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Thread: Help with bookshelf assembly

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Help with bookshelf assembly

    I could use some advice on how to assemble a set of bookcases. I've made a few bookcases or similar cabinets, but they all had adjustable shelves or at most one center support shelf (dado or screws). Simply build a carcass, put a back on it and call it good. My wife want two bookcases with fixed shelves and no visible screws or fill marks. Easy enough, put the shelves in dados and all is good. My problem is how to actually assemble it. It will be 84x36 with 6 shelves plus a bottom (7 dados) and then a top and bottom (where I can use screws). I have 8 clamps wide enough for the 36 inch width and believe I can double up others as needed after that.

    I've seen some examples of how to clamp it up and use squares to ensure it stays squared, but I haven't seen any done with 7 shelves. I'll enlist my wife to help with the glue-up (using Titebond Extend). Just not sure how to keep everything square and lined up. It will have a face frame and the rear will be rabbited for the back panel. Those will need to be lined up as close to perfect as possible to limit corrections.

    I've searched the internet with no luck. I just don't have a picture in my head of the sequence to get 7 shelves in. Any thoughts?

    thanks, Rob

  2. #2
    Glue-up one side at a time. ie Glue as many shelves as you have clamps for, to one side, fixturing everything square. Then glue the other side on separately, to give you extra working time. Then glue the face frame. It is possible to do it all in baby steps. Also epoxy could extend your working time.
    "Anything seems possible when you don't know what you're doing."

  3. #3
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    No real advice, but please report back! Ive talked to friend about making a large-ish bookcase for her and gone through the same thought process. Aligning and clamping seem tricky.

    I also considered cutting stub tenons or using short dowels on the shelves to help locate them.

  4. #4
    I'd do as Andy suggests.
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
    - Sir Edmund Burke

  5. #5
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    Easy enough, put the shelves in dados and all is good. My problem is how to actually assemble it. It will be 84x36 with 6 shelves plus a bottom (7 dados) and then a top and bottom (where I can use screws). I have 8 clamps wide enough for the 36 inch width and believe I can double up others as needed after that.
    A shelf to dado glue joint is not real strong being end grain to face grain. Any chance you can use dowels? Almost all of my shelves use dowels for added strength.

    Another way would be to use a dovetail or half dovetail joinery to hold the case together.

    Some of my bigger book shelves have been made with the top and bottom piece attached and glued first. After it is set the individual shelves are driven in from the back. My shelves now all have stopped dados on the show side. This can be set up and the shelves marked for which dado they have been fitted.

    One more way would be to make a dado a bit smaller than the shelf in the carcass with one to match in the shelf. With a spline installed in the carcass into the shelf there would be a long grain to long grain glue joint.

    Finally, if you are going to have a dust plate or toe plate at the bottom, you might consider making it a drawer. That is how this one was made:

    100_7659.jpg

    No one notices it and as long as it isn't shown to them they don't think about it.

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

  6. #6
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    Perfect project for more clamps IMHO. The face frame will give you plenty of strength once glued on. Id make a bunch of 6 or 8 90 degree clamping cauls out of scrap 3/4 plywood basically L shaped scraps that are 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 inch wide with 8 sides. Essentially little wooden framing squares made out of 3/4 plywood. I would either wax the edges of the squares with paste wax or use packing tape on the edges to prevent glue adhesion to the squares. I would not bother with any screws or nails. Id use 2x4 scraps to rest one side of the cabinet on with the dados facing up, holding the side 3 to 3 1/2 inches off the assembly work surface. This gives you clearance for clamping.

