It’s more a vernacular bookcase really. Something locally designed and built to last at a fair price without going cheap in any way. The thing is it is self-assembly, solid wood, manually, mentally and emotionally demanding/stimulating, but all in the most positive doable thing to do which is more than I can say for the one often made by or pronounced with the four-letter word, wrapped in a cardboard flatpack carton, and assembled with a single allen key (hex wrench USA).

I designed this for those who want to own a bookcase, display unit or tool stowage unit with a view to getting totally immersed in the whole and wholesome process of DIY making of it without resorting to using only a hex wrench. My premise that everyone wants to grow something, cook something and make something from seed, scratch or real wood is at the core of this. Making a bookcase is no small project but when you can make it using only one repeated joint type 20 times and, AND, use only seven or eight hand tools you may well already own, from real wood you bought from your local supplier of construction grade softwood, suddenly, surely, it fits the bill. 16 studs oughta do it too if you’re building a case three feet wide, 10″ deep and three feet wide as is mine.

Here’s the thing. It will take a few hours of physical energy, but most likely much less than you might spend in the gym and you will be producing more than just physical muscle. Unlike in the gym, you will be making minute by minute decisions, your mind will be much more alert rather than numbed by boredom and, AND, all of the senses will be transmitting information from the three dimensional endeavour you are working on, working with, working in. It is a BLAST! Stretches, pulls, compressions. They are all right there at the ends of your arms, legs and then all bits in between. Your core muscles or immersed in full training to say nothing of your brain muscle/chemistry too.

What are core muscles? These are the major muscles of your pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Then too there are the minor core muscles which include your latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius. Not muscles we general give much attention to but there they are doing their bit in the planing and sawing of wood, the lifting, twisting and moving of wood. The more the case comes together the more weight you end up lifting. Even in the application of finish, the sanding and such you are constantly engaging every one of muscles in your body and that without reserve. In the core muscles you have 35 muscles alone. Imagine working 650 muscles in refined synchrony. Beyond that then there is the brain, the cerebrum of which transmits information to work the muscles. The brain is not a muscle but an organ and of course it the most important organ in the body.

That said, the brain seems apt to work like a muscle in that it muscles its way around the body through the neurons to improve different cognitive functions like making the memory recall information for our use minute by minute or perform maths and such as we work the wood. Neurons  as I understand them at least, are electrically charged cells in the nervous system that work as sensory processors and transmitters of all information received to direct the working of our bodies to do the necessary work. As with our core muscles, neurons are the core components of the brain, the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. It’s through the neuron as or of the brain that all the nerve cells in the body fulfil their obligations to perform as drawn on for us to perform our tasks.

So here we are, building a bookshelf and exercising our whole being without getting on a treadmill, be that the treadmill of mass manufacturing or the treadmill that expends energy purely for the benefit of exercising because, well, our normal day jobs do not require or allow physical work much any more.

As a long term diabetic my work has saved me thus far. I have never been particularly overweight and my working gives me every kind of exercise I need in a given day to keep me lithe, supple, strong and very healthy. One minute I am down on my knees (not a bad place to be), and then I am reaching to lift wood over my head to spin it mid air for working an opposite side. Ripping down three to seven foot lengths gives my upper body and lungs a good workout to stress test me through and through. In this bookcase I found myself several times a day out of breath but not because I am not fit, more because of the high-demand exertion it takes to do that ripping, planing, lifting, spinning and just generally working the wood. To be honest, I enjoyed it, and tonight, Saturday at 5pm, I looked back in the shop and saw the completed bookcase, the final finish, the day’s clean up and the drawings on my drawing board and, I must say, once again, it felt pretty fulfilling.


  1. Stephen McGonigle on 2 November 2019 at 9:38 pm

    As ever, fabulous and to the point. True beauty as well in the simple clean lines of this bookcase. Thank you once more for your encouragement.

  2. Tony DeRosa on 2 November 2019 at 9:56 pm

    Awesome Paul! Thank you.

  3. John on 2 November 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Hi Paul do you intend to do a tutorial on the “dovetail tester” please, using Masterclass

    Thanks john

    • Paul Sellers on 3 November 2019 at 9:54 am

      I do and I am working on it. We’ll film it next.

      • John2v on 3 November 2019 at 12:43 pm

        Thank you for taking the time to reply Paul, I’ll look forward to that.

