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Built-in bookcases and mantel for fireplace surround in a Tudor Revival

(Please note: I originally posted this earlier today as a forum topic, but then decided to put it in as a blog entry in order to keep all of my entries together. I have also added more information to this posting here.)

A year ago Christmas, Santa promised my wife that he'd build built-in bookcases with doors, as well as an adjoining mantel. Well, Santa got busy over the course of that year landscaping most of the yard by laying brick pavers, constructing a couple of raised brick planter boxes, installing a new 8-Zone sprinkler system and sodding after the first snowfall.

Santa promised to do this by Christmas of 2009. Thank goodness my wife knew Santa was a bit occupied over the course of that year and told him she'd rather he took his time and did it up to his standards, rather than trying to rush it before Christmas time.

The challenge here is that Santa has never really done any woodworking before, as the elves have taken care of it in the past. But Santa is ready to tackle this project on his own, as he wants it to be a personal gift.

OK, now that we've gotten the backstory out of the way, and everyone is hopefully vaguely up-to-speed, let's dive into a few more details.

First off, I have very limited experience in woodworking, and am a bit short on tools right now, since I'm just getting started with this hobby, passion, obsession, whatever you want to call the level of involvement you have in woodworking. I am a novice. I don't have much hands-on experience.

And I suppose I should stop on warn you now that this is going to be a fairly long post/question.

Now, with that being said, I've been trying to plan exactly how I want to build all of this, as well, as what materials to use, all to make it look like it fits the character of the house, which is a brick Tudor Revival, or American Tudor… whatever you want to call it.

Here are a couple of pictures to give you an idea of the space I want to use for this project:

Fireplace Surround

Fireplace Surround 3

(Sorry for the poor image quality. I had to take this on my phone as all of our photos are on a laptop with issues right now.)

The fireplace actually has a woodburning stove insert, but some or the brick surround is still visible. There is also a little niche right above where the mantle will go. There are two recesses, one on either side of the chimney, with a window in each nook. I will try to attach a picture when I get a chance of the "future construction site".

The chimney is stuccoed, just like the walls. Level with the bottom of the niche, the chimney begins to taper upward at a noticeable rate. Not so noticeable is the slight taper from the floor up to this level. There is only about 1/2-inch worth of difference in width, but nonetheless, it will have to be accounted for in the design of everything in order to plumb-up the completed project, as I don't want the wood that's there to be scribed to match, but rather, I want to eliminate this disparity in width. I am also not sure if I want to remove the two sets of bricks below and to the right and left of the niche, but above all the other brickwork, or incorporate them into the mantel support, either "as-is," or cover them with wood.

I'm also not crazy about the trim color, but don't want to change all the baseboard trim, picture rail trim, and window trim just so the bookcases and mantel can be a different color.

Here are a few measurements for the space as it is before I begin the project:

The recesses are not exactly the same widths or depths, but very close. The right recess is 39.5-inches wide at floor level, and 40.0-inches wide where it begins to taper, which is where the mantel will be. Not sure if the top of the bookcases will be level with the mantel, or just below? Seems that it would look more seamless if it flowed as one, but that the mantel would stand out a bit more if it were a step higher? The depth of the right recess is 9-1/8 inches at floor level, and 9-inches at the taper. It is 48-inches from the floor to the bottom of the window trim.

The left recess is 39-5/8-inches wide at floor level, and 40-3/8-inches wide at the taper. The left recess is
8-1/2-inches deep at the floor, and 8-1/4-inches deep at the taper. It is 48-1/4 inches from the floor to the bottom of the window trim.

Some of this disparity might be because of the heavy texture on the walls, but I don't think the room was originally perfectly proportioned either.

The bottom of the niche is about 45-inches above the floor. The top of the right set of bricks is 44-inches above the floor, while the left set of bricks is 44-3/8-inches above the floor.

The chimney area is 65-inches wide, give or take, depending on where you measure. From the edge of the chimney to where the tile begins below the firebox is 6-3/4-inches on the right recess and 7-inches on the left recess. I figured this measurement would help in possibly designing the mantel stiles/supports as it might look awkward to have to wood overlapping the tile, but maybe not?

The two sets of bricks are 32-1/2-inches apart from inside edge to inside edge. The two sets of bricks protrude about 2-1/4-inches from the chimney. If you run a line across the top of the bricks, the niche opening begins 1-inch above this level.

The floor trim is 40-1/4-inches tall, and will probably be put back in place at the bottom of the bookcases to ensure the continuity of the room.

I suppose that's enough measurements for now. That at least give you an idea of the space I'm working with.

