Bookcase project - further conundrums

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I've received advice here to the effect that I should stain, then assemble, then topcoat.
I've been making test pieces, as is my habit, and I like the results. My aim is to come up with a finishing regimen that I can complete in a reasonable amount of time on what is the better part of five sheets of plywood (to say nothing of the face frame). But the method I used was three coats of MinWax gloss poly cut (roughly) 50% with mineral spirits, then rub down with 0000 steel wool and brown paper.
The finish looks and feels quite nice, even though I was pretty haphazard in the application. But I can't easily imagine rubbing down the bookcase surfaces effectively *after* they are assembled, especially in the numerous corners.
So I'll ask again: what is the downside to finishing everything before assembly? I can think of two:
1. I have to mask the ends of each horizontal member, which will be a pain, and unless I'm real careful, the dadoes in the uprights also. And I'll have to mask "stripes" in the backs of the units, where the back will be glued to the backs of the shelves. Of course, I'll have to do all those things for the stain step in any case.
2. I may damage the finish in assembly.
So what are my options? I could decide to forgo the rubbing down and live with a lesser degree of smoothness on the inside surfaces, which make up practically the whole project (only the outsides of two of the uprights will ever be seen). But having seen how good the results can be, that would be disappointing.
[warning: high ignorance content]
Could I screw the backs on temporarily while I glue up the rest (to help keep everything square), then remove the backs to allow for easier application? That still leaves the steel-wooling and brown paper to do inside shelf spaces that are as close as 11" apart. Would some kind of orbital buffer be of any use? (the kind they sell for cars) Or might I get a smooth enough finish (at least for the inside surfaces) if I tent the whole thing to keep the dust out?
Or just perhaps, should I go the way I'm already leaning: prefinishing everything?
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On 1/10/2013 4:13 PM, Greg Guarino wrote:

As long as you are using a final finish that you are familiar with and have confidence that you can repair the inevitable scrape and ding from assembly, that sounds like your best bet.
Keep in mind that pre-finished sheet goods are used by many professional cabinet shops, so the problem of assembly after finishing may not be as big an issue as you think.
Just realize that you need to be careful, plan your assembly process with some thought, and things should work out well.
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On 1/10/2013 6:29 PM, Swingman wrote:

My "familiarity" and "confidence" with woodworking techniques are still in their larval stages. That goes double for any sort of finishing. But the fact that I got such good results with so little care makes me feel pretty good about the method; it's evidently forgiving. I gave the test pieces only the most cursory sanding and I applied the finish quickly, and at close intervals (a few hours).
I'll be more careful with the actual project, which I'll probably find was a mistake; the "secret" to the good results will turn out to have been the slapdash work. :)
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On 1/11/2013 8:09 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Were you applying NC lacquer as your topcoat, I would have definitely recommended waiting. ;)
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On 1/11/2013 11:15 AM, Swingman wrote:

I just bought some soup for lunch at the deli across the street. One of the cashiers was in the middle of saying something (in Korean) to the others that was apparently very funny. I'm sure your comment above was also, but my knowledge of lacquer usage is on a par with my knowledge of Korean, so I'm afraid both went over my head. :)
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On 1/11/2013 11:50 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

IOW, making invisible repairs in dings and scratches in some finishes can be be harder than learning Korean.
How's that? :)
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On 1/11/2013 1:03 PM, Swingman wrote:

Now I get it.
kam-sa-ham-ni-da (Thank you)
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My method is to perstain and finish parts that would be difficult to get too after assembly. These include small spaces and tight corners. Flat easy to get to exterior surfaces are finished after assembly.
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On 1/10/2013 11:38 PM, Leon wrote:

My current thinking is to prefinish all of the interior surfaces. The two outside uprights that will actually show I'll finish after assembly. Those will be in contact with the work surface, the clamps and sundry unintended objects during the process.
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Basically any part that would be easy to sand and finish after assembly gets done after assembly.
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wrote:

Sturdy, quick, and easy finishes like my fave (Waterlox) make it easy to do and easy to repair if you mess up. But go ahead and rub it out prior to assembly. It'll leave less to rub out later if repairs are necessary.

