Introduction: Organic-looking, Screw- and Glue-free Working Table and Shelf

Here, I am presenting my recently (almost) finished shelf. First of all, I have to excuse for my german English - I hope you can understand my explanations. Furthermore, I want to highlight that I am biologist and not carpenter, and I don't like to read - so everything is invented by myself (and of course from memories). Last but not least, I am severly handicapped with three fingers on the left and a myoelectric prosthesis on the right.

But now, I will first introduce you to the furniture and the construction.
Around a year ago, my girlfriend wished for a proper working and cutting table combined with a shelf for her fabrics and sewing notions.The location for the thing was set already: the 80cm wide gallery in our little staircase. Back then, I quickly came up with a sketch. On this basis, I ordered the wood from a neighbor offering wood cutting as a service. As wood type, I selected Robinia. The boards were then stored first in the house to adapt to the conditions, and later in the barn for processing. You may wonder about the protruding piece on the left side: this is thought as a little laptop holder, where I could work while the kids are sleeping and the lady is sewing ;-)

Step 1: Defining the Construction

However, I was not happy with my design yet. Not visible in the sketch, I planned a boring shelf with screwed board holders and with screws to fix the boards. Besides this, I was suffering from the following situation: the boards were 20cm but the shelf was planned to be 40cm. So I had to combine two boards for one shelf element. I was talking to some friends and experts suggesting either a lammello fixation or just glueing. Both done before shortening the boards. But my saw just takes 35cm which again would put me in trouble.

Now I have to make a little excursion: my hobby carpenter's career started around 4 years ago with my girlfriend wishing for a book shelf for her huge and growing library. Back then, I came up with a glue- and screw-less construction design that also doesn't need a triangular fixation (like a cardboard back plane).
Back then (2016), I didn't know of Instructables and hence haven't made a detailed photo log book of the construction but see picture. The vertical elements are tree trunk pieces with approx. 10cm diameter which guarantees for a good stability. The boards and the thrunks are then fixed with each other by 8mm metal dowels. The holes have been cut with a drilling machine adjusting the angle just by hand. The position of the the top trunk was determined using chalk on the metal dowel. It was my first big project, but i just made the design and the final drilling and mounting, the woodwork I outsourced to a very nice and talented carpenter, who prepared the trunks and boards from Robinia wood for me. But this is how the here presented project started off...

There, being unhappy with the construction plan, I procrastinated luckily until I had a better idea. When I had to sit in front of the kids' sleeping room waiting for my daughter to fall asleep, I spent a couple of hours on several days waiting there and completely overthrew the original plan and came up with - based on my big book shelf experience - a new screw- and glue-free construction, using connections - as I found out later - called (tusked) mortise-and-tenon joints (see attached sketch). The vertical boards would have mortises to hold the tenons of the horizontal boards. Just the top level board would have mortises to hold the tenons of the vertical boards. Thereby, the whole construction should be quite stable already. Further, I thought of tusked mortise and tenon connection to make the thing more rigid, and finally a double tusk piece to hold the two boards together ... If you didn't understand this description, check the rest of the Instructable - pictures will show.

Step 2: Preparation: Building a Scaffold

After I decided on the decribed double-tusked mortise-and-tenon design, I started playing with the boards, trying to choose the right, best-fitting board for the different elements. I worked with boxes to hold the boards at roughly the aimed for position, but when changing the boards I needed to de-construct the whole thing, which definitely broke my motivation to find the perfect board composition.

Therefore, I decided to first build a scaffold. I had some old posts with length above 40cm and an old palette with the good height of 120cm. I fixed the posts to the palette with each two 10cm long screws. To find a good position of the posts, I did not measure, but just started with the first post at the floor to have the board 8cm above the floor, fixed them, then put a board plus the box with roughly the needed height and on top the next posts. Those were fixed to the boards with old, wooden screw clamps and then pre-drill and screw in the long screws for fixation. Then the next level was added.

This yielded a very good scaffold for making my construction. Since the boxes were smaller as the aimed for shelf height, the posts were a little bit lower then needed. But that was perfect, because otherwise I might had problems with putting the board tenon in the the mortise.

Step 3: Getting the Shape: Arrange Boards and Make Mortises and Tenons

Next was to arrange the boards in the scaffold. I received quite different length of boards with blunt or organic edges. So I had to puzzle them in the perfect arrangement to get the wished-for "biggest" version possible.

The scaffold was very useful here, because I could quickly switch boards from one position to the other without deconstructing the whole thing. And furthermore, I could immediately start building the shelf.

I started with the front part having the organic edges, making joints at the right side. (See detailed next section on how I measured and made the joints.) Then I jointed the three lower boards to the vertical board on the left. For the top board, I made mortises in the horizontal boards and tenons at the the tip of the vertical boards.

After that I started with rear part of the shelf, just as I did with the front part. Outmost care had to be taken that the boards were fitting to and into the front part. And later, when putting the vertical sectioning boards, that the mortises are well positioned in the front and the rear part. Here, I also aimed to have overlaps from the front sectioning over the rear boards to reduce potential bending of the two boards into different directions.

Step 4: Detailed Section on Making Mortise and Tenon Joints

First, I made the tenons:

- I measured and the depth of the tenon sides, which was minimally 8cm (3cm board thickness + 5cm wanted protrusion for later tusking)

- marked then the thickness of the tenon - I usually took away around 4cm from each side, so that I ended up with 12cm tenons.

- After marking with a pencil, I drilled holes and then used the saw to cut out the tenon. The cutout I kept since I wanted to use them as double tusks.

When the tenon was ready, I made the mortises:

- I sketched the positions of the mortises on the vertical board (those were fixed from the general construction),

- with the boards positioned at the front edge, I then took the measures of the tenon,

- the marking were used to define the proper cut-out,

- and the cutting was performed, first drilling holes and the sawing.

The measurement and positioning was the more tedious point. The cutting was the fast steps.

Step 5: Finishing: Smoothing the Boards Using a Power Planer

When the overal construction was set, I did the finalization. This meant that

- some uneven edges had to be cut, where the transition between boards was not organic enough

- I rounded up the two boards standing out to the left and the many tenons standing out had to made more organic looking

- the boards were all planed using a power planed and sanded (see pictures)

Step 6: Final Remarks: Mistakes and Next Steps

First of all, I want to mention again that the shelf is not yet 100% finished. I pushed the construction to be ready for Christmas, and when it was standing there "ready", I lost motivation to finalize. This includes:

- production of the last 3 tusks

- another round of planing / sanding to remove changed color and work on some strange parts

- oiling

For these final steps, I will have to deconstruct the thing and will also paint the wall color to a warmer, reddish color that will nicely contrast with the bright, warm yellow robinia wood. I have quickly made a photo retouch to illustrate it (see pics).

Mistakes - I just did a few:

- I mainly regret not having planed in the beginning, which is carpenter's standard - as I learnt later ;-)

- for the selection of the vertical short sectioning boards, I got a bit impatient (see the xmas issue above) and have placed one or two boards suboptimally. This means I forgot to check whether the transition from those boards to the respective upper board was smooth - and that's why I had to cut off more than originally wanted.

Besides this, I am happy and proud that my self-designed construction idea worked and that it also perfectly fulfills its purpose according to my girlfriend's needs. And, all together it became a quite versatile furniture combining cutting table, accesoires shelf and laptop working place!

And of course, it was a lot of fun building it!

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