Shelve* nre »up|H>rted bv brass m eotter pins inserted in hole» in the four fir dowels.

Modular She I

I was looking after my neighbor's apartment and cat when the last big earthquake struck in San Francisco. Assessing the damage afterward. I found his floor-to-ceiling lx>ok-cascs (filled with record albums and heavy art books) Hat on their faces. Worse, there was no sign of his cat. My neighbor wasn't due back for a couple of weeks and the weather was warm, so I spent the next morning rather queasily pulling up hooks at random expecting to find something furry.

It turned out the cat had been hiding in the motor compartment of the refrigerator, but freestanding bookcas-es still make me a bit uneasy in this shaky city. Still. I'm practical, realizing where there arc books, there is a need for bookcases, so I designed one supported by dowels, as shown in the photo. I just hope there arc no cats around when the next quake strikes.

This is not a conventional bookcase, but a series of modular units that can be arranged in different ways according to changing needs. Iiach shelf has two dovetailed end pieces the equivalent of bookends to prevent things from falling off. These pieces are graduated in height from 9 in. at the bottom to IVi in at the top. This trick is often used on chests of drawers

Shelve* nre »up|H>rted bv brass m eotter pins inserted in hole» in the four fir dowels.

Modular She I

Adjust to Any Height and makes the bookshelf appear less top-heavy.

The shelves are supported by four 1 Vvin. dia. fir dowels that have a scries of H-in. dia. holes drilled on &-in. centers. The shelves can be arranged at any height since they are held in place by te-in. dia. by 1 '/¿-in. brass cotter pins inserted in these holes. Brazing rod of the same diameter would work, t<x>.

Modular Possibilities

The shelves lend themselves to a variety of arrangements. I made a set for my daughter, who chose to rest the bottom shelf on the floor and arrange the remaining shelves at convenient heights for books and oddments.

Another option is to omit the supporting dowels altogether and simply stack the shelves upon each other. In this version, the bottom shelf sits on the floor and each pair of end pieces bears directly on the two below. If you take this route, I would suggest connecting each shelf to the one below it with '/«-in. dia. brass pins set in holes drilled vertically in the end pieces. This will prevent any sideways movement.

An option I used was to make a single shelf, which can fit the back of a desk to hold books, or be supported on wall brackets to hold books, plants, and so forth. Such a shelf might also work nicely in an entry-way, where caps and mittens can be thrown on top and coats and jackets hung from hooks screwed into the underside of the shelf.

If you make the freestanding bookcase, I strongly recommend you attach it to the wall with metal brackets, even if you don't have the San Andreas Fault ruiming through your backyard. This is especially important if you have small children or climbing cats.


This is not a difficult piece to make, so I'll just outline the sequence of steps and point out trouble spots.

I made the shelves from Douglas fir, a wood widely available in California and one that matches the fir dowel rods. However, you could use most any species—hardwood or softwood— although I would steer clear of timbers too soft to cut cleanly with a chisel, such as Eastern white pine.

Use stopped holes for top shelf. ^

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