Mid-century Modern Bookcase – Home Decor Online Tips

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Simple woodworking serves up this sophisticated geometric design.

Mid-century modern design is enjoying a surge in popularity, and rightly so: its clean lines and functional design make it practical and attractive, two obvious traits in this bookcase from an unknown designer.

Its rigorous and geometric design shows modern roots while giving it a strong graphic presence. And because it looks great from both the front and the back, it’s perfect for dividing a space without dividing it completely, making it a good match for open-plan homes of the period and today.

Simple construction techniques are the basis of the sophisticated design: the grooves in the leg assemblies capture the case, with its internal dividers and shelves joined by dados. The asymmetrical dividers are made of 12“- often kick while the outer case is made of 34“-Thick material. The legs and rails are 1 inch thick. Variable thicknesses ea 12”Revealing the chest in the legs, adds another subtle detail to the design.

The original case was done in rosewood, but I opted for cherry finished with oil and shellac. Provides rosewood-like warmth without the expense. Plus, the design lends itself to a variety of materials, so choose your materials to suit your decor.

Following the original, I built the crate from sheet metal (the legs and rails are solid cherry), but there is no reason to choose sheet metal over solid wood. Although plywood does require edging, you’ll likely spend the same amount of time gluing on narrower solid supports to produce the wide boards needed for the project, so let your preferences and work style guide your choice of material.

Mid Century Modern Bookcase Cutting List

Item No. Dimensions (inches) Material


❏ 2 Lower / Upper Case 34 x 10 12* x 35 34 Plywood

❏ 2 Side panels of the case 34 x 10 12 x 38 34 Plywood

❏ 1 Long shelf 12 x 10 12* x 17 38 Plywood

❏ 1 Medium-long shelf 12 x 10 12* x 10 12 Plywood

❏ 5 medium shelves 12 x 10 12* 81 x 116 Plywood

❏ 1 Short shelf 12 x 10 12* x 7 38 Plywood

❏ 2 tall vertical dividers 12 x 10 12* x 37 34 Plywood

❏ 1 Short vertical divider 12 x 10 12* x 28 516 Plywood

❏ 2 side frame guides 1 x 1 12 x 12 Cherry

❏ 4 legs 1 x 1 12 x 48 12 cherry


❏ 1 at the bottom 14 x 6 38 x 9 12 Plywood

❏ 2 Duplex 34 x 6 78 x 6 1516 Maple

❏ 2 sides 12 x 6 1516 x 10 Poplar

*Includes 18 “thick solid edge on both edges




Edging in two ways

Edging in two ways: fix and seal or use adhesive tape For both approaches, make sure the headband is wide enough to be slightly proud of both sides of the board.

Because it makes cleaning the glue easier, I prefer to pre-finish my parts when a design allows. This is the approach I’ve taken here for the inside of the case, rubbing on a coat of boiled linseed oil, followed by padding on a couple of coats of blonde shellac.

Rip the file 34” is 12“Compensated at 10-14“(That allows 18“- thick edging on both sides to produce 10-12“Wide panels). Then apply boiled linseed oil and the first coat of shellac. With ripped and pre-finished panels, you are ready for edging.

You can use commercial veneer tape and spread it over the edges of the plywood, but tearing your sash gives you enough thickness to round or smooth the finished edges. It looks more beautiful and makes the band blend better with the sheet.

Wash it. A finishing router equipped with a flush cutting tip simplifies the work of edging trimming, but the same goes for a block plane or a sanding plane (although care must be taken to avoid creaking the thin face of the ‘veneer).

While it is tempting to set the fence for a tight snatch cut, you will avoid the risk of the tight butt jamming in the needle plate if you position the fence to produce a strong 18“Discard and reset the fence after each step.

After I tore off my sash, I planed a smooth face for gluing, then applied it to my plywood. I sized the edge of the plywood by brushing a thin layer of glue, letting it sit for a minute for the long-grained layers to absorb the glue, then applying another thin layer before aligning the band to the good edges of the sheet.

