The Arts & Crafts movement was part of an interesting social change in America – the advent of mail-order purchases. Catalogs from Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Montgomery Ward were all the rage, and many companies took their cue and offered their wares for sale through catalogs rather than set up expensive retail establishments throughout the country. While it was a great idea, it raised a difficult problem with furniture. The majority of space in any piece of furniture is air. While air is very light, it’s also bulky and expensive to ship. So furniture makers perfected a style of furniture that continues today – knockdown furniture. Finished disassembled, the furniture could be shipped flat, then assembled by the owner. Through-tenons with tusks were the turn-of-the-20th-century answer, while hidden cam-locking hardware is the answer today.
This project is actually a very simple bookcase made challenging by slanting the sides. Many of the knockdown bookcases had straight sides, but why do things the easy way?
Start construction by preparing the panels for the sides and four shelves. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have oak that’s wide enough to make your sides using a single board, glue up the shelves or sides using two boards, but make sure the joint falls in the center of the finished panel. This is less important on the shelves; but since the sides come to a peak at the center, the joint becomes obvious if you’re off the mark. Also, you can cut the top and bottom shelves to length, but leave the two center shelves long at this time. When the through-tenons are cut and fit, you can measure for the exact length of the center shelves.
Critical Pencil Lines
With the sides prepared, lay out the shelf locations, mortise locations and the overall shape in pencil on one of them. To allow you to do a minimum of angled or beveled cutting on the pieces, the shelves all fit into 3/4″-wide by 3/8″-deep dados cut at a 5° angle in the sides using the table saw. Because of this, the location of the shelves actually falls at an angle on the sides. A 1/16″ difference in shelf height one way or the other won’t dramatically affect the use of the bookcase, but you must make sure that the dados are cut at the same locations on each side.
If you happen to have a sliding table on your table saw, you’re in great shape. Most people don’t, so the next best option to cut the angled dados is to use your miter gauge. If you don’t have a substantial wooden fence attached to your gauge, now is a good time. A fence that is 18″ to 24″ long and about 3″ high will work fine. You’ll need to determine which way to orient the sides on your saw depending on the way the arbor of your saw tilts. With some of the cuts, the majority of the side will be supported by the miter gauge, and you can use your rip fence to guide your cut. When the larger section of the side will be between the blade and rip fence, this is an unsafe cut. The board can twist and bind against the blade and cause a kickback. Move the rip fence out of the way, mark the sides and make the next cuts with only the miter gauge fence. With the dados complete, swap the dado with a crosscut blade, and bevel the bottom edge of each side at that angle.