    Glue each shelf one shelf at a time. Use small c lamps, F clamps or pistol clamps to clamp the 90 degree cauls to the shelf and cabinet side to keep the shelf square, then use longer pipe clamps, bar clamps or f clamps to clamp the shelf (apply pressure from opposite end of the shelf to the side. Let that dry for 4-24 hours. Then test fit the other side. If you like it the fit, work quickly to apply glue, assemble, and clamp. Id want two long clamps at each shelf, from and back. And there or four clamps on the top and bottom. Again use clamping squares to keep everything square.

    this requires a bunch of clamps which is a great investment if you plan to do more cabinet making work. If accumulating this many 4 long clamps is not practical or desirable, you can make some crude clamps out of 2x4 material and use shims to pull the sides together. Take a 452x4. Glue and Screw a 3 1/2 wide cleat on one end. Screw anther cleat at the other end leaving a 36 3/16 gap between the cleats. Slip this over you assembled cabinet and now use shims to clamp across the cabinet. Note: you want the long grain to rest against your cabinet side not end Grain to minimize marring the side.

    once you have the cabinet glued, you can attach the face frame which will really stiffen things up. Id be inclined to add stretchers top bottom and some where in between to the back out of 3/4 stock. These could be attached using M&T, dowels, blind dovetails or rabbet joints hope this helps.
    Last edited by Joe A Faulkner; 06-19-2022 at 10:50 PM.

  7. #7
    No clamps at all are needed if the assembly is screwed and glued. Plugs made from the offcuts can neatly hide the screws if care is taken.
    "Anything seems possible when you don't know what you're doing."

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Hartmann View Post
    I could use some advice on how to assemble a set of bookcases. I've made a few bookcases or similar cabinets, but they all had adjustable shelves or at most one center support shelf (dado or screws). Simply build a carcass, put a back on it and call it good. My wife want two bookcases with fixed shelves and no visible screws or fill marks. Easy enough, put the shelves in dados and all is good. My problem is how to actually assemble it. It will be 84x36 with 6 shelves plus a bottom (7 dados) and then a top and bottom (where I can use screws). I have 8 clamps wide enough for the 36 inch width and believe I can double up others as needed after that.

    I've seen some examples of how to clamp it up and use squares to ensure it stays squared, but I haven't seen any done with 7 shelves. I'll enlist my wife to help with the glue-up (using Titebond Extend). Just not sure how to keep everything square and lined up. It will have a face frame and the rear will be rabbited for the back panel. Those will need to be lined up as close to perfect as possible to limit corrections.

    I've searched the internet with no luck. I just don't have a picture in my head of the sequence to get 7 shelves in. Any thoughts?

    thanks, Rob
    Hi Rob

    The critical element is ensuring that the dados are the same at each side of the case. I use a template (MDF) to ensure that transfer is made without error ..





    I also prefer to mark this after the case is dry assembled.

    If the dados are clean and all is square, the shelves should slide in. Only glue the first third (from the front).

    Regards from Perth

    Derek
    Last edited by Derek Cohen; 06-20-2022 at 12:48 AM.

  9. #9
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    I built one with similar dimensions 6'x4'x16" out of plywood, with no back. Had 6 shelf, including top and bottom.

    I laid a MDF sheets down against a wall. Glued the case on its side. Basically, lay one long side on MDF, with dado facing up. Assemble shelves, and put the other long side on top, like a cap.

    I made dado tight-ish, and it all stood fine on the side. Swayed it a little to make things square. Nailed a diagonal brace on backside. Then added weight on top.

    Came out fine. Used it for 6-7 years. Left it in our previous home. It was too big to move.

  10. #10
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    Derek,

    I don't really understand your picture (sorry, 11 hr day at work today). I was pretty anal about marking/cutting the dados. I clamped the sides together (actually in two sheets and cut the sides after I cut the dados) and measured the dados with my Bora edge clamp. I then cut each dado with a router after checking my measurements about 20 times.. Worked really well. All are perfectly lined up in both bookshelves with one exception, but only slightly off.

    If I understand you correctly, I should assemble the carcass first. Then put glue on the first third of each side of the shelves and then slide them in one by one. Is that correct?
    - Why only the first third?
    - Should I put the back on before the shelves or after? Seems logical to do it after to ensure the shelves can be clamped into the dados, but with it on I could just slide the shelves until they contact the back.

