Illustrations By Simon Rodway

hese bookcases were made for a regular client who also commissioned four partners' desks (see pages 50 and 56). They were ordered at the same time as the desks so the planning and design was done before my move from Yorkshire to Shropshire. The actual making was done some time later so the time lapse and the distance from the client made careful notes and measurements essential!

The client lives in a beautiful market town in the upper reaches of Teesdale in North Yorkshire. His substantial 18th century house is of traditional, solid stone construction with good-sized rooms. The bookcases were to go one each side of the chimney breast in the sitting room, which is well-proportioned with a bay window and high ceiling.

A simple honest design in solid wood seemed to be most sympathetic to the surroundings. For flexibility of use, movement, and construction, we

The ripple sycamore doors give these traditional bookcases a more contemporary feel the

Simple jig for routing the housings for the shelves

Top components masked up, ready for finishing

Simple jig for routing the housings for the shelves

"The bookcases were to go one each side of the chimney breast in the sitting room, which is well-proportioned with a bay window and high ceiling"

Top components masked up, ready for finishing decided to make each bookcase in two pieces, with a shallower top cupboard sitting on a deeper base.

During our discussions a hour the desks, my client had been taken with some brown oak samples I had shown him, and decided he would like the bookcases made in that. I thought that they might look a bit heavy and dull and so I suggested sycamore shelves and back to lighten things up. Having decided on glazed doors to reduce dusting, we carried this theme a bit further and went for ripple sycamore door frames.

I hate making bookcases with adjustable shelves - the structure is weakened and the shelves are rarely moved after the initial loading. Far better to line up all the books which are to go in it and work out the shelf spacings required beforehand, allowing much stronger, permanent shelf fixing. The client agreed and did just that.

A full bookcase, particularly of this size, holds a considerable weight of books. I always impress on clients that bookcases should only be moved when empty!

bearing in mind the weight of the books and the height of the pieces, I wanted to use the 'lean back' feature often built into Victorian tall bookcases. Then the plinths were cur lower at the back so that the weight of the full bookcase was against the wall behind it.

I decided not to build the lean into the cabinet but to chock it as required - this would have the advantage of being adjustable to the floor and walls in the house which were unlikely to be exactly true and level, having regard to its age.

The floor was carpeted and had 'grippe r' edging strip under the carpet, against the skirting, which would tend to lift the back the wrong way, so this would also have to be allowed for.

The skirting boards were original -

lOin high and I'Ain thick. An overhang was built into the back of the top of the base units so that the top unit would still be against the wall.

To prevent the top unit being pulled forward in use, a metal bracket was screwed to the back of the top unit and the underside of the base unit top.

I retired to the computer to produce the drawing, check availability of materials, and cost up the job. Once all was approved, I set off to secure my supplies, i' iH j*-, - ■ | ■; H * I had checked with my usual timber merchant that brown oak and ripple sycamore were available, butl wanted to select the boards and arrange to have it delivered to my timber store in Shropshire in due course. 1 selected some nice quarter-sawn brown oak of even colour with few faults, and some clean sycamore and ripple sycamore.

Even though I know my timber merchant is very careful about their

Sycamore veneered MDF

Stopped housings

Door pull

4mm glass

Mortice and tenon frame


Mortice and tenon frame

Solid sycamore shelves


Oversize hole for plinth fixings

Support bar

Washer and screw


Stopped housing

Mortice and tenon frame

Stopped housings

Door pull

4mm glass

Mortice and tenon frame

Sycamore veneered MDF

Solid sycamore shelves



Washer and screw

Oversize hole for plinth fixings

Support bar






- 225mm






229mm l t



Overhang for skirting


sycamore, 1 checked that it had been end-reared and used a plane to see that the stick marks did not penetrate too far. The sycamore-faced MDF for the backs was ordered later through a local Shropshire timber merchant.

Once I had moved to Shropshire and built my new timber store with its de-humidifier, I arranged delivery of the timber in plenty of time to condition it properly before use.

The boards I had selected were of suitable dimensions and such quality that there was little wastage - this timber was not cheap! The components were marked out and cut over-size, sticked and left for some weeks to settle in the timber store.

Conditions in the new timber store are excellent and any final conditioning takes place during making in the workshop. The importance of correct conditions for timber storage and furniture-making cannot be overemphasised. The closer the temperature and humidity in the workshop are to the end-use destination, the better.

All the components are thick nessed ro 22mm (%in), then the plinth pieces reduced to 16mm (isin). All are cut to width and length, carefully checking accuracy before making so many repeat cuts! My work-space was organised so that the components could be sticked and stacked Bat during making, with free air-flow to all faces for even drying.

The 5mm (!&i), sycamore-faced, MDF backs were also cut to size.

Stopped housings for the shelves, 22mm CAin) wide by I Omm in) deep, are cut with a router in the sides and partitions.

