My house suffers from a basic problem: too much stuff and nowhere to put it. The problem largely stems from a double infestation of teenage children that we have been unable to manage for several years. To drive them away, my wife and I try to feed them nutritious and healthy food, require them to do the dishes and even insist that they be polite to guests and family. I even set out a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, but none of this has worked, and they remain--eating in the house, sleeping in the house, even lounging about in the house, but most especially leaving their stuff everywhere it shouldn’t be around the house.
The messes have mounted in size over the years in both scale and complexity, involving not just their art projects, model rockets, homework, library books, Call of Duty Black Ops disc, broken pencils, forgotten lego and Playmobil, Chia pets, and comic books, but also my receipts, glasses, thumb drive and can of bag balm, all of which I can never find when needed in a hurry.
“Clean up your messes Especially the one in the basement!” I shout with authority, “Put your stuff away!”
“But dad, it IS cleaned up. The stuff in the basement we put in the corner as there’s nowhere else to put it!” comes the too-rapid, and sadly all-too accurate reply.
"Well, couldn't you stack it more neatly?"
"With the chia pet on top? I don't think so."
And indeed, the mess is cleaned up, sort of, so I can't lay blame on the kids.
The siren song of the Shakers calls out to me when I look at such piles: “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
More organized storage is the obvious solution and this is a problem only a woodworker can solve.
It is time to don my bionic shop apron and get to work.
The tactic of a lesser mortal would be a trip to Ikea. But This Is The House Of A Proud Woodworker. We will MAKE a bookshelf, and it will be beautiful, useful and enduring. It will be such an amazing bookcase, all our guests will stop and stare at it, their jaws dropped in awe and say “WOW, what an awesome bookcase! Did you get it at Ikea?” And I will say, “No, I made it myself.” And then they’ll want me to make one for them at the price they would pay at Ikea and by the time I get done lecturing them about the Value of the Hand of the Craftsman, they’re no longer such good friends. So it’s probably better to say you didn’t make it, that you found it at a tag sale for $5. It will produce the equivalent amount of envy and admiration.
1.The first step to making an awesome bookcase in your house is to find space in the mess to put a bookcase. Generally walls with bookcases or cabinets are not good places to put new bookcases, but I have thought of it (the outer bookcase just needs casters so you can move it to one side to get at the bookcase behind). This plan, however, has been consistently vetoed by family vote. So I recommend you also find a wall without a bookcase.
I happen to have such a wall in my basement, right above one of the smaller piles. It also looks pretty horrible, after yeasrs of abuse. There are holes from pictures and scribblings from kids, a popped drywall seam, as well as a good stain from a coke float that was dropped while someone (who shall remain nameless) was coming down the stairs. This wall will benefit greatll by being hidden from view with a lovely bookcase.
2. Measure the area you have to work with. It’s mistake number one to make something that won’t fit where you want to put it, though I've only ever heard of people making this mistake and have absolutely no personal experience. In my basement, I have a protruding thingy 72 and 1/4 in. from the floor, where I think there are some pipes. My goal here is to make a bookcase that is not taller than the protruding thingy. And the protruding thingy sticks out about 7 3/4 in. so that’s a good depth to work with for a bookcase. Also, never make a bookcase so big that it won’t fit through a door. I know someone who did just that, a big 9 ft. tall bookcase that was 8 ft. wide. Guess how many 3 ft. by 7 ft. doorways that can fit through? it might take you a few minutes to double check for yourself, but the answer is none.
You see, there’s a lot to think about as a woodworker. Making things is an endless process of problemsolving, even before you start making them. Measure twice and then double check you're measuring the right thing.
Also measure the width of the wall AND the baseboard details. It is a constant problem, to make a bookshelf that fits around a baseboard. You'll see what a nuisance they create later on in the process.
3. Now, sit down with pencil and paper and write down all these measurements. It's no use taking them if you forget them. Do little drawings to keep your bearings. I don't label mine, but that's a bad idea. All too often I come back to a drawing a few weeks later and wonder what on earth it shows.
4. Figure out what you’re going to build. The more you precisely you draw it, the better. I know a fair number of Google Sketchup Jockeys—CAD programs big and small can be very useful and enjoyable. But they’re not crucial. There is no crucial tool in woodworking. This is one of the key joys and frustrations in woodworking. For every job there are at least ten ways you can do it, none better or worse than any other, just some are faster, easier and more expensive.
I prefer the old note pad, with distracting lines. As this is a basic bookcase, and I really need to get this project done, I've kept the details to a minimum. Rectangular sides, though, are depressing. Yes, they have their place in high-end modernist design, but in my basement they'll just look depressing. So a little curve along the edge of the sides. One to the floor will look better than a triangle, but one ends before the floor will look better. Or at least I think so.
Beautiful furniture is both in the eye of the beholder and also learned. No matter what you say, I cannot be convinced that a polluted river, dark brown with garbage floating in it is beautiful. It just isn't. But if you find great beauty in the artwork of Damien Hirst, well, I won't contradict you, just agree to disagree with you. But to avoid a huge digression into aesthetics, just make your bookcase the way you like, and I'll do the same with mine.
Spend some time thinking through other possibilities. I considered for a few minutes making a bookshelf that went around the corner towards the stairs. The trouble is that it greatly complicates the construction, and you end up with dead space in the corner that’s hard to manage without further complication.
So I bagged that idea.
5. Figure out how you're going to build it. At this point, I decide how big the bookcase will be, what dimensions, construction techniques (what type of joinery), the length of the shelves, what wood to use and maybe even the finish. Or I try to. Some decisions get put off until later.
More than a 3 ft. span for a bookshelf is too much, and the shelves will end up sagging. I may make them shorter, but not longer. As I've got over 8 ft. of wall space, I could make three shelves, but that's too much effort. So I'll make two shelves 3 ft wide. At least that's the plan. You'll see how other factors will influence those decisions.
Dados and screws are the simplest construction for a bookcase and perfectly strong when attached to the wall. I'll also make the shelves adjustable.
The baseboard will be a problem, but I'll figure out a solution. Maybe the baseboard just goes away. I have a friend with a sawzall.
So we're off and running. The next step is to find wood. I'll take you to a lumber yard in the next post and show you what to look for when buying lumber in general: "caveat emptor," to coin a phase.
If you’re looking for more specific directions on how to build a bookcase, I recommend Niall Barrett’s book Bookcases. It’s a good project book written by a good friend who had a good editor (me). It’s readily available through the Taunton Press and internet book retailers of every stripe.