The corner cupboard

Posted by jerry on January 14th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

Turning the corner with bookcases can be a bit of a challenge. There are three possibilities: you can butt two bookcases together at right angles – but then you have a dead spot in one of the bookcases. You could construct the bookcases slightly short and have a right angle – but that would mean wasted space in the corner. The third possibility is to build a corner cabinet.

corner shelf unit

It’s actually not much different from building standard bookcases, except that the shelves are deeper than the adjoining bookcases. I could have bought wider timber, except my hardware store doesn’t stock timber 450mm wide. However I did have some melamine chipboard of that width.

Noting that I was going from narrow bookcases on one side to wider ones on the other I prepared one board of each width – one of 2400x190mm and one 2400x240mm in the same way as for the sides of the bookcases. That is, I made cutouts for the skirting board and for the architrave.

I wanted an opening of 300mm (about one foot), so I measured 190mm on one side and 240mm on the other and moved a steel rule around until I could make a five-sided figure resembling a truncated triangle.

Once drawn to size I cut that one out carefully and used it as a template to make four more.

corner shelf unit

I also needed to make a kick-board and chose in this case to make it as tall as the skirting board to avoid having to cut down the bottom shelf.

Assembly was assisted by the use of a mitre clamp, but otherwise went the same as for the bookcases. For added strength I made all the shelves fixed, using screws and glue as the back of each shelf would be unsupported – most of the items I plan placing in the unit will sit between the shelf supports so I’m not worried about the rear of the shelves bowing.

The one exception is the bottom shelf where I intend to stow a spare fiddle case – that one I made a block to fit beneath the corner and screwed it to the bottom shelf. I shall eventually put a door on the bottom section and the upper will remain as open shelves for a clock and small decorative piece.

The sides will be faced with beaded trim and the top will be faced with a decorative trim to take it up to ceiling height and the exposed edges of the shelves will be faced with iron-on wood veneer – it’s real wood but backed with a heat activated glue – but that is for another day.

I managed to get the wider bookcases built today, so tomorrow will see a flurry of cutting for the loose shelves and the start of the finishing process.

Built-in bookcases

Posted by jerry on January 14th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

So a week has passed – with a couple of 40 degree celsius days I’ve actually had about four days – well mornings and early evenings to get into the shed and build more bookcases. the plan is to build in the bookcases around the room. The challenge is that they need to be fitted around a window and across a corner.


I built seven low bookcases in the style of the one I built before. I wanted a floor-to-ceiling book case at one end flowing into the corner unit. So the seventh low bookcase has one side that goes up to the ceiling – the reason for that will become clear shortly.

The standard bookcase is pretty straightforward, so I’ll just focus on a couple of details – the stuff they don’t tell you in the woodwork magazines – and how I solved a couple of …er… issues. There are obvious ones like coping with skirting boards to get the shelves to fit against the wall – on two sides. And there are less obvious ones like the wall not being straight or perpendicular! And then there is the issue of building the corner shelves – which I’ll cover tomorrow.

Fitting against a wall

In the previous post I talked about the cutout for the skirting board, but what if you want to butt the shelf against a corner? The easy solution is to apply packing pieces to the side, shaped to the profile of the skirting board. As I shall be covering the joins with some beaded trim these can be fairly crude


And to get the view from the front


While this might look a bit lop-sided it will blend the unit to the wall. At least it would if the wall were perpendicular to the floor. In this case it isn’t! So I found some close-grained Tasmanian oak and shaped it by holding it upright against the shelf side and running a pencil held against a small block and running the block against the wall to get the profile transferred to the board. I then cut this so that the gap between the wall and the shelf is suitably covered.

To fit the tall shelves I wanted to be sure that they would fit around the curved architrave at the top of the room – a process best done while the shelves are single boards rather than assembled units. I decided to take the medieval approach and make a wooden template.

First I went up a stepladder and shaped a piece of cardboard to the architrave


Then I transferred the shape to a piece of scrap timber


And then I cut this out with a coping saw. So now I have templates for the skirting board and the architrave


As you can see the tall bookcase has a fixed shelf in the middle to prevent the sides from bowing. And that is the story so far



Two-hour book cases

Posted by jerry on January 6th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

Whether making one book case or several – as I am doing – there are a few tricks to make it a quick and painless process – remember we’ll be building this book case in under two hours.

bookcase construction

Firstly, when making the sides (the uprights), cut them in pairs – that way they will always be level with each other. You will need for each book case a pair of sides of equal length – the size is up to you. For floor-to-ceiling book cases they are likely to be a fairly standard 2.4 metres. The ones I am making today are designed to fit under a window, so mine are 830mm tall – which will leave a 20mm gap for a final smooth top to be fitted along the length. But the principle is the same, whether tall or short.

For each book case you will need at least four shelf-length pieces – in my case about 750mm. These will comprise the fixed elements of the book case. They will be used as follows:

  • a top for the book case
  • a kick board at the bottom front
  • a bottom shelf; and
  • a middle shelf

All other shelves will be adjustable to allow for different height books.

Measure once, cut many times

In contrast to the old dictum about ‘measure twice and cut once’, we’ll reverse that for this project! Even for one book case you will have several pieces that need to be of the same length. The trick is to measure one (carefully!) and clamp a stop-block to your saw bench – after that, forget measuring and just slot each new one up to the stop block and cut away. Providing the block doesn’t move they will all be be the same length.

saw bench stop block

Fit around the skirting board

When all your uprights are cut, the next thing is to cut a notch to fit the bookcase around the skirting board – that way the back will be flush with the wall. To do this we use a contour gauge – there are several types, but all use the same principle – a collection of stiff wires trapped between two flat straps. When you press it against an irregular object, the wires deflect, leaving an imprint of the contour – in this case, a skirting board

contour gauge

Then you transfer that shape with a pencil to the lower back part of your book case sides

contour gauge

Now cut out the shape with a hand saw

contour gauge

And the shelf sides will now fit your wall

contour gauge


With all the pieces cut to size it is time to assemble the bookcase. Find a large flat surface – in this case a couple of sheets of melamine placed across the saw bench extension.

