University of Kansas Bookcase

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Project by Woodhacker posted 04-16-2008 05:27 AM 2667 views 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This bookcase was made for the son of a golfing buddy (Richard), as a Christmas present this past year. His son is a recent Kansas University graduate. Richard explained last fall that for each of their 3 children they try to have one Christmas with a present that is extra special to them and somewhat unique, or out of the ordinary. Since he knew of my woodworking, he asked if I would make a bookcase for his son. I was provided with the dimensions and was asked to do something “with dark wood”, that also has something to remind his son of Kansas University. At the risk of alienating any viewers from Tennessee (or Memphis fans), since KU recently won the NCAA Final Four (basketball), maybe this is a good time to make this post (or not)…

This bookcase is made of solid 4/4 stock walnut. When I went to a “local” lumber yard to select the wood, earlier in the day someone had come in a bought a huge portion of their walnut stock on hand. So I went through what remained, and pulled out 190 eight-foot long boards from the stack to inspect/select the best pieces I could find.

The inlay is birdseye maple. The “K U” inlay mimics the newer style “font” that the University of Kansas now uses with the foot of the “K” extending below the “U”. Both letters are cut from the same stock for grain continuity. This inlay is bordered by another 3/8 in. wide inlay in the shape of the state of Kansas as it would appear on a globe…note that the horizontal portions are slightly curved, while the vertical borders are purposefully not precisely parallel. The northeast “river” portion of the Kansas border is scroll saw cut “to scale” from one piece.

Dovetail joinery was used at the corners with the tails showing on the top (and bottom). The shelf is joined using six (per side) through mortise/tenons cut flush with the sides. The tenons have a 1/8 inch shoulder from the top and bottom of the shelf for a little extra stability and to help “register” the shelf square during glue-up. The tenon pattern matches the pins in the dovetails at the corners. There are maple bun feet on the bottom which were hand turned and include round tenons used to join to the bottom.

The vertical shelf supports were joined with “blind” tongue and groove joinery and were slid into place from the back and glued/clamped. The back is 1/8 in. finish grade, book-matched cherry plywood fastened with countersunk brass screws.

All perimeter edges were 45 deg. beveled (1/8 inch wide) using a hand held router to “soften” the edges.

The piece was finish sanded to 220 grit after raising the grain. The finish is a base oil coat followed by four wipe-on coats of satin poly/oil blend. This was then hand rubbed with 0000 steel wool loaded with paste wax. A second coat of wax followed the hand rubbing.

(Note to any Kansas State University fans out there, I plan to soon post a “box” or two that you may be interested in.)

-- Martin, Kansas

11 comments so far

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4038 posts in 4396 days

#1 posted 04-16-2008 05:32 AM

Rock chalk Jayhawk. KU!

Nice work, Martin.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 4100 days

#2 posted 04-16-2008 05:38 AM

Very nice bookcase even if KU stole Bill Self from the University of Illinois. Just kidding about the coach.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4432 days

#3 posted 04-16-2008 06:45 AM

Nice tight work!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4154 days

#4 posted 04-16-2008 10:41 AM


This is a gorgeous bookcase. The inlay and joinery add nice details to the project.

Thanks for the post.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View motthunter's profile


2141 posts in 4131 days

#5 posted 04-16-2008 11:47 AM

great case.. nice inlays

-- making sawdust....

View jstewart's profile


141 posts in 4423 days

#6 posted 04-16-2008 03:33 PM

Great bookcase. You even used the new KU font, which a lot of people seem to dislike. I like it. I think I need to make something like that to remind me of my many years there. I got a BA and MA there before leaving KS for MD. When I moved back, I worked there for 2 years. Watching them win the tourney this year was awesome. With KU stuff flying off the shelves around here I imagine you could get a local shop to sell something like that if you could make a few more.

-- Joshua, Olathe, Kansas

View CharlieM1958's profile


16282 posts in 4551 days

#7 posted 04-16-2008 05:33 PM

What method did you use to rout out the space for the KU inlay? Did you make a template?

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 4056 days

#8 posted 04-17-2008 12:36 AM

Thank you all for the comments! Everyone on this site is so supportive of each other. That’s what really induced me to join this site.

Charlie M: I normally do not use templates, but in this case I did use one simple “template” for the curved horizontal pieces of the Kansas border. In my inlay work I usually do not use typical veneer either…unless you call 3/16 inch stock veneer.

With the lettering I got the font from KU’s website, printed it, then increased the size using a copier. I made some modifications since the original logo lettering is all one piece. For this inlay it was less risky separating the two letters. I traced the patterns onto the maple stock and scrolled them out. Then I smooth all the edges of the lettering inlay pieces with miniature files and/or sanded… to get smooth flowing curves or very straight edges as needed. Once these are done I used double sided tape to fasten the lettering temporarily to the walnut top. I then used a chip carving (or any very sharp) knife to very lightly, carefully, and accurately scribe the perimiter of the lettering into the walnut. I follow with a second heavier cut that can be used to “register” chisels or gouges, then I remove the lettering. I find it helpful then to take a straight chisel at a very shallow angle and remove from the inside of the recess, a shaving right up against the scribed outline. My next step is to freehand route (with a trim router) about 1/8 inch deep inside the lettering boundaries, being careful to stop shy of the boundaries.

At this point it’s all manual, removing the excess right up to the scribed boundaries using a variety of chisels and very small gouges (I use flexcut a lot) using vertical cuts right on the scribed outline or boundary. Once that’s done I may or may not need to do some minor adjustments to either the recess, or the inlay, to make it fit (tightly). I found that CA glue mixed with the sawdust of the darkest wood works well to fill in any small gaps along the seam of the inlay. (I also use the dark Titebond mixed with sawdust too, when I need more gluing time, or on bigger inlays like this one). Once it’s dried, the inlay is usually 1/16 inch or so proud of the surface it’s put into, so I plane/sand the inlay until flush and all excess glue is removed.

Now I bet you’re sorry you asked.

Anyway thanks again for your comments and interest.

-- Martin, Kansas

View Colin's profile


246 posts in 4253 days

#9 posted 04-17-2008 10:43 AM

Excellent work, and a very interesting narrative, every time I read someone’s story I learn a little bit more, thats what makes this website so good. Can I ask? do you put a slight angle on your inlay when you you file and smooth the edges so that the inlay wedges tightly into the recess without leaving gaps?

many thanks


-- Colin, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. "Every craftsman was once an amateur"

View CharlieM1958's profile


16282 posts in 4551 days

#10 posted 04-17-2008 06:09 PM

Thanks for the explanation. That has to take a tremendous amount of both skill and patience. (Two things I could use more of.)

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 4056 days

#11 posted 04-18-2008 03:40 AM

Colin, I don’t put an angle on the inlay pieces (at least on purpose), but that’s maybe a good idea…that certainly would have the potential for getting an even tighter fit…less gaps…I may have to try that on my next inlay project. Thanks.

-- Martin, Kansas

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