The Jubilee House

A New Built-in Arts & Crafts Oak Bookcase in our Old House.

High Hopes for a Low Shelf


Amanda wanted a book case for her sitting room. Everything that we could buy new was… well horrible quality and ridiculously expensive. Couldn’t find anything antique to fit the space.

Solution: We took the wall apart and built one in using quarter-sawn oak. Then we dyed, stained and shellaced the finish to match the existing 100 year old woodwork’s patina.

A great new year project.

Two trips to the building supply (just before they closed for the holiday), and about 8 hours labour.


Cut existing baseboard out at a line dropped from the window end. Used a circular saw to start and then finished with a wall saw.


Reused baseboard to form the base for the new cabinet. Using level to form some point of reference in a world where NOTHING is level, straight, workable, or even. Except for the exposed 45 (ish) all corners are coped rather than mitered… a good cheat when angles aren’t perfect.


Used oak veneer panel to create back and sides, custom cutting everything and measured distances every foot because… well, there’s no perfect angles in this old house.


Big expense, 8 foot 1×12 red oak for the top. Much work on the ’45’ angle cut to match the pieces and the actual angle of the wall, which was more like 47.5 Used a coping saw to cut for outlet and then moved the electrical box forward to accommodate shelf. Cut quarter-sawn post for central support from two glued 1 x 2 oak boards.


Created internals to be as hidden as possible and not take away any shelf space while still making sturdy shelves for heavy books. Bottom and top shelf 14 inches, middle shelf 12 inches for balanced look and room for tall books.


Cut shelves from sheet of oak veneered plywood, near furniture grade. Attached quarter-sawn oak faces ripped from 1 x 2 to all shelves.


Dark Walnut stain over reddish wood dye base coat. Wiped ‘artistically’ to give sun and wear worn effect on edges and ends.


Reddish stain top coat.


Traditional amber shellac finish and sealer to match existing woodwork low gloss.


I didn’t really have the design worked out in advance so lots was just worked out as I went along. It was Amanda’s idea and I knew what she wanted as she had ‘wished’ for it for a while. And we had a couple visioning conversations.

Final details… finding the blue paint to touch up the walls where there was a little exuberant stain splatter plus cleaning and dusting – to save time I set up all the tools and cutting in the room. It’s kind of a shambles now.

Final thoughts on this quick project. Though furniture grade woodworking skills are a plus, this is not a project for perfectionists; the lines and angles of the old house lend themselves more to boat carpenters than fine furniture – lots of trial and error.

Same with the finish. We were looking for a finish that would match the patina of the old. In guitar building such a worn finish process is called “relicing” when restoring or recreating vintage guitars. There are lots of ways to approach it and it’s a fun artistic project if you approach it with the right spirit, which I would describe as loose.

My dad used to call this relaxed style to fine work “Bermuda”. He did 30 years in the Royal Canadian Navy in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and traveled many times to Bermuda, which he found a very artistically relaxed place back in those days.

One of my favourite singer/songwriters, Jonathan Richman also visited Bermuda and maybe said it better in his song Down In Bermuda…



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