Lay the two sides face downward so that the skirting board cutouts are facing up. Now place the kickboard and the bottom shelf in position.

bookcase construction

Assembly is with screws – you can glue the joints as well for added strength. Pre-drill right through the side into the kickboard. Then countersink the hole and finally screw in the screw – I use chipboard screws for just about everything!

Here are the steps in pictures – I use quick-change drill bit, countersink and screwdriver bit – they save a heap of time 🙂
bookcase construction

bookcase construction

bookcase construction

Once the bottom shelf is on, make sure the bookcase is square and add the top shelf using the same procedure. You can make it easier on yourself by using a mitre clamp to hold the pieces together while you drill and screw them together.

Adjustable shelves

Now you should have a bare bookcase carcass. Place it on one side and using a template – I use a length of pegboard to guide the position of the holes. In this case I had a part of an old bookcase where I had drilled all the way through the side – so I used that as a template this time.

Note that I have used masking tape on the drill to give me a depth guide to ensure I don’t drill all the way through the side!

bookcase construction

Now insert some shelf supports and add the centre shelves. And aside from the varnish – that’s all there is to it!

bookcase construction

For a tall bookcase I would make a fixed shelf about halfway up to prevent bowing. With practice you can build one in about two hours 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll finish off the other bookcases and and then we can look at how to make built-in bookcases using this construction technique – the secret is to build in modules and hide the joins with some 40mm beaded trim 😉


Wood stash surprise

Posted by jerry on January 5th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

Well, Christmas and New Year have come and gone, and with twelfth night fast approaching I was contemplating our growing pile of books beside the bed, and on the computer table waiting to be dutifully entered into our LibraryThing catalogue – one of a few New Years resolutions!

I realised something was up when Sharon made me a cup of coffee. Perhaps it was something in the tone of “I was thinking…” that suggested I really should be paying attention, and words like ‘book cases’ started to enter the conversation – hypothetically of course….

Yes, an expansion of our book cases is long overdue – far too many books wedged in sideways on the shelves – and then there’s the alarmingly tall pile beside the bed – on each side. I did some quick figuring and named a suitably large sum thinking that would be the end of the conversation.

There was an abrupt flurry of activity which somehow included me gulping down the last of my coffee as we headed out the door and a short while later my shed started to look worryingly like we had just transferred the entire Timber Department from Bunnings!

wood stash

What a satisfying trip to the toyshop!

Tomorrow: how to make a book case in two hours – and built-in book cases within four days 🙂


Automatons, kinetic toys and the piano player

Posted by jerry on January 1st, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

One Christmas gift was a book on making whirligigs and kintic toys – now this looked like great fun! So, armed with some scraps of wood and the book, I headed out to the shed to see how difficult it would be to come up with something…

One of the pieces in the book was a crank-driven piano player. And there is a reason I chose this one.

You see, my grandfather used to play piano. He played entirely by ear – he could go to the movies once and come home and play all the main theme tunes. And he used to play down at the local pub as something companionable and fun to do. Interestingly he was a teatotaller, and the top of the piano would fill up with pints of beer that people bought him – and they would remain there all night as he played all the old favourite sing-along songs of the day. I guess that’s where I inherited my music ability from. So with that in mind, I thought I’d have a go at a piano player.

By the end of the evening – about four hours, I had a ‘proof-of-concept’ version that looked like this:

piano player automaton

Using a hole saw I cut out four 4cm (1 1/2″) discs from some scrap pine. I then drilled them to accept thin dowel in an offset from the centre hole, and used three of these discs to form the crank. I also cut two small discs of 1cm (1/2″) to act as spacers to stop too much lateral movement of the crankshaft.

I then made up a simple ‘stage’ from three pieces of white melamine chipboard and another piece for the piano upright.

I cut out and roughly shaped the head and torso of the pianist from some scrap pine and then cut out the arms and legs with a scrollsaw. It was important to put an angle on each thigh as the legs need to splay outward to enable the control wires to pass between the legs and attach to the wrists to provide the movement.

The wrists were drilled and the arms and legs attached to the torso. The nail holes in the arms and legs were drilled larger than the nail so they would move freely when attached – the nails are only holding into the torso.

The seat is just a small block dowelled into the stage, as is the piano. Once in place, positioned either side of the line of the crank I drilled two holes inboard of the arms into the stage to allow the control wires to pass through the stage to the cranks.

I then drilled (slowly) an oversize dowel hole in each end of a large popsicle-stick and cut it in half. Then I drilled a small hole at the other end of thepop stick to accept the wire. Then I fitted them to the dowels as I assembled the crank.

The fourth disc I used as a spacer for the handle. I then cut a larger disc of 6cm for the handle. I then drilled near one ege to accept a small brass cupboard handle.

After doweling the pianist loosely to the stool I took a couple of pieces of fine piano wire and attached it to the pop-sticks on the crank and fed them up through the holes and finally bent them through the wrist holes.

Once I had established that the hands would move up and down I then clad the piano in some thin pine offcuts, provided another block for the keyboard, attached a couple of ends and printed out some keyboard line-art and glued it onto the keyboard block.

Then with a nod to my late Grandfather I made a beer mug from some dowel with a pop-stick handle.

And here is the result

piano player automaton

Click here to see it in action – complete with the crank mechanism!

You can get more information on automata like these at This one has good information on how automata work – their mechanisms and how to design your own.
And there are some great online displays of kinetic toys, such as these: