Finishing wall unit

I'm building a wall shelving unit. It's going to be pretty big, about 4' tall and 13' long. It will hang on the wall in the family room, touching the ceiling.
I plan to build it as 6 separate bookcases. The shelves and uprights will be 3/4" oak ply. I plan to make a "face frame" if that's the right word, of oak 1x2. I may or may not put full backs on the units. There won't be any doors.
My skills are modest. I'm a reasonably capable homeowner/handyman, and I've built a few simple pieces before. In building those pieces I have found that the finishing, even with my very basic methods, is a LOT of work.
This project is much bigger than anything I've done before and I'm afraid the finishing will take forever. (Did I mention that I have a job, a house, a family and limited spare time?) In addition, I found a stain that I like, adding another step (or two) to the process. Since the units will be built-in, the outside surfaces won't need to be finished, except for the bottom, but that still leaves quite a lot.
So, finally, here are my questions:
I'm considering finishing (or partially finishing) all the pieces BEFORE I assemble the actual units, so I don't have to apply several coats of "stuff" to a couple of dozen inner surfaces. Since I'm going to use dadoes and none of the outside surfaces will show, I'm even considering assembling the units with screws (no glue). Does any of that sound like a bad idea?
I've tried out the stain already and I like the color. I'm wondering what to follow it with. I have used a couple of different kinds of poly on previous projects, with passable but unexciting results. I think I'd like to try some sort of oil finish this time. Will this change the color a great deal? I'm looking for a low lustre finish. Will I need to sand in between coats of oil like some other finishes? Would it be better in any way to apply the LAST coat AFTER I assemble the units? (I'm thinking that might help to fill in the edges at the joints).
I want the project to come out nice, of course, but I'd also like to enjoy using it before my old age. My wife concurs, strongly, with that idea. Any suggestions that would help achieve both those goals would be appreciated.
Greg Guarino
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

If you don't use backs, make sure to install some sort of strip that can support suspending the fully loaded units.

I like some glue in addition to the screws. Prefinishing is not a problem, as long as areas where glue will go are protected with tape.

Regular "oil" finishes, like Watco can get weird over some stains. If you really want oil, skip the stain and use a tinted oil. I'd also recommend Waterlox Original, which is an oil and varnish blend.
Waterlox works fine over most stains. I'd use a coat of Seal Coat to prevent the Waterlox from moving the stain pigment around. A light hand scuffing with 320 will remove dust nibs.

Waterlox and plain oils will add a slight amber tint, which is often desirable on oak. Tinted oils will add the color of the oil.

Finish isn't a filler. Oil finishes and Waterlox are repairable, so you can do the entire finish in the shop with no worries.
Practice on scrap!
Barry
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Tue, 23 Nov 2004 11:43:34 GMT, Ba r r y

That's what I meant by not a "full" back, but thanks.

I guess I could put tape in the dadoes. Can I assume that finishing the plain cut-to-length boards and THEN cutting the dadoes is a bad idea?

I'm not really stuck on a particular method. I'd have to KNOW something about finishing to have a strong preference. I just know that the projects I have done with (water based) polyurethane have been less than completely satisfying. I'm open to suggestions. I'd love to find a happy medium between effort and results.

Hmmm. Tinted oils? Do I get to tint them myself, or do I just pick a color? Brands?

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

Only if you're positive you can cut dadoes without messing up the finish. I prefer to build and dry assemble everything, then disassemble and finish,

Buy them premade. Watco is a commonly available brand in the US. Any decent paint store or woodworking supplier that carries natural Watco can usually tell you more about and get you the colored versions. Many stores have color samples on actual wood.
<http://www.watco.net/product.asp?frm_product_id 2&SBL=1>
Barry
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Hi Greg,
Although a pretty big project (in size) this should be a simple one if you plan everything out ahead of time.
If I understand correctly, you will be making 6 boxes each of which is about 2x4 - I assume about 12 inches deep or so.
1. Rough cut the plywood (or have the supplier do it when you order it).
2. Cut all the sides, tops & bottoms at the same time on your TS.
3.Run the rabbets & dados -I think that I would have a fixed helf dadoed in the center of the 4 ft height for support. Drill out for the adjuatable shelves also. I would add a 1/4 inch back plus an additional lateral supports so you can screw them to the wall.
4. Stain & put 1 coat of finish on all exposed sides before assembly.
5. Assemble the units with glue & screws.
6. Screw a ledger board to the wall at the height you want.
7. Screw each box to the wall, then to each other as you go.
8. Finish the face frame with a long continuous piece of oak along the top, bottom & center, then fill in the vertical face frames as needed. These would be finished ahead of time. When attached, fill in the nail holes and then apply your last coat of finish. You may need to touch up the interiors.
9. I might leave an inch or two of clearance at the ceiling so that you can add a piece of crown molding to finish it off.
10. Remove ledger (or, if you are worried about weight, use a nice piece of 1x2 oak as a permanant ledger under the cabinet.)
This is how I have done several bookshelves around our house.
Good luck!
Lou