You can use a clamp and caul to secure the band as the glue dries, or you can use duct tape, scraping off the glue after it gels.

Once the glue is dry, cut the band flush with the plywood. A trimming router equipped with a wire cutting tip is designed for this job. The alternative to the hand tool is a sharp plane for a shallow cut.

Dados joins the interiors

Easy dice. This simple jig holds the base of the router in place and guides it while cutting stopped dados.

The inside of the case is united 14“X 14“Dados, he stopped 12”From the edges of the boards. A simple plywood template guides the router to make these cuts.

Align the tip at the start of the cut (1⁄2 ″ from the edge), dip it, then plow.

Mark the location of the dados, line up the cut in the fence with the marks, place the router, dive and plow. Note that where two shelves line up on either side of a divider, the dados will cut through all of the plywood, leaving solid stock only at the ends of the cut.

Tenons of the router. I used a cutter with a rabbet tip to cut 1⁄4 ″ thick tenons on the ends of the divider and shelves.

Be careful when handling the unassembled 12“- thick dividers to avoid breaking the workpiece – or set the router a little low for these cuts, then cut the corresponding tenons to fit.

Tenon the ends of the internal parts with a rabbet bit (router) or nut stack (table saw), then carve the ends of the boards for the stopped dados. You will need to round off the tenons or square the cubes with a chisel to fit the parts.

Cut the Miters

Perfect machine guns. A simple plywood fence fixed flush with the end of the panel guides the 45 ° bevel bit (multi-pass) for clean cuts.

Miters joins the case. I used a piece of plywood as a fence to drive a large 45 ° chamfer bit to cut these joints with a router. Simply place the fence along the end of the board, set the tip for a 34“-Cut deep and mill the chamfer, to the final depth with multiple passes. Cut and miter the sides of the case now, but leave the ends a bit long until you have dry fitted the case. This way you can size the pieces for a perfect fit.

The fence should extend beyond the edges of the plank and the inside edge of the plank should face up.

The frame assembly pieces are also square, but can be cut with a miter saw. If your broth is long enough, cut each assembly from a single plank so that the grain runs continuously around it.

Cut the parts to the width, cut your mitres, then cut the legs to the final length.

Size the ends of the boards before gluing and fasten them in both directions across the joint, making sure the boards are aligned and the grids stay tight. When the glue is dry, route a stop 34“-Wide x 12“-Deep the groove for the case, then square the ends of the cut with a chisel.

Decorative drawer

Drawer details. After I cut the front of the drawer to size, I drilled a finger-free space on the drill press, then cut a mortise to accommodate the shot. After bending the edge with a router, I glued the wooden tie rod.

WThanks to its prominent position, the drawer creates a strong focal point for the case design, so it’s a great place to express yourself.

Do you have a special piece of stock or veneer that you are saving? What about that custom wooden tie rod you wanted to try? Or Greene and Greene-style finger joints? The small size of the drawer makes it the perfect place for experimentation.

I used some figured maple and made a simple wooden pull, then curved the edges to create a shadow line. The semi-blind dovetails join the drawer box and the plywood bottom is glued in one beat.

– MC

Assemble in stages

Staging. Assemble the case in stages, building from side to side. After the first section is glued and dried, the second set of shelves and the divider are glued to the first subset. And so on.

Assembling the case is a bit like putting a puzzle together. I built the case from left to right in stages. Join the first set of dividers and shelves and let that section dry before adding the next set. Finally, measure the mitres and glue the ends to the case.

Once the assembly is out of the clamps, level its hardwood faces with a sander plane or sander and loosen the edges of the boards. Now is a good time to smooth and finish the leg sets as well. Glue them to the case, taking care to remove the stains after the glue has gelled, then finish the outside of the case.

With the suitcase and drawer complete, now comes the hard part: deciding what deserves pride of place on your sleek new bookcase.

Click to download the PDF, with drawings and a cutlist: Mid-century Modern Bookcase PDF

Blog: Read about ways to modify the library for various purposes
Plan: Download a free SketchUp model of this library.

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