Introduction: Classic Oak Book Press W/Dovetails

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This solid oak book press (an invaluable tool when doing bookbinding, but also useful for a variety of tasks such as printing, pressing leaves and flowers, and doing various tasks in the shop) is made with half blind dovetails using 2" thick lumber. It features an acme thread screw which was designed originally to be used in a Scandinavian style workbench vise. The pressing surface measures 13x13 inches which is plenty big for most bookbinding projects. All in all, this is a very sturdy and functional press that features classic construction. For a better perspective - make sure to watch the full build video that goes over every step of the process.

Step 1: Prepare the Wood

We are using white oak for this project, however any hardwood of decent thickness would work well. The first step is milling and cutting up the wood.

  • Bottom: 1 @ 17 1/2 x 13 5/8 x 1 3/4 inches
  • Top: 1 @ 17 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches
  • Sides: 2 @ 10 1/2 x 4 x 1 3/4 inches
  • Press: 1 @ 13 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 2 inches

These are the tools that are primarily used for the woodworking - a dovetail saw, coping saw, marking knife, chisels, small tri-square, and calipers - both precision dial calipers and these classic interior and exterior calipers.

Step 2: Mark Out Dovetails

The press is constructed with half blind dovetails connecting the sides with the top and the bottom pieces. The first step is marking out the dovetails on all sides of the wood. Because the lumber is so thick, it's important to mark all around, or else the saw can easily drift and it would be difficult to see.

Step 3: Cut the Tails

Begin by marking out the lines with a marking knife, and then using the saw. Since the dovetails are so chunky, we're just making two tails for each side, so there's only one middle section to remove with a coping saw and the chisel.

Step 4: Cut the Pins

Once the tails are complete, use the board and mark out the half blind pins. Make sure to mark out all the pins and tails (a-a, b-b etc...) to make it easier to attach later. The tricky thing when making half blind dovetails is that when you're sawing the lines on the pinboard you have to go at an angle, because you can't saw all the way through. So that means you finish the cut with a chisel. It can be hard to see if the cut is square in the back, so it's good idea to ensure squareness using the depth guide on the dial calipers and your square. Along the same lines, these interior and exterior calipers really come in handy for checking that the distances of the pins and tails are the same throughout, cause again, this thickness makes it much trickier, as opposed to if you're working with thin wood.

Step 5: Carving Out for the Screw

The next step is carving the top piece out for the metal screw plate so it can be inset. Basically, mark out the plate, and use a chisel (and plough plane if you have one) to clean out this section about 1/4 inch down. Drill a hole through the center that is big enough to allow the main screw to pass through.

Step 6: Aluminum Plate for the Press Piece

To keep the wooden press block attached to the screw, we'll be using a piece of aluminum. First step is drilling a hole in the center of the metal, and then cutting it into a square. At this point, mark a line through the center hole and cut the plate in half.

Step 7: Carve Out for the Plate

Find the center of the press piece, and mark out the outline of the two aluminum pieces. Carve out the section enough so that the plate will be inset.

Step 8: Glue Up

Glue together the sides and the top and bottom pieces. Also, for a decorative touch, we decided to glue on some thick bolivian rosewood to the press block to provide some contrast. Once dried, a chamfer was cut on the the press block with the table saw to provide a nice detail.

A thin piece of bolivian rosewood was also prepared (by gluing two sections together) which will be used to cap the metal plate and provide a decorative touch.

Step 9: Turn a Handle

For a handle, a piece of white oak was used on the lathe that was of the right size to fit through the holder attached to the screw. To cap the handle off on both sides, two knobs were made.

Step 10: Attach Handle

To attach the handle, first screw on the metal flange attached to the screw, then slide the handle through and glue on the knobs on both sides.

Step 11: Top Cap

To hide the top screw section, and add a decorative touch, a cap piece was added - a piece of oak, square with a hole drilled through the middle - faceted and rounded over with a plane and chisel - attached with screws from underneath.

Also, for a finishing touch, the sides of the press were marked out and shaped with a spoke shave and chisel.

Step 12: Finish

For a classic finish, we used an oil polyurethane on all surfaces. First one regular coat, then once dried, a second coat was added using a piece of sandpaper to achieve a smooth finish,

Step 13: Rubber Feet

To ensure better friction, rubber feet was attached to the underside of the press. This is a rubber mat, originally purchased at a farming supply store which was cut in sections and glued on underneath the press.

Step 14: Final Assembly

Once the finish was dry, it was time to finally assemble the whole press together, by adding the screw, metal plates, wooden top plate etc...

Step 15: Sign

To add a nice personal touch, we decided to cut a little sign on the cnc machine in rosewood and attach it to the press.

Step 16: Conclusion - Watch the Video

To see how the press finally turned out and how it works, make sure to watch the video that also goes over all the steps of creating this project!