Introduction: Building a Roycroft Inspired Bookshelf

I'm a sucker for arts and crafts style furniture, and have always liked the design of the Roycroft magazine stand. It's angled in on both sides as well as the front. I love that it's deceptively simple, just sides and fixed shelves, but it's that slight angle that makes it so unique. (And tricky to build).

There are a number of ways to approach a project like this and as with any good project, I learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes, and enjoyed the process. (Mostly)

I'll try to point out alternative methods along the way, some that would work with different tools and some that are just plain easier or smarter.

Step 1: Tools, Tools, Tools... and Hardwood?

My hobby is woodworking, has been for a long time, so I use a variety of tools in this build in my ever evolving garage/ shop. That said, you could choose to build this using solid wood or plywood and get by with a very different set of tools.

Minimally a table saw and router are pretty essential to the way I built this, but if you have a nice quality plywood, you could also cut all the pieces from a single 4'x8' sheet of ply and build this with pocket screws. We'll cover some alternative methods and tools along the way, I used:

Table saw (with home made sled - and can I just say, if you have a table saw and haven't made a sled, get on that right way. There are multiple excellent instructables on the topic. Seriously... a sled... build one...)

Router - hand held and mounted in table

Clamps (if you are using hardwood and need to glue up panels)

Hand planes


Glue, marking gauge, pencils, chop saw.. the usual suspects...

Considerations for wood choice and materials:

I'm using plain sawn white oak in this build, mostly because I had enough of it that I found on sale a year back. Ideally I wish it was quarter sawn oak which is not only more beautiful but more stable. That would also have been far more expensive, but if you are going to put in the time to build a piece of furniture you think you'll keep for a very long time, the investment maybe well worth it. You could use a variety of hardwoods, an internet search will turn up similar examples in cherry and ash though mostly you'll find oak.

As mentioned you could also build this from plywood, choosing a hardwood veneered ply and edge band the sides and shelves, or perhaps choose to expose the plywood edge if you have a very high quality ply.

Step 2: A Note on the Plans

I included some measurements in metric for people who prefer to work that way. I found it helpful when cutting the shelves to length rather than trying to measure to the 32nd of an inch.

My design is taller than the originals that I've seen by a few inches, the final build height is around 5'-10".

Step 3: Panel Glue Up

As mentioned I'm using plain sawn oak, and had a variety of widths. My version of these shelves has side boards that are 14" wide at the base, so I needed to glue up some smaller boards to achieve that final width. I did have some fairly wide boards around 9", but the heavy arch pattern in plain sawn oak tends to stand out and I wanted to break it up, so I purposely cut the wide boards down into 2-3 boards to break up the large arch patterns and allow me to rotate and vary the grain in a hopefully more interesting way.

When gluing up panels it's most important that your edges are flush and meet up squarely. I tried to cut these very carefully for that purpose and used 3 boards in each panel.

I honestly don't have much experience with gluing up panels, I'm not sure if an expert can create panels that are dead flat right out of the clamps, but I had slight ridges in my panels. For the long panels I used a biscuit joiner to help keep things flat, though my understanding is this adds no actual strength to the joint, it's purely to help keep the long boards aligned.

I used Titebond 3 glue for this, (mostly because I was running low on Titebond 2) but they both work fine.

The shelves range from 10" to 13" wide, so required several glue ups as well. This was a lot of clamps! Actually, for this project I had just finished building some home made clamps, so this was a great maiden voyage to see how well they worked. (They worked pretty darn well! Phew..)

Speaking of clamps, you can see I used some clamping cauls for the tall panels. If you are using bar clamps or pipe clamps, alternate the direction of the clamps (top and bottom) as they will try to pull and curve your panel and use some clamping cauls to keep things as flat as possible. Also, don't crank down on the pressure, pull your panels together, you should have a bit of glue squeeze out, but if you started with pretty straight stock, you won't need a lot of clamping pressure.

For the lowest and widest shelves, I took 4 wide boards, made a large panel and then cut them into 3 wide shelves. In all, I had 4 separate panels gluing overnight. (and another I forgot the next day... and then another 2 days later to fix a mistake... but I digress.)

The point is if you are building from solid wood, get your glue on and get real cozy with panels.

Step 4: Cut Shelves to Size

Because of the slanted sides, each individual shelf is a different size in both width and length and each needs to be cut as precisely as possible. Although I'm using inches generally, I added the shelf lengths in metric which made it simpler to measure and cut to the millimeter rather than the 32nd of an inch.

