The Bookcase

Last Sunday afternoon I began trying to put the bookcase together. This bookcase, which once belonged to my great-great-great grandparents, presumably in the 1840s, was in about 30 pieces, all unmarked. It was a giant jigsaw puzzle — with no photo on the box!

Moreover, the bookcase was hand-made so all the pieces were slightly different. I gradually began fitting pieces together.

As I built upward I saw that during its years in storage, humidity had caused water damage. Many of the pieces are mottled and stained. Someday I will look into refinishing it.

It was a long process of first trying to imagine the layout and then trying to match holes and shadows.

I did a lot of building, tapping pieces together with a rubber mallet, and then taking them apart when I realized I had it wrong.

The bookshelves rest on hand-cut brackets that slot into hand-cut tracks. Naturally, not all the brackets fit each track. I did a lot of testing brackets into slots.

One bracket was missing. Nick kindly cut me a new one out of a scrap of oak flooring.

I finally figured out that two posts were door dividers. Notice all the dowel pins sticking up along the top of the various pieces, and the sag in the front posts.

I knew the bookcase’s structural stability came from the base and the crown. But how could I put on the crown at 7’6″ with no one else at home? Moreover the crown required eight-inch bolts to be inserted from the top, and there would be only four inches of clearance between the crown and the ceiling. How to do it?

I chewed my lip, hands on my hips, staring at the pieces.

At last I inserted the bolts in each end of the crown and then slit pieces of stiff cardboard. I pulled the bolts up so that they did not hang below the crown, and wedged them in place with the cardboard. They stuck up about three inches. It was going to be very, very close.

Then I lifted one end of the crown to the top of a ladder, walked underneath it, climbed up on the bookcase base, and hoisted with my arms. With some sweat and wiggling, I got all the holes in the crown lined up with the dowel pins in the uprights, pulled out my cardboard scraps, and the crown dropped down to fit together.

I did not tighten the bolts because at that point I belatedly realized that the glass doors, too, were on pins, not hinges. Meanwhile, of course the three doors were all different sizes. I spent twenty minutes staring and measuring, trying to understand how they fit. In the end I managed to pull up the front of the crown and install one door, but knew that to try to install a second would be foolhardy, as the first would fall out and smash.

On Monday when Jerry arrived, Lucy, Jerry, and I installed the other two doors. That was when I discovered that one of the two upright dividers was upside down. The dividers were not uniform, either, and the doors only fit together with the divider a certain way. The other way.

It also dawned on me (no spatial awareness, remember?) that obviously the shelves could not be inserted after the doors or even the dividers were in.

To fix these two oversights, I knew I was going to need a crew. One to lift the crown, someone to hold each one of the three doors, someone to pass in the shelves (they too are hand-cut and only fit in a certain way). It would also be nice to have someone to stand on a ladder to check the top pins, and then squint at shin-level, to check the bottom ones.

It was a busy week and the days slid by.

Yesterday was Nick’s birthday. At the end of the work day, after wiping birthday cake from our lips, Nick, Jerry, Mike, Lucy, I, and Dan the electrician trouped to the bookcase and manned our stations. Jerry is 6’4″ so he lifted the crown. The rest of us carefully did our parts, reversing the post, passing in the shelves, matching pins with holes. Hooray! It all fit together and after the men left I tightened the crown bolts.

This morning I washed the grime from the glass doors. It still needs a dozen screws along the back of the crown and I plan to reinforce the shelves so they do not sag. However, the bookcase has risen again!

I know our mother would be happy. I am, too.



9 Responses to The Bookcase

  1. Jenna says:

    What a beautiful piece of furniture! Perfect place for it!

  2. Mac West says:

    Yay Sel, it looks wonderful there. Congrats on your assembly skills. Mom would be thrilled!

  3. Elaine Murphy says:

    If only that bookcase could talk! The history that it has is wonderful…a beautiful heirloom…enjoy it

  4. Elaine Murphy says:

    Selden, Ed says the bookcase is beautiful no you did yeoman job putting it together. He suggests you find the studs and get long screws and fender washers and screw it to the wall. Should it fall with books in it, it would hurt someone.

  5. Shawn says:

    What a beautiful piece. The family history only makes it more lovely. You are collecting some treasures in that house. Think of the stories your kids will tell about their mom driving all over the countryside to put your house together!

  6. Newly says:

    The new Faunsdale room! It looks wonderful. Mom would be SO HAPPY. xoxo

  7. Kimberly says:


  8. Missy says:

    Beautiful. Well done on getting it all together!

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