Monthly Archives: April 2012

Bits and Bobs came together

Bits and Bobs came together

Piebald shelves

The top two shelves are Beech with the bottom one Iroko. The side suppoets are laminated oak. These were found in timber yards over time. The oak was meant to be a nine piece 4″ by 4″ length that could be shaped into handrail. The beech had a waney point (part of the bark/curve of the tree showing and the wide Iroko was from a broken board. The planks were planed and cut square. The oak was screwerd into the Iroko and the beech were joined into the oak. The join is a simple chisel groove the same width as the beech shelves. You can see that the beech shelf had to be shaved at the back in order for it to fit – not a fantastic piece of work, but it works well. The oak had a hole drilled into it the width of a screw head. It was drilled about 1/4″ deep. The screw was then screwed into the hole and on through to bite into the beech shelf in the groove on the other side. The depth of the hole consealed the screw head. The screw going into the beech widened it just a wee bit so it tightened into the groove, giving it a firmer hold. The finish is boiled linseed oil and beeswax. The main work was in the planning. What pieces to use and the structure so all the weight would be downward with no stress elsewhere on the frame. It is on 4 iroko feet and sits by my desk. The large piece of Iroko at the bottom (looks like part of the chestnut floor in the picture) was ideal for the chunky printer I have. It works well for easy reach of whatever interests need to be taken from the shelves and kept handy for study. Holiday, history, gardening, timber and carpentry, etc. Have a look around next time you are out and see if pieces can be picked up that may add up to something that works.

The books in the picture are mainly old travel books, including the one I mentioned in a previous post that we brought to Siena. There are books there on the imperial days of trave in the Khyber pass, cycling (1903) and old AA books. My favourite is Guys atlas from 1838. It was a school book. The maps still needed massive amounts of expolring and the forward said it was even suitable for Girls to read. Each country has the racial traits of the peoples there described. We have come a long way.

For combinations of timber that look well, have a look at the products on this site – with a professional hand to finish them, they do look a treat.


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April 30, 2012 · 12:10 pm

Nice shelves and good shelves

I do like the appearance of shelves, but here are two examples that are contrary to my desires. The nice looking one is 8′ high with adjustable shelves. The finish is Cherry. The rail and bracket shelf has 8′ long melamine laminated chipboard. I like the Cherry one, but would only ever want to use the bracket and rail shelves.

The Rail and Bracket shelves are adjustable, great for the home. They start 4′ 6″ up the wall so they do not appear as a cool ladder to small children. They will carry the weight of whatever is placed on them (get professional advice if you collect large lead ingots). Any shelf can be used so the chipboard can be removed and replaced with any board – oak, pine, etc. (do not forget to chamfer them). If it was me, I would replace the bookends with ones of my own. No complicated joints are needed to make them, just a load bearing wall, measuring tape, pencil, specified screws and rawlplugs for attaching the brackets to the wall, a drill and masonary bit (the bit size needs to be the same as the rawlplugs) for drilling the holes and a screwdriver. That and the brackets, rails and boards of course. The books hide the rails and brackets once done.

The nice Cherry shelves? They are made of veneered hollow core boards so they are as light as a feather. They do not take much ware and will not suffer any accidental abuse and still look well. They can not be repaired. In the picture, they are not even fixed to the wall so are very dangerous if loaded with books, specially to small climbers. The shelves are designed to look better empty. Cherry looks beautiful, but is something of a “soft” hardwood – I am still surprised when I see it in floors.

For me, shelves are for use first and looking well after. I do love working with and the appearance of timber, but only in shelves when fit for the purpose of looking after my books. I aim to get useful timber shelves working for books without breaking the bank. The next post is about salvation of timber and what I have been told looks piebald. The wait will not be as long as it was for this one – sorry about that folks.

Nice Shelves

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Starting off

From the start folks.

