Stickley Bookcase: How to build a sturdy bookcase without a back.
When I design furniture , I often turn to the age of arts and crafts for inspiration. I love this style. It is simple, yet elegant. When a client commissioned me to build a small bookcase, I knew exactly what to start with: a photograph of a piece built by L. & JG Stickley around 1904.
This Stickley bookcase was perfect for my clients’ modern condo. They wanted a bookcase with an open back, so that it could be accessed from both sides and used as a room divider. I changed the size and design of the Stickley piece slightly, but kept the distinctive look of its side panels.
As it turned out, my clients moved in just as I was completing their library. They didn’t need a divider in their new living room, but they needed a piece to fit behind their sofa. The library was natural. It proved to be a very versatile design!
Materials and tools
I built this bookcase out of sawn white oak, the same type of wood that was used to build most Arts and Crafts furniture. The most prominent feature of this wood is its radius stain, but some quartersawn boards have a much more beautiful figure than others. Before we get started, I’ve set aside the best boards for the side panels and top.
The double tenons I have used on this library can be difficult to work with. I found that the simplest method is to make them as loose pieces, like dowels or cookies. This requires a lot of carefully machined mortises, made with a plunge cutter. You can make your own masks to drive the router, but I used the Leigh FMT, which was designed for this type of work (see Sources, page 53).
Making the joints
Start by doing the legs (B). Cut them to the final size and mark the best sides to face front and out. Grind all the mortises in the legs ( Photo 1 and Fig. D).
Milling all the rails (C, D, E, F and K). Be sure to cut all side guides (E and F) and anti-racking guides (K) to the same length. Insert the mortises at the ends, to match the mortises in the legs (Photo 2 ).
Make loose tenons (M, N, P and Q) to fit the mortises. They are all the same thickness, but have different widths. Make each batch of tenons from one piece at least 12 inches long (shorter pieces are not safe to mill).
Note that the tenons for the front and rear top rails are 1/8 “narrower than their corresponding mortises. This important detail requires little explanation. These mortises are horizontal, rather than vertical. The tenons are narrower than the mortises so as to be able to adjust the position of the rails from side to side at a later time, to match the length of the anti-shelving rails (K). If the tenons were exactly the same width as the mortises, you would have to mill the joints very precisely in so that all the parts fit in. While this is not out of the question, my approach of leaving some room for adjustment is much simpler.
Round off the edges of the tenon block on the router table ( Photo 3 ). Cut the broth into short pieces and glue the tenons into the guides ( Photo 4 ). On the front and rear top rails (the ones with the narrowest tenons), glue the tenons to the center of the mortises.
Build the sides
Rout the side panels (G), but leave them 1 ″ extra long. Assemble the sides, without glue, and measure the distance between the guides ( Photo 5 ). Cut the panels to this exact length (best to take them off a little at a time, until they fit snugly). Remove the sides.
Cut three biscuit slots in the ends of the panels and in the upper and lower side guides ( Photo 6 and Fig. A). Pre-finish the edges of the side guides that have cookie slots. The panels will contract when the weather is dry; pre-finishing prevents this shrinkage from revealing unfinished wood.
Glue the sides together, all in one go. I use Titebond Extend (see Sources) for complicated assemblies like this one. Its open time is longer than the open time of most yellow glues, so I don’t have to run as fast. Start by gluing the side panels to the rails, the seams that have three cookies. Apply glue only in the central crevices and allow the outer ones to dry. This will allow the panel to shrink and swell without being held back by the glue.
After the sides are glued, plane or sand the rails and upper legs so they are even if necessary. Cut a couple of cookie slots on the inside edges of the top guides ( Photo 7 ).
