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Build and Install Built-In Bookshelves

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Step 3: Preparing the Pieces

Building Smarts

Most joints in this shelf use dadoes (rectangular cutouts) measuring 34" wide × 14" deep. Dadoes join the shelves to the sides, the sides to the top, and the spacer to the shelves. Dadoes are not so easy to cut, but they offer a big payoff in terms of better alignment, easier gluing, and stronger joints. If you don't have a router, cut the dadoes with a table saw or a circular saw. Set the saw to cut 14" deep. Guide a circular along a straight piece of wood, clamped as shown for the router. Move the guide to make three or four passes with the saw. Check the fit with scrap wood so the dado fits snugly. Remove remaining wood with a chisel.

Cutting plywood can be tricky. A nice, big table saw makes fast work of cutting the plywood. A fine-toothed plywood blade reduces splintering. But even with a good table saw, it's easier to start cutting a full sheet with a circular saw. If you're short of tools, a home center can cut the parts for you. Their panel saws are quick, accurate, and cheaper than buying a saw! Or have the store make some starting cuts, so it's easier to haul the plywood home.

A router with a 34" straight bit and an edge guide makes short work of cutting the top and bottom dadoes on the sides. Either clamp both pieces side by side, or cut the dadoes before rip-sawing the pieces to width. You can also cut dadoes by guiding a router along a straight piece of wood.

After cutting the dadoes, sand all parts. Sandpaper comes in many roughnesses, called “grits.” For this project, start with medium grit and work your way through fine and extra-fine sandpaper. Don't be tempted to skip a grit; you won't be able to remove the gouges left from the previous grit. With a random orbital sander, sanding should take less than half an hour.

Following label directions, apply stain with a rag or brush, wait a while, and wipe the boards dry. Stain brings out the grain. Immediately after applying stain, you might think you've made matters worse. Not so! After wiping, there will be proof that good stain shows off the grain of fine wood.

Step 4: Assembly

As usual, assembly takes less time than preparation. But you do need to work fast to get everything assembled before the glue sets—usually 10 minutes or so.

Get a web clamp or a light rope ready to hold the pieces together. Apply the glue, spread it quickly with a scrap of wood or an old toothbrush. First assemble the shelves to the sides, and then put the top on the sides. Mop up spilled glue with a wet rag before it sets. An assistant is always handy for this type of assembly.

When the glue sets, nail on the shelf support, foot, and spacer. These parts need no gluing. A square helps you hit the center of the plywood with the nails. Don't let the nails break through the edge.

Step 5: Finishing Up

All that remains at this point is to trim the shelf and fasten it to the wall. I used a “base cap” molding to hide the raw edges of the plywood. The base cap meets at outside miter joints at the front corners of the top.

Clamp the base cap molding over a small amount of glue, then drill and nail it with one 1 12" finishing nail every 12".

Remove base trim from the wall and position the shelf. Locate the studs and screw diagonally through the top into the studs. Drive screws about 12" apart, but close enough to the wall to be covered by the cove molding. Cove molding visually bonds the bookshelf to the wall and floor.

Bevel each end of the top molding and nail it to the top with 1" finishing nails. Cut other moldings with beveled or square ends to meet adjacent surfaces. You may have to cut some finishing nails with pliers so they don't come through the plywood.

Replace the baseboard and base shoe to meet the edges of the bookshelf. Use a nailset to drive nails under the surface. Fill holes with putty. Fill the exposed ends of the dadoes with wood filler, and sand smooth. Stain the putty, and you're done!

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Home Improvements © 2004 by David J. Tenenbaum. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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