Category Archives: Simple Shelf Project

Why Hate End Grain?


In my recent shelf project I left a lot of end grain surfaces highly visible. In the hand tool world there seems to be a great deal of concern for “historical accuracy” in woodworking. Well, historically, it seems most craftsman preferred to cover or hide their end grain. “Secret” dovetails, stopped dadoes, and blind mortise and tenon joints were the norm (from what I have read). I don’t get it. I really like end grain.

You can learn so much about a board by examining end grain. From where in the tree did this board come? How was it sawn? How much movement can I expect? What direction will it likely bow or warp? How old was the tree? How quickly did it grow? Did it survive any droughts? I could keep going, but I think that gets the point across. End grain is very useful to the person building with it.

I really like the look of well finished end grain. I preferred planed, but sanded to a high finish looks good, too. I like looking at the growth rings. I particularly like to follow the grain patterns with my eyes as the wrap around the corners of the board in a way that veneered surfaces can not duplicate. It just screams – yes this is solid wood. This is not something that you have to be a wood nut to notice, it is readily apparent to even a casual observer.


I bought an antique chest a few years ago. The only reason I bought it was end grain. Why? The corners were thru dovetails so I could read the end grain. The sides of the chest were 20 inch wide boards! I figured that if we ever got tired of the chest I could recycle it into something else.

Considering my tastes I am luck that I live in the 2000’s, I’m my own customer, modern eyes like end grain, and I can do whatever I want.

Bob Jones


Completed Shelf


Well, here it is. It was a relatively quick project and it was a fun build. It was an original design that worked out nicely and my wife is happy with it.  Win Win.   It’s also nice that I gained more confidence with hand cut dadoes.


This shelf was necessary to pave the way for a new cherry dresser. It will be a similar size to the one pictured. I didn’t want a DVD player to sit on top of a new cherry dresser, because it would eventually ruin the color of the top as the new cherry darkens only surfaces that are exposed to light. I’ve seen pictures of cherry that was partially covered for a while and I don’t want that to happen to something that is going to take months of free time to build.  This shelf was so simple, I can replace it if that ever happens.  If you would like to see the rest of the build, click on the “simple shelf” category on the right.  I hope you found this info helpful.


Next up, a cherry “dresser” – or low chest of drawers.  Stick around!


Bob Jones

Finish – A one trick pony


When it comes to finishing a project there are literally 1,000’s of options. Take your pick.  My pick for the last several years is Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO, on the web).  I have used it on everything that I have built in the last few years. Workbench, tool cabinet, chest of drawers, chairs, benches, a table…  In the picture is everything that you need except the rubber gloves:  a can of BLO, a couple of cotton rags, and a wide mouth jar.  There was an excellent article written on this in Woodworking Magazine (I think the one with a “tricky stool” on the cover).  It is a great read.

Here is the process.

1 – Plane the surfaces clean (or sand them to 220 or so).

2 – Wipe on a good coat of oil.

3 – Wait ~10 minutes and wipe it all off.  This is the most important step.  Wipe all excess oil off the surface.  Any thick spots remaining will gel up and not be nice.

4 – Wait 3 or 4 days or until the surface is dry to the touch.

5 – Repeat steps 1 thru 4.

Stop when you are happy with the surface.  I have found that 6 coats looks real nice.  The article that I mentioned suggested 12 coats.  If you don’t have the patience for multiple coats, then do one coat of BLO and then use a mix of BLO, turpentine, and beeswax (equal parts of all three).  That builds faster and leaves more of a matte finish.  I like it almost as much as 6 coats of BLO.

Last Steps & Assembly


Time to complete the project. The finishing touches are simple for this shelf. Right now the shelf is the exact same width as the supports.  As the wood expands in width there is a small chance that the top would expand more than the supports and push them off the wall.  To prevent this I planed about 1/16″ off the back side of the shelf.  A rough set jack plane takes care of this in just a minute.



The end grain of the shelf needs to be planed, if you have not already.  The most challenging thing here is holding the board.  It was not a problem for my Moxon style vise.  See the lost art press blog for more info on that.  Notice in the picture that I am using a regular Stanley smoothing plane (3 or 4). Low angle planes work just as well, just take light passes with a sharp plane of your choice.







After treating the end grain I put a very light chamfer around the ends of the shelf. I did this with a block plane, but any plane would work. Watch closely and no guide will be required.  I think the chamfer I made was about 1/16in across, but just go until you are happy with it and it is consistent at the corners. That is the place where inconsistency will show the most.  I did not chamfer the long edges.




Now its time to glue it up.  I only put glue on about the front 3 inches of shelf.  The shelf can expand back and will always look right from the front.  Here I only have a clamp on the front – add one to the back, too.



After the glue dries it is time for the finish, but that will be the topic of another entry.

Bob Jones

Hardware Install


The only hardware for the shelf are the 2 brackets that mount to the back of the supports.  They will be screwed in after I cut mortices to hold them.  It is funny to me that I used more tools installing the brackets that I have used up to this point in the project.  Here is everything that I used.


