Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Big Bookcase Comes Together.

Installation day finally came around.

Installation complete. Job done.
I'd been working on the big Art Deco Style Breakfront Bookcase for some weeks. It was a big job, with many steps in the process of constructing it, so I had up to now written a series of five posts to tell the story along the way:
Several steps to create a nice curved edge.
Getting started on a break fronted art deco style bookcase.
Ten steps to making your own vee-jointed lining boards.
Making a plinth which is up to the task.
Developing the crowning glory for the bookcase.

My son Ben kindly gave me a hand for the day. Way too big for me to manage on my own! The bookcase cabinet was made in 3 sections. In addition to those there was the plinth, the crown mould in 3 sections, and 16 shelves. The day before, I had pre-delivered the shelves, plinth, and crown mould sections - as well as all the hand tools we would need for the installation. That just left the three big cabinet sections to deliver to start the installation.
Ben untying the load. The big lift about to take place.
Not that easy, as they were heavy - especially the middle section! Fortunately a week and a half of rain gave way to a nice sunny day. Phew, that made it a bit less challenging. We loaded up the ute, with a lot of grunting, and drove to my client's home. It wasn't any easier to lug the three sections into the house, but with aching muscles I breathed a sigh of relief. It was all now in the room where it was to be assembled.

1. Fitting the plinth and fixing it in position.
It took some time to get the plinth fixed in place. At nearly 3.3m long (10 ' 10"), we were bound to find variations in the wooden floor - both in the length and in the depth of the plinth. With the narrow cabinets nice feet tall, making sure the plinth on which it sits is level to the planet (regardless of the floor) is critical. Fortunately the wall behind was quite flat and plumb, so that would make life easier.
Protective covers over jarrah floor pulled back. Time to start levelling.
We carefully packed the plinth up on packers in critical support points until the straightedges and spirit levels showed that the plinth was beautifully level in all directions. Working from the point where the gap between the suspended plinth and the floor was the smallest, I used my marking knife on a sliding block of the correct height to scribe a line all the way around the face of the plinth parallel to the floor. Placing the plinth upside down on a pair of sawstools, Ben and I used block planes and a jack plane to shape the plinth down to the scribe line. 
Trusty No5 1/2 helped take down waste to the scribe line, to fit plinth to the floor contour.
The horns were cut from the back of the plinth, and with a bit of fine tuning on the sawstools a couple of times, we eventually had the plinth sitting nicely on the undulating floor with the top of it level to the planet in all directions. Nice. The plinth was screwed to the floor via the fixing points I'd built into the insides of it, and we were ready to stand up the three cabinets on it. All that took quite a while, but the plinth is like the foundations. It's gotta be right or errors multiply all the way up.  The methodology we used is the good old fashioned way of doing it, which my father had taught me many years ago. Thanks Dad. 

2. Putting the three cabinet sections together.
With the plinth now fixed in position and beautifully leveled, we lifted the big centre section into place, after first cutting the hole in the lining board to pull the power point through. The power point facsia would be screwed to the lining board, ready for the stereo to plug in. 
Centre section lifted into place on the plinth.
The other two sections were then lifted into their places on the plinth either side of the centre section, and cramped together, ensuring that the face of the centre section protruded exactly 100mm (4 inches) proud of the cabinets on either side of it. This proces was aided by the centre crown mould being cramped temporarily in position.  The three cabinet sections were then screwed together. To be consistent with the Era, all visible screws were slotted head countersunk steel screws. (1 1/2 Inch 12 Gauge) The best way to drive these is with a brace with screwdriver bit. So much easier on the wrist, and with heaps of power. 
The ratcheted brace. What a wonderful invention.
Fortunately the wall behind was pretty plumb, so no additional trim beads were required to cover unsightly gaps where the two cabinet ends met the wall. With the three sections fixed together, next we checked that the overhang of the  cabinet over the plinth was consistent and correct all round. After some very minor tweaking of the whole cabinet's position on the plinth (I confess I am a bit of a perfectionist), the cabinet was screwed to the plinth below it. For safety reasons, each of the 3 cabinet sections was then fixed to the wall at the very top via 2 small metal angle brackets per section. These were fixed into the brick wall and to the top of the cabinets. The bookcase was now fitted and fixed in position! Time to install the crown moulding.

Fixing the cabinet tops back to the wall.

3. Fitting the crown moulding.
The two far ends, the returns of the crown moulding, had been made "overlong" in order to be able to cut them to the correct size on installation. With the cabinets now fixed in position, we were ready to measure the returns and cut the crown mould ends to length. The crown mould had been made such that the three pieces housed into each other, and this came together well. Cramped in position, the crown moulding was then screwed into place it.

Fitting the crown mould to the top of the cabinets.
The cramps off, it was time to give the whole structure a birthday - a final treatment with a nice beeswax/orange oil finish, applied with 0000 steel wool and buffed up with a rag. Wow. She was lookin' good now!

4. Installing the shelving.
One third of the way up, each of the 3 sections had a fixed shelf, for structural integrity. A further 16 adjustable shelves were now to be fitted.

In goes the shelving.
Like the rest of the bookcase, these too were made from timber salvaged from the renovation of this house. Such nice colours in the jarrah! Holes at 3 inch centres had been previously drilled up the cabinet insides when they were constructed. Brass adjusters were inserted in position, and the shelves were placed in position. I took a punt for now on the spacing of the shelves, knowing that Norelle will change them to suit her requirements when she moves into the bookcase.
All smiles ... the job is almost completed.
With the shelves installed, it was time to pack up the tools. The job was done.

I really enjoy this kind of commission. It is always a pleasure to recycle structural timbers from a house, convert them into beautiful furniture, and put these back into the house  from which they had originated. There is something very poetic about that. The wood itself tells many stories which are there for the reading. No filler was used in the construction of this piece. All nail holes, bolt holes, flooring cramp marks, and other features sing of their past life as structural timbers. It is fun to try and "read" each stick in the lining board backing, as you can often tell what part of the building the stick came from, by the nail hole configuration pattern.

Re-using timber like this is also very environmentally sensible, and I reckon it honours the trees which were felled over 80 years ago when the original house was constructed. A good example of sustainable timber usage and responsible stewardship of a limited and valuable resource. Good move, Norelle. Thanks for the privilege of building your beautiful art-deco style breakfront bookcase.


  1. Greg, Wow -- what a beautiful project. I am so happy to get a glimpse into your world with this post. I can tell how proud and happy you are with the result from your smiling face in the concluding pictures. You should be proud! The Jarrah is absolutely stunning.
    thanks again for sharing
    -- Cyrus

  2. A magnificient piece of furniture Greg! Beautiful!