View Poll Results: Is the underside of a bookcase shelf a "show surface"?

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  • Yes it is - Make it nice

    17 50.00%
  • No it isn't - Let it be

    9 26.47%
  • You punks need to finish everything the same. Kids these days I tell ya

    8 23.53%
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Thread: Is the bottom side of an open shelf a "show surface" or not?

  1. #1

    Is the bottom side of an open shelf a "show surface" or not?

    Coming off a recent thread about the effort (or lack thereof) put into show and non-show surfaces, and inspired by an ongoing project of mine, I'm curious how the breakdown of responses will be.

    What constitutes a "show surface" that receives 100% care, attention, smoothing, finishing, polishing, yadda, yadda, vs a "non show surface" that gets a lick from the jack plane and a slap coat of varnish? In particular, is the underside of a shelf, in an open (no doors) bookcase, a "show surface"?

    It likely won't be seen, but it's not nearly as concealed as the interior backside of a chest of drawers (as one example).

    For those of you who finish everything to the same standard, it's a moot point (but I'll give you guys your own response in the poll anyhow).

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Depends on how short you are...

    In all seriousness, I would say it really depends, and some of that is due to viewer height. I wouldn't bother much with shelves below 18" or so ( a decent smooth and on you go), but you may want to work a bit more on things higher especially if someone might sit in front of it.
    Last edited by Noah Magnuson; 07-25-2018 at 8:34 PM.

  3. #3
    Not enough options in your poll. It depends on whether the shelf is mounted above or below normal line of sight. I recently built a hanging book case for our home office. The wood I had to work with had some defects that you normally wouldn't have on a show surface. The top of this bookcase is 7 feet above the floor. The board I used for the top had one good side. It faces down where it can be seen. The not so good side faces up toward the ceiling where no one can see it. Even so Both sides received equal amounts of finishing and care.
    Last edited by Lee Schierer; 07-26-2018 at 9:16 PM.
    Lee Schierer
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  4. #4
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    +1 on needing another option.

    It also depends on how much finishing is going to be done. If the thing is stained any surface that can be seen will be stained. Most of the time my work doesn't receive a clear coat, the wood is kept natural. Sometimes it is given a few coats of wax.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  5. #5
    Two comments on height, very valid points. This particular one is 5 shelves, top shelf will be about 5'6" off the ground.

    I've got variable quality stock to work with, hence the post. I've been able to give them all a good topside, but I don't have all five with two good sides. That's what's actually determining the order the worse the underside, the lower down it's going in the unit.

    EDIT: No stain, just osmo polyx. Regardless of how smooth I take the undersides, I'm planning on applying finish to both top and bottom.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
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    The undersides will be in shadow even if seen. I would not finish them to the same degree as the topside.

  7. #7
    It varies ,and some of the differences are place related. The British like fine brightly colored cloth on the case backs. Red,
    green, gold ,or blue moire are popular. But the shelves are often knotty stuff with a nice apllied hardwood edge. I think
    that the amater builders are more likely to insist on fine materials and more likely to accept a plain finished look.

  8. #8
    There are plenty of people looking for faster, cheaper furniture. These people do not become part of my customer base
    She said “How many woodworking tools do you need?”
    I said “Why? Do you know someone who is selling some?”


  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by David Myers View Post
    The undersides will be in shadow even if seen. I would not finish them to the same degree as the topside.
    +1 as long as the wood movement factor, if any, is taken care of.

    Simon

  10. #10
    Join Date
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    Yes - definitely.

    It's no different than the topside of a high shelf that is above eye sight.

    My OCD would go into hyperdrive if I didn't give the same attention to both sides of the shelf lol.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mel Fulks View Post
    I But the shelves are often knotty stuff with a nice apllied hardwood edge.
    If I'm using a nice primary wood, like walnut or cherry, etc., I'd use a secondary wood like poplar for shelves with an applied edge of the primary wood, as you mention, Mel. No sense, IMO, in using expensive and sometimes hard to get material where it will never be seen. A lower grade of the primary wood could also be used, and saves time by not having to apply an edging. As for treatment, I might not sand the shelf undersides as well as the top surface but would apply the same type and amount of finish.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by glenn bradley View Post
    There are plenty of people looking for faster, cheaper furniture. These people do not become part of my customer base
    Ditto for me. I finish every part of every piece the same, with exposed surfaces that may be subjected to abuse getting a little more TLC.

  13. #13
    So there you go... Both answers all the way....

    So do what ever you want and see how it goes....

    As one point of reference - I can't recall seeing furniture with shelves with unfinished bottoms on the shelves.. I am sure they exist - especially if they are short and the shelves are fixed... Most I see have unfinished bottoms and backs of the casework.... Even the tops are unfinished if they are tall.... But - the shelves are always finished on both sides....

    But... Do what you want....

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by John C Cox View Post
    Most I see have unfinished bottoms and backs of the casework.... Even the tops are unfinished if they are tall....

    But... Do what you want....
    Unless they are man-made materials or quartersawn, they run a higher chance of distortion due to sesonal changes.

    Simon

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Simon MacGowen View Post
    Unless they are man-made materials or quartersawn, they run a higher chance of distortion due to sesonal changes.

    Simon
    While this is true in theory - in practice it generally only sort of matters on stuff with doors and drawers. It happens on everything - nobody notices it or cares.....

    Finish certainly does slow down wood changes with humidity a bit - but it doesn't prevent movement. Humidity control indoors is a fairly recent innovation... Air conditioning has only really seen near universal use in the last 50 years.... Furniture designs evolved around large humidity changes. So it's already mostly baked in to good designs.... For example: ultra tight fitting drawers do look cool - but they always stick.... And so older furniture tends to have drawers with a fairly generous design clearance and little tricks like overlapping drawer fronts to cover gaps and slight tapers built in here and there so they don't stick....

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