Book Cabinet — Completion

img_0869This cabinet project was begun back in February 2016 and finally completed in November. A number of other, less involved projects interrupted the process. as well as my desire to savor this build.

I wanted to showcase the stunning sinker Honduras Mahogany I purchased from Rick Petty of Greener Lumber. He salvages sunken logs from rivers in Belize. These old-growth gems sank while floating down rivers to awaiting ocean going ships. I first discovered their story from a series of blog posts on the Popular Woodworking web site and a subsequent magazine article by Kari Hultman. Over the years I’ve built numerous pieces from this treasured material.

IMG_0450A 2015 Fine Woodworking Magazine article by Hank Gilpin showed his “Gilpinoid” leg design. I loved the design and the various ways he used it over the years. It produces great shadow lines and visual depth. From any one view, the appearance is subtle, but it becomes more and more interesting the closer one looks. That said, these legs add to the overall impact even when one does not “see” the specific details.

Motivation for a proper bookcase came from my treasured collection of Lost Art Press books on woodworking, design and history of the craft. They create books of the highest quality and give voice to brilliant contributors, contemporary as well as our legends.

img_0870All of my sinker Mahogany is 4/4 stock, which is great for most casework, but thicker material is required for legs. Rather than mix in current harvest Mahogany, or select a contrasting species, I decided to use poplar painted black with milk paint. The intent was to create a background setting off the highly-figured Mahogany. The shelves and back slats also received this treatment.

Honduras Mahogany from the rivers of Belize
Honduras Mahogany from the rivers of Belize

The asymmetrical top used the plank’s shape as it came from the mill. Numerous cracks required filling with epoxy. The most obvious are on the right corner, but there were numerous smaller, but significant cracks elsewhere.

The bookcase is in our front room looking most pleased with itself. There are many details to amuse close inspection and this piece encourages taking it in from various perspectives.

Earlier blog posts discuss many of the elements, techniques and decisions that went into this piece. I was not pleased with a few of my construction decisions, but overall it works to my eye. A big thank you to those who supplied feedback and encouragement as this journey unfolded.

Book Cabinet — Install Glass

Glass secured with thin Mahogany strips
Glass secured with thin Mahogany strips

The door panels have glass inserts. I am not fond of open bookcases with all the dust floating (and settling) in our home. This is only my second cabinet with glass. It allows my Lost Art Press books to be seen, but protected.

The thin strips are flush with the rails and stiles. In general I like them to be a bit proud, but in this cabinet this doors close flush to the shelves, eliminating the opportunity to create shadow lines of proud strips.

Strips were cut slightly oversized at the band saw, then taken down to final dimensions using a block plane. The strips were slightly rounded over on the outer edge and fit snug to each opening with a small backsaw (dovetail). Each piece was labeled on the non-show surface and given a few coats of finish.

A thin bead of silicone applied to the rabbets, the glass cleaned, put in place, and the strips were secured with 23-gauge pins. I wanted to use escutcheon pins, however, even my smallest drill bit (1/16″) was too large to make a suitable pilot hole. The old-growth, figured sinker Mahogany was too dense to risk driving those pins without pilot holes. I did try a few samples and decided it was not worth the risk. So 23-gauge pins it was.

The doors were installed with the Brusso knife hinges and pilot holes were drilled in the top to be secured with #8 by 1-1/4-inch brass-coated screws.

Book cabinet — Details

Straight edge and 3/4-inch guide block used to determine fit. A bull nose plane was used to trim up to the leg.
Straight edge and 3/4-inch guide block used to determine fit. A bull nose plane was used to trim up to the leg.

There are numerous details to attend to before the cabinet is ready for use. When checking the door fit, I realized that the shelves were not properly positioned. They were too far forward in some instances which interfere with the doors. I used a long straight edge (referenced on top and bottom shelves) to indicate the inset door desired position. A 3/4-inch guide block (same thickness as door frames) guided material removal. This was one of many times during the build that I questioned my decision to pre-finish.

