Cubbie Bookshelf

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Project by gauntlet21 posted 10-02-2018 05:03 AM 1403 views 2 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is my first official completed woodworking project as a “serious woodworker”. I’ve got a lot to learn but I sure absorbed a lot of information during the process of building this bookshelf. I started out with a design that would properly fit the removable bins that you see pictured (available from Target). I decided on making a 3X3 cubbie bookshelf because of the locations size requirements. I then decided on the materials; 3/4” maple veneer plywood. As a newbie, I have yet to secure a hardwood seller that would have made a bookshelf of this size affordable. I’ve only purchased hardwood twice from two different individuals that I found on Craigslist and, while the prices weren’t bad, the experience I had in woodworking before this taking on this project left me tepid at best for a 100% hardwood design. The overall dimensions are roughly 42.5” wide X 42.5” tall X 14.75” deep. I decided on using joinery that was new to me and slightly more challenging than butt joints. At the 4 outer corners, I used a simple 3/8” dowel jig (purchased at Rockler) and placed two dowels in the forward, middle, and rear of the tops and bottoms of the two outer vertical boards. The top and bottom boards were then drilled in the same locations to receive the opposite end of the dowels. The four outside boards are therefore only held together with the use of wood glue and twenty-four 3/8” dowels. The prior to final assembly, the four outer boards also received 21/64” deep dados that would align vertically and horizontally and were spaced to create three equidistantly spaced cubbies (vertically and horizontally). The dados were created with an adjustable jig for my plunge router (Bosch 1617) and a Whiteside 3/8” spiral router bit. Finally, the four interior boards were measured for what I would refer to as technically a half lap joint but not in the traditional sense. The vertical boards had the FORWARD half of the shelf removed at the shelf intersections while the horizontal boards had the REAR half of the shelf removed. The tolerances were extremely small and the sections that were removed were the width of the plywood, and half as deep as the shelves were cut. To remove this area I used a plunge router again with a jig that allowed for absolutely straight, forward and backward maneuvering. Where the router ended (near the middle of the boards) I had to use chisels to remove the rounded areas which the router bit formed and made corners instead. This step could have also been performed on the table saw but I already had the router jig I had made to make the dados and my table saw is a Dewalt DWE7480 contractors saw which is really poor in terms of stability and safety when cutting boards with a large amount of overhang. Either way, a chisel would have been necessary to make the interior corners clean. From there, I dry fitted everything over and over because obviously, not eveything just fits together on the first try when there’s very little tolerance for error. Some of the ends of plywood that fit the dados required some light sanding to fit the dado. Once the joint sanding was complete, I then spent months fighting a little game called “finishing”. I had decided on a color of oil stain but read that Maple can be a real crappy recipient of stain. I tried a small amount of pre-stain conditioner on a scrap board and noticed that the color was altered (slightly lighter than the original). I made the mistake of skipping the conditioner and that resulted in some blotchy areas. I also sped through the sanding and discovered that some of my sanding wasn’t complete. Luckily, it was on the inside of the bookshelf where it is almost always covered. If that wasn’t bad enough, I turned to a water based polyurethane (Minwax Polycrylic) and ended up with about 7 coats because no matter what method I tried, I always had streaking. I tried expensive brushes, cheap brushes, average priced brushes, foam brushes, rollers, staining pads, etc. and no matter what, when the light hit the top coat just right, there was an ugly reflection. I read from some other woodworkers that Minwax Polycrylic is crap and decided to change up my top coat and went with General Finishes Top Performance – Flat and the results were the same. I almost quit and accepted my results after posting some images and received very positive comments that said that I was over inspecting the entire thing. About a year earlier, I had purchased a Critter Spray Gun from Amazon for about $35 and never used it. I was intimidated by the thought of spraying on finish because it was something I’d never done before. But, since I hated the results I had, what did I have to lose? I sprayed my first board and walked away from it to let it dry. When I came back the next morning to look at my results, my jaw hit the floor, I did a little dance, ran back into the house, yelled to my wife that I’ve finally figured out how to “finish”. The results were absolutely stunning. The process was soooooo easy and there wasn’t a single blemish on the board. I spent the next couple of weeks spraying all of the boards (3 coats, each side, plus edges) and finally did the final assembly. I used 1/4” backing board cut to size and a Hitachi pin nailer for the back. I learned countless things during this project and despite the ease of designing it, carrying out the project to completion with the expectations of perfection that I have proved to be difficult. I look forward to many more projects and can finally say that I made a quality bookshelf with joinery more challenging that butt joints and screws or pins through the outside to hold up the shelves. I made it with the set of tools that I currently have available to me which I am happy to have but always could use bigger and better ones. Structurally, the bookshelf is incredibly strong. I’ve since purchased a Dowelmax dowel jig (it literally came in the mail today so I haven’t been able to try it out) because of the integrity of a dowel joint. I will never attempt to brush on a top coat again after experiencing the results of the Critter Spray Gun. Thanks for letting me share and hopefully someone can learn something from my mistakes, tackle a task they’re stuck on, or incorporate something from my journey during their next project.

Thanks again,


4 comments so far

View Richard's profile


11310 posts in 4198 days

#1 posted 10-02-2018 11:54 PM

Nice Piece of Work & Well Done Dan!

-- Richard (Ontario, CANADA)

View AJ1104's profile


1333 posts in 2825 days

#2 posted 10-03-2018 01:45 AM

Great job Dan!

-- AJ

View gauntlet21's profile


69 posts in 1376 days

#3 posted 10-06-2018 04:10 AM

Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m strictly YouTube and Internet articles “taught” so it’s an amazing feeling to be able to take others’ experiences and ideas and tweak them to be in your own work. I’ve got no friends who also woodwork so that’s why I do all of my woodworking on my own. I have 2 young daughters whose lives I am greatly involved in so some days I only get 15 minutes to do any woodworking with. When I wasn’t a father I had maybe 10 hobbies. When I became a father, I realized that I could realistically only have 2 or so hobbies that I could offer a worthwhile amount of time AND money towards. I couldn’t be happier with my choice in woodworking! I have so much to learn but love how far I’ve come. My tool collection has grown substantially since I started and the list of desired tools still continues to grow the more I learn. Thanks again. My wife and kids love the bookshelf but their compliments are likely biased. It’s good to hear compliments from others. I’ll post my next project as soon as I’m done!

View Monejiur's profile


1 post in 1015 days

#4 posted 10-25-2018 02:36 PM

You did very well. More practice and your work will be great and perfect. keep up the good work. By the way, I read interesting essays on about how to become a professional in any business. I think it will be interesting for you to read.

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