Bookcase, Bulkhead, Mahogany, Large, Construction

Bulkhead bookcase on our breakfast table near the end of construction process
All cruising boats need books, and the Ericson 25 is no exception. The challenge on a pocket cruiser of twenty-five feet is finding space for the storage of books. After much deliberation, I finally decided that there was no other appropriate space on this boat for books, other than in a bookcase mounted to the bulkhead. I had seen bulkhead mounted bookcases not only on various tall ships, but also on numerous cruising sailboats. The first challenge was figuring out the size, shape, and placement of such a bookcase on an Ericson 25. The second challenge was building it from scratch.

I began by using a milk crate as mock-up bookcase that would allow me to envision the possible size, shape, and placement of the final product. I knew I wanted to be able to stow the folding table against the bulkhead, so I started by placing the milk crate on top of the stowed table. I liked the way the lines of the milk crate corresponded to the lines of the stowed table. I also liked it that in this position the milk crate was out of the way and was not crowding any other space on the boat. For these reasons, I ended up designing the bookcase to fit in this space, but for aesthetic reasons and for weight considerations, I made the case a good bit smaller than the milk crate.
I also wondered what a second bookcase might look like. The only other available spot on the bulkhead that I could identify was above the starboard settee. When I placed the milk crate there, I thought it looked out of place. It seemed to encroach on the settee and break up the other horizontal and vertical lines in this area of the boat. Therefore, I abandoned this idea, and stuck with my original idea of having a single bulkhead bookcase.
Based on other bulkhead bookcases I had seen, I thought it best for the books to define the upper boundary of the bookcase. For this reason, I deliberately designed the sides of the bookcase to be rather low. I also wanted there to be plenty of curves in the bookcase, so that it would blend harmoniously with the many curves throughout the main salon of this boat. With these thoughts in mind, I made a few sketches. Pleased with the way they looked, I used these as a blueprint of sorts.
For this project, I used a piece of left-over sapele mahogany about four feet long and about one foot wide. I purchased the mahogany in a rough-sawn condition, and I had already planed it down to a workable condition for another project. If you'd like to know more about sapele mahogany, see my discussion of it in the article, Companionway Hatch Construction, Part II.
I used the table saw to rabbet each of the side pieces of the bookcase.
I dry-fitted the shelf in the rabbets of the two side pieces, and everything fit together well.
Then I did the same thing with the back piece.
I thought it looked pretty good, at least at this point in the project.
From the very start, I had designed the bookcase to be able to hold books as large as Don Casey's This Old Boat. With its wealth of information, I consider this to be an essential book to have on board when cruising. In this picture I have placed a piece of mahogany in front of the book in order to get an idea of how much space I might need for the book-retainer-rail cleats.
Next, I clamped all the pieces together and drilled holes for the #8 stainless steel screws that I would use hold it all together.

Afterwards, I came along and drilled counter-sink holes, about 5/16 inch so the heads of the screws would sit below the surface of the wood.

I drew the curves on the sides pieces by hand, and then I used a coffee can to make the lines of the curves more precise.
I used a smaller can to draw the small curve at the top of the side piece.
I, of course, checked for square throughout this whole process.
I also went over my hand-sketched lines with the square to make sure the flat parts of my cut in this area would be perfectly square.
I postponed the cutting of the curves in the side pieces until I figured out exactly how I would install the book-retainer-rails.
First, I needed to make cleats for the rails. This was tedious work on account of the size of the little cleats.
I had to make a jig for the router, in order to make the cut as precise as possible. Below you see a completed cleat next to a new piece of wood that is about to receive the same treatment.
Here's how I would do it. First, I would use the jig to cut the center.
I screwed the jig to the base of the router. Here the router rests, ready for action as soon as I turn it over and start it up.

After making the first cut, I would clamp the piece down and rout the edges of the piece with a round-over bit.

In order to use the rout the bottom of the cleat with the round-over bit, I had to screw the cleat down temporarily to my work top surface.
I had to make four of these cleats. It was easier making the next three, after I had figured out how to make the first one. Nevertheless, this was still a tedious process.

As I have said elsewhere, you really need 40 grit sandpaper to make any progress when sanding mahogany. Even then, it takes a lot of muscle and . . . patience.
With the cleats having been completed, I turned my attention to the construction of the two retainer rails that would fit within the slots of the cleats. I had a scrap piece of 3/8 inch mahogany left over from the construction of the new companionway hatch. If you've read that article, you'll recall that I used 3/8 inch planks on the top of the hatch. I ripped one of the left-over planks to 1 inch in width on the table saw. Then I simply cut the pieces to the appropriate length on the table saw.
After a little sanding, the retainer rails were ready to drop into place, at least temporarily in this dry-fitting stage of the process.
Satisfied with the dry-fit, I drilled counter-sink holes in the cleats, so that I could disguise the heads of the screws.
Next, I routed the sides pieces of the bookcase with a round-over bit, in order to make the bookcase softer and more curvaceous in appearance.