The door pulls were created similar to the drawer pull shown in an earlier post: These were made from sinker Sapodilla from Belize.

Locations marked and drilled for magnets
Locations marked and drilled for magnets

To secure the doors I embedded rare earth magnets in the shelves. One at the mid-rail location and the other on the bottom shelf where the proud stiles protrude. After drilling those holes I used dowel center finders to mark corresponding points on the door assemblies. Too late I discover that something didn’t work on my magnet placements. Luckily, the outer door works well and holds the non-secured door in place. Record another vote for the value for rabbet doors…assuming the outer door is done properly. Epoxy secures the magnets and plugs in their new homes. The proud plugs were taken flush with block plane, followed by sanding.

Shallow mortises are cut in the doors with router and edge guide to receive the long stub tenons of the pulls. Two screws each, no glue, to hold the pulls in place.

Next up: Install glass in the door assemblies

Book Cabinet — Shaping the Top

Double arcs roughly cut with jig saw. Later spokeshaves and rasps will refine the edge.
Double arcs roughly cut with jig saw. Later spokeshaves and rasps will refine the edge.

A plank of nicely figured sinker Honduras Mahogany will become the cabinet top. I will mostly follow the shape as it came from the river (Belize) and sawmill ( The back left corner will be perpendicular, the left front an obtuse, indeterminate angle and the right side irregular with free-form arcs. The straight sections terminate with small diameter rounds (created with rasps).

Hand plane, spokeshaves and rasps create the edge treatment.
Hand plane, spokeshaves and rasps create the edge treatment.

The edges have a flat on top and slight bevel on the lower portion. Edges also eased with rasps and sandpaper. The right front edge arc has a number of large cracks to be filled with West Systems epoxy. Epoxy is also used for numerous internal cracks.

A blend of varnish/boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits is my go-to finish and will be used on this project as well. The poplar components (legs, shelves and back slats) are given a few thin coats of black milk paint followed by top coat of the oil/varnish blend. Wet sanding of the top coat removes black pigment  from some edges and transition points to give the piece a lived-in look.

Book Cabinet — Attach Legs & Back Slats

First rear leg glued in position
First rear leg glued in position

The legs were glued in place one at a time using liquid hide glue. Various cauls were required to apply pressure without damaging the oddly shaped legs.

The back slats had to be installed at this time due to the design. Typically I would nest the slats in rabbets which would allow much better flexibility. This is what happens when one chooses to design on the fly. In this case rabbets would work for the top and bottom, but not as readily into the legs.

With the legs in place, I was finally able to place the cabinet upright to see how it might look with a top in place.

The top will be asymmetrical to retain much of the look of this distinctive hunk of sinker Mahogany. Stay tuned as the adventure continues. It is beginning to look like a cabinet but many details remain.

Book Cabinet — Detail of Door Stiles

Chisel the basic shape
Chisel the basic shape

The door stiles protrude beyond the case bottom. This post shows some detailing of those stiles. After the door panels are glued up and preliminary sanding completed, the inner (long) stiles detailing reflects that of the lower legs.

img_0503An angled cut with back saw removed the bulk of the excess material. Followed by chiseling close to the lines, then rasp work and finally sanding smooth.

These doors will have glass inserted into the openings.

Book Cabinet – Inside Lower Leg Detail


The inside lower leg details will not be noticed by many viewers, but it was fun to work on. I sketched the curve sweeps on one leg and then took measurements to transfer to the others. Made relief cuts with backsaw and my oh-so-cool Gramercy bowsaw to roughly cut the sweeps.

