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Learn the tricks of making sturdy furniture that flattens out.
F.or those with mechanical minds, building furniture that folds into small spaces is a lot of fun. Not only does the piece need to look good and perform its ultimate function as a bookcase, chair or bed, it also needs to collapse into the smallest possible shape.
During the 19th century, the British became masters in making folding furniture when two things happened: First, so-called “patent furniture” became all the rage. They are objects for the home that are transformed into something else: the classic form is a chair that unfolds into bookcase steps. Second, the British Empire conquered much of the world during Queen Victoria’s reign and needed to send its citizens all over the world to manage its colonies.
As a result, folding or detachable shelves were a common sight in the 19th century, and this example from E. Mascart & Cie of London is notable because it combines hinges that fold flat ends, with a bottom that expands its shelf for double. of its collapsed length.
Even if you don’t build this particular bookcase, the lessons built into it can help you develop your own folding country furniture pieces.
How the library works
The heart of the Mascart bookcase is the telescopic bottom. The frame comprises two groups – think of each group as one of your hands. Each has “fingers” that are tenoned in each “palm”. The fingers fit together and slide thanks to the male-female joints.
The ends of the bookcase are hinged to the telescopic bottom. When opening the bookcase, they lock the ends using a brass latch on each end, sometimes called a sliding Dutch lock. To prevent the bookcase from falling apart, a leather belt is screwed to the back. It also makes the bookcase adjustable.
The original was made with quartersawn white oak. Regardless of the wood you choose, I recommend that it be quarter-sawn and dry. You don’t want the bottom components to warp or move a lot with the seasons.
After you’ve cut your fingers to size, cut the tabs and grooves on their long edges so that your fingers snap together and slide. The photos show it better than words: some pieces need grooves, some need a tongue and a finger, the middle one needs two tongues.
When you cut the 1?4“- wide grooves, make them a deeper shadow of 1?8“ to ensure the 1?4“X 1?8The tabs do not touch the bottom in the grooves. When the fingers are complete, they should glide smoothly without the tongues rattling in their grooves.
I find it best to cut the tenons first, then use them to arrange the positions of the mortise at the ends of the frame (the palm, so to speak). The thickness of your tenons can be anywhere from 1?4” to 3?8“(1?4“Is traditional).
The width of each tenon should vary slightly depending on where it is in the assembly, anywhere from 3?4from “to 1” in width. For example, the tenons on the outside of the bottom should be a little tighter so as not to destroy the ends of the frame during assembly.
With the tenons trimmed, bring your fingers together and pin your fingers along their width to hold them in a bundle. Then use that beam to arrange the location of the mortises at the ends of the frame. This reduces measurement and errors.
Now cut the mortises. To reduce hassle and assembly, the mortises should be centered on the thickness of the frame ends. The best way to do this is to mortise twice: once with one face against the fence of your mortiser and a second time with the opposite face against the fence of the mortiser. (Just like you did when you centered the grooves on your fingers.)
Adjust the fit of all the joinery so that your fingers fit tightly into the ends of the frame, but open and close easily. This is a good time to level the joints and remove any car marks.
Gluing the bottom is not difficult if you know the trick. You will need to lock the bottom across its width to keep your fingers in place. And we advise you to block along the entire length of the bottom to glue the tenons into their mortises.
Folding campaign shelf cutting list
Item No.Dimensions (inches) MaterialComments
❏ 2 upper ends 1?2 x 5 x 6 1?4 White oak
❏ 2 lower ends 1?2 x 7 x 6 1?4White oak
❏ 2 ends of the frame 3?4 x 1 1?2 x 5 White oak
❏ 2 inner fingers 3?4 x 1 x 11 1?2 PUNTA 1 ″ * white oak; 1?4“X 1?8“GBS **
❏ 2 outer fingers 3?4 x 1 1?8 x 11 1?2 PUNTA 1 ″ white oak; 1?4“X 1?8“TOS †
❏ 1 middle finger 3?4 x 1 1?4 x 11 1?2 PUNTA 1 ″ white oak; 1?4“X 1?8“TBS ‡
* TOE = one end tenon; ** GBS = groove on both sides; † TOS = tongue on one side;
‡ TBS = tongue both sides
Add the ends
The folding ends of the bookcase can be of any shape. The original had a gothic touch. I traced this shape with a compass (see “Lancet arc”, bottom left). Use the drawings as a guide for replicating this shape. Trim the ends to shape and clean the edges.
Secure the ends to the bottom using hinges. I used a solid brass piano hinge that I cut into 4 inches in length and then filed to shape.
First fix the hinges with steel screws and then replace them with brass ones.
On the underside of the bottom, screw a 5 “long repair plate (available at any hardware store) to the two outer fingers of the bottom. This will prevent the fingers from spreading under heavy loads.
The last task at the ends is to install the sliding door latch that locks the open bookcase. This should be centered on the ends. Again, first install the bolts with steel screws and replace them with brass screws.
C.Utilize the 4 “long hinges with a hacksaw. The screw holes are 2 inches in the center and the hinge joint is a great starting point for the hacksaw. Arrange the shape of the ends of the leaves (I used a dime as a template.) Then file the shape and blend it into the rest of the leaf.
I polished the ends of my hinges using a deburring wheel in my grinder. Finally, I removed the paint from the hinges so they aged faster – a flashlight does a quick job in this task.
Finish and the belt
Remove all hardware, clean up any car marks, then apply two coats of super blonde shellac, sanding between coats with a fine abrasive sponge. Remove any wrong nibs with a folded brown paper bag, then reassemble the bookcase.
For the belt, feel free to use whatever you like, even an old belt from your closet. Before screwing the belt onto the back of the bookcase, cut it to size so you don’t over-stretch your fingers, causing the shelf to fall apart.
With these tricks, plus a little imagination and engineering, you can enlarge this bookcase or use your fingers and folding parts to create your own folding furniture.
Video: Watch a video of how the bookcase folds and see the details of its hinges.
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