Artifacts — The Book Rack

When I was in junior high school (7th and 8th grades) all the boys were assigned to shop class half the year while the girls were assigned to home economics; the other half of the year we were all together in art class (we all took typing half the year, too — I’m not sure how we managed to divide the school year into 3 halves).

The major project in 7th grade shop was to build a book rack using the initial letters of our last names. We were to begin with two identical, square pieces of wood, and out of them create the letter’s shape. My letter, of course, was H, a simple, straightforward letter — two straight uprights joined by a single straight crossbar, no curves and no need to worry about cutting out a middle without cutting a side. This sounded easy enough.

I took the board I was to work with and managed to cut it into two approximately equal pieces. That part wasn’t too bad. But now the pieces had to be identical, square, with all edges smooth and straight. This goal was a bit more of a challenge. I remember boldly (at least in retrospect I think it might have been boldly, but perhaps “timorously” may be closer to the truth) seizing pencil, plane, and square and assaulting the boards as they sat immobilized in a vise. I labored with plane and square for a number of days, slowly shrinking my boards as I tried without particular success to produce two identical square pieces with smooth, square edges. The plane was never quite flat enough, the edges slanted a bit off square and tended to taper from one corner to the next, and the corners weren’t quite right angles. Each attempt to correct these problems resulted in increasingly unequal sides. Eventually Mr. Christofferson took pity on my frustrations and allowed me to proceed to the next part of the project, thus preventing me from planing my wood down to two sad, uneven toothpicks. “As square as you’re ever going to get it,” is what he probably thought, but he was a kind man and didn’t say that.

Then came the task of cutting out the letter. I measured carefully, at least as carefully as I was capable of measuring; drew out the guiding lines with pencil, straightedge, and combination square; and proceeded with hand saw to cut out the shape. Somehow the two pieces still looked nearly the same. The crossbars weren’t quite as wide as the uprights, but each board still looked enough like an H to please me — I must have been on the right track. I carefully smoothed the new edges, and somehow managed to keep them relatively square and even.

After I created the letters I got to use a drill press to make holes, then glued dowel rods in place. The drill press is a wonderful invention. The holes were magically straight, drilled to a consistent depth, and correctly placed on the letters. When I inserted and glued the dowels it all looked just the way it was supposed to look. I think so, anyway.

Finally I smoothed the rack with sandpaper and varnished it. After the first coat of varnish dried I rubbed it all over with fine steel wool and added a second coat of varnish.

The completed book rack:

Book rack

I don’t remember what grade I received — possibly a B- but more likely a C — but I think I was reasonably satisfied with the result just the same. Over the years the dowels have sagged under the weight of books that were possibly too heavy, but the rack still works and it’s still in use.

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4 thoughts on “Artifacts — The Book Rack

  1. I too did a book rack in Jr. High. It stayed at my parent’s home for many decades. When my parents sold their home I helped clear the house out. It didn’t make the cut and got tossed. It was not as nice as yours however!

    • I credit the magic touch of the camera. In the picture it all looks very good, very smooth. In person (or should that be “in object”?) all the flaws are quite apparent.

  2. I have one that I think my brother made for my mother, or possibly my father made for his mother. It’s my cookbook rack and it’s perfect for the job. My rack is at least 40 years old and could be 60 or more, and still in perfect shape. It’s a bit different in design from yours, but I remember Mom telling me it was someone’s shop project.

    • The book rack must have been a stock project for junior high school wood shop — not hard enough to discourage beginners too thoroughly while introducing them to basic tools and basic skills, and giving them a useful object home to take home afterwards.

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