Similar stopped housings are cut in the tops to take the sides and the partitions, and in the bases of the top and bottom units ro take the partitions. Housings are also cut in the sides of the bottom units to take the bases. The bases of the top units are fitted with biscuits.

As there are so many repeat cuts to the same spacing, 1 made a measuring jig out of hardboard and a batten to position my home-made router guide.

A slot is cut in the sides and tops, 5mm (J4iii) wide by 5mm (¡-Sin) deep, to take the backs - the front face of the backs being 10mm (3/sin) in from the back edge of the sides.

The sides, partitions, shelves, and bases of the bottom units are all shouldered and dry-fitted into their respective housings. Then the front edges of the shelves, and the front and side edges of the tops, are rounded over to 10mm (Xin) radius.

Internal finish

The sycamore shelves and backs are finished with an acrylic varnish containing a UV filter to preserve the pale colour and give a silky smooth feel. The oak, on the other hand, is oiled to enhance its deep brown colour, and the contrast of the coarser, open-grained surface.

In order not to contaminate the glue joint, the housings and the ends of the shelves, partitions, and sides are masked off and the internal surfaces finished. The oak is given three coats of Danish oil, each left 24 hours, and rubbed down between coats to de-nib - the sycamore is given three coats of acrylic, water-based, satin-finish varnish, also rubbed down between coats.


Once the finishes have cured, each carcass is trial assembled dry. There was a problem with clamping where the partition fitted to the base, so as that face would not be visible in use, so I

decided to glue and screw that joint. The screws would be countersunk through the base and the holes plugged later.

The only difference in the assembly of the top and bottom units is that the base of the top unit is biscuited into position, and the base of the bottom unit housed like the shelves.

In all cases, glue is brushed into the housings, the partition fitted to the base, and screwed into position. Then the base is fitted to the sides, and the shelves fitted into the housings in the sides and partitions. Clamps are applied, diagonals measured to check that all is square, and the unit left to set.

The housings in the relevant top are glued and the top clamped into position on the sides, the carcass unit again checked for square, and left to set.

Glue is applied to the back edges of the shelves, partition, and base, and the slots in the sides and tops, then the pre-finished back is placed carefully in position and screwed through to the shelves, partition and base. It is a fiddly job to glue and screw the backs in this way but is worth it for the extra strength. The processes are repeated until both top and both base-units are assembled.

A support bar for the plinth front is fitted between the sides of each base unit, screwed through the sides and biscuited to the base above it.

The plinth pieces are given an ogee moulding on the top edge with a router, cut to length, and mitred on the radial arm saw. I used a negative rake, crosscut blade for finish and prevention of 'climbing' over the work - adjustments were made by hand, on the shooting board.

Biscuits are used in the mitres -very useful in preventing them slipping when they are clamped up, apart

The completed pair of bookcases

Top with doors open

"The importance of correct conditions for timber storage and furniture-making cannot be overemphasised"

The completed pair of bookcases from the obvious benefit of the extra strength.

The plinth front is fitted by screwing and gluing, from the back, on to the support bar. Aliphatic resin glue is applied to die mitres for a really strong joint with no 'creep'. The first 75mm (3in) of the plinth sides are also glued to the sides, this time with PVA, which allows a little movement, and clamped into position. The remainder of the plinth sides are left dry. They are fixed at the back, from the inside, through an oversize hole, with a screw and washer. This allows for any movement in the sides, across the grain.

The mitres are tapped over where necessary and sanded finished when dry.

The ripple sycamore door frame pieces are cut to size, the top and bottom rails tenoned, and the stiles morticed to fit. Rebates are cut, with a router, on the inside of the frame for the glass and glazing bead. The glazing bead is cut to size and fitted. The unglazed door frames are carefully fitted in the usual way with brass butt hinges and ball catches, then removed and finished with 3 coats of acrylic varnish before glazing.

The 4mm (Kin) glass is fitted into the frame on a very thin bed of clear silicone mastic, the glazing bead is pre-drilled and pinned into position, the pins counter-sunk and filled. Door pulls arc turned from brown oak, and fitted with screwed dowels.

Most of the finishing has been completed during construction, so all that remains is to sand the outside of the carcasses, remove any clamping or other marks, and apply several coats of Danish oil. All the other finished surfaces are checked and any marks removed. There is always a danger of marking the surface if the finishing has to take place before the end, so to speak. Once all is clean and cured, the doors are fitted and any minor adjustments made. Then two coats of wax are applied to all surfaces and buffed up to a nice sheen.

The finished items were delivered to Teesdale as a part-load on a furniture wagon and [ went up to assemble them. The floor wasn't quite level and the walls weren't quite true, but some judicious hidden chocks took care of it! 1 did manage to set them to lean back slightly against the wall behind.