Use the hardware to knife the outside edges of the mortise.  I used a wheel gage, but just the knife and a steady hand would do fine.  Next use a chisel to cut some relief in the waste area.


I went side to side since my chisel was not as wide as the mortise.  As far as chisel depth, just guess.  The mortice needs to be deep enough to cover the bracket and flat.  The exact depth does not matter since I can easily adjust the screws going in the wall for depth of the bracket.  After making the relife cuts, use your chisel and mallet to finish the mortise.  Try to get the bottom pretty flat.  Test fit with the bracket occasionally and use a careful hand.  No router plane needed, you can see flat.  This step should be easy after the hand cut dadoes.


Once the bracket sits flat inside the mortise, mark the holes using the bracket as a guide.  Here I have marked the center of holes to be drilled. I marked the center of the holes with an awl to ensure that the drill started in the right place.  I picked up this tip from Christopher Schwarz and my holes have been on target ever since I started adding this little step.  The 3 regular holes are for screws to hold the brackets, the elongated holes are relief for the screw heads that will be sticking out of the wall.  The size of the relief holes is not critical, just bigger than the screw heads.


Here the relief holes are drilled and I am ready to drill the holes for the mounting screws.  Note, the screws that came with the brackets were pretty small.  I used 1 1/2in screws for the top screw and 1in screws for the bottom 2. The top screw should bear most of the load and these longer screws made me feel better.

Bob Jones

Arching the supports


Now we move on to aesthetics.  That is really what separates “nice” furniture from wooden things cobbled together that never look finished.

I started by playing with different curves to get something that I thought looked about right.


Too skinny.


Too drastic. (Frye boots anyone?)


Ahhh, just right.  The prototype looked good so I loosely copied it to one of my supports.  This took a couple of tries.  I found freehand to be easiest for this.  I then used doulbe sided tape to stack both supports together and I sawed them with my bandsaw (I’m not totally against power tools).


Here the curve has been sawed into both supports and I have fixed them in my vise.  Next I used a rasp and file to get the curves closer to what I wanted.  Do this with the boards together so they will match each other.  I used the line as a guide, not a rule.  Once I was happy with the shape, I got out my spokeshave with a curved bottom.  It works much better than a flat shave for concave curves like this.


Always fun to make shavings.  The surface left behind by this spokeshave was nice enough to not require sanding.  That is really noteworthy because this is cutting into end grain.  Light passes – sharp blade.  Here is the result.




The board on the left has been shaved, the one on the right was rasped and filed.  Sandpaper is fine when you need it, but since I have a spokeshave I didn’t need it.

Bob Jones

Dadoes – easy hand cut joinery – Step 2


Now that the sides of the dado are defined with the saw it is time to chisel out the middle.  Yes, a chisel and a mallet.  It is not as slow as you may think.  First sharpen your chisel (only need 1).  Seriouly, this will not be possible with anything less than really sharp.  Anyway, first you want to use the chisel to remove the inside corners of the waste.


Do this with multiple light passes.  Go as low as the saw cuts.  The angle does not matter.  Work from the outside of the board in to the middle.  Once this is done, pick your chisel that is just narrower than the dado to be cut.  This dado was about 1 in wide and the closest thing I had was a 3/4in chisel.  Next, use your mallet and chisel to start to remove the waste in the dado.


Here I am making lots of chopping cuts to free up the waste.  The mallet will make a different sound when you reach the right depth, give it a try.  You see, as the chisel tip gets to depth, the chisel is digging into wider sections thanks to the slopping sides you just cut.


Now you can bring the chisel in from the outside horizontally to remove the waste.  Notice that I am using a yardstick as a batton to keep the board in place.  No fancy vise required.

With the chisel, start working across the board about 1/2 way to the full dado depth.  Be careful, the chisel will have a tendency to dive and make the dado too deep.  Take out the waste in several passes getting as close to the baseline as you dare.  HINT – the closer you get with the chisel, the faster the whole process is.


Here is where I stop. I can see the depth line, but just barely.  You can finish this by hand (with practice), but since I have a router plane that is how I finish it.


Just work slowly and everything will be fine. Set your stop on the router plane with the depth line of your dado.  Now, flip the board and work in from the other side.


Once both sides are finished, you can get the middle.  I do the middle in the same way, but I end up using the chisel bevel down more.  The middle is less critical since it does not show.  It is ok if the middle is a little deep.  Then the support board will touch at the outsides. It will be stable and look great.

If you test fit and the joint is too tight, don’t force it.  Remove the support baord and either widen the dado a bit with your SHARP chisel, or use a smoothing plane to remove a bit from the end of the support board.  Either method works, but remove a little at a time and test fit often.  Likely you will only need to remove wood from a section, not the whole length.


Cut the other dado and get ready to install hardware!

Bob Jones