Bookcase, Bulkhead, Mahogany, Small, Construction

Small Bookcase with Removable Copper Rods
Every pocket cruiser needs its fair share of books. Some of these books are necessary for navigation, maintenance, and general seamanship. Others are necessary for feeding the curiosity and intellect of the captain and crew. It was for those books in the former category - the books on navigation, maintenance, and general seamanship - that I constructed a large bulkhead-mounted bookcase; and, if you've read my earlier article on this project, you'll know exactly how I did it. It's the books that fall into the latter category - those that feed the curiosity and intellect - that tend to be considerably smaller in size and that, for this reason, fit quite comfortably into a bookcase that is much more petite and less-imposing. This article thus concerns the construction of a small bookcase, one that houses well your average-sized guide books for the flora and fauna of a region, and one that gives comfortable space to what might best be described in broad terms as the literature of the sea.

What would eventually become this small bookcase started as a large, rough-sawn piece of sapele, an African mahogany that for many people, myself included, serves as a suitable substitute for the expensive and difficult-to-find Honduran mahogany. I buy all my sapele from Southern Lumber in Charleston. Southern Lumber has a special, exotic woods warehouse, with all sorts of eye-catching varieties.
I hand-picked this board because its dimensions corresponded exactly to what I needed for several different projects. I spent a lot of time figuring out how I could cut the board to minimize waste. With this board, there was almost no waste. That was a first. Sometimes waste is unavoidable. With this one, careful planning and a little luck worked in my favor.
The board was 13.5 inches. These odd sizes are typical of rough-sawn boards. I had to rip off about one inch worth of board before I could run the board through the planer. Fear not. I put that ripped piece of mahogany to good use. Like I said, my goal was to minimize waste.
My new Steel City brand planer did exactly what it was supposed to do. I was pleased with its capabilities.
There were two major components of this small bookcase. On the one hand, there were the two side pieces (both about 8 inches wide), and on the other hand there was the back piece and the shelf itself (both of which where about 11.5 inches wide). After I had ripped, planed, and re-ripped all these pieces, I took them to the miter saw. Below you see the cut I made that created the two side pieces.
The picture below shows the cut that created the back piece and the shelf itself.
After I had cut all four pieces, I dry-fit the pieces in order to figure out where the best place would be for me to cut the rabbets that would support the shelf.
I used the table saw to cut the rabbets. The rabbets running across the grain are meant to support the shelf. The rabbets running with the grain are there to aid in the joining of the side pieces to the back piece.
I used the sandpaper holder here pictured to push the mahogany over the blade of the table saw. It provided the firm grip that I needed to keep the mahogany flush against the fence as I pushed the material over the blade.
The next thing I needed to do was to make sure that the bookcase was large enough to hold some of the books I had planned to keep in it. This book fit just right, with just enough space for me to install a batten or retainer rail of some sort. At this point, it didn't matter that the book was horizontal. The width was the only thing that was important.
I also wanted to envision the way the small book case would be mounted beneath the larger bookcase that I had already constructed. My plan was to mount them on the bulkhead in this fashion. I had intentionally designed the small book case to fit underneath the large one. My decisions were based on my need to stow the mahogany main salon table against the bulkhead. If all went as planned, the small book case would be small enough to accommodate the main salon table in the stowed position. It's difficult to explain here, in this context, without seeing everything in place within the boat, so I'll just leave it at this for now.
The next step was to clamp the pieces into place, so that I could drill the holes for the screws that I would install when the time came to glue-and-screw.

With the pieces of the bookcase having been temporarily screwed together to hold it all in place, it was time to take some 40 grit sandpaper to the exterior of the bookcase. I needed to make all the joints as flush as possible. Some were off by about 1/32 of an inch. In my experience, 40 grit paper is the only thing that makes a significant dent in mahogany. 60 grit will do it eventually, but it takes a long time.

The back piece needed to be taken down about 1/16 inch in order to make it flush with the side pieces. I thought briefly about using my Bosch electric hand planer for this purpose, but I was a little worried that in solving the problem of the back piece I would screw up the side pieces. Therefore, I just sanded the back piece down with some 40 grit paper.
Next, I took the router (with a round-over bit) to the side pieces. This gave them a softer, more-finished appearance, and it also made them correspond to the style of the side pieces on the large bookcase.

Then, I sanded all the pieces down, using a series of papers ranging from 40 grit up to 220 grit.

