My brother Bruce shipped me a magnificent wooden library ladder a couple of years ago (all the way from Bangor, Maine to California) that is 10 feet tall and rolls on a track. It's a beautiful ladder, made of red oak with ornate cast iron hardware for the rolling mechanism. I have been sketching designs for a full-size cabinet/bookshelf to go under the ladder in our living room for the past couple years, never quite ready to commit to a design, and have just begun construction on it this summer. It's going to be quite a monstrosity when it's done: 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep, and 14 feet tall! Here are some pictures of the construction in progress.

The pieces of the carcase are about 2-1/2" x 1-3/4" in cross section and are joined with 1-2" mortise-and-tenon joints everywhere they meet (there are 44 individual mortise-and-tenon joints in the base carcase alone!). You can see two finished joints and one mortise waiting for the matching tenon. The post in this case has three tenons sticking into it, which required some thought beforehand to keep them from running into each other or weakening the post. You can see that the mortise is offset to the left to allow the other tenon some room. The opposite mortise isn't deep enough to interfere with this one; there's about 1/4" of stock in between, as I recall.

After making one or two test mortises and tenons with hand tools, I ran to a nearby woodworking store (CB Tools in San Jose, quite an excellent store) and bought some machinery for making mortises and tenons.

The little circles visible in this photograph are actually marks made by the clamps, even though I had little vinyl pads on the clamps. I thought I could get away without juggling little blocks of wood under every clamp, but maybe not, in retrospect.

Here I've glued up the first of three sections of the base cabinet. You can see another assembly in the background waiting for the next round.

I turned it on end to glue the second and third assemblies, to make it easier to fit the pieces together and clamp them. The braces visible in the middle sections are going to hold up the single shelf in the lower cabinet when it's all done. At least that's the plan.

You can see the ladder in the background here (I did the gluing in the living room, in case I couldn't fit the final result in through the front door!)

As you can see, it's a pretty big structure. I'm 5-ft 12-in tall.

Back in position, with the glue dry on the assembly. It's waiting for sides, top, doors, etc.

Gluing up the top, which is made of solid cherry planks, about 3/4" thick, 5-6" wide, and 6' long. Just a simple edge-glue, then belt-sanded flat (thanks to Dan Mills for that suggestion). The newspaper is just to keep the glue drips from accidentally gluing the top to the frame before its time.

The top is not really secured to the frame; it has four small blocks screwed to the underside that register with corners of the frame, so it can't slide around. It's heavy enough to stay put other than that. There's no real need to screw it to the frame, and it will allow for some expansion and contraction without breaking anything (hopefully). The additional weight of the bookshelves that will sit on top of this structure will certainly hold it in place, in any case.

Here I've set in a solid cherry (1/2" thick) panel into the end of the cabinet; there's another one on the other end as well. I found some cherry backer board at a local hardware store, but had to edge-glue it (two pieces in the end visible, three pieces in the other end). I'm a bit worried it may warp, but it looks great right now.

These end panels are set into a 1/2" rabbet on the inside edge of the four posts and rails on the end, then held in place with little tabs of wood screwed to the inside, to allow the panel to float a little for thermal expansion. The tabs are a bit like the things that hold screens into windows.


  Cabinets / furniture / projects

Check out my Wood Shop

Click to see some of my Hard-Learned Lessons.

Back to Glenn's home page