Introduction: Yellowwood Sleeper Bookshelf

About: 3rd-year Industrial engineering student. South African.

I discovered an old Brittanica Encyclopedia collection in the garage and decided that I wanted to build a bookshelf for it. I had just recently acquired both a weathered yellowwood sleeper and Oregon pine beam and decided on the former as the perfect project. Since I didn't have enough yellowwood to make the sidewalls of the bookshelf, I decided to make them out of widely available Cape pine and clad them in yellowwood sleeper offcuts. The result turned out to be a rustic looking bookshelf with a lot of character.



• Any suitable wood would work but I used:

- 2m of 1,5 x 9,25 Cape Pine (for the side walls)

- 2m long weathered Oregon Pine beam (for the top shelf)

- 2m Yellowwood sleeper (for the two load-bearing shelves)

-Yellowwood sleeper offcuts

• Cold glue

• 4.0 x 100mm smooth shank cutting screws

• 5mm steel cable railing kit (optional)

• 4 x 30mm wood coach screws


• Radial arm saw

• Surface planer

• Electric sander

• Bench grinder

• Glue gun

• Electric drill

Step 1: Preparing the Sleeper

For the two main load-bearing shelves of the bookshelf, I used an old weathered yellowwood sleeper. The sleeper needed some TLC and to reveal some of the yellowwood's character, I put it through a surface planer a few times.

Furthermore, I only had one yellowwood sleeper and needed two main shelves, therefore I had the sleeper split in thickness at my local lumber mill. The result, as can be seen in the final picture, was two nearly identical thinner sleeper beams. These beams were approximately 5,5cm x 23,5cm in profile. I then squared up the beams to final length on the radial arm saw and roughed the edges up with an electric sander.

Step 2: Designing the Bookshelf

I only designed the bookshelf once I had the sleeper split in half and was sure of the length I wanted to use. I took some rough measurements of all my materials and mocked up a CAD design in Inventor. There wasn't much to it really, since it's a pretty minimalistic design. The two yellowwood shelves would be fixed to the sidewalls using cutout slots, while the Oregon pine beam would rest on top of the whole shelf.

Step 3: Fixing the Shelves to the Sides

This step involved fixing the main Yellowwood shelves to the sidewalls.

First I cut the 1,5 x 9,25 Pine beam to length, which was two 945 mm pieces. Then I changed the radial arm saw set up to rip the slots into the beams. These slots are 25 mm deep and 55 mm wide, as indicated on the dimensional drawing.

Next, I fitted the shelves into the slots and they were perfectly snug. I glued everything up with some cold glue and fixed two 4.0 x 100mm self-cutting screws to each slot from the outside of the walls.

Step 4: Cladding the Sidewalls With Yellowwood Offcuts(optional of Course)

For this step, you'll have to pour yourself a good cup of coffee and get comfortable. The wood Cladding is definitely the most time-consuming part of this project and involves a lot of matching and fitting.

I used the radial arm saw to cut leftover Sleeper bits into little planks ranging in thickness from 3-8mm. Next, I smoothed the planks out on the sander and tried to fit them to the puzzle. As none of them were the same dimensions, I constantly had to remove some material using a bench grinder to make them fit. For fixing them I used a paintbrush to apply some cold glue as well as a bead of hot glue to hold the wood in place while the cold glue does its job.

As can be seen in the last picture, I hid my Initials in there as a signature (LB)

Step 5: Adding the Cross Cables to the Back for Rigidity

Soon after finishing with the cladding, I realized that the bookshelf wasn't all squared up and I had to come up with a solution. I decided on adding Cross cables to the backside of the bookshelf and tightening them in order to draw the bookshelf square. I bought a ordinary 5mm steel cable railing kit, which came with all the extra cable accessories needed for tightening and fixing it. For fixing the cables to the corners of the sidewalls I used ordinary wood coach screws.

Step 6: Adding the Top Shelf and Final Touches

Now that the bookshelf was all squared up, it was time to add the top shelf, the Oregon pine beam. I Cut the beam to size on the radial arm saw and fixed it to the bookshelf with three countersinked 4.0 x 100mm cutting screws from the top at each end.

Finishing touches involved running the whole bookshelf over with various grits of sandpaper and treating the wood with some furniture wax.

The bookshelf turned out to be a huge success with more than enough space for the entire encyclopedia collection and a ton of character to it.

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