Leg detail with first coat of black milk paint

I used a  No. 4 fishtail gouge to continue working the curves. I decided to leave the tool marks. A bit of sanding softened the high spots and ridges. I have always wanted to use carving gouges and leave the tool marks on a cabinet piece, but never found the courage. This gave me the chance to fulfill that desire in an area only spiders and inquisitive woodworkers with good knees are likely to ever notice.

fun with offcuts

The leg off cuts made for a fun geometric.

fun with offcuts

Book Cabinet – Shaping the Leg, part one

IMG_0429After much casework, I finally get into the fun part: creating the shaped legs. To create the fin, I mark two 45 degree lines to yield close to a 3/4-inch thick fin. Perpendicular lines are drawn which will determine the protrusion of the fin at its widest part. The beveled rips, followed by the perpendicular cuts are a bit tricky to keep the workpiece against the fence and table saw surface. I used feather boards to keep the legs against the fence. If my fence accommodated them, some feather boards or similar devices would have been useful. I did my best to hold the legs in the cut using a long and heavy push block.

As the perpendicular cuts freed the waste the footprint of the workpiece is dramatically reduced. Working at a table saw should always be done with full attention and wits. Whatever full attention is, double it, for these last two rip cuts.

This leg design was written of by well-known designer and woodworker, Hank Gilpin, for a 2015 issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine. Earlier I had made a prototype of the leg to gain experience with the techniques and to evaluate proportions. I appreciated the impact this design had on shadows and visual planes.

IMG_0450I marked the fin taper with a long straight edge and made a sled to hold the legs at the required 45 degrees from any flat reference surface. The long tapers were made at the band saw trying to keep 1/32 of an inch on the waste side of the line.

The same sled was also used to hold the leg while I created the round over for the fin. I used a circle template to draw some guidelines on the ends of the legs. I did not work to those lines, but rather attempted to make them look and feel appropriate.

Next up, shaping the inside corners of the legs that protrude past the case bottom.

Book Cabinet — Leg Joinery

front legs in place
front legs in place

The legs will be glued on the long grain to the long grain of the case sides. They will also be constrained by numerous stub tenons of various shapes and sizes. I had difficulty keeping track of the joinery orientation when the case switched to face down to on its side to face up.  A few patches and fresh paring was required as I went along.

Chopping mortises
Chopping mortises

I worked on one leg at a time. Each “mortise” was marked, chopped and test fitted, then the next mortise was marked with the initial one partially in place. I did not trust the case to be perfectly symmetrical or square so I did not batch out my markings. For simpler builds I often mark one leg, then mark the others from those marks. Not this time.

Not sure why I decided to use the long stub dovetails for the outer back boards. There are many good reasons not to and probably not a  much structural advantage to this approach. But when simple can do the job, why should I stop at simple?

With the front legs in place I trimmed the doors to just fit the opening. After legs are glued in place, I will fit the doors properly, or my version of proper. The extended center door stiles will be shaped once I see how the leg shaping turns out.

Book Cabinet – Pre-finish & Glue Up

Case in the clamps
Case in the clamps

Mixing oil/varnish for mahogany with black milk paint for the poplar components is challenging my brain. Hopefully, to make things go better, I pre-finished the interior of the mahogany sides and milk paint horizontal elements. The milk painted pieces also received several top coats of oil/varnish for protection and appearance.

I drilled counter sunk holes in the case top. The show top will be attached with #8 screws. I drilled the front holes for #8 and the rear holes with #10 to allow for movement towards the back of the cabinet. Which should not really be an issue as all grain orientations will be in sync. I also drilled pilot holes for the knife hinges. Much easier now, than after glue up.

First stage glue up was case top and bottom to the sides. Half-blind dovetails were used for the joinery. I inserted the shelves to assist keeping the case square. Once that stage set up, I removed the shelves, applied some glue to the back and front of the sliding dovetail joints and applied clamps.

Later, I realized my liquid hide glue was far out of date. Hopefully, all of this will hold together. My multi-interlocking joinery addiction should make it work fine for my lifetime at least.

Next we get into the fun feature of this cabinet, the legs.


A driveway designer and woodworker sharing thoughts, experiences and impressions of the journey.