Stickley Bookstore Cut List
Overall dimensions: 36-5 / 8 ″ H x 45-1 / 2 ″ W x 13-1 / 4 ″ D
Th x W x L
7/8 “x 13-1 / 4” x 45-1 / 2 “
1-3 / 4 ″ x 1-3 / 4 ″ x 35-3 / 4 ″
Top rail, front / rear
3/4 “x 1-1 / 2” x 38 “
Lower rail, front / rear
1-1 / 4 ″ x 1-3 / 4 ″ x 38 ″
Upper rail, lateral
1-1 / 4 “x 2” x 9 “
Lower rail, lateral
1-1 / 4 “x 5” x 9 “
3/4 ″ x 7-1 / 2 ″ x 27-3 / 4 ″
Shelf, medium / high
3/4 ″ x 12 ″ x 38-7 / 8 ″
3/4 ″ x 12 ″ x 38-3 / 8 ″
5/8 “x 3-1 / 2” x 9 “
1/2 “x 1” x 1-5 / 16 “
Tenons, top guide
1/4 “x 5/8” x 2-1 / 2 “(a, b)
Tenons, lower guide
1/4 ″ x 1-1 / 4 ″ x 2-1 / 2 ″ (c)
Tenons, upper guide, lateral
1/4 “x 1” x 2-1 / 2 “(c)
Tenons, lower guide, lateral
1/4 “x 3” x 2-1 / 2 “(c)
Notes: a) The butt of the tenon should be at least 13-1 / 2 “long. This includes 2” on both ends for the snipe of the plane. B) Make these tenons 1/8 “narrower than their mortises.
C) The tenon stock should be at least 25″ long or two pieces 14-1 / 2 “long.
Assemble the case
Drill the holes and slots in the tear-proof guides for fixing the top (Fig. B). The ends of the rails have cookie slots which are a bit unusual. These slots are more like grooves – they stop before one edge and run completely out of the other edge. This design will allow you to slide the piece over a cookie, as you will see later. The easiest way to make these long slots is to fasten the two anti-shelving rails together ( Photo 8 ), and make a series of regular plunge cuts at each end.
Cut individual cookie slots in the front and top rear guides to receive the anti-pour guides. Glue the cookies into these slots and carefully remove any glue that comes out.
One last thing before proceeding with gluing: Make the slots on the inner faces of all four front and rear guides to receive the wooden buttons (L) that will fix the upper and lower shelves (Fig. A). Make the buttons from a long piece of broth (Fig. C).
You are ready for the big glue. First, place the cookies, without glue, into the ends of the anti-mark guides and pin these guides between the top guides ( Photo 9 ). Position the anti-racking rails so they protrude approximately 1/4 “past the ends of the top rails. Use a framing square to align the ends of the top rails.
Glue the case ( Photo 10 ). Again, with so many pieces to handle, using glue with a longer open time will really help. Before the glue dries, loosen the clamps holding the anti-rack rails and slide these rails back about an inch to make sure they aren’t inadvertently glued into place. When the glue dries, remove the non-marking guides. Smear glue on the ends and sides of these guides, slide them back into place ( Photo 11 ) and pin them to the sides.
Glue the shelves (H and J) and the top (A) and cut them to the final size. Notch the shelves so that there is a 1/16 “gap between the shelves and end panels (so you can drop the shelves into place) and a similar gap between the shelves and legs (so that the shelves have space to expand in width). Make a plywood template to space the shelf pins apart and drill their holes. I use brass sleeves (see Sources) to line the shelf pin holes; the sleeves add a nice decorative touch to the bookcase Install the sleeves after the piece is finished.
I use a three step finish on white oak. First, I apply a yellow dye (see Sources). Next, I dry a layer or two of Bartley’s Jet Mahogany Dye Gel, followed by three applications of Bartley’s Gel Varnish.
After the finish has dried, attach the lower and upper shelves to the crate ( Photo 12 ). Center the top on the case. Using a spacer, leave a 1/8 “gap between the button and the rails, to allow the shelf and top to expand when the humidity is high. In addition to the buttons, secure the top with screws that go through the anti-racking guides.
Leigh Industries, www.leighjigs.com, (800) 663-8932, FMT Pro, $ 929; Super FMT, $ 449.
Franklin International, www.titebond.com, (800) 877-4583, Titebond extends wood glue, $ 7.50 for 16 ounces.
Widget Mfg. Co., WidgetCo.com, (800) 877-9270, 1/4 “Antique Brass Shelf Pins,
# 1-250-ATQ-S, $ 0.29 each; Shelf Pin Sleeves in 1/4 “antique brass, # 1-250-ATQ-G, $ 0.15 each.
Homestead Finishing Products, www.homesteadfinishingproducts.com, TransFast Lemon Yellow Stain Powder Dye, Water Soluble, # 3287, $ 25.95 / 4 oz.
Bartley Classic Reproductions, www.bartleycollection.com, (800) 787-2800, Jet Mahogany Gel Stain, $ 16.75 / qt; Gel varnish, $ 16.75 / qt.
Laurie McKichan designs furniture to be “simple, honest and straightforward.” You can see
more of her work at www.lauriemckichan.com
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