Project: Teak Bookcase

My wife recently won a contest held by the world’s largest publisher of romance novels, Mills & Boon. She is among three Indian writers chosen this year to write Indian romance novels for the global audience. Among other prizes, she will receive all Mills & Boon books published during an entire year, which adds up to a lot of books! She wanted to keep all her prize books and I immediately offered to build a new bookcase just for her Mills & Boon books.

Teak Planks

Luckily I had several ready Teak planks which I had spent the summer planing and sanding. Materials clearly would not be a problem. To build the thing fast, I decided to use screws and dadoes to hold the shelves. I did not bother to draw out a design because the bookcase would be simple and its dimensions dictated by the available wood. All I needed to check were the inner height of the shelves which I put at 8 inches because the books themselves were all 6 ¾ inches. The lowest bookshelf was higher for other taller books. I set the width of the bookcase at 9 inches because I wanted an extra inch at the back for a wooden back and not a plywood panel.

Planks Placed together for easy dadoing and sanding
Sizing the pieces of wood was a breeze because of my new table saw which ripped the pieces exactly to width and I did not have to bother trying to tweak them later on. The table saw I realised is a huge time saver and also adds much to the accuracy of the work. The dadoes were routed as usual with two planks of MDF as guides and a ball bearing guided mortising bit. The work was easy because I placed both the sides together and routed each dado in one go.

Counterbored holes plugged with teak plugs
The shelves, top and bottom were screwed on into countersunk and counterbored holes which were later plugged with teak plugs. The carcass was thus ready and looked square and balanced.

Small Touches

The small touches always take time. For instance, the backsplash (the strip of wood attached to the top back) was fixed by dowels which took time to mark and lay out but in the end did not match perfectly. I let this small imperfection go and fixed it later by planing the back. It looked fine from the front.

I also attached two stretchers at the bottom with two pocket holes on each side. This job was made easy, and possible I suppose, because of a Kreg Pocket Hole jig I had recently bought. Otherwise positioning pocket holes accurately can be quite difficult and tiresome. 

Shiplap Back

Simple zero clearance fence for routing rebates
Normally bookcases and cabinets these days have plywood backs, which are convenient to attach and can be slipped into a groove routed along the back edge. A project using good quality wood like Teak deserves better. The method of choice was to cover the back with strips of teak with shiplap joints. To make these joints on over two dozen strips, I had to build a simple router table which took a couple of days to figure out and put together (read about my homemade router table here). I made a zero clearance makeshift fence with a straight piece of rubber wood. To make the recess for the router bit I simply pivoted to fence into the bit. Then it was a matter of setting the height and depth of cut to exactly 3/16 inch each. After that it was a simple run with all the strips getting a rebate on opposite sides. 

Strips of wood for the back with shiplap joints
Each strip was screwed on to the back edge of the sides, top and bottom where I had cut ½ inch rebates. Each strip overlaps the previous and thus holds in down the first and last strips do not have rebates on the joining end and are screwed on into the sides as well. The result is a tight, dust proof back that has enough room (one card space between each rebate line) to expand and contract with the seasons.


My choice of finish for this project was Shellac. I had procured a couple of kilos of the finest quality de-waxed shellac from Calcutta which happens to the world’s biggest market for shellac. The shellac was (and is) occupying a lot of shelf space in our fridge and this was just the opportunity to prove to my wife that the shellac was worth it. After the usual round of sanding, I laid on thin coats of shellac, sanding in between coats with 600 grit sandpaper. The last coat of Shellac was applied using the French Polish method with a rubber. After about four coats have been laid on with brush or wiped on with a piece of cotton rag and sanded in between, the wood surface gets an even layer of shellac coating and feels smooth to the touch. French polishing at this stage is easier because the wood pores and surface imperfections are already filled and do not take up shellac. After a couple of days of slow polishing the grain of the wood began to stand out. That is the moment one realises the beauty of natural wood, unstained by any tint or colour.

The bookcase with the back done and finished with shellac

The bookcase was ready just two days after my wife’s birthday and she of course was delighted. It now sits proudly in our bedroom with one empty shelf waiting for more books.

The bookcase in use
Indranil Banerjie
14 September 2012


  1. Very nice outcome Indranil. Looks fabulous in the shellac staining. Please pass on my congratulations to your wife on winning the prize.

  2. Wow! Nice finish!! It sure is a contrast to the "masala" finish on the shelf above in the bedroom. It is been a while since I have seen nice grain exposed in a beautiful finish in India. This neat shelf is guaranteed to increase the romance quotient for you!!
    Have you tried the french polish method of applying shellac? Im inspired by your finish and am planning to finally start finishing the few projects waiting for finish for months.

  3. Yes, I apply the last couple of coats the French Polish way with what is called a "rubber". Its pretty easy but tiring. Glad you like the finish. Suggest you ensure you use de-waxed shellac.

  4. Wow, so love how your works have a functional value in your home and are made on a need basis. Your skill is so wonderful and I love the way the shelf has come out.

    Two talents in one household, that's an amazing combination. Congratulations to your wife on winning the award. And do surprise us with more of your work.

  5. Somu: Thanks so much for your lovely comments. My wife was very happy to read them.

  6. Hi Indranil, Your blog spurs me up. I am just about to start on woodworking. A medical professional in Hyderabad, I have not handled wood with anything else but a hacksaw blade. I have been thinking on making an heirloom crib since some time. Your blog gave me the courage to get started. I finished designing in SketchUp. I want you advise on 2 things.

    1) Wood, wastage and expansion - I have decided on teak since I expect it to last for a couple of generations. Alternatively someone suggested padauk. I read about it and found its durability is questionable. I am planing to get sawn wood from the timber depot. They told me it will be cut to the dimensions I require. My question is should I account for a waste factor (along the surface) - how much? What was you experience with teak boards? Are sawn boards delivered perfectly smooth and not requiring sanding or smoothing? Did you account for expansion at joints due to moisture in monsoons?

    2)Tools: This is where am extremely confused. The design does not have any curves in the structure; so I decided. So as to not go for a table saw now (although I was very tempted) until my hands are attuned. But I am hoping to get the slats rounded. Sounds like a router is unavoidable. I am from Hyderabad, which I find is more Bosch than anything else. The Bosch POF1400 Ace or GMR1? Rs 7200 vs. 6500. I am struggling to get good chisels here. Found some on ebay. Can I go for them?

    Once again appreciate your blogs much. Great inspiration from hobbyist woodworkers in India.

    BR, Tom

  7. Thomas: Many thanks for your message; I am really glad the blog has inspired you to take to woodworking.
    Let me try to answer some of your queries:
    1. Teak wood after being cut into planks will need to be dried and it will lose another round of moisture; the wood could curve and twist at this stage. Do the final dimensioning after it has dried finally so leave at least an extra eight of an inch.
    Wood will move only across the grain, not lengthwise, so design and cut your pieces accordingly.
    If you make your joints properly, they should not move at all.
    2. Tools: I would prefer the Bosch POF1400. Cannot comment on the chisels but try and source a few regular Stanley chisels. Even a number of local manufacturers make decent chisels.
    Get a small hand saw with 14 or so tpi for cutting joints.
    Best of luck

  8. Thanks a lot. I will not be mostly handling planks. I will have all rafters and one plank. A relief that the wood is not expected to warp along the length. I had also finalized on the Bosch POF. The Stanley chisels are my best bet I suppose. I just hope to get the Crown saw through my friend from Swiss.

  9. Dear Indranil sir, every work of your project is itself a tutorial.very inspiring.your teak book case should be one of your best. Starting with wood and completing with polish is the most cherished moment of any dryer..please continue your passion..


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