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Almost exactly right, but I intend to add a little visual interest (to put it in the most overstated way) by making the units in three different widths.

I'm planning to make all the shelves fixed. I may regret it on practical grounds, but I have a "look" in mind, which includes straight horizontal lines.

I'm thinking about a back, but I'm not sure. Are you suggesting a back to keep the units square, or just to hide the wall behind? I have already decided that no sensible thickness of back would be strong enough to mount the units with. Your suggestion for lateral supports is pretty much what I had planned.

I was considering getting a biscuit joiner, but your suggestion has made me wonder if that's a good idea. Even though this is a built-in I think it might be nice to be able to disassemble it into the individual units should we ever decide to move. Nails would allow that.

I have considered that. The space is a little tight. I may have to go measure my books again.

I like that idea. Thanks.

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
<snippage of earlier conversations>

I find I rarely move shelves, once they are installed, even if I can.

Both are good reasons. Do we have to pick just one?

Think 'french cleat'. Makes installation _so_ much easier.
<snip of building process>

Uhhh, I'd consider that twice, I think. Built-ins, at least in the jurisdictions in which I have lived, are considered part of the property when it comes time to sell. If you declare otherwise in the real estate listing, it tends to raise a flag. Once you have built these, you'll be able to build another set in 50% of the time, with fewer challenges, because you will be _experienced_. ;-)
That having been said, I can see about three places where biscuits might help the joinery. I don't see where they really aid much in portability, but then, I think that is a lesser goal, unless you are a renter. (1)

I figure that the only time my household will have fewer books is after my funeral. Build for strength where you can.
My recommendation on the finish is to use Waterlox. Google the archives for the how. The why is that it is every bit as easy as Watco, or any other danish oil, but builds & cures faster and is more durable. Looks _way_ better than most water-based finishes.
Take pictures. Share on abpw. Enjoy the process.
Patriarch
(1) I have, and like, a DeWalt biscuit jointer. The Porter Cable seems to be on special this season, and is also a good, but somewhat different, machine. At the same price, I'd take the PC. If I needed to spend less, I think I'd look for a different way to do the joinery, rather than buy a cheapie. YMMV
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Hi Greg,
<snip>

I was just talking aesthetics here - it's a PITA to repaint the wall between all those shelves. Another consideration is that your wall will not be perfectly flat (if it's drywall) and you will probably have spaces here and there (unless you try to scribe everything which would be a nightmare on the back). Putting a 1/4 inch back eliminates that problem. Having done it both ways, I always us a back. You can paint it a color if you don't want a stained wood back.

Biscuits would be better and not show. When I said nails, I meant nails & glue, but if you think you might want to take it apart, then the nails would be ok I guess.
A general rule of thumb in any house move is that nothing in the old place will fit the new place - and even if it does, SWMBO will hate it in the new place anyway - so it will probably stay behind in the old place.
:->

If the unit is going wall to wall (i.e., between two walls), be sure to allow space on either side for a filler strip so you can scribe a tight fit.
Good luck!
Lou
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

This is my first foray into rec.woodworking, and I have to say that I've gotten a couple of tips that I didn't even ask for that should spare me a lot of grief. I hadn't given any real thought to the fact that the wall won't be flat.

That was just an afterthought. Sitting here on the front end of a large job I find myself thinking that I'll practically want to be buried in the thing once it's done. But after a few years I suppose I might be able to part with it.

Not many women on this group, I assume?

Another good idea. I've been wanting to write a book called "second-time knowledge" that would chronicle the education I've been getting doing every damned thing for the FIRST time since I became the lord (and handyman) of my undersized manor. Thanks for the tips.
Greg Guarino
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.