Beautiful Painted Bookcase


Beautiful Painted Bookcase:
Louise Biggs builds a decorative and intricate bookcase.

Louise Biggs builds a decorative and intricate bookcase

Having completed an oak (Quercus robur) screen and several antique restoration projects, two of my special customers returned with their next project. With their two-storey porch extension completed on their cottage, a seating area was formed giving beautiful views over their extensive garden and a narrow return in the wall structure with oak beam structures above. With an extensive collection of books they had designed a narrow bookcase, which would make use of the area.
As with the oak screen, the carved details echo historical architectural features with the apotropaic marks – daisy wheels, arcading and circle decoration lifted from a guilloche decoration. The bookcase was to be made using blockboard, plywood for the carcase and American tulipwood (Liriodendron tulipifera) for the timber frame and mouldings, all of which give a good base for hand painting. There were some different features used in the construction of the bookcase; I will concentrate on these and only give basic construction methods.

Tool list
• Panel saw
• Tablesaw
• Planer/thicknesser
• Router and router table
• Squares – various sizes
• Marking gauges
• Sliding bevel
• Planes
• Drill and drill bits
• Screwdriver
• Dovetail saw
• Chisels – various sizes
• Shoulder-rebate plane
• Wooden moulding plane
• PPE suitable for ears, eyes and breathing
Router cutters:
• Core box 12.7 and 9.5mm
• Point round 4mm
• Panel bead 9.5 and 3.2mm
• V-groove 90°
• Ovolo round 16mm
• Flat ovolo 18mm
• Waterfall ogee

Architectural features
Apotropaic marks were used above windows and doors, but also fireplaces. All deemed vulnerable entry points to protect the buildings from witches and evil spirits during the 17th century. They are ritual marks, which are also referred to as ‘witch marks’ and the term apotropaic literally means ‘evil-averting’. The arcading and guilloche decorations also date from the 17th century with the variations in design changing through the counties.

1. As always my customer provided detailed drawings and sizes of what he required. The design was drawn up on a CAD programme to iron out any ‘hiccups’ before drawing up a full size workshop rod. With the small cupboard return on the right hand side this aided clarification of the details for positioning many of the joints and angles. This enabled the bookcase to initially go together in my workshop while allowing for my customer’s specialist builders to later fit it on site

2. Firstly the main bookcase was constructed first. A groove was cut in the bottom edge of the sides to receive the bottom panel. As the top was formed of thinner boards I cut a series of through dovetails on each end to secure it to the side panels. The back panel was fitted into rebates on all edges with a central supporting strip glued and screwed into position to take the central bookcase strip

3. With the main carcase formed, but before gluing together the bookcase strips were cut into the sides and back panels. A specialist cutter is available to cut the required double grooves, but I still make two passes with the router to gain the required depth

4. Using a test piece, rebates were cut using a router on the edge of the architrave blocks so they finished level with the inside edge of the carcase. With the blocks held in position the architraves were then routed in the same way, but measured, so when in position they left 10mm of the carcase edge showing and created a 10mm step to the architrave block

5. As the architraves and blocks were to clip over the wall on the left and the side cupboard, on the right it only left the rebated edge to join them to the carcase. A series of holes were drilled for a wooden plug before being drilled for a screw at an angle so the screw pulled the architraves onto the corner of the carcase

6. I was requested to leave the architrave blocks loose so they could be adjusted to fit if required once the bookcase was fitted on site. I decided the best way to join them to the architrave was to cut in a dovetail key. Using two pieces of 6mm birch (Betula pendula) ply I cut out the dovetail keys and trued them up with a chisel. With the architraves and blocks fixed in position the dovetail keys were positioned and marked on each side

7. The bulk of the waste was then cut away using a router with the fence before trimming the remainder using the router freehand. The edges were trimmed using a chisel until the dovetail key fitted tightly, glued and screwed into the architrave and a slightly looser fit in the architrave block to be glued on site

8. The bottom edge of the top rail was to finish flush with the bottom edge of the oak beams while leaving the 10mm edge of the top showing. There was a step between the architrave and the top rail due to the oak beam so I used a half dovetail key. The bottom half of the key was a tenon, which fitted into the architrave and was cut using a router with support blocks clamped to the architrave. The dovetail half of the key was cut into the top rail and the rail was then secured along its length to the top using thin ‘L’ shaped brackets

9. The side return cupboard was formed using rebates to join the carcase panels. The bottom and middle shelf were fitted into grooves and the top fitted with a tongue and groove.The top was kept lower than the beam to allow for clearance. The front edge would sit behind the right architrave

10. The frame stiles had to fit around the side cupboard, to meet at the left hand edge with the back of the architrave and allow a scribe piece on the right hand side using test pieces to establish the correct angles and rebates

11. The stiles were then marked out using a gauge, a sliding bevel and the angles planed before being supported with wedges fixed to the router table to have the rebates cut. These were carefully cut out in several steps as this was safer and allowed more control to keep the stiles firmly against the support pieces

12. The front frame was made using mortise and tenon joints with the top rail sitting on top of the stiles. This top rail would then be cut on a bandsaw to form an arch and was jointed in this way as it was better for the end result. This was left dry at the moment as carving and beading decoration still needed to be cut

13. The architrave moulding was cut to the client’s design having drawn the shape up full size and gained cutters with suitable profiles. The outer curves were cut first forming the small rebate. Next, the central shape was cut followed by the inner curves that blended the outer and centre shape together

14. The shape was blended in using a shoulder rebate plane and a wooden moulding plane with the final stage being abrasives, which were wrapped around dowels for the concave shapes and shaped by my fingers for convexed shapes.

15. The roundel in the top rail, which would be carved with the circular guilloche pattern was cut using a router set up on a circle jig. The jig comprises of a piece of Perspex with the centre cutter hole and fixing points cut, drilled and then a series of pivot points drilled in a line, which is fitted over a tight fitting nail. Cutter sizes and positions were adjusted to get as close to the required size as possible

16. The roundel was cut first working down through the material depth in steps to get a clean cut. Firmly hold the timber with a waste board behind and carefully turn the router on the pivot point

17. The top rail was then routed out having marked the position of the roundel. The waste was then removed in depth steps, holding the router firmly. Any remaining levelling between cuts was done with a wide chisel.

18. For the arcading to be cut a jig had to be made that would move the top rail along in uniform steps. The exact depth of the cutter had to be established in order to get the correct width measurement of eachdetail and the gap that was left in between so that the end flat and the centre ones against the roundel were the same. Two blocks were cut to the exact width required and these were stepped back against each other to move the top rail through the jig in steps

19. The router moved on the surface of the top rail and side blocks and was stopped either side by stop blocks positioned for the correct length of the detail

20. The bead around the side cupboard frame was cut on the router table using the fence and stopping at the point of the middle shelf. With the arch cut, a guide arm cutter protector was used to guide the arch round. The final junction between straight and arched sections was finished with carving chisels

21. The roundel, side top rail and architrave blocks were then sent away for carving. On their return the frames were glued and cleaned up before being fitted to the carcases

22. The final stage was to fit the panel to the lower side cabinet with its moulded detail. The side shelves were fixed in position and screwed through from behind. The five shelves for the bookcase were made from 30mm thick tulipwood, with a rounded front edge, to prevent the shelves from bowing under the weight of the books. With a coat of undercoat the bookcase was delivered ready for fixing on site

23. All that remains is for me to complete the project, which is now fitted, painted and awaiting the books


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