Barrister's Bookcase

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Project by HorizontalMike posted 02-15-2012 01:02 AM 7867 views 11 times favorited 34 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Here is my official first piece of scratch built furniture, if you do not count my woodworking workbench. I pretty much followed the article I found in Issue #21 Feb 1988 of WOOD Magazine pp.66-71, though I strayed online and looked at the 2003 version in issue 149. I based the top and base on that newer version but held to the older mission style joinery shown in issue #21 for the main bookcase carcase.

I built it using White Ash and I used a Minwax Golden Oak Stain for color. I sure learned much from undertaking this project, the first of which was that this thing has/had nearly 120 parts each of which needed to be precisely milled, cut and sized, each including one or several of the following features: dadoes, rabbits, dowels, mortise & tenons, panel inserts, pre-finishing and then re-finishing, etc. I sure gained much appreciation for the woodworking profession even though my efforts in this area are just another hobby.

When beginning my staining of the the bookcase, I started with the front window frames and immediately noticed some serious blotching that just shows up as if someone had taken solid paint and marked randomly over the wood. While I had purchased an oil-based pre-stain wood conditioner, I had forgotten to apply it before staining. Panic set in pretty quick, but thanks to fellow LumberJocks I was able to get some much needed professional finishing advice from Charles Neil and Rick Dennington. That advice was to strip/wash the frames with either mineral spirits or naphtha, however naphtha was the preferred method for fast drying and lack of oils. Lacking the naphtha, I looked around and found I still had most of a quart of acetone. A quick check on the Internet and I was in business (acetone is fastest drying and a very good solvent). After stripping the three window frames, I commenced sanding with 220grit on my 1/4 sheet palm sander. It took awhile, but I eventually started to see the blotchy areas disappear.
Below shows the blotchy areas before correction:

Had a hard time matching stains on ply vs cut wood as the image below shows the variations.

The End Panel inserts are book-matched and re-sawn from a single piece of of White Ash I selected just for its figure and detail.

I found a really neat application for Space Balls. When routing out the channels for the window sliders, I made the decision to use a 1/4” metal rod instead of 3/8” dowels that the plans called for. That meant that I had to recalculate just how far to route near the front edge. I found that I had routed a bit far, but one Space Ball would neatly fit the 1/4” channel and stay in place. This now served as a “bumper” for the closing windows and helped to dampen any rattles that would come from the glass panes. Works like a charm and I highly recommend it. You will also notice that all of my panel inserts had to be pre-finished prior to the glue up of the larger panels. This helps to eliminate having any missing “stain lines” from when the panels shrink/swell with the changing humidity.

I also discovered that my horizontal mortiser serves very well in doing long dadoes or rabbits of around 34in or so.

More images and information on my website


-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

34 comments so far

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3498 days

#1 posted 02-15-2012 02:08 AM

That looks like it took a LOT of work but it turned out very nice. I have always liked these but don’t think I have the patience to build one.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View cabmaker's profile


1745 posts in 3616 days

#2 posted 02-15-2012 02:22 AM

Looks good mike and that acatone will do wonders. Did you track your doors with steel pins or wood ?

View HorizontalMike's profile


7874 posts in 3721 days

#3 posted 02-15-2012 02:38 AM

Did you track your doors with steel pins or wood ?

I went to the local HD and bought brass colored 1/4in steel door pins and cut them to length. A friend of mine had warned me about wooden dowels wearing quickly and the steel pins cost me less than $1.50 for a 4-pak. I used three of them when all was said and done. Also noticed how much easier the tracks worked after they were varnished/finished.

Also can’t say enough about using the Space Balls to take up slop (overly routed track) in the front. They make for a nice low pressure tension and the door buttons snap into their slots and everything is snug. No rattles. ;-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View cabmaker's profile


1745 posts in 3616 days

#4 posted 02-15-2012 02:39 AM


View dpow's profile


504 posts in 3652 days

#5 posted 02-15-2012 02:49 AM

Great looking bookcase. Thankjs for sharing.

-- Doug

View festeringsplinter's profile


10 posts in 3171 days

#6 posted 02-15-2012 04:14 AM


View Woodwrecker's profile


4239 posts in 4383 days

#7 posted 02-15-2012 04:20 AM

Looks mighty nice Mike!

View Ken Fitzpatrick's profile

Ken Fitzpatrick

376 posts in 4831 days

#8 posted 02-15-2012 05:16 AM


Great job. Love your idea abour the space balls. I see you used a dowel for the door to ride on is there also one at the bottom to keep the door from pushing in. Beautiful top design.

-- • "I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm."....... Calvin Coolidge

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

6956 posts in 4002 days

#9 posted 02-15-2012 06:48 AM

Stellar job on the barrister bookcase, Mike…..It really looks beautiful….The stain job turned out great, too.
When I mentioned using mineral spirits, I didn’t even think about acetone…I have used it a few times as a drying agent, but not on removing stain….Glad everything turned out the way you wanted it to…..again, it looks beautiful….great craftsmanship, and a very nice piece to be proud of…..the new horizontal mortiser paid off…..Now just fill it up with law books, and you’ll be in business…..:)

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 3742 days

#10 posted 02-15-2012 06:50 AM

Very nice. great job all around.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View HorizontalMike's profile


7874 posts in 3721 days

#11 posted 02-15-2012 11:57 AM

I have ~12 cases of woodworking magazines and books that I have been given by a friend whose father had passed. This bookcase will fill up quickly to be sure. While my blotching issue was vastly improved, some re-showed during the re-staining process. I suspect that is probably due to my use of the oil-based stains and finishes as opposed to using the water-based conditioners and coloring agents. I am seriously considering switching over to the water-based products in future projects. Watching Charles Neil clean up with just soap and water and NOT a bunch of chemicals, sure looks appealing and the results he gets sure do look superior in all ways.

No stop-dowel on the bottom…YET. But that will change shortly, as that was one of the first things I noticed upon completion. The first thing I got, was a complaint about the smell of finish in the house since I was in a rush to get’r done and displayed. Now that it has fully cured, “she” likes it much better (and I am out of the dog house). ;-)
At this point I think that I will just use a small stop-block and just pin&glue it in place. May have to take my chisel and scrape a small spot for glue adhesion but it’ll get done for sure. Or, maybe just take a small brass wood screw and secure the stop-block that way, hmm… Thanks for the reminder and kudos.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3674 days

#12 posted 02-15-2012 12:25 PM

This is a wonderful piece, Mike. Nice work.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Maveric777's profile


2694 posts in 3884 days

#13 posted 02-15-2012 01:12 PM

Job well done Mike! Not only we get to see the wonderful work but you brought us along on the build… Two thumbs up!

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7821 posts in 3608 days

#14 posted 02-15-2012 01:30 PM

I am a HUGE fan of Sloan books. I see you are too! Thanks for posting!

-Jim; aka “Stumpy Nubs”
Blue Collar Woodworking? That's the best show since wood was invented! ”- The Eastern Northwest Southerner’s Journal

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3501 days

#15 posted 02-15-2012 02:07 PM

Totally exceptional in every way. Outstanding wood choice on the side panels. Really remarkable.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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