Though large, the bookcases are of relatively simple construction with a lot of repetitive work, to which I applied the lessons learned when making the four partners' desks. I liked the blend of brown oak with the sycamores and felt the different finishes worked particularly well. My client was pleased, and that is the name of the game! I


How to make an Arts and Crafts-style seven-drawer chest right: Arts and Crafts-inspired chest developed from earlier pieces

WHEN WE MOVED from Yorkshire to Shropshire, the study in our new cottage had a limited floor area compared to what we were used to. There were several ways I devised to utilise the space well - one way was to make the hanging comer cupboard on page 105, and another answer was this seven-drawer chest - its main function being to store display and exhibition paraphernalia and office supplies.


When making furniture for myself, I feel it should also be used for display and, of course, it gives me the opportunity for a little experimentation!

I decided to go for an Arts and Crafts look to this piece. As the main item in the study is a partner's desk in fumed oak and sycamore, I kept to the theme but reversed the accent by having the fumed oak framed by the sycamore, instead of vice versa. The drawer arrangement was based on a chest I had made for a previous client but with the draw depth and width increased to take A3 paper.

The visible through-dovetails in the top and sides are typical of the genre and were accentuated by the contrasting woods, as were the drawer dovetails. I came up with the shaped rather than turned drawer pulls, again in contrasting woods, to provide just the sort of detail to complete the look I wanted.

The plinth shape was developed from a Gordon Russell design shown in Alan Peters' excellent book Cabinetmaking - the Professional Approach, which contains much useful information about the craft movement in English furniture.

Carcass construction

The sides are made up first, each from two widths of sycamore. The figure is matched carefully and the joint strengthened with a ply loose tongue. The edges are planed on the surfacer and finished by hand to remove the ripples - made slightly


One winter's day, some time ago when I first started my workshop, a formidable lady and her husband visited me unannounced, having read an article about me published in a woodworking magazine.

After a full inspection of my work and premises, and addressing me as 'young man', she invited me to her house some distance away to see her collection of Arts and Crafts furniture.

A week or so later I went - and was treated to a splendid display of museum-quality English oak and walnut Arts and

Crafts furniture, in a house built by her architect son, with the furniture in mind. Tea and cakes were served at a fine Arts and Crafts table with matching chairs - a feast for the body and the soul.

I fell in love with the quality and honesty of the construction, the simplicity of line, and the careful selection and use of timber. My generous host gave me a book on Charles Rennie Macintosh as a parting gift. Sadly, I lost her address and have never see her again, but she had quite an influence on my subsequent career.

below: Fine tail detail

top frame stopped housing, 10mm by 10mm (Miri by /fin), is offset down to leave room for the top dovetails - then the 19mm wide by 10mm deep (%in by Min) stopped housings for the remaining drawer frames are cut.

The drawer frames are made up from 50mm by 19mm (2in by %in) sycamore with mortice and tenon joints, and shouldered front and back to go into the stopped housings. The front mortice and tenons are glued but the back joints are left dry with an expansion gap to allow for movement in the sides.

The top frame sides are rebated to 10mm ('/sin) for the offset top housing. The carcass pieces are finished as far as possible, fitted and clamped-up dry.

The top is also made up from two pieces, similar to the sides, but of oak. When dry, it is cut exactly to size.

An allowance is made in the dovetails so that the tails and pins are slightly proud when fully driven home. The dovetail pins are marked in the top, the majority of the waste is removed on the bandsaw - they are then chiselled to size, and finished by hand.

Next, the top is offered up to the dry-clamped carcass and the tails marked. The carcass is dismantled and the tails on the top of the sides cut by hand with a dovetail saw and chiselled out on the bench. With the carcass re-assembled dry and clamped, the top is tapped home about 3mm (/fin) to check the fit (dovetails only go together once!) and then carefully removed.

A stopped slot 10mm by 5mm (Min by %>in) is cut in the top to take the back. The carcass is assembled with the drawer frames glued into the housings in the front and back of the carcass sides, leaving the sides of the frames a dry running fit in the sides of the carcass to allow for future movement.

The back is dryfitted to help keep it square. Clamps are applied, the diagonals measured front and back to check it is square, adjustments are hollow in the middle, so that the ends are under pressure, which allows for the extra shrinkage as the end-grain loses water more quickly.

A 10mm deep by 5mm wide (3A by %>in) slot is cut in the sides for the MDF back. The end of this slot will be covered by the top dovetail. The

ABOVE: Partner's desk in fumed oak and sycamore provided the theme

FAR LEFT: An earlier chest of drawers suggested the drawer arrangement below left: Exposed joints are accentuated by the contrasting woods below: Fine tail detail made, and it is left to set.