We are cutting these shelves to the final maximum length, and in a later step we'll cut the slight angle on them. As always check and double check your measurements, I wrote the measurements directly on some of the boards to be sure, but beyond that, cutting these to length and width on a table saw is pretty straight forward. You could certainly use a track saw and miter saw as well.

Step 5: Flatten Those Boards

Do you happen to have a monster huge 16" jointer? If so, this step will be much easier, and also, I'm super jealous.. And also, can we be friends?

Most of these panels were generally flat, but my glued edges weren't perfect and needed some help which requires surfacing the entire board.

I flattened all these panels by hand with hand planes. Honestly, about half way through I was kicking myself for making the base 14" wide, and not 12" so it would fit through a standard planer. I do enjoy using hand planes, and I also need the practice, so enough complaining.

The basics are to use a longer hand plane, say a #5, to go across the grain and generally flatten the board, then using smoothing plane to go with the grain taking light cuts and remove your cross grain marks.

There are mechanical planer jigs that can help flatten wide boards like these, or get one side flat by hand and run the flip side through your mechanical planer. Most shop planers will only take a 13" wide board though, so again, can't take those 14" wide side panels. Back to the hand planes.

I imagine there are some pretty amazing woodworkers out there that can take a board straight from hand planes and it's smooth as glass. That's definitely not me, so I finished by taking 80 and 150 grit sandpaper to each panel with a random orbital sander.

Step 6: Cutting the 3 Degree Slant on the Side Panels

That's right, 3 degrees is the magic angle for these shelves. I didn't try to get out a protractor and extend a line, this is where the plans make life easier. Cut the side panels to their finished height at 5'-9", mark the base at 14" and the top at 10 3/8" and draw a line with a long straight board.

If you have a track saw, you can just clamp your track and cut directly to the line. I did something similar using a table saw. I used a simple L-fence that is set above the height of the blade and positioned exactly to the edge of the blade.

Now using double-sided tape I affixed a long straight board exactly on the pencil line I previously drew and this acted as the guide, running against the L-fence to cut the correct angle.

Step 7: Cut the Through Tenons

This is fairly straight forward, and could also be done with a hand saw. I drew the layout marks on the boards, though really only needed to do one side because of how I cut them.

Using the table saw sled I positioned my stop block and the blade height correctly to make each cut, and cut each side on each board before making the next adjustment and cuts. When I created the plans I kept these measurement similar to make this simple. Each tenon is 2" wide, 1.5" from the back and 1.25" from the front, on both the bottom and top shelf.

Then I made a few quick cuts on the table saw to take away some space and finished cutting the interior away on the bandsaw. A coping saw, scroll saw or even a jig saw could complete this.

Step 8: DON'T Stain Your Project at This Point

I jumped ahead and added some aniline dye to dry overnight. My rational was thinking it would speed up the project overall as the remaining work and joints wouldn't be seen so the typical finishing process that requires long drying times could be expedited.

Foolish mistake. While generally my rational may have been sorta true, it caused a lot of unanticipated problems, made my layout pencil lines harder to see for the rest of the project and didn't account for some details added at the end.

I'm not going to show final stain/ finishing in this build, but have to own my mistake at this point so the pictures make sense moving forward.

Step 9: Shelf Pins, or Tenons, or Biscuits, or Dowels... All Require Layout Lines!

There are a number of ways to hold the shelves in place. Because of the geometry, you obviously can't have moving shelves, though you could simply use traditional shelf pins drilled in at a 3 deg angle that hold up the shelves. For a simple method you could also use pocket screws as previously mentioned.

You could also use a biscuit joiner or Festool domino joiner set at 3 deg and cut slots for the shelves that way. Honestly, all of these methods are far simpler than the approach I took which is using large floating tenons. Sometimes we build a joint in a certain way just to see how well it works or try something different, and this was the case here.

Whatever method you choose, start by drawing your layout lines. When I created these plans I drew the shelf spacing to align from the bottom of each shelf at simple measurements. Starting from the base, make sure you are referencing the back and mark each shelf. Because this is the bottom of each shelf, if you choose to build with biscuits or dominos, you can use this line directly for your base reference.

Step 10: Angled Router Jig.

With my lines in place, I needed to create a jig that would hold a router at the correct 3 deg angle while cutting the mortises for each shelf. I started to think about creating a block that would hold another board at the right angle when I remembered the cut-offs from the wide side panels. I could simply use those as they were already cut at the correct angle. I matched them up and cut them so they were exactly the same.

The base itself must be square on all sides, then attach with some brad nails or screws the router guide and the sides. If these are attached exactly in line with the base, then everything stays square. I then nailed in the angled guides. Because there were cut to line up precisely, I could attach them both using the front of the base as a reference to be sure the angle was maintained and they were spread wide enough to cut roughly a 7-8" mortise which will work for all shelves.

