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Thursday, January 24, 2013

And now for something completely different...

While this blog is primarily intended for Motorcycle and Photography related musings, my riding and shooting time is being taken up recently by a completely different endeavor: Bookcases...

Not to sound too much like Geoffrey Ballard from the old BBC "Waiting for God" series (he's always going on about shelving and DIY projects in the most boring ways), I nonetheless have embarked on a fairly large DIY project: built-in library shelves and bookcases for our "Library".
When we bought our new home a little over 2 years ago, we had ideas of eventually converting a 4th bedroom into a dedicated library. Being old fashioned curmudgeons, most of our books are actually real dead trees that are collectively heavy and take up a lot of space. "Eventually" really has been eventually, as well over 2 years later, about every one of our 1100 linear feet of books (that's right, I measured) is still in boxes, that were stacked like cordwood in the "Library" too deep to actually get to.
Well, enough was enough, and I finally got motivated to do something about it. After a few quotes from various pros around the $12,000 (?!) mark, I decided that this was well within my skillset to tackle (its a good thing neither Pillion nor I are particularly picky about these things either)
So after taking a goodly set of measurements, ...and taking them again...and taking them again, I made up a materials list and figured if all went well, I could fit the entire room with bookcases for under $1000, using the same specs we gave and were given by the contractors who quoted this work for us. That meant I could rebuild the room 12 times over for the same price as hiring someone, so I figured that gave me plenty of "wriggle room" (say that three times...) to re-do/fix/learn/re-learn aspects of the project and still come out way ahead.
We have no real deadline, its winter and riding weather has become unpredictable, and Pillion and I get a perverse sense of self-satisfaction by doing things ourselves as much as possible. Sounds like a perfect time to get started.
The following pics show the progress over the last two weekends, with a few short evenings after work thrown in:

While I've decided we don't have to move many of the 
outlets in the room,  I did decide to move this one up to the 
blue tape mark. This places the outlet just above the 
intended countertop that will go here.
The first thing we had to do was actually find a place elsewhere in the house for the room full of boxed books, plus a table and chairs. We just ended up cramming it all into the spare bedroom next door. Once the room was completely emptied, I then removed all the baseboards, and began building the pedestals that the bookcases would rest on. The pedestals serve several functions: Its allows a recessed toe-kick under the bookcases (so you're not stubbing your toe when standing close to a bookcase), gets the standard 8ft sections closer to our 9ft ceilings, allows me to create a more level mounting surface than the floor (drop a level on most floors, and you'd be surprised how un-flat they are - that's just the nature of joist flooring) In a few cases, we've decided to move some light switches and receptacles, so I tackled that before moving on to any actual case building.

This RIDGID 32022 has been a wonderful tool to use so far
$100 at the big box stores
 In taking measurements, I discovered that my old circular saw, circa 1988, had too much play to be used for the exact cuts I would need to make in the 23/32 sanded plywood I was using for this project. Its always nice to have an excuse to buy new tools, so after researching saws online, I decided on this Ridgid saw. The one I REALLY wanted was almost $300, but this one will do nicely right at $100.

I made the rip fence jig above (the white parts) with MDF, and trimmed it
with the actual saw I would use for ripping the plywood panels. This makes
the edge of the jig the EXACT edge of the saw cut as well, in order to
make exacting cuts in the sanded grade plywood($$).
While I have 3/4 inch router bits from a previous project, plywood now is undersized, making 3/4 inch plywood really 23/32nds of an inch thick. I really, really cannot understand why we are NOT on the metric system at this point. Try calculating the actual thicknesses of a 7 or 8 shelf bookcase when the gaps are all 23/32nds instead of 3/4 (23/32nds times 7 is how many inches?).
Wouldn't calculating 20mm be easier?
Anyways, after procuring an actual 23/32nds straight bit, I was ready to begin routing dado's into the stiles I cut to accept the shelving

Closeup of the Dado action with the router

No, I didn't freehand the router, I used the necessary router fence for a guide
Its just not shown here.

The resulting routed Dado
Here's a shelf placed in the Dado - nice, tight fit. She's not going anywhere
I decided to pre-determine the height of all the shelves and dado them in for strength. An adjustable floating shelf at 30in long would hold maybe 60-70 pounds before showing a 1/4 in sag, while a dado'd and glued 3/4 in shelf would hold about 150 pounds for the same amount of sag.
This has the unintended consequence of driving us absolutely batty with the math, as once these are built, there will be no adjustability. We eventually decided to place a varying amount of widths throughout the project to accommodate just about any book, DVD, CD we could throw at it - with some spaces being 14in, or 12, or 10, or 9.
On one short wall, we decided to limit those cases to only 3.5 feet tall, and to top it with some sort of countertop (oak?, slate?, marble? we just haven't decided)

Here's the first pedestal I built last week, with the stiles I've already ripped that
 will become the 18in deep cases on this side. We went so deep to
accommodate an old library catalog cabinet that we will fit here for decor
Here's the pedestal at right angles to the one above, with stud spacing marked
on the floor so I'll know where they are later.

Before I had started, and when the room was first emptied and swept clean, I had installed some "ram board" to protect the flooring. Glad I thought to do this, as I've ended up actually working in the room. Its "just" large enough if I'm careful, and keeps me from being outside where its cold and wet this time of year. After a few weeks of dropped tools, dragging finished bookcases around, and enduring clamps and glue-ups, its holding up well. And as you can see above, it also gives a convenient place to make measured markings for later reference.

Here you can see the first two short cases I've started to build, as well as the
first "tower" that will start the bookcases on that other wall.
Here, all three short cases are finished and permanently affixed to the wall
Its now a great place to stage my tools off the floor.
I've built in these hidden cleats into all the cases in order to screw them
into the wall. Actually, I've already put one cleat in the wrong place
so that it shows, but it wasn't worth rebuilding that whole case for...

Here's the twin tower on the other side that will anchor this wall of cases
Every wall in the room will get cases, and I'll build a window-seat
beneath this window as well. Should be a great little reading spot.
So this is where we are so far. The space between the two towers will
be filled with four bookcases the same height - that's this weekend's
to-do list...
At this point, the planning took much longer than the actual doing (as it should be) and I'm really happy with the amount of progress on this so far. The bookcases will all eventually be painted white, in order to show off the books, and trimmed in a dark mahogany or red oak stain, again for contrast (hey, I'm a photographer, so contrast is kinda my thing on this). I've only used 5 sheets of plywood so far, and I built all this with only two power tools - a saw and a router - along with a sundry of guides and clamps that I either built myself, or picked up at china-freight for low cost.
In a way, this IS a bit like motorcycling - do your research, plan well, be confident, be fearless, and most of its in your head anyways.


  1. At my age, its nice to feel 14 yrs old again...Thanks!

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