Barrister’s Bookcase

Things I've made and what making them taught me

Barrister’s Bookcase

This is my 2008 take on a barrister’s bookcase, built out of solid white ash.  This project was an exercise in what turners like to call design opportunities.  I think I screwed up every single piece of this project at least twice.  Okay I might have managed to put the finish on without incident…

The original design for this was a one-piece case about 5′ tall.  I was going to install the shelves in sliding dovetails and run dadoes under the sliding dovetails for the door hinge pins to ride into the case.  I got fixated on the idea that the short grain between the sliding dovetails and the pin dadoes was going to collapse under the weight of the books (I still think that was likely…), so I cut the 5′ long case sides into shorter sections.  But I’d already cut the sliding dovetails, so I ended up losing about 1″ of height per shelf.

Each shelf is a self-contained box, like you’d expect for a barrister’s bookcase.  The doors lift up and slide in, and the “glass” is actually Lexan plastic.  Glass would probably look a little better but we decided on this practically indestructible plastic for safety reasons.  The case sides are butt-joined to the shelves with biscuits and screws, and the doors were made with cope and stick bits on the router.

The doors are cope and stick, made using a matched router bit set.  I got some 1/4″ hot rolled steel rod at the hardware store and cut it into 1 1/2″ lengths to make pins.  I chucked the pins in my drill press and used it as a make-shift lathe to file the ends of the pins round, then inserted the pins into holes at the top edges of the doors.  These pins ride in dadoes in the case sides.  Underneath the door, I got some plastic drawer rollers from Lee Valley to support the bottom of the doors as they slide into the cases.  This worked ok, but the pivoting action of the doors required larger gaps than I’d like, and the steel pins don’t travel as smoothly in the dadoes as I’d like.

The doors are held closed by some bent grain expansion washers, also from Lee Valley.  I bent these washers over at 90 degrees, screwed one leg into the side of the case, and embedded rare earth magnets in the door.  That works pretty well if you don’t mind seeing the washers.  In comparison with commercial magnetic catches, this seems less visible to me so I’m happy enough with it.  James Krenov had some much better ideas on hand-crafted catches that I’d like to try at some point.

The finish is home centre oil stain followed by a 3 sprayed top coats of Varathane Diamond satin.  This one came out pretty good off the gun thinned about 10% with distilled water.  I didn’t even rub out the last coat and I’m quite happy with the finish.