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Form and Function

By: Phil Huber
Woodsmith Shop Season 15 Episode 2 Recap: Build a Better Bookcase

download The name given to a project usually describes its style and its function. Sometimes that can get in the way. The project in this episode bears the name bookcase. But we had a discussion around here recently questioning whether many people (younger folk, in particular) have many books. Along with that, is the idea that “bookcases” often hold a lot more than books.

The solution is a name that’s more fitting. However, a generic name doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it: storage case? Shelved organizer? Hmmm. There’s clearly more work to be done.

This bookcase strikes a different course on a couple typical bookcase stereotypes. First, most cases are pretty boxy, hulking pieces. Our version stands up on legs to create some breathing room underneath. From the side, you can see a tapered profile. This reduces the scale of the bookcase around eye level.

The tapering serves another purpose in that it helps organize the items on the shelves. Smaller items up top on the narrower shelves, larger bulky items go lower down.

And that plays into the other difference of this bookcase. Most bookcases feature adjustable shelves. The idea is that the shelves can be changed to suit what needs to be stored and displayed. The truth is most shelves are just set in place and NEVER moved again. This bookcase has fixed shelves creating graduated spaces that grow larger as you go down the case.


Watch the Episode: If the Woodsmith Shop isn’t on in your area, contact your local public television station. Or stream it here.

Download the Free Plan for this episode.


In Episode 1, we built a desk and wall cabinet as the starting point for a home office. This bookcase is designed to go along with it. Except for the plywood back and drawer bottom, it’s made from solid birch — a light, easy-to-work hardwood. Most of the joinery is tongue and dado. So take a look at the two options below for making dadoes.

This shop-made jig easily adjusts to cut custom-sized dadoes. It also includes a built-in clamp that secures it to a workpiece. And you can build it in an afternoon. WSM S15E02 Rack Maybe you don’t have room for a free-standing bookcase. This smart rack (above) rests on a desktop or shelf to hold a few favorites close by. Arts & Crafts styling give it a little flair.

The skills to create a dado by hand (below) are straightforward and quick to master. Here’s an approach that breaks down the process into essential steps. WSM S15E02 Howto

Published: Feb. 18, 2022
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