I also took the time to pre-drill the holes for the mounting of the cleats. I knew it would be easier to align the cleats and keep them square, if I did this before (rather than after) gluing and screwing the bookcase together.
Yet another dry-fit to double-check my measurements prior to the installation of the cleats.
After I installed the cleats, I dry-fitted the bookcase pieces together once again. I was pleased with how things turned out. The book fit in there well, with just enough wiggle-room.
I then added some of the smaller books from our nautical library into the bookcase. They were dwarfed by the the large book and the large bookcase. It was at this point that I began thinking about how I might fit a small bookcase somewhere else on the boat for more petite books such as these. More on this in another article.
The final prep-work prior to gluing and screwing was sanding the pieces to a finished condition.
I started with 40 grit paper on my quarter-sheet sander. 40 grit might sound like overkill, especially with an electric sander, but believe me, it's not.
Here's the way the mahogany looked before I hit it with the 40 grit paper. You can see the router line from the round-over bit, and you can see the many grooves that the planer left in the wood.
With a little work, the 40 grit paper will bring it down to this condition. Still rough, but much better than the way it started.

Pleased with this, I moved on to 80 grit paper,
and then 100 grit paper,
and then 150 grit,
and then, finally, 220 grit.
At last it was time to glue and screw the pieces together. I laid them all out in a logical pattern, had the Gorilla glue ready, and made sure the screws and screwdriver were close at hand, especially since this was a time-sensitive job.
In the picture below you see the bookcase partially screwed together, with some screws still projecting. It was at this point that I paused for a quick break. I screwed every screw with a ratchet screwdriver by hand. Accordingly, this took a toll on my wrist muscles, even though I switched back and forth between my right hand and left. I didn't want to use a drill on these screws for fear that I would over-torque them and snap them off. In short, dealing with broken screws would have been more difficult than simply screwing it all together by hand.
The Gorilla Glue expands as it sets, and tends to emit a yellowish foam, a foam, I might add, that easily flakes away from the surface of the wood after it has cured.

Here's the way the bookcase looked after I had cleaned off all the cured yellow foam. Not bad.
One of the final steps I needed to take was to plug the screw holes with mahogany plugs, so I bought myself a plug-cutter of the appropriate size, and got to work.
I had plenty of scraps of mahogany sitting around, so I grabbed these and put them to good use.

Before I plugged all of the screw holes, I experimented with just one of them to make sure that the plugs I cut would shear-off well with a chisel. It did, so I inserted plugs into all of the holes with Gorilla Glue.
At the same time, I filled any crack I found with mahogany wood-filler.

I didn't want to shear-off too much of the plugs for fear that I might splinter the plugs and the finished surface of the wood. Therefore, took the sander to the nubs, in order to bring those remnants of the plugs down to the surface of the wood.
They blended pretty well with the rest of the wood, as I did my best to match the color and grain of the plugs to the wood.
I wasn't very concerned about the discoloration you see on the left. I deliberately oriented this darker-grained part of the wood so that it would be on this part of the bookcase - the part that would be concealed by the mast compression post inside the boat.
I only plugged one side at a time, because I knew that it would make the shearing of the plugs and the sanding of the nubs more difficult if I could not lay the bookcase down flat on one side. When I plugged this side of the bookcase, I decided to use Titebond II. Since the Gorilla Glue had given me a little bit of a hard time on the other side. As the Gorilla Glue expanded, it kept pushing out some of the plugs. Therefore, I had to monitor the plugs during the curing process. Titebond II made things much easier on this side.
One of the last things I needed to do before the varnishing of the bookcase, was to figure out where to drill the mounting holes in its back piece. To figure this out, I took the bookcase to the boat, and situated it in a position on the bulkhead where I thought it was likely that I would mount it.
I wasn't looking to drill the holes in the bulkhead at this point. I only wanted to make sure that the holes I was about to drill in the bookcase would work well with the bulkhead itself. In other words, I wanted to make sure the holes would not encroach on anything inside the head on the other side of the bulkhead.
I decided that four holes evenly spaced around the back of the bookcase would support the bookcase well.
I drilled counter-sink holes so that the heads of the 1/4 inch machine screws that I would use would be flush-mounted with the surface of the bookcase. At this point, all that was left to do was to varnish the bookcase and hang it on the bulkhead.

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