The plinth pieces are dressed to 16mm (%in) thickness from the oak and cut to size. The top edge is shaped with an ogee cutter on the router, and the mitre cut on the front edges. The plinth is then dryfitted with clamps to check the fit.


The drawer fronts and casings are cut to size. The fronts are made from 22mm (%in) oak, and the remainder of the casings from 10mm (Min) sycamore to give a strong contrast to the dovetails. The bases are from sycamore-faced MDF glued in all round to add strength. The tails are cut out undersize on the bandsaw and finished to size with a paring chisel. The majority of the waste for the pins are removed with a router. and, again, they are finished with a sharp paring chisel.


The top and drawer fronts were to be finished to 22mm (%in) so I chose some 28mm (l^in) quarter sawn French oak with straight grain and good figure. I also found some nice clean English sycamore for the sides, drawer rails, and casings.

All the timber was bought as kiln dried but, as usual, it was initially cut over-size, sticked, and conditioned in my home-made kiln. After a couple of weeks it was machined to final size and kept in my warm workshop, still In stick, throughout the making process.

above right: Plinth design was developed from a Gordon Russell design


Sycamore reacts to the fuming process by going a greyish colour so it is necessary to fume all the oak pieces separately, prior to construction.

Now that the top plinth pieces and drawer fronts are finished to exact sizes with the joints cut, they are all fumed. The pieces are wiped over with white spirit to show any marks - which are then removed -they are then left to dry, and hand-sanded to 320 grit.

I use a temporary polythene tent and some saucers of 880 ammonia for the fuming and leave the pieces -all standing on an edge which will not be seen - for 24 hours. This process must be undertaken with


The drawer pulls are made up from strips of pre-fumed oak, and sycamore.The blanks are made long enough to make two pulls by cutting out the middle section on the bandsaw which makes them easier and safer to handle. Again, I used Aliphatic resin glue for a really strong joint.

After cutting out on the bandsaw, the pulls are finished with a small block plane. Any attempt to sand them results in the transfer of fumed oak dust to the sycamore, discolouring it.

The pulls are drilled and wood to wood, double-ended dowel screws inserted. Apply epoxy resin glue to the thread going into the pull so that it is fixed at the correct depth.

Drawer pulls are fixed with double ended ^ screws and Araldite

Drawer pulls are fixed with double ended ^ screws and Araldite

care and eye protection should be worn - ammonia has a particularly adverse effect on the eyes and contact causes permanent damage.


With the fuming complete, glue is applied to the top dovetails and the top driven down with a hammer and wooden block. The block is offset slightly to allow the tails to protrude by the small amount allowed for.

After the top has set, the plinth is fitted by screwing and gluing the front, from the back, on to the supporting strip. Aliphatic resin glue is applied to the mitre joints for a really strong joint with no 'creep'. The first 75mm (3in) of the plinth sides are also glued, this time with PVA which allows a little movement, and clamped into position. The remainder of the plinth sides are left dry. They are fixed at the back to the side of the cabinet, from the inside, through an oversize hole, with a screw and washer. This allows for any movement in the sides, across the grain.

The drawers are assembled, checked for square and wind, and left to set. They are then fitted in the usual way, before gluing the back into place.


The top dovetails are sanded flush. Sanding the proud fumed oak pins makes no difference to the colour as the fuming penetrates deeply into the end grain. Care should be taken when sanding the tops of the tails so as not to sand into the fumed oak top.

The remainder of the cabinet is checked carefully for glue ooze, marks and blemishes, then hand-sanded with 320 grit.

I usually finish fumed oak with oil to deepen the colour, and sycamore with acrylic varnish to preserve its pale hue. However, as the final finishing of the top dovetails could not take place until after assembly, acrylic varnish is applied overall, then two coats of wax, buffed to a nice sheen. The result is pleasing, with a little lightening effect on the oak.

MDF veneered back

Contrasting through dovetails

Groove for back

Segmented handles •

Dry mortice and tenon to allow for movement ©-

Segmented handles •

Dry mortice and tenon to allow for movement ©-

« I mm expansion gap

Drawer frames

Unglued area

Plinth support bar

Shoulder to fit in housing

« I mm expansion gap

Plinth support bar

Shoulder to fit in housing

Drawer frames

Unglued area

T 100


"The visible through-dovetails in the top and sides are typical of the genre and were accentuated by the contrasting woods, as were the drawer dovetails"


I particularly enjoy making dovetails and this piece gave me the opportunity to show them off as a feature in contrasting woods! Overall I felt that it achieved its aim as a functional, unusual piece, with an Arts and Crafts influence. ■


Craft Supplies Ltd,The Mill, Millers Dale, Nr Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 8SN Tel: 01298 871636

Screwfix Direct, Freepost,Yeovil, BA22 8BFTel: 0500 414141


Cabinetmaking - the Professional Approach by Alan Peters, published by Stobart & Son Ltd.

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