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Stickley Bookcase

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Stickley Bookcase

How to build a strong bookcase without a back.

By Laurie McKichan

When I'm designing furniture, I often turn to the Arts and Crafts era for inspiration. I love this style. It’s simple, but elegant. When a client commissioned me to build a small bookcase, I knew exactly what to start with: a photograph of a piece built by L. & J. G. Stickley around 1904.

This Stickley bookcase was perfect for my clients’ modern condo. They wanted a bookcase with an open back, so it could be accessed from both sides and used as a room divider. I changed the Stickley piece’s dimensions and design a bit, but kept the distinctive look of its side panels.

As it turned out, my clients moved just as I was completing their bookcase. They didn’t need a divider in their new living room, but they did need a piece to fit behind their sofa. The bookcase was a natural. It’s proven to be a very versatile design!

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Begin by routing double mortises in the legs. I’m using a Leigh FMT Pro, a jig which has templates of various sizes to guide the router. Many types of shop-made jigs can make these joints, too.

Click any image to view a larger version.


Rout similar mortises in the ends of the rails. This jig holds work both horizontally and vertically.


Mill some long, thin pieces to make loose tenons. Round the edges of these pieces to fit the mortises.


Cut the tenon stock into short pieces and glue them into the rails.


Assemble the bookcase’s side, without glue. Measure the distance between the rails. Cut the side panels to this length.


Cut biscuit slots in the ends of the side panels. Glue the sides together.


Plane the top of each side so the rails and legs are flush. Cut biscuit slots on the inside face of the top rails.


Make two “anti-racking" rails, and clamp them together. Cut a series of biscuit slots in their ends, to make one long groove. When you separate the pieces, the groove will run out the side of each piece (see inset, top left).


Cut biscuit slots in the upper rails to receive the anti-racking rails. Clamp the parts together using biscuits, but no glue. Align the ends of the upper rails with each other.


Glue the case together. Slide out the antiracking rails before the glue dries.


Spread glue on the ends and inner edge of the anti-racking rails, and slide them back in place. Clamp the rails to the sides.


Fasten the lower shelf and top. I like using shopmade wooden buttons, which fit into grooves in the rails. Buttons add a classy look–although you have to get on your hands and knees to see them!


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2010, issue #149.

August/September 2010, issue #149

Purchase this back issue.