At this point I was ready to glue and screw the pieces. I used Gorilla Glue, as I had for other projects of this sort.
Gorilla Glue expands as it cures. This is good, because it fills the grain, which assists in the bonding of the pieces. I soaked the joints with water before apply the glue. This helps to draw the glue into the grain.
Based on past experience with Gorilla Glue, I should say that I try to have as little squeeze as possible. The less squeeze the less work there is to do in terms of clean-up. I used to try to wipe the squeeze out of the way as it expanded out of the joints. This caused smearing. Now, I just let the squeeze cure in place. After 24 hours, I remove the cured squeeze with a chisel. More on this later.

For this small bookcase, just like for the large bookcase, I needed to have removable retainer rails in order to hold the books in place. With this small bookcase, however, I would need to use not mahogany battens (which require large cleats to hold them in place), but small dowels of some sort that would not rob the bookcase of too much of the valuable space that was needed for the books I planned to store there. After much thought, I decided that copper pipes would be better than wooden dowels, if only for aesthetic reasons.
It took a good bit of planning to figure out where to mount the copper pipes. The holes that would support them could not be too close to the front edge of the side pieces, nor could they be set too far back. Otherwise, they would encroach upon the space needed for the books.
To help me in my planning, I put a couple of the books in place. It was a snug fit indeed. A critic might ask why I didn't just make the bookcase a little bit bigger. To this, I would say, "Mr. Critic, have you considered that the mahogany main salon table would not be able to be stowed against this small bookcase if it were even half an inch larger?" In my experience, the refitting of a sailboat is something akin to a game of chess. Forethought is everything.
It was impossible for me to drill the inside holes (which would support the ends of the copper pipes) with a normal drill bit. There just wasn't enough space inside the bookcase for me to fit the drill and the drill bit. By "inside holes" I mean the top and bottom holes on the side where the books are located in the above picture. I had to drill these holes from the inside of the bookcase, because these holes would be shallow. In other words, they would not pass all the way through the wood. The holes on the other side, however, would be drilled all the way through. This would allow me to slide the copper pipes out of the bookcase. This, of course, would then allow me to remove the books from the bookcase. To drill these holes I used an extended 5/8 inch paddle bit.

I had to take my time when it came to drilling the inside holes. I wanted to make sure that I didn't drill all the way through the side of the bookcase.

The next thing I needed to do was to figure out a way to keep the copper pipes in place. I decided to mount a piece of mahogany to the side of the bookcase with a stainless steel screw that would not be fully tightened down. This screw would serve as a pivot point that would allow the piece of mahogany to swing free and thus allow for the removal of the copper pipes when necessary.
I located the pivot screw at the center of the piece of mahogany. The two stainless steel screws you see at the top and the bottom are short screws that are merely there for decorative purposes. In other words, they are mounted on the piece of mahogany but they do not pass all the way through to the side of the bookcase. I also mounted another small piece of mahogany to the side of the bookcase for the purpose of securing the brass hook, which would hold the large piece of mahogany in place.
I was pretty pleased with the way the bookcase looked at this point, The main thing I needed to do now was to remove the excess Gorilla Glue, but only after I had given a little more time to the mahogany side pieces.
The pivoting action of the large mahogany side piece is below demonstrated.
One thing I wanted to do before moving on to the removal of the excess Gorilla Glue was to soften up the edges of the large and the small pieces of mahogany with some 40 grit sandpaper.

I've found that a chisel is the best tool for removing any excess Gorilla Glue. It makes it easy to pop-up large sections of this hard-foam excess. The only thing you have to be cautious about is scoring the mahogany with the chisel. Often, even if you don't score the wood, you still need to do some re-sanding in these joints on account of the cured residue that remains after you've removed the large chunks of hard foam.

After I was satisfied with the additional sanding I needed to do in the joints, I moved on my final task: cutting and installing plugs in the screw holes on the sides of the bookcase.
I used Titebond II wood glue for these plugs, and I hammered all of them into place with a dead-blow hammer.

The last thing I needed to do was to sand down the stubs on the plugs, so that they would be flush with the side of the bookcase. I prefer to use the electric sander rather than a chisel to take them down flush, since the chisel will sometimes create divots in the plugs and thus cause them to be unsightly and less-concealed than they should be.

This marked the end of process of the construction of this small bookcase. There still remained, however, the staining and the varnishing work, but since these tasks concerned finish-work and not the construction, I decided to address them as an addendum to this article on construction. I hope you have enjoyed seeing how this little project came together - a little project for a little bookcase, for some little, but important books, for me, and especially for the Admiral. The End.

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