The requirement was for a slim bookcase, in pine, for displaying mainly paperback books. After measuring the dimensions of several different sizes of paperbacks, I arrived at the following design. The bottom shelf was slightly taller than the rest, to cater for any odd sizes, and the top shelf was more for knick-knacks, rather than books.

I had the carcass of a decent pine wardrobe from which I could get all the timber I needed.

I dismantled the wardrobe, removing screws and bashing glue joints apart with a hammer.

I ripped the side pieces to be used for the sides of my shelves. I left the rebate, as that could be used for the back of my shelves in the same way that it had housed the back of the wardrobe.

After cutting the pieces to length, I put the two sides and five shelves through the thicknesser, mainly to remove the finish and stain. The final thickness was 18mm.

Into the side pieces I cut dadoes (housing joints) for the shelves using the radial arm saw, with a stop block

I tested for fit, and increased the width slightly, if required

I did a dry assembly to check everything so far

On my original plan, there was a fixed radius on the top front corners. I thought it would look better if the curve was progressive, so I used my french curves to draw a nice profile.

I cut to near the pencil line using the bandsaw…

.. and then finished off using the disc sander

Once I had one cut, I used it to mark the other piece

The back of the bookcase is made from thin panelling, but that wouldn’t look good as a back for the top shelf. So I made that part from wood the same thickness as the sides and shelves (18 mm). I rebated the ends so it could sit in the rebate running down the rear of each of the side pieces. I also rebated the bottom so that it fit nicely over the rear of the top shelf. I used the RAS for the end rebate and the router table for the one along the length.

Then I clamped it in place to test the fit.

To save using lots of clamps, I clamped a spare piece of 50 x 50 mm to the assembly table so that I could force the shelves against it when nailing the other end

To avoid a repetition of the disaster that happened when making my chainsaw box (when the filler used for nail holes created patches in the stained finish), I decided to try a technique I had recently learned of: I placed masking tape over the area where the brads would go…

then applied glue to the housing joints…

.. using a brush to spread the glue, and lined up the end piece with the shelves which were being held loosely by the other end piece…

.. and fired two brads into each shelf, through the masking tape. I made sure the shelves were square, then nailed-on a temporary batten to keep the whole lot square and stop it racking.

With the unit stood on its end, I punched the brads below the surface…

.. through the masking tape..

… and then filled the nail holes through the hole in the masking tape…

Once the filler had dried I sanded it flush, with the masking tape still in place..

.. and then peeled off the masking tape. This ensured the hole was filled, but with no filler on the wood around the hole, which could affect staining (even after sanding). I was pleased with the result.

I took the whole thing outside (with the batten still holding everything square) and sanded all the surfaces with my cordless random orbit sander. It was much easier to sand before the back was fitted.

I then fitted the rear part of the top shelf and the small strip of wood under the bottom shelf.

The panelling for the rear already had an antique pine finish from when it was part of the wardrobe, so I decided to leave the back off for now and just stain the shelves.

I’ve used plenty of different spirit-based wood dyes over the years, but this was just about the most frustrating to use. The wood seemed to soak it up as soon as the rag touched it. It was very difficult to spread evenly and I had to be continually pouring more onto the cloth after just one wipe. In fact I used nearly a whole tin on just these shelves. I really don’t know how to account for this – Liberon spirit wood dye gets rave reviews all over the internet.

So the dye ended up rather patchy, although it doesn’t notice much on a piece such as this. I’ve since read online that I might have had better results by brushing it on instead of using a cloth.

Using a cloth, some of the stain didn’t reach into crevices, such as cracks in knots

So I touched these up using a cotton bud dipped in stain

The back of the old pine wardrobe was made from tongue and grooved panelling, about 100mm wide. My design called for 50mm-wide strips. So I faked the look of narrower panelling by routing a v-groove down the centre of each panel, thus turning it — visually — into two narrower panels.

The groove showed the white, unstained, pine below the finish, so I applied stain to the new groove using a cotton bud.

After sawing each piece to length, I fixed the panelling to the back of the shelves, without glue, using a single brad in each panel, into the back of each shelf. This allows the panels to move with changes in moisture content. I had drawn pencil lines to help me line-up the brad gun accurately with the back of each shelf.

You can also see where I had experimented with different shades of stain along the back of the top, and where I accidentally spilt some stain!

I finished the shelves off with some Colron finishing wax, circa 1991! Remember DO-IT-ALL? The wax was completely OK, after nearly three decades in the tin!

And that was it, finished!

Tools used

  • Table saw
  • Bandsaw
  • Radial arm saw
  • 13″ thicknesser
  • 6″ planer
  • Router table
  • v-groove bit (router)
  • 12mm flat bit (router)
  • Disc sander
  • Multi-tool with delta sanding attachment
  • Cordless nail gun
  • Cordless random-orbit sander
  • Robert Sorby square
  • Various clamps
  • Hammer
  • Nail punch
  • French curves
  • Glue brush
  • Cotton buds

Materials used

  • Reclaimed pine-board and panelling
  • 18g 30mm brads
  • 240-grit Abranet abrasive disc
  • Masking tape
  • Wood filler
  • Gorilla wood glue
  • Liberon spirit wood dye (Antique Pine)
  • Colron finishing wax

Things that worked well

  • Using masking tape to keep the wood filler from making a mess
  • ‘Faking’ the narrower back panels

Things that didn’t work (and improvements/lessons learned)

  • I didn’t pay sufficient attention to smoothing the front edges of the shelves – you can still see saw marks on them from the table saw blade
  • Wood dye was difficult to apply evenly