Pinning things down

I rough dimensioned the wood for a new bookcase project almost two weeks ago, and of course I got distracted with a new project— putting together a turning set-up and researching that. There’s been a lot of back-and-forth on that front, with great difficulty getting all the correct parts together (the main hold-up being a set of casters that should arrive tomorrow). As a by-product, the shop is getting cleaner and cleaner as I avoid doing anything really meaningful, like finishing previous projects.

20131113-151044.jpgOh well. Part of the hold-up on the bookcase project has been unanswered research questions. The saga actually starts with a “arts and crafts inspired” bookcase built in January of 2012. It turned out okay, but it suffers a bit from a weakness to “racking” forces and oddly dimensioned shelves. The top shelf only holds tiny books, the middle shelf is a bit cramped, and only the bottom shelf is full useful. The joinery was a fun experience, because it is a tenoned frame with shelves attached by keyed tenons.


20131113-151201.jpgIt’s sort of cheating, in that the shelves don’t have any shoulder where they meet the frame; that’s why it will rack under stress, I think. It’s a good use of narrow lumber (uncommon in most modern plans) but though it turned out “pretty” it just isn’t up to the sort of design quality I’d like. I learned a lot making it, including not to trust “updated” designs much.

The “keys” that pin the shelves to the frame are so tiny that they are really a pain to make and attach and have never struck me as very strong.

This year, I built a stock Stickley #74 book rack that I was a lot happier with. The shelves are the right size, and using true keyed tenons and angled shelves on the top, it simply won’t rack at all. It also holds books better. On the heels of the #72 magazine stand that I built the year before, I am really growing to prefer just doing things in as historically accurate of a way as possible. Those two projects were most satisfying.

So, contemplating building a #79, I was really disappointed that there aren’t any “unimproved” plans out there. There was an article in Woodworking Magazine from Spring 2005, but it used pocket-screws. I’ve not got anything against pocket screws in plywood cabinets and such, but I really don’t want to use them for furniture. The improved version has a variety of features that seemed really odd to me. Chris Schwarz, responding to questions about the improvements, claimed that the changes were mostly to make it simpler for the beginner to build. If he were building it for himself, he said he’d use through tenons like the original. So, I started looking around for original examples, which raised a question I just haven’t been able to answer.

As Schwarz points out, this magazine stand was produced in a couple of different forms (odd for Stickley, at least according to the folks at Dalton’s). Some of them have pinned through tenons, some don’t.

Stickley 79 #1
Note the through tenons on top and bottom shelves, the middle shelves were most likely doweled because there is no trace of a dado.
In closeup, it's easy to see the pin in the front face that holds the through tenon in place.
In closeup, it’s easy to see the pin in the front face that holds the through tenon in place.


The interesting detail for me, after looking at this type of joinery on other pieces at the Stickley Museum, is that the pin face that shows is impossibly huge given the size of the shouldered through tenon. It’s 3/8″ (I measured on another piece) while the tenon is only 1/2″ thick. If the tenon were of constant diameter, there would only be 1/16″ of wood on either side of the tenon if it passed through.

That’s idiotic– and Stickley seldom if ever used “dummy” pins on his furniture. So, the pin must be turned down or be a cover for a screw. Greene and Greene used that technique, but not Stickley.



I think the easiest answer is that it is a dowel pin turned down from 3/8 to 1/4, either in a taper or a step. It would be impossible to tell without an x-ray or destroying a piece.



Stickley 79 #2
No pins on this one either
Stickley 79 #4
No pins here

I’ve been scratching my head over this for a while. It’s not just this particular piece, it’s a feature of several other kinds of Stickley casework. The really curious thing though, is that it’s not constant from one example to another.

Stickley 79 #3Stickley 79 #4 detail

This is another pinned example; also, I have noted that some examples of pinned casework do use 1/4 dowels instead of 3/8″ So, I don’t know what I want to do here. Doing some work with calipers and a calculator, it also seems that the original shelves are only about 8″ apart, so Schwarz’s three rather than four shelf version makes better sense with modern books. I suspect that’ I’ll probably just use 1/4″ dowels and three shelves, rather than trying to be strictly authentic.