for th enailsThe final stage of the boarded bookcase build involved fitting the backboards. The outermost pair of boards are glued to the sides of the bookcase, and then nailed to the shelves. The rest of the shelves are nailed only, to allow for seasonal wood movement. Before fitting the boards I applied several coats of blonde shellac by hand – it is much easier to do this before they are installed, and also helps to wipe off any squeezeout when gluing the outer boards in place. I adjusted the width of the middle board until all five fit snuggly in the casework, and then held them in position with a cam clamp holding each against the top rail. That allowed me to mark and drill the pilot holes for each nail. Cam clamps don’t offer endless gripping power like Bessey K clamps do, but for delicate clamping operations such as this they are perfect. Before fixing the shelves in place I also planed the top rail flush to the sides.
I fixed the shelves in two batches. The first batch was the outermost shelves, which I glued and nailed in place in the kitchen as the workshop was getting too cold for the hide glue to flow properly. One day I will have a heated ‘shop, but that day is not yet here. The sides of the bookcase had bowed slightly, so I used clamps to pull them into the edge of the backboards. Once the glue had cured, I moved the bookcase back into the workshop and nailed the remaining backboards in place.
I had left cleaning the outside surfaces of the bookcase until it had been fully assembled. I started with cleaning up the front by smoothing the edge of the shelves and sides with the Holtey No985. Once the front of the bookcase was clean and pretty I then smoothed each side, with the bookcase standing on a thick moving blanket to protect it from acquiring more workshop rash. Once each side was smoothed I drilled pilot holes for the nails, drove the nails home, and then applied several coats of shellac. This also helped to protect the freshly smoothed surface when the bookcase was turned over.
With both sides smoothed and all the nails fitted, the only tasks left were to plane the backboards flush to the toprail using a blockplane, and make pretty. I broke all the sharp edges to prevent them from splintering in use, using the Philly Planes chamfer plane for all accessible edges – this tool is far from essential but is an excellent way of cutting repeatable and quick chamfers. For the shelves I used a Veritas scraper shave, which works well right into the corner where the shelf meets the side. A final hand rubbed coat of shellac on the sides and front of the bookcase, and the final finishing touch was to apply my maker’s mark to the top end of a side (the stamp works best on end grain). Yes, nothing beats taking a lump hammer to a newly completed piece of furniture.
I’ve been hard at work preparing the backboards so that they can be fitted to the boarded bookcase – this is the final stage of the build, so that all will be left once they are fitted is to make pretty and then apply shellac. I got the backboards dimensioned last weekend; there isn’t much to say that’s new about that process. I am using 5 backboards, subtly graduated in size and orientated so that with the widest two boards go at each end of the assemvbly, with the narrowest board in the middle. The variations in width (other than the middle board, the others are grouped in pairs of corresponding widths) is partially determined by the maple I have in stock, and partially to allow a good fit in the casework. Instead of working to any measurements, the overall width of the backboards will be determined by the width of the bookcase, and using the arrangement I currently have allows the middle board to be trimmed until I have a good snug fit across the whole assembly. For that reason, I have not yet cut the middle board to final width, as I want room to trim it.
The backboards are joined to each other with tongue and groove joinery, and nailed to the rear edge of each shelf. The outermost boards are also glued to the sides of the casework. I really like tongue and groove joinery for backboards and other situations where boards need to be joined but still allowed to move, such as the shelf for the Roubo workbench. A dedicated joinery plane (I use the Lie-Nielsen No.49 for 1/2″ thick boards) means that cutting this joinery is swift and repeatable.
The other reason I like tongue and groove joinery is that it provides a good opportunity to use a beading plane, which adds a little visual interest to otherwise plain components. I’ve had this Philly Planes 1/8″ beading plane for five years, and don’t get to use it as often as I would like. But it is perfect for adding a shadow line to tongue and groove boards (which is why it has made an appearance on the Roubo workbench, the Policeman’s Bootbench, our Boot Bench, and the Saw Cabinet, to name a few projects). This maple required a fine cut to achieve a good finish, and once dialed in the Philly beading plane siwftly cut a sweet little bead.
Finally, I eased the fit of the tongue in the grooves – off the plane the joint is “squeaky-tight”, and I don’t want to run the risk of snapping the delicate tongue when test fitting and dissassembling the backboards. A couple of swipes with a small shoulder plane is enough to ease the fit and minimise the risk of joinery implosion.
When I’m next in the workshop I will fit the backboard assembly to the casework, and glue and nail it in place. At this rate the bookcase will be complete and in use by the end of the month.
In 2015 I spent several days interviewing plane maker Karl Holtey for a profile which would be later published in the June 2016 issue of Popular Woodworking. That piece is one of the articles I’m most proud of. At the time of that interview, Karl had announced his impending retirement. He and I stayed in touch, and occasionally discussed doing a “post-retirement” follow up. The December 2020 issue of Popular Woodoworking is now available digitally, and carries the post-retirement interview with Karl, including discussion of his new plane – the 985 smoother.
After a few weeks of limited bench time, I’ve now got the top rail and kick fitted to the bookcase, which means that only the backboards remain before I can make pretty and call this project done. Fitting the rail and kick was straight forward and quite satisfying. I prepared both components an inch over-length and left them a touch over thickness, which meant that I was able to sneak up on a tight fit. I had previously marked out the rabbets in the sides, into which both components fit, using a Veritas mortise gauge. At the time, I left the gauge set to those measurements, which meant that I could mark the precise width of the rabbet onto the kick and rail instead of measuring out from a ruler.
The first stage of fitting the rail and the kick was to show each component to the carcase, and mark off the precise length needed (again, without the need for taking numerical measurements), and cutting a little off the line. I then snuck up on the fit by shooting the workpiece with the LN No51. Once the workpiece was at the right length, I took the thickness down until it fitted snuggly in the rabbet by taking fine cuts with a smoothing plane. The rail should press into the rabbets with light mallet taps – if it is overtight then the corner of the rabbet can split, particularly on the kick where the mortise is very close to the front edge of the side.
Once both the rail and the kick were fitted I glued them in position. The rail is simply glued into the rabbets, while the kick is glued to both the rabbets and the underside of the bottom shelf. Next I will process and fit the backboards, and then clean up the exterior of the casework before applying a finish.