Canadian Woodworking

Build this bookcase with your table saw

Author: Gordon Graff
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: December January 2003

If you’re the type of woodworker who doesn’t have a shop full of tools or years of woodworking experience but you still want to build an elegant, functional project, then this project was designed and built specifically with you in mind.


This project is meant to give you more than just a plan with particular measurements and details. Instead, it is my intent, as a writer and a woodworker, to give you the know-how to adapt these skills in using the table saw to your specific needs.

The only major power tool that was used in the construction of this project was a table saw. In this project you will use the table saw to create the raised panels and the trim pieces that will turn a simple looking box into an elegant looking project and you into a more versatile woodworker.

The first step is to make the stiles, rails and the raised panels for the sides (or gables) of this bookcase. The stiles and rails in this project are made out of stock ¾” pine and are cut to a width of 2 ½”. See the illustration for the specific measurements of these parts.
Once you have cut the stock for the stiles and rails to length then cut a groove into the centre of these parts (photo 1).

This groove is ¼” wide and ½” deep and holds the floating raised panel in place. The groove also provides one half of the joinery system (tenon and groove joinery) to hold the entire side assembly together. The groove is centred on the edge of the stock and cut with a single saw blade set to a depth of ½”.

Use a feather board to hold the stiles and rails snugly against the rip fence while cutting this groove. The feather board will help you to complete this operation safely and accurately.

Make the first pass and then turn the piece on its end completing the width of the groove at ¼” with the second pass. Keep it centred on the ¾” stock. It is always a good idea to try this procedure on scrap wood first and make your adjustments before committing the saw blade to your good stock.

The next step is to form the tenons on the rails of the side assembly. Do this with the aid of a dado set and a mitre gauge (photo 2).

Pass the stock over the dado set on one face and then turned it over and pass over the dado set again until a tenon of the correct thickness is formed. When finished, the tenon should be ¼” thick by ½” long. It will fit snugly in the groove that you cut into the rails earlier.

Cut all of the grooves and tenons so that they are ready for assembly (photo 3).

Dry fit the side assembly and measure for the dimensions of the raised panels (photo 4).

The width of the opening between the two stiles is 8” and the groove depth of each of the stiles is ½”. These measurements might lead you to calculate that the total width of the panel must be 8” plus ½” plus ½” to fill this space, right? Wrong!

A space must be left for the panel to expand during times of humidity. With this in mind, cut the panel to a total width of 8 ¾”. This panel is not to be glued in place. It is a “floating panel” which means it has room to expand and contract within the frame with changes in humidity. The width of 8 ¾” will leave plenty of room within the frame for the panel to expand when it is humid. You don’t need to leave room for the panel to expand lengthwise, because the expansion will only occur across its width.

After you have cut the panel to it’s final width and length, you can begin the panel raising process. First run the panel face down over the saw blade set to a height of ⅛” and a total width from the fence to the outside of the blade of 1 ¾” (photo 5).

This creates the fielded portion of the panel. Install an auxiliary tall fence onto the stock fence of the saw (photo 6).

This tall fence will allow the panel to be run safely through the blade of the table saw, while keeping your hands far from the blade. Set the table saw blade to an angle of 15 degrees and clamp the panel to the fence for safety. Now you are ready to run it through the blade.

The important issue here is to leave enough material (usually 3/16”) on the panel’s edge to fit snugly into the groove of the stiles and rails (photo 7). You can see why the tall auxiliary fence is used. Trying to make a cut like this without one is not very safe or accurate. Do a trial run with some scrap material. The idea is to get this fit just right and then run all the panels through the saw. When the correct fit is achieved it will look like the sample piece in photo 8 below.

Before you glue the assembly together, sand out any marks left on the panel from the panel raising procedure. Trying to sand blade marks out of a raised panel when it is assembled into a frame is next to impossible. When everything fits just right, glue and clamp the whole assembly together. Keep the assembly square while clamping and remember that you do not glue the panel in place (photo 9).
Determine which panel is best suited for the right and left side of the bookcase and mark the front edge of each panel. Trim ¾” off the front edge of each panel (photo 10).

Later, you will install a fluted face frame to replace the piece of ¾” material that you just removed.

Cut dadoes in the rails to accommodate the installation of the shelves. Cut these into the centre of each of the rails (photo 11).

While the dado set is installed in the saw, cut a rabbet in the back edge of the panel to make room for the back of the bookcase (to be installed later).

Next, glue and nail the ¾” x 1” solid wood edging to the veneer covered particle board shelves (photo 12).

Glue and clamp the whole assembly together (photo 13).
Photo 14 shows you the trim pieces, including the fluted face frame, corner blocks and the base trim.

Cut the fluted face frame on the table saw using the two outside blades of the dado set (see diagram). Install the corner blocks along with the base trim (photo 15).

Next, install the fluted face frame as shown (photo 16).
The top of the bookcase is made from several pieces of glued up stock and cut to size. Cut the underside of the top on the table saw at an angle of 45-degrees to give the top a more refined appearance (photo 17).

Rip a small piece of trim at a 45-degree angle on the table saw. Mitre the corners and attach it under the top of the bookcase. Complete the trim work.

Complete the back of the bookcase with several pieces of 5/16” pine wainscoting or, if you prefer, with a piece of pine-veneered plywood. Sand the entire bookcase. The finished bookcase in this project was coated with orange shellac and the interior was painted with a forest green latex paint.

As you can see, this bookcase is easy to make. Use the skills you learn here and make this your first of many elegant projects with only one power tool: the table saw.

TIP: It may take several passes to reduce the tenon to the proper thickness. Once this thickness is achieved, use this setting to run all the tenons at the same setting and they will fit properly. This method of setting the final tenon thickness with a dado assembly is almost fool proof. Take your time to produce well fitting joinery for this alone will lead to a structurally sound piece. As before, it’s a good idea to use a scrap piece of material to test the tenon and groove fit so you don’t waste your good stock trying to get a perfect fit.

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