Do it! Finish the wood (after taping joint areas), cut the dadoes, glueup, touchup, rub it out, let it dry/cure/harden/destink, and then go fill it with books!
-- I started out with nothing and I still have most of it left! --anon
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Greg Guarino wrote:

It's a bookcase. There will be stuff on the shelves. That means - in my case at least - I wouldn't *DREAM* of rubbing it down. The outside show sides, yes; inside, not a chance. But if you just gotta, you could take the back off. I couldn't because I glue them on.
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On 1/11/2013 5:05 AM, dadiOH wrote:

I considered that, as I mentioned. But beyond that *I* would know that the inside surfaces were rough(er), I think the rubbed surface will be easier to clean and dust in use.
But if you just gotta, you could take the

That's why I was considering screwing the back on during the glue up of the rest, and gluing it later. I now think I'll just prefinish everything but the two outside ends that will show.
But that brings up another issue I've been wondering about. I'm making all of my shelves fixed. As such, I could glue the back panel to the backs of each of the shelves. But that would involve some pretty precise masking.
I should back up for a second. I rabbeted the sides, tops and bottoms of all of the units to inset the back panels. I intend to glue the back into the rabbet all around the perimeter. I'll probably use a few screws or maybe even nails to hold it while it sets.
But is there any downside to fastening the back to the rear edges of the shelves with screws only, no glue? The longest shelves will be 28", made of 3/4" ply, and will have 1x2 face frames.
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Greg Guarino wrote:

No downside. Not much not fastening it (to the shelves) at all.
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On 1/11/2013 8:29 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

That depends ...
How thick is the back? If it is 1/4" plywood (which is normally less than 1/4", and has a tendency to bow slightly) you may find that you will have a better fit by fastening the back to the rear edges of the shelves.
1/2" back or more, and providing the back is flat, then not at all necessary.
That said, and on longer spans, you will get much more sag protection by fastening the back to any fixed shelving.
Note on fasteners for that job: if the back is not meant to be visible and is 1/4" plywood, and instead of brads, I typically use 1/4" crown staples for fastening the back to any fixed shelving ... much more holding power than a brad or finish nail in that thickness plywood.
1/2" thicker or more, a finish nail or brad is sufficient.
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On 1/11/13 10:29 AM, Swingman wrote:

I just so happened to be doing that very thing, yesterday. Do you happen to know if staples have more tendency to curve when shot?
I had a dozen or so take a hard left turn and blow out the sides of the fixed plywood shelves and sides of this project. No big deal since I'm painting but I'd be pretty pissed if I was staining.
I know the 16gauge finish nails I shoot are more likely to bend in one direction (can't describe which without looking at them)... I wonder if staples are the same.
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On 1/11/2013 10:53 AM, -MIKE- wrote:

That is always a concern, but my experience has been that if I use a smaller staple than the thickness of the part receiving the "tines" it is not usually a problem ... not to say that it hasn't happened on occasion, but it is rare.
Don't know if it makes a big difference, but I specifically buy "Porter Cable 1/4" Narrow Crown Galvanized Staples", in 1/2" length, for installing cabinet backs of 1/4" plywood.
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On 1/11/2013 11:29 AM, Swingman wrote:

1/2", or whatever dimension "half-inch" ply is these days.
If it is 1/4" plywood (which is normally less

Which was why I asked. Screwing the back into the rear edges of the shelves is OK for that purpose I assume.

I was considering finish nails around the perimeter (in lieu of clamps) to hold the back while the glue dried, and screws to fasten it to the shelves.
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On 1/11/2013 11:43 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Absolutely ...

That will certainly work. And, if hand nailing finish nails, you will want to consider pre-drilling your nail holes to insure that you do not blow out any sides, simply because of all that pre-finishing work you will have done. :)
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FWIW I almost always screw the backs on. Slower than stapling or nailing but easily reversible and a touch better looking.
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