A few requirements for the bookcases:
-3-shelves inside each bookcase, with the top 2-shelves being moveable.
-2-doors per bookcase, with each door having a hardwood frame, and a glass insert to allow viewing of the bookcases contents.
-inset hinges. I'm currently looking at the Blum 26mm inset hinges.
-doors will sit flush with the faceframe as we want a simple and seamless look.
-no center stile on the bookcases to allow for easy removal of the shelves and also to maximize glass area of the doors.
-the top of the bookcases must sit below the window trim, and either flush with the mantel, or below the mantlel. And the mantel must sit flush with the niche opening, or slightly above if the niche's floor is also covered in the same wood as the mantlel (like cutting out the mantel top to fit into the niche, if that makes sense).

A few thoughts on the bookcases and mantel:
-We want minimal door frame and faceframe space to allow the maximum amount of space for the glass to show off the contents.
-the internal shelves don't have to be adjustable, but it was strongly recommended to me to do so by a longtime woodworker/cabinet maker at Rockler.
-the carcasses will be built out of plywood and the back 1/4-inch panel will be rabbeted to square-up and strengthen the case, plus allow a tiny bit more internal room.
-I can't decide if I want to make the shelves out of hardwood, or plywood with a hardwood edgebanding? The edgebanding would help hide shelf pegs if they are used, but would also limit vertical space between shelves a bit more than a solid piece of hardwood.
-I'm not sure exactly how deep I want to make the bookcases? They will definitely be deeper than the recesses they'll be in, but by how much, I'm not sure. And when they protrude past the chimney, it seems to me that I will need to compensate for this by building out the stiles for the mantel, as it seems that the mantel/mantelsurround should protrude into the room farther than the bookcases to keep everything looking right.
-I want to keep both the bookcases and mantel looking as "Tudoresque" as I can. So, I don't know if I should use rougher wood for the mantel Like a timber) and almost just have a big heavy beam, or what I should do? I don't want to go all-out Craftsman style, but it seems to me that what I'm describing is a bit more Craftsman in style. I guess I'm wondering how I can sort of do a hybrid design between the two, melding both styles together, if that's possible.
-It also seems to me that the design of the mantel is what will ultimately dertermine the character of the overall project, in how "big" I make it, what sort of design elements I use for the trim, how I support the mantel, and what the surround looks like. The bookcases just need to mimic the mantel, but since most of their surface area is going to be glass, I'd think the mantel will make the main statement.
-The trim around the room is red oak. I'm not sure if I want to continue this trend, or change woods for this project. I'm certainly not opposed to using a different wood. I'd really rather only use oak for this if I could find quartersawn, as I like the look. Any suggestions on this would greatly be appreciated.
-I'm thinking a good depth for the mantel is about 7-inches.

I am planning on using the Kreg Jig to make the bookcase carcasses, plus the door frames in a simple stile and rail layout. I may or may not use the Kreg Jig to attach the faceframe, although the nail gun probably makes more sense here… I just need to make sure I hit the carcass! I can also use the nail gun for attaching any trim. I will use the router and chisel on the doorframes to make room for the glass panels.

I do not yet have all of the tools that would make it easier to construct such a project, or to have gorgeous joints, etc. Right now, I do not own a table saw (gasp!), or a biscuit joiner, or much of anything, really. I have enough to get by for now, but a table saw would make things a whole lot easier and more accurate. I just might have to get one before I start this project.

Tools I do currently have are:
-12-inch compound miter saw
-circular saw
-a set of 3-pneumatic nail guns. I have only used the framing nailer so far and don't have experience with the finish or brad nailers
-air compressor
-bar clamps that can be used to lock down as a guide for the saw, or a router
-borrowed my dad's router
-Kreg K4 Jig, along with their 90-degree clamp and metal plate/table clamp combo
-wood glue (amazing, I know)
-a couple of Irwin 6-inch Quick Clamps
-a couple of C-clamps
-a handsaw
-miscellaneous paint brushes and sponge brushes, plus a bag of rags for finishing
-tape measure
-speed square
-several levels
-reciprocating saw
-random orbit palm sander
-a workbench I just built
-hammers, nails, screwdrivers, screws… all the basic homeowner tools

Tools I think I still need for this project:
-a tablesaw sure would make things easier
-shelf pin jig (whether I make it or buy it)
-forstner bit, probably in 26mm for the door hinges
-maybe a drill guide to make sure the hinges go in square, plus all the shelf pin holes, plus a self-centering drill bit
-or maybe just a drill press, as I'd also like to start making candle holders and other similar items where a drill press would really come in handy

Sorry for the unorganized posting here. I'm mainly trying to get thoughts down on all this. I will add more as I think of it, or other things I have questions about. I know there is a lot to respond to here, but if you even have one bit of advice on one little part of this project, please chime in!

Thank you in advance for your input,
FWIW there are some great factory reconditioned tools with warrantees out there to be had for half or less the cost of new. Check on the internet using your favorite brand names to see what is available. Some sites you just sign up to be notified when what you want is available. Many contractors buy factory reconditioned to save money why shouldn't you?
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