Simple shelves get the mention here. I like the stand alone set of shelves as it requires no study of load bearing walls, nor the fixings required to carry sufficient weight. What do you get, what you need and what you have to do will be covered here. I have done it and it works. You will be the judge of who can do it.

The stand alone shelves can be put together to your requirments following a few simple rules.

Thickness and Width

The Boards to use are 1 inch thick pine (light timber is a godsend when you are working with it) so the shelves will be 3 feet long. This is about the max you can stretch without support before the timber starts to bow or sag. I dislike saggy shelves, but each to their own. Different people have different ideas about shelf and book arrays on them. I remember seeing a quote from a then famous London bookseller (from poor memory it was early last century) “When I get a short fat book, I look for a short fat space”, so as I said – each to their own. There is no reason that you can not make two sets and place them side by side and so on.


Anything over about 4 feet high can not be free standing as a rule. Go higher and the top of the shelf needs to be fastened to the back wall with screws/toggles/fastners. These do not support weight, but do stop the shelves starting to lean and fall.


A measuring tape that will run to the longest length you may need (height of room kind of thing), a saw – fine teeth and cheap is ok. I use a Bahco 244 which has 8ppi (points per inch), A “Philips” or cross head screwdriver, a level  (again cheap and small) and a pencil.

Just a note on the saw – most have a handle that has a 90 degree angle to the blade and a 45 degree angle to the blade. If you put the blade of the saw flat on the plank and move the handle of the saw against the side of the plank so the top edge of the blade (no teeth) goes straight across – it will be at the 90 degrees you need. If you have that you will not need the level.


Planks of red deal that have been planed (PAO is a phrase sometimes used in Builders Providers – it means planed all over) that are 9 to 11 inches wide. The lengths will be multiples of the lengths you need so if its 3 feet wide and 4 feet high it will be multiples of these. The upper limit will be what will fit in or on your car. If it’s an issue, ask can they deliver – or say you will buy the saw there if they cut it to what you need (it works sometimes).

A thin timber strip, often called a slip. It needs to be planed and is about 2 inches wide and about an 1/8 of an inch thick. It needs to be just over 6 feet long. These slips are often sold as “fronts” for chipboard counter tops and come in 8 foot lengths. Not an essential but it will help the shelves.

Timber screws that will go well into the timber but not poke through. I use Spax 20mm screws. Four screws slightly longer to screw down the top shelf – 35 to 40mm (these have to go completely through one board and well into another) The shank on these screws need to be narrow – 2.5 to 3 so they will not split the ends of the top shelf.

L shaped shelf brackets. These are L shaped pieces of metal with screw holes in them – some have folds in them to give them more strength. You will need 2 for each shelf end.

Going at it with a will

The first thing you measure is the height of your books. Work out your shelf heights leaving an inch of space for the books to clearly and cleanly move in and out of your stacks. These heights together with the thickness of each shelf will determine the height of your set. The depth of your biggest book will determine the width of the planks you need. 11 inches suits almost everything, but if its like the majority of books then 9 inch wide plank will do fine. Make sure the top shelf is 2 inches longer than the other shelves so 3 feet 2 inches long.

Pick a place to work that can be used easily by you to get the job done. There will be sawdust. Nothing like being under pressure for space and in haste you find you have just cut through the chair you were leaning the timber on. Give yourself time and space.

Marking the timber is where you invest some time. Use the saw for all lines across the plank for cutting. Something I do is measure one board carefully and then put the other two or three boards required underneath it. Taking my time I cut through all of them together. Even if the measurement is slightly off, the one thing they have to be is the same length. Mark the planks you will be using for the sides of the set of shelves –  at the point where the shelves need to be attached. These lines represent your shelf heights. Screw in the 2 brackets on each marked line, so they will support the end of the shelf at both the front and back of each shelf. Screw on the shelves. Useing the slightly longer screws, screw down the top shelf. NB Do not seek to completley bury the screw in the timber – if you do so it will split the board. When the screw is just fully – leave it – further doesn’t give a stronger bond.