Step 11: Route the Mortises in Your Side Panels

To align the jig up correctly for each cut, first run your router along the jig to establish your cutting edge. Make sure your bit is set only deep enough to cut through the base of the jig, not into the work below. I didn't expand this opening, but it's easier to see your router placement if you cut a ~1" opening into the jig.

Now place the jig so it will cut down the center of one of your shelves and then make a reference mark on your panel at the front and back of the jig. With the front and back of the jig established, take a straight scrap piece of wood and mark 3 lines, the shelf base line, and the two marks for the front and back of the jig.

With this 'story stick' you can quickly align the jig for each cut. Simply use the story stick and line up the base line on the panel and your stick, then mark the front or back of the jig and place your jig exactly on that mark.

Clamp your jig in place and be sure it stays in place as you do, double check it is lined up with the correct mark when clamped and then route your mortise.

To route the 2nd panel, you'll need to pull the angled parts off your jig and re-attach them to the opposite side of the jig. Take a moment and make sure the final angle of the cut is correct for each panel. Lean the panels against each other in the right way to help visualize it if necessary, just take your time before committing to the cut.

You should also re-draw your story stick lines. In theory they still work, but best to be safe.

I created mortises that would be wider than the tenons I would use to allow for seasonal wood movement. Plain sawn boards especially are going to expand and contract so I have plenty of room.

Step 12: Route Out the Through Tenons.

Ok, so the process that I used was problematic and afterwards I realized just poor altogether. I'll show you what I did and a better method.

In my mind I was thinking to simply adapt our exiting jig instead of creating a new jig which would have been simpler and worked much better. Hindsight is a beautiful and frustrating thing.

I drew my reference lines directly from the boards. (As always, make sure you are referencing the backs of BOTH boards)

Using those lines I lowered the router bit until it was just barely touching the surface of the board and I could align it directly to the reference mark. Sounds simple, but it's tricky to see the lines with the router sitting on the jig and required back lighting with a flashlight and a lot of squinting.

I then routed to the edges in several passes of lowering the bit until I cut all the way through. As before, the jig needs to be reversed for the opposite panel.

To finish required chopping out the waist and corners and my results were ok, but were sloppier than I'd like and frankly quite a pain to set up and make each cut with our existing jig.


Create a new jig base and attach boards that will guide your router through the whole cut or cut an opening that you use with router template guides. You can re-purpose and use the angled runners on the bottom. I'll include a quick drawing of the idea. You still have to chisel or file out the corners, but it will be easier and more accurate to get it all in one pass.

Step 13: Mortises in the Shelves

Off to the router table. We haven't cut the slight bevel into the sides of the shelves yet, and it's to make this step easier, we are going to simply route out several passes to make a ~1 inch deep mortise. That's probably overkill, it doesn't need to be so deep.

Set your fence so you can take a pass directly down the center of each board. Clamp a stop on the fence for the back of each board, and if you haven't already, it's a good time to mark the back of each board so you always start from the correct orientation. Because each board is different widths, you won't use a stop on the other side of the fence, but rather mark a position on your table where to stop pushing the board forward.

To set up the stop block and stop mark, reference the mortises we've already cut in the side panels to get a similar mortise in the shelf. It doesn't have to be exact, but it should be close.

Now run your boards through, flip end for end making sure to start with the back of the board against the stop block. I recommend running all your boards through with the router bit at starting height, then raise the bit and run them all through again. Rinse and repeat until final height.

One final note, I'm using a 1/4" bit, and routing this way doesn't leave anywhere for the chips to exit, so they get jammed up inside the cut and are a pain to get out, but do clear them out after each pass or they will be crazy hard to get out at the end. Pry them out with a screwdriver by hand or by hammer, and you may want to wear gloves when prying against those sharp corners. (But be sure to remove any gloves before going back to the router table where they are a hazard, don't route with gloves on!)

Step 14: Slight Bevel on Your Shelves.

By slight, I mean slight. You are cutting at an angle that will remove about 1mm off one side. Use an angle gauge to tilt your saw blade to 3 degrees, and use a miter gauge or sled to shave off just enough. Remember that the overall length of the board is correct, so you are trying to cut to where the blade will just touch or be shy of that long edge.

Now, breathe deep, and slow down, way down. Make sure you are taking the correct angle off the correct side. Draw reference or reminder lines on each board and be sure of each cut.

If your miter saw is set up accurately with a sharp blade, you could make these cuts there as well, in both cases just be sure you are cutting exactly perpendicular to the blade. I had to make some adjustments to get my set up dialed in.

