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Dovetailed Bookcase Cambria Heights NY

This bookcase is just six boards held together using one elegant joint: the tapered sliding dovetail. Dovetails join the shelves to the sides and the sides to the top. This joint has a well-deserved reputation for being fussy to cut and fit, but I’ve devised two jigs so easy to use that you can’t go wrong.

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Dovetailed Bookcase

Dovetailed Bookcase

No screws, no nails---tapered sliding dovetails hold it all together.

by Luke Hartle

Simple, beautiful, strong. This bookcase is just six boards held together using one elegant joint: the tapered sliding dovetail. Dovetails join the shelves to the sides and the sides to the top. This joint has a well-deserved reputation for being fussy to cut and fit, but I’ve devised two jigs so easy to use that you can’t go wrong. 

I used 1-1/8-in.-thick wood for this bookcase because it makes the piece look strong and substantial. However, using my jigs, you can make the bookcase from 7/8-in. boards. I built my bookcase from hard maple. It doesn’t have a dominant grain pattern, like red oak, so the exposed dovetails are easy to see. They look terrific!

Prepare the Stock

Glue up and mill the shelves (A), sides (B) and top (C) to final width and length (Fig. A, Photo 1). All the pieces are equal to or less than 12 in. wide, so you can run them through a planer to even up the joints. To succeed with the dovetail joinery, it’s essential that all these parts are dead flat. Use a crosscut sled to ensure the ends are square (see “A Simple Crosscut Sled,” AW #87, June 2001).

Rout the Tails

Use my shop-made dovetail jig to make perfectly tapered dovetails on the shelves and sides (Photo 2; Fig. B, below). You’ll find complete information on how to build and use my jigs in “Tapered Sliding Dovetails” .  Note that a joint’s wide end goes on the front of a shelf but on the back of the side (Fig. A, below). The shelves slide in from the front, so the exposed dovetails are the wide end. The top slides in from the front because the joint is stopped. Rout both ends of each shelf and the top end of each side.

Rout the Side Sockets

Lay the two sides together, like an open book, and mark the centerlines of the shelf sockets (Fig. A). Align the socket jig with these marks and rout all six sockets using my shop-made tail jig (Photo 3).

Assemble the Case

Sand the shelves and sides; then glue them together (Photo 4). Apply a thin layer of  glue to either the socket or the dovetail—it’s not necessary to spread glue on both parts. It’s easy to slide the joint most of the way home by hand, but keep a mallet or pipe clamp handy for the final push. 

Rout the Top Sockets

Be fussy when laying out the sockets in the top, because there’s little or no room for error. Mark the center of  the top dovetails on the sides. Turn the glued case upside down and place it on the top. Transfer the centerlines of the dovetails to the top (Fig. C. below). Line up the socket jig on these marks (Photo 5). Note that the jig’s narrow side faces the top’s front. 

Add the Top

Trim the side’s dovetails (Photo 6, Fig. A). Sand the top and glue it on (Photo 7). Round over all the edges of the top, sides and shelves with sandpape...

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