Now for the slip. Cut it the same length as the top shelf – say 3 feet 2 inches. Then screw two of these lengths to the back of the shelves. It will make the shelves far more stable without pushing the shelves too far out from the wall they are resting against.


First there is chamfering. I love that word. You need anything from sandpaper to a block plane. It means shaving down the top edge of the shelf and it prevents the bottom of the books being rubbed or bumped. If books are dragged out or pushed in over the edge of the shelf the dust jacket can get worn and torn quite quickly. Spines don’t like it either. But the word sounds good. You could be enjoying the peace and quiet in the shed, possibly reading, and you get a call on how long you are going to be. “Just doing the chamfering” sometimes works.

Coating the shelves. Well, there is paint – various colours. If you like a change every now and again – try wrapping paper. The glossy finish of most papers of that kind are very easy on the books. Nothing lasts forever, so you might as well have fun with them. Automotive paint. Varnishes, oils, waxes all work. They are yours, do as you please, but please coat them in books.

On a final note – all it takes is a screwdriver to take them apart to be made up somewhere else. Good luck.

I do hope this made sense.


Filed under Books and their home.

A short aside on books as a part of our lives

Well, where to start? How do we cherish them? How do we interact with them? I started this blog on the resting place of books and will continue on that thread, but what about how they affect us and what we do about it? Most do something Like Philip Murray in the adventures of a book collector – a delightful read and an envious journey. We look for better copies, a first edition, a true first edition, a signed true first edition, we mind them, cherish them, read them (perhaps with white gloves on) and hide them away or show them off. We research the author, we look for similar books and authors.

I love doing all of this within my budget. Rarely purchase without a list as I can never clearly remember what it is I need versus what it is I have. There are other ways though.

I do like old travel books. I found an intact copy of Baedeckers Central Italy some years ago. It was the 1904 edition. Have to say, the content was wonderful and far more detailed than is on the market today. The history and maps were perfect and as accurate as when printed. The only difference I could find was – the distance between Florence and Siena was a lovely 10 hour carriage ride back then. Here is the thing. The lady who owned it signed it. So did the man she met in the Central hotel in Siena. So just over 100 years later my family and I went to Italy (I need no excuses) and stayed in Pisa and Siena. A small part of the visit was a jaunt into the Central hotel (felt like I was dressed like a hobo when I saw the guests there, but no going back at that point) where I asked for the Manager. He was the quintessential hotel manager – reserved, impeccably dressed, calm and in control. I explained about the book and asked him to sign it, which he gladly did. We spent the next hour talking. He was intrigued with the book and its detail and pointed out that the hotel had in fact been rebuilt (shut due to excessive expolding in 1944). Great part of a great holiday.

I first encountered Tolkien aged 15. Hooked. Another family holiday quite a few years ago (no I do not drag them about on book related holidays! If you have a wide set of bookish interests – these things come up now and again) to Oxford and the Cotswolds (go to Chipping Camden). In Headington is a house where Tolkien lived. On the road outside the house (just down a wee bit) is a large beech tree. The beech mast was down, so I took some seeds. Now I have two trees growing near my house. Thats it. You need to read Tolkien to get that one.

Two good examples, I think.

It costs nothing to do these things, but its enjoyable. It does not enhance the value of a book collection to anyone but the owner, but who else should matter? Have to say, give Philip Murrays book a read – I like his style of approach to books.

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Are shelves redundant?


Well, that blog was easy.

To expand a wee bit – I have worked with IT for some 24 years. The machines I started on didn’t have a hard drive. Imagine. All those years ago. We had dot matrix printers and serial cables (made by Kellogs). Then we had parallel cables, hard drives and low radiation monitors (not kidding – health and safety stated that a pregnant woman could not sit infront of one for more than an hour). Then the internet with dialup and bigger harddrives and RAM, then USB1 cables, CAT5 cables with RJ45 connectors, laptops and inkjet and laser printers, then memory sticks and better USB cables and better laptops, then wireless and broadband, then tablets and readers.