        I have just completed a box 6″ x 8″ x 21/2″ high from an oak off cut 11/4″ wide by ex 1″ x 8′-0″ long. I passed thru my bandsaw to give 11/4″ x approx 3/8″ thick….these two halves passed thru my thicknesser.
        Then I book matched the grain. Corners of box are mitred with mahogany veneer in saw kerf.
        Lid, again book matched 5 pieces….rubbed glue…..abso perfect
        Bottom line is….really chuffed with my hours of work…..thanks to your teaching (apart from thicknesser!)
        My Grandaughter at uni will love it

        Thanks john

  4. Peter Littlejohn on 2 November 2019 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you for the biology lesson “Doctor” Sellers, that really explains what is happening within us while we work, both physically and mentally …… now we can return to our woodworking with a new sense of what we are actually doing.

    Having a heart condition now days (low blood pressure) I find myself quickly expiring while exerting myself with most physical work, which I was quite capable of a few years ago. Having a seat handy to rest in and catch my breath is part of my toolkit now. But the joy and satisfaction of making something is still the best thing I can do, so I don’t intend to stop for sometime to come.
    I’m sure there must be more gravity now days….so much easier getting down (fall), BUT much more difficult getting up again…. 🙂

  5. Thomas Hubler on 2 November 2019 at 11:33 pm

    I like the design of this vernacular bookcase. It looks like it’s 2x lumber. I’m needing a bookcase and do not like anything I see in the box stores.

  6. nemo on 3 November 2019 at 12:51 pm

    ‘Some assembly required.’ (Batteries not included).

    Read this post with much interest as I intend to build a bookcase for the living room. It answered most of the questions I had, plus a few more I didn’t know I had. I’m tending more towards oak or beech, but the pine looks better than I had imagined.

  7. Chris D. on 3 November 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I spotted this at the bottom of the post, and couldn’t help but wonder about it:

    “chemistry of serratonin, dopamine”

    • Paul Sellers on 3 November 2019 at 2:54 pm

      Forgot to take that out. Had planned on sharing the significance of these.

  8. Kathleen Basiewicz on 3 November 2019 at 9:13 pm

    In the 3rd pic it shows like the middle of the bookcase and it appears that the front left corner shows a notch, but I don’t see that anywhere else. Is it just the way the pic was taken and if not, what is that notch for?

    • Ken on 3 November 2019 at 9:43 pm

      The notched pieces are shelves. The notch lets the front of the shelf come a little past the end of the stopped dado.

    • Paul Sellers on 4 November 2019 at 9:01 am

      Kathleen, This step allows the shelf to cover the joint line where otherwise the shelf on the leading edge, butting up against the fore edge of the housing dado, would be uncovered and any inaccuracies in the cut would show. It also ensures that should for any reason the shelf shrink it would result in leaving an obvious gap. This prevents that altogether. Remember that not all woods will have equal proportions of moisture in the grain when you buy it so this can and does happen.

  9. keithM on 3 November 2019 at 10:33 pm

    Love it. Gotta take this list into my doctor next time I have a physical and he asks if I “exercise”

  10. Michael Geiger on 4 November 2019 at 6:52 am

    Can attest to this. Lately my appetite has been diminishing. But when I’ve spent even just an hour doing a bit of woodworking (currently prepping very tough stock for my workbench all by hand) I get really hungry, which to me is evidence that I’ve been using my body and brain and it needs refuelling.

    Thank you Mr Sellers for your amazing content. It has literally changed the course of my life.

  11. Martin Schulman on 4 November 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Pail- any fchance to get the dimensions of this lovely case?

    • Paul Sellers on 4 November 2019 at 12:19 pm

      Just finishing them up and checking them out.

  12. Wheet. on 4 November 2019 at 6:25 pm

    “Then too there are the minor core muscles which include your latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.”

    I thought Gluteus Maximus was the part Russell Crowe played in Gladiator.

  13. Scott Thieben on 4 November 2019 at 11:09 pm

    Totally different subject, but have you any experience with or knowledge of Infinity brand wood body planes? I think they are made in the Czech Republic by Piney Company. Thanks.

  14. C Fenton on 5 November 2019 at 12:17 am

    A very timely article and project. I am planning a bookcase for my wife out of Douglas fir to match two tables I made. I have a couple questions:
    Is the lumber full thickness construction grade (for me that’s 1-1/2” US) and if yes what does this do for the overall weight of the completed piece?

  15. Praki on 5 November 2019 at 5:47 am

    That looks just lovely. I would love to know more about the lumber used. I have bought dimensional lumber (pine) from the Home Depot and found it really hard to use. In contrast, your bookshelf looks like it’s made from a high quality lumber.

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