    I was going to try Andy's idea of doing one side of shelves, but this seems a better way to go about it.

    thanks, Rob

  11. #11
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    Rob, are you making this from solid lumber or sheet goods? If solid lumber, my guess is Derek is allowing for wood movement with his suggestion. I would also note that if you are using solid lumber, Dereks suggestion is a good one, if you are using sheet goods, if your dados are tight, Id be concerned with splintering or popping off the veneer as you slide/tap in the shelves, so Id take it slow. I still think you want to clamp the shelves after sliding them in, but you could work one shelf at a time using Dereks method.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Hartmann View Post
    Derek,

    I don't really understand your picture (sorry, 11 hr day at work today). I was pretty anal about marking/cutting the dados. I clamped the sides together (actually in two sheets and cut the sides after I cut the dados) and measured the dados with my Bora edge clamp. I then cut each dado with a router after checking my measurements about 20 times.. Worked really well. All are perfectly lined up in both bookshelves with one exception, but only slightly off.

    If I understand you correctly, I should assemble the carcass first. Then put glue on the first third of each side of the shelves and then slide them in one by one. Is that correct?
    - Why only the first third?
    - Should I put the back on before the shelves or after? Seems logical to do it after to ensure the shelves can be clamped into the dados, but with it on I could just slide the shelves until they contact the back.

    I was going to try Andy's idea of doing one side of shelves, but this seems a better way to go about it.

    thanks, Rob
    Rob, my apology for assuming too much. The MDF template is simply a square board and the height of the dado (one edge). Mark one side of the panel. Then use the template to mark the dado on the panel at the other side of the shelf. This template ensures that the markings are exactly the same on both sides, and (assuming that the case is square) the shelves will be level and equidistant from each other. Use the same template to mark the other shelves - just cut it down as you go.

    The reason I suggest a dry fit of the case is to ensure that the markings are from the inside, where you will minimise errors. Leave the drawer back fitting until all the shelves are in.

    If using solid wood for the shelves, you can expect some movement. It is best that movement is towards the rear of the case, and not the front. Therefore only glue the first (front) third of the dado. This will encourage any movement towards the rear.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  13. #13
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    Rob, are you making this from solid lumber or sheet goods?
    Knowing this from the beginning could have saved me some typing.

    My thought was this would be solid lumber. From what the OP said later now makes me think it is made of plywood. Very little of my work has been done with plywood.

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

  14. #14
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    Thanks Derek. I understand what you mean now. I thought about doing that, but my wife wanted various heights on the shelves. I didn't want to make multiple templates, so I used the edge clamp and took my time to measure it out.

    With the exception of the face frame and trim it's all plywood. I now understand my confusion with yours and Jim's comments. As I said, was tired last night. I haven't done much with plywood myself. Due to the size I thought it would work better and so far so good. I smoothed over the edges of the plywood and they slide into the dados pretty easy. I should be ready for a dry fit this weekend to see how it goes. I plan to wait until the following weekend to assemble it. My wife is on a road trip and I want to wait until she returns so she can assist. I'll let you know how it comes out.

  15. #15
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    I was able to assemble the two cases following some great guidance here. I was limited on clamps (due to the 36 inch+ width) having a total of 8. There are six shelves, plus the bottom (show shelf) and then a top and bottom. I clamped three shelves in place with no glue to hold the structure. Then glued in the show shelf and then every other shelf for four glue-ups. Let that dry and then slid the remaining shelves in as Derek suggested (worked great). After that dried, I then put the top and bottom on. It came out nice and square and solid. This weekend I plan to work on the face frames and trim. I have the backs ready and will put them on last.

    Next up is finalizing my plan to apply the finish. I plan on using Danish Oil and just have to decide if I'm going to finish it all before I put the back on or after. Pros and cons both ways. Since they probably won't be moved for a long time I'm leaning towards finishing first and then securing the back with screws. I've seen suggestions on taping off the edges so it can be glued, but not sure how that would work. How far do you tape to ensure the oil doesn't seep under it and if you do too much can you go back and oil the corners and have it match?

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