The bookstand: William & Mary style

In the November 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine I’ve written an article on making a William & Mary bookstand. The greatest thing about this bookstand, besides being a very cool early design, is that it is a simple project that is a joinery tour de force.

From the moment I saw the original stand, I was struct by the apparent simplicity of the piece. It wasn’t until I decided to make one that I realized there was far more to it than meets the eye. It’s really a tremendous primer on joinery and case construction, even though there is no case. It offers the beginning woodworker a variety of tasks on which they can hone their skills.

This blog post is not going to be a step by step build of the project. That’s covered in the magazine. What I intend to do here is fill in some of the visual spaces left behind by the article. Sure you can probably build this piece without the additional photos but I’m willing to bet some out there are scratching their heads and wishing they could see a picture of something that was only described in the magazine. It looks like this blog post is going to end up as a two parter. If there’s a step you don’t see represented in the photos to come, please let me know. I have tons of step by step photos of this project and I’m more than willing to share.

So, without further adieu:

In the article, I talk about the use of the triangle marking system. This is a shot of just the book support frame fully marked. The shot in the magazine showed both the outer frame and the book support frame.


One of the concepts I wanted to convey in the article was that, in the William & Mary period, dovetails were a relatively new concept in cabinet joinery. Prior to this period the joint of choice was the mortise and tenon. As such, dovetails tended to be rather clunky compared to the dovetails of the third quarter of the 18th century. Many times you’ll find drawers joined with a single dovetail. The angle of the dovetail also tended to be more acute than we’re used to today. So it is in the case of the bookstand. A single large tail with some serious angles holds this thing together.

Just a shot cutting the dovetails for those that might not understand that it CAN be done by hand. You can see that the angle at which I’m holding the saw relative to the apron is a bit greater than your 5:1 or 7:1 ratios thought by some to be the benchmark today.

With the outside frame dovetailed, you can see how the triangle marking system helps keep things in order. It will really come in handy once the sawtooth is mortise and tenoned into the frame and then we add the book support frame.


Once you’ve followed the steps in the article for the layout, this is what it should look like. From this point, it’s an easy few steps to mortise the front and back aprons and then cutout all four aprons of the outer frame.

On the front and back aprons of the outer frame there are two through mortises for the sawtooth. This sawtooth supports the frame that holds the book on an angle. Sure, the mortises for these joints can be cut by hand but I have a couple of bench top mortisers and they make quick work of a small job like this.

I use a marking gauge to mark out the tenons on the sawtooth. In order to keep the mortise from being too close to the apron cutout, you’ll need to make sure the tenons are shouldered only on one side.

Once at the bandsaw, I start by cutting the vertical cuts in the sawtooth. Then it’s on to making the shoulder and cheek cut for the tenons.

Cutting the angled cuts in the sawtooth comes last. And, once again, this can be done by hand but I spent all that money on a nice bandsaw. It seems a shame to let it sit there and gather dust.

And while you’re at the bandsaw cutting out the sawtooth, it only makes sense to use it to cut out the aprons. I start by making relief cuts on either side of the center drop. This way I can cut the cyma curves from either side and the waste falls off. Then it’s just a simple act of cutting out the half round center drop.

Hopefully, once you’ve cut out all four of your aprons the pile looks something like mine. Preferably you should have two sides with cutouts and pins and two sides with cutouts, mortises and tails. If you have some wierd variation on that, it might be time to look for more material.

One of the major areas of focus for me on a piece like this is the surface preparation. Now, I’m not talking about hauling the parts over to the wide belt sander and smoothing things up. I’m talking about looking at the original and seeing exactly some of the way in which a 17th or 18th century cabinetmaker would have prepared the surfaces of a piece and then trying to duplicate that look for myself. To some what follows may be abhorrent. Tough, it’s my piece and my blog and I like it this way.

There’s something to be said for leaving surfaces, ALL the surfaces, hand worked. The piece is just a lot more tactile. Without examining an original piece, most people would just take those freshly cut aprons over to an oscillating spindle sander and smooth them up but they’d be missing TONS of character that’s part of the original. One of the final two photos I’m posting today is the start of the character.

Typically on an apron cutout the cabinetmaker would have started to clean up the sawn surface by carving a small chamfer along the apron cutout on the interior side of the frame only. This chamfer would eliminate the tear out associated with chiseling and filing the edge of the apron. Even though the original was created entirely by hand (meaning no power tools of any kind) the cabinetmaker would have tried his best to leave behind little evidence of his effort. Technology being what it was at the time, apron cutouts are usually rife with chisel and file marks. The interior surfaces of the aprons still bear the remnants of the chamfers and only a few minor tear outs from the final shaping of the aprons.

In the next post, I’m going to ellaborate more on the interior and exterior surface preparations. I’m also going to continue to add to the construction details from the article in the magazine.

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5 thoughts on “The bookstand: William & Mary style

  1. Chuck,
    I’ve started making the bookstand and am wondering how tightly the inner mortise and tenon frame fits inside the dovetailed frame. Based on the rough dimensions given in the Popular Woodworking article, the frame may have quite a bit of “play” inside the dovetailed frame. How is the original piece dimensioned as compared to your reproduction?

    1. Blaine,
      The original bookstand had a fairly large gap between the inner and outer frames from top to bottom. If I recall, it was nearly 1/4 “ total. The left to right gap was a bit smaller. The top to bottom gap allows for the frame to pivot without binding on the outer frame. The left to right gap I adjusted to be more like that of an inset door. Hope that helps.


  3. […] to a minimum, I’m going to start off with a longer one. We left off on last week’s postwith a brief discussion about the surface left behind on the cutout aprons of the outer frame. At […]

  4. Chuck:

    I am planning to try to make a modified version of your project. How much of a gap did you leave to allow the inner frame to pivot at the bottom. Also, when I load this blog the pictures do not load. I would love to access the photos and any others you care to share.

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