Bookcase from 2D Concept Drawing

| July 3, 2010
bookcase design

Bookcase version scaled from original plan

About ten years ago I was feeling restless, primarily about work, and I decided that the best way to take my mind off of things was to get a project going. I find that when work starts to creep into my off hours, I respond by filling up my time so I don’t have a chance to think about it.

Donna and I wanted a nice bookcase for the home we were living in at the time so I thought I would draw up a plan and buy some wood. I generally don’t get too fussy about how I am going to build something until I have drawn it first — paying particular attention to the scale and proportion of the piece. Once I have it drawn, I start processing in my mind the best way to get it built. I usually have a good idea of how I will go about it and make little hand sketches along the way when I need to make sure critical dimensions and joinery will work. As I mentioned in my kitchen stove hood post, I sometimes go further with 3D modeling if I don’t want to take chances. The bookcase was pretty straight forward so I just worked from my initial 2D drawing.

I used Adobe Illustrator to create the 2D drawing you see below. I have a CAD (computer aided design) application that I use for home design but I really like Illustrator for things like this project. Why? I know how to use Illustrator from years of graphic design work and it also allows me to rapidly try different design possibilities more efficiently than my CAD program allows.

To get the scale right, I actually set my units to millimeters in Illustrator and draw as if they were inches. So, 4.5 millimeters equals 4.5 inches. Why not set the units to inches? Well, that would make my drawing extremely big on the virtual page and, in the end, all I really care about is accurate scale. Plus, millimeters seem to fit efficiently on the normal letter sized page in Illustrator for the size of the projects I build.

2D bookcase plan drawn in Adobe Illustrator

2D bookcase plan drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Once satisfied with the scale and proportions, I label all the key measurements, create a plan of attack, and start cutting wood. The piece in the photo below was built directly from my plan out of cherry veneers and solids. The veneers are over medium density fiberboard and can be ordered from most lumber stores. The fiberboard is heavy but is milled very precisely, which creates an ultra smooth surface when the factory veneers are applied. I find it quite fun to figure out how to build a strong piece of furniture while making it as light as possible. This piece was built in two pieces and then stacked in the room.

One of the toughest parts of this project was getting the finish to turn out right. Much of the piece is pre-stained before assembly. This means you have to keep track of what will be glued during assembly. If you stain where you expect to glue, the glue will not absorb into the connecting pieces, which generates a subpar bond. Also, cherry excretes oils that like to reject hand applied finish coatings. It was maddening to apply the cherry stain, especially to the solids, only to have streaks of it wipe off when hand applying the clear finish coat. After fighting with this phenomenon a bit, I went to spraying the final finish so the stain underneath would stay in place. Good old process engineering!

Original bookcase from 2D plan

Original bookcase from 2D plan

OK, now for the fun part. When we moved into our current house four years ago, I framed-in a recess in our study to accept a custom built-in bookcase. Being satisfied with the overall design of the freestanding bookcase I built five years earlier, I reopened the old drawing file, simplified the design to go with the decor in the new place and simply scaled the drawing in Illustrator to fit the new framed opening. After scaling, I remeasured the millimeters, converted to inches, and viola! I was ready to build another bookcase. Since I was happy with the proportions of the original piece, I knew they would work if scaled to the larger opening. The photo at the top of the post is the finished built-in version of the bookcase. Note that I eliminated the credenza portion but the scale of everything is the same relative to the original piece. The finished piece is about 10 feet tall by 11 feet and some change wide. I will confess that I did not build the second bookcase. I have a good friend that is an amazing carpenter that built it because I was very busy at work. It was fun to see my design come to life without all the work of the original piece. It is amazing how what we learn in design applies to so many things. Accurate drawing, scale and proportion sound hauntingly familiar when approaching my painting projects. I am getting to feel that all creative endeavors are deliciously intertwined!

Category: Woodworking

Comments (2)

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  1. AutumnLeaves says:

    Gorgeous work here, Lee. I so love all wood made furniture, even contemplating at apprenticing for a furniture maker at one time (I only didn’t do it because of family needs at the time). You are indeed a man of many talents!

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Sherry. Sounds like you really want to tackle woodworking. Keep the desire going and I hope you have an opportunity to give it a try. It is very rewarding and very handy too!