shelf and then I need to cut and mitre three pieces of mouldings to wrap around the top. The batons are fixed by screws driven in from the side. These screw holes are not plugged because they will be covered by the mouldings. I then cut and attach the mouldings with thin brad nails. I then make a top panel from thin pieces of scrap teak glued together. I have to plane and sand this panel and add a little decorative round over edge with a router. 

Attaching Moulding

These small additional steps take time and patience but are worth it. However, at this point this has become more of a weekend than a one day project! The staining and finishing takes another couple of days because of the drying time necessary in between sanding and re-coating. The finished bookshelf is displayed below.

Attaching the moulding was definitely worth it!

Indranil Banerjie
6 May 2012


  1. That looks really good. Can you mention in more detail how you used plugs to cover the screws and how you drilled the counter sink holes. One problem I have is that I tend to drill the counter sink holes too deep accidentally

  2. Using Plugs: First the plugs have to be cut from matching wood. This is done with plug cutters, which usually come in a set of different sizes. Then a regular drill bit is used to cut a hole of roughly the same size as the plug over the screw hole. After the screw has been tightened, the plug is hammered in with some glue. The part of the plug that could be sticking out should be cut off and the plug sanded flush with the surface.
    Counter sunk holes: Just have to eyeball the whole operation, I guess.

  3. I saw your blog yesterday, I am new to wood working.
    Need your help on wood. What is "kayle" wood as they call in delhi, its a white, light wood.
    What is the english name for thiw wood.

  4. To Faizul: I have never heard of Kayle wood. Perhaps some readers of this blog could help out.

  5. Nice... Looks absolutely stunning ! And to know that you did it during the weekend is just amazing !

    Yeah, using a plug seems to be a wonderful idea... I have never worked on anything else but ply and so I usually cover the screw holes with OST or veneer...

    Do you get counter sink bits here ? My visits to the hardware shop was futile... And I ended up using flat bits for "somewhat" counter sinking.

    I also love the mould... Available readymade ?

    For someone always used to butt joints, your joint work is highly impressive. Wish I can make them too. Great job done here !

  6. To Somu: Thanks for your comments, makes my day!
    I too plan to try and do some stuff with veneer and lots of old plywood I retrieved from a dismantled bed.
    Counter-sink: I could not find anything until I chanced upon a drill bit set that Bosch sells in India. Its a pretty good but cheap set and comes with one counter sink bit. I have seen these sets (green coloured) in many shops.
    Moulding: Yes, these were readymade ones I had picked up from my local lumber store.

  7. I find this link quite useful
    However I could not find anything for kayle. There is an entry on kaledang or jackfruit.

  8. Thank you all for comments, I enquired with a lumbar dealer, he was quite knowledgeable and he confirmed that kayle wood is actually newzealand Pine wood.
    He says that earlier this wood use to come from kashmir, but now its imported from New Zealand, It is a low density soft wood, very good for handworking by beginners like me.


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