This is also where you need to cut your side panel top and bottom, and that long board is tricky to maneuver. Use an extended sled or other method to cut safely.

Additionally, this is where that earlier cut off wedge can be useful. My saw blade tilts in only one direction, so one panel was easy to line up with the back as a reference, but the other panel wouldn't work. simply use the angle wedge to square up the front of the panel so you can make the correct cut.

Step 15: Super Wide Tenons!

When creating these tenons, be sure to consider grain direction. Floating tenons are often created with the grain running with the long edge, and for ours it's opposite, the grain running with the short side. This makes these tenons fragile until placed into the mortise, where they will be very strong.

I ripped some ~3" stock to 1/4" wide. The plan is to double up in each mortise rather than trying to create one 6-7 inch tenon. For my depth, I measured the depth of the shelf and panel mortises, left a little wiggle room in the measurement, set up the stop and cut a bunch of tenons. They fit great!

Step 16: Wedged Tenons

For the wedged tenons, we need to cut the opening. I cut mine at 1/2" from the sides, 5/8" back from the front edge and deep enough to be buried inside the panel. To make the layout lines quick, I used thin cardboard from a cereal box, and made an accurate template that I could easily transfer to each other tenon.

To cut these out you could use a forstner bit to drill the majority away and then chisel out the corners or if you have access to a mortising machine, use that. You could also use a scroll saw, always multiple ways to approach a task. After cutting the openings, I also took a file to the edges to soften them up, this oak splinters out pretty easily. I also chamfered the edges, a few by block plane which worked ok, but ended up running them on my router table with a guided chamfer bit to get cleaner results.

The wedges were a bit of trial and error, drawing a few configurations and refining it. With the openings cut in the through tenons, you can cut a few scraps, test them out and get an idea of a wedge shape that appeals to you. I finally found one, copied it for 8 wedges. Because I cut these all freehand, they weren't exactly the same, and some fit well and some took a bit of sanding down, but the goal is to have them fit snugly and also at the same height.

Step 17: Details and Assembly

For the detail at the base of the side panels, I drew the layout and used a jigsaw to cut. Jigsaw blades drift, especially when cutting through thick material, so don't make the mistake I did and cut through both boards at once. Layout and cut each board separately or be prepared to do a lot of filing work to get them to line up. I thought I was going to save some time by cutting both boards at once and turned out to be quite otherwise.

For the top cap of these shelves, I used boards that were thicker than my other stock, and added a bevel edge. This is a personal preference. A

To assemble the shelves, set a side panel on it's back and use the through-tenon shelves to hold it up. Insert all the floating tenons into the shelves and place them in sequence, then bring in the opposite side panel and work your way back and forth aligning and tapping shelves into place. Use some wedges to hold it secure and lift it vertically. Tap your remaining wedges into place.

These shelves sway a fair amount without the wedges in place, but once you tap those in it becomes quite rigid, even without gluing anything in place.

Because of this you can choose to add glue or you could leave it in a final state where it could be taken back apart for easier transport.

The shelves as I built them do have some movement to them, and when aligned at the back all line up correctly in the front, but if you do want to glue them in place I recommend gluing only the back tenon. Leave the front tenon un-glued to better allow for wood movement.

The top cap can be attached with screws if you want to have the option to disassemble, or with dowels glued into the cap that fit into drilled holes in the panels if you have an aversion to screws. Be sure to pre-drill for any screw holes if you go that route.

Step 18: Final Thoughts

When I created this design, I planned on adding thin drawers to the top and bottom most shelves to hold playing cards or writing materials. I may still do that, but based on your preference you could omit that very bottom shelf altogether.

As mentioned previously, this write-up covers the build, I'm not covering the finishing process. Currently these pics show the parts with the aniline dye color only.

There are many ways to finish and I'm a complete novice on finishing, so I use recommendations as found online. My plan for this build:

1 application of aniline dye, dry for at least 12 hrs. (I chose a fairly dark color, though that's purely optional)

1 application of oil based stain, dry for at least 24 hrs. (I plan to use a light oak tung oil blend)

2-3 applications of thinned oil based poly, several hours between coats or longer depending on how thin.

Finish by buffing it out with paste wax.

Because this comes apart, I can disassemble and finish all the part separately and avoid the hassle of all those corners.

As always, I know the mistakes better than anyone, and there are several for this project, but overall I'm really quite happy with it. I put it inside briefly with a few books to show scale, most likely it won't ever look this nice and clean in real use. :)

Please share any thoughts, suggestions or if you build something like this.


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