While the wonderful downpour carries on outside (the whole of Southern California is in the grips of a powerful storm), I’ll continue with the discussion of the re-invigoration of the study that I started a short while ago…
(One of my all-time favourite wood-working tools. The good old-fashioned plane. Planing a bit of wood is jolly good therapy too.)
One of the main things I envisioned, and put into my sketches, was lots of space for books. Lots. I wanted big bookcases that fit the room, and so I planned a simple but robust design that stretched them eight feet from the floor to the ceiling. Of course, I wanted to make them myself – Building them myself would be more fun and much less expensive and frustrating than trying to find ones ready made. And ready made ones certainly would not fit as well. To keep building costs down I decided to make them out of ordinary pine, which is very easily shaped, and extremely cheap. Now being surrounded by blonde wood really would not be in the spirit or atmosphere for the study that I described earlier, so I planned to rub an oil stain into the wood to darken it to a more walnut shade.
While a pretty simple task, and a simple design (some simple styling on the base included a slightly recessed kick board, and tapering at the back to allow the skirting board past, letting the shelves be as close to the wall as possible), there was an awful lot of work, mostly repetitive. It took a long while, with measuring and cutting, and more measuring and cutting, and shaping, and endless sanding. Even the cheapest piece of wood can turn out very nicely if enough attention is given to it with a couple of grades of sandpaper, but it is time consuming. My goal here was not to have a super-smooth finish, but to sand enough to get rid of the various dings and other imperfections the off-the-shelf beams came with, along with lumber yard stamps, holes from stapling bar codes, and so forth. Doing even that level of sanding over every surface takes time, even with the aid of a palm sander. At some point, it became a sort of meditation for me: There’d be eight identical (well, quasi-identical, since I cut everything by hand saw, not a machine table saw) pieces of pine in a pile, and I’d come up with an order by which I’d do each piece and put it on the “done” pile, and the routine would allow me to think about lots of things, near and far. For audio accompaniment I’d either have KPCC or Radio 4 on, or some music, and so it was a quite pleasant time to be had in the workshop for a time each day.
And yes, all of this was nicely facilitated by the excellent sturdy and spacious bench that I’d made over Thanksgiving. I told you about it in an earlier post, and it was indeed preparation for this very project.
The bookcases were designed to go almost all the way to the ceiling, and so cannot be transported around the house in completed form. They had to be completed in the destination room. I said “almost all the way” since there’s a small but important detail of geometry one must take into account. Once assembled on the floor, the plan was to raise them to a standing position. A case that is tall and deep (in whatever units you care about) will require you to swing it through a floor to ceiling height of at least . So one has to be careful to make the shelves a bit less than the fully available floor to ceiling span, otherwise there’d be a bit of disappointment at the end of all the careful cutting, shaping, sanding, schlepping, screwing, hammering, staining, and so forth. I’m happy to say that this occurred to me at the pencil-and-paper stage when I was sketching my design, and not the other way.
The staining process worked very well overall. I used a so-called “Danish Oil” type product, mixing a couple of shades to get the complexion I desired for the finish. This largely involved spreading a tarp outside along with various bits of wood and plant pots upon which to prop things up while they were treated. The great thing about this sort of finish is that it soaks into the wood and roughens it a bit. There’s also a degree of unevenness to how it soaks in depending upon how smoothly and uniformly (not very, in this case) one sanded all the surfaces in preparation. As a result, there’s a rather pleasant amount of individuality distributed over each completed unit. (You can click on the images below for larger views.)
Assembly was a lot of fun, since one’s almost at the point where one can throw books on the thing and sit back and admire. Care was still needed, since all one’s careful measuring and so forth from earlier stages can be rendered irrelevant if a misalignment is introduced at this crucial stage when the superstructure – from which everything is to hang – is being assembled. It went well, and over the course of the time the project took, three large cases went up, including one which had a little custom “outboard” shelf extension to incorporate my printer/scanner device between it and the desk.
You’ll notice that the structure is pretty sparse, but don’t let looks deceive you. I’ve made sure that there’s a great deal of robustness. I did not want a huge amount of wood on the back to “close” the structures too much, and this was for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Practical because it seems to me to be an unnecessary extra amount of wood, for little gain. Aesthetic because I like the lightness of the finished product. Some transverse, or shear, support that is needed was endowed upon the structure by that “X” shaped arrangement of some thin strips of wood. They don’t need to be anything more than thin strips since it is their tensile strength that is relied on there, not their ability to bear a load under shear stress.
The actual shelves themselves are all, except for one, unfixed. I’ve my own way of fashioning the studs that hold the shelves at a given height and they are easily installed and, er, uninstalled. This allows me to move things around and change shelf heights later on without serious structural work. Two of the cases have shelves that are about three feet long, which is about as far as I would have for a span of unsupported pine bearing heavy books. The third case is about five feet, and I combat potential sagging by having movable posts that act as inter-shelf support struts. I’ll use them in a on the shorted cases too, perhaps on the odd lower shelf that has lots of heavy big books. There’s an aesthetic element to these movable posts too – their moveability as well as the fact that they are simple solid wood cylinders.
Once the shelves were up, the first thing I spent some time on was getting some books on. The ones near my desk were indeed the first to get the inaugural books, and they would therefore be “work” books. Some of you may recognize them, even without being able to do a close up.
In parallel to the shelf work, the other key element of the re-invigoration of the study was a total re-imagining of the window. I’ll tell you about that next.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):