The book I bought in 1983 still works. One thing that has stayed with IT right from the start is – backup. Most everything else has changed. How long till upgrades need to be purchased for a reader, or when a charger needs to be replaced – will one be available? I am not against progress but I do believe that it should be chosen by people for their own good rather than followed for others. I would love a reader that would copy books I had bought so I could just bring the reader on a low load trip. That is something I would not mind investing in, knowing it would be outlasted by both myself and my books. I suggest the books should be held on to for another while. What do you think?

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Oiled wood looks very well. Beautiful. The knots are nourished. The grain is highlighted, sometimes with delightful effects – carolina pine and hard maple have a shimmering 3d effect for example. The timber is sealed.

Why do it? Once the timber is smooth and clean, a cloth is all that is needed to apply oil. (Types of natural oil were mentioned in earlier blogs – will be back to them) Pour a little oil on the cloth. The cloth absorbs the oil and you rub it on the wood. Perfect simplicity. No chemical smell, although natural oils have their own scents. The oil will soak into the wood – leave for a while and wipe off any excess. No brushes, pads, rollers, etc. Reapply as necessary. The oil dries in but leaves the wood sealed. You will not get a smoother finish.


– Oiled timber can draw dirt into the wood over time. That statment has to be taken in context. Do not bring the oak dining table down the coal mine.

– It is best to hang the oil cloth outside on a line or spread flat after you have finished as if you leave it scrunched up it can spontaneously go on fire (not kidding). It doesn’t matter if its raining, which is a bonus. I have grown to hate secondguessing myself on spellcheck, having it ruins confidence (wondered about confidence but didn’t check it) in your ability to spell. For the record “spontaneously” can be found on page 1219 of the 1963 edition of the OED.

– Drying time is longer than off the shelf varnishes with VOCs. Linseed oil is 48 hours, boiled linseed oil is 24 hours, tung oil is 18 hours. It depends on temp, ventilation and humidity. Also which coat it is – if its raw kiln dried timber and its the first coat, its quite a bit faster than the listed times. Something I sometimes find difficult – reading the label on the back of the container when its in the shop – I recommend it.

Spreading oil on joints that are too tight will cause the joints to creak – its a liquid so the timber will swell slightly.

It has to be applied to raw wood – if you put it on top of varnished wood – it will just sit on top of the varnish – same for wax, so if it has been previously coated – sanding is required.

I will upload some more pics when I find the blasted lead for the phone again. Did I mention I am forgetful?

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Kept my word (apart from the waxing yet)

Sanded and gave the first two coats of oil to the bannister of the stairs. I used 200 grit and 000 steel wool for the sanding and linseed oil. That last sentence really made me look like I knew what I was doing – honestly it was what was in the shed.

Some people can make a text seem honest regardless of what is in or ommitted from the content. I could man it up and say – I used a hatchet and an angry leopard to sand the bannister, but it wouldnt be right. My current frame of mind is due to what I am currently reading – a small direct quote “In all the works of D.H. Lawrence, for example, the girl never once said to the man, ‘hold on a minute, my arms gone to sleep'”. Suspension of belief smacks more of a con (however nice and enjoyable) than anything else. Not for blogs. Onwards.

The reason I mention the bannister in this blog is its coating. The coating is to stop the hand from wearing the bannister down and vice versa. It makes it easy to clean and helps prevent any infestation of the timber. If done well it can also enhance and bring out the natural beauty of the timber.  Take the long view and dont wear your books down. I read in one of many books on bookshelves that some people had used automotive paint for a hard smooth finish. Super, but I have to stick to the naturals. Found some Tung oil with no added VOCs, (which is spot on) a while ago in an archery shop, but wax seems the best once its firmly and fully polished. Works very well in a cool, dry location. I need and enjoy the exercise too.

I have also procured a small bag of the dried flaked secretions from the lac bug. Now all I need is some methylated spirits. Never made shellac before.

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