Secret Door Bookcase

I used Ken's bookcase as the basis for my design.

Plate 1. Gates.

I found 2 heavy gates on craigslist that looked similar to Ken's frame. 43" x 81", $40 for the pair. I only needed one, but on craigslist you take the lot.

The outside frame is 2"x3" tube, 3/16" thick. Pickets are 1" x 1", ⅛" thick.

Plate 2. Transport.

In person these turned out to be much larger and heavier than I expected. I see this all the time. For some reason few people like to say what it is they have. Then wonder why no one calls or wants to pay their asking price. Maybe they think craigslist charges them per word?

Plate 3. Pickets removed.

Angle grinder made short work of removing pickets and other hardware.

The frame still weighed about 70 lbs. It made me stop and consider if all this steel was needed. The shelves transfer weight to the sides which normally transfer weight to the floor. I just needed to transfer weight from the sides to the axle in the floor. Like a cake decorating turntable, the cake only needs support on its bottom.

Plate 4. Bifurcated frame.

So I cut the frame in half to reduce weight.

Plate 5. Spreader.

Once cut in half the frame bowed in an inch. A picket cut to length and 3/16" slots fit into the uprights and spread them back into position.

Plate 6. Intentionally blank.

Plate 7. Top axle support.

I used electrical conduit strut channel to secure a pin at the top, see Plate 8. It is supported on the left by the other bookcase and on the right by shelves I built inside the hidden room.

Plate 8. Top axle.

⅝" bolt for the axle.

Plate 9. Wheels.

For ball bearings I bought a couple of wheels from Harbor Freight, $4 each. These had heavy ball bearings and mounted in a convenient bracket that could just be unbolted.

Radial ball bearing are available and inexpensive. Harbor Freight was local and so faster than ordering.

Plate 10. Mount bottom hub.

Ken used a steel support on the floor, but I have a concrete slab and could skip that support. Plumb-bob, provided by the magic house, attached to the top axle positioned the bottom hub.

I drilled holes for anchor bolts and used anchore cement to secure. I also built up cement under the rim for support.

Plate 11. Slice wheels for top hub.

The top hub takes very little stress. I sliced up a wheel's hub to make it thinner to minmize the space between the top of the door and the shelf above. There were 2 separate bearings in the hub so I only used one in the top.

Plate 12. Top hub mounted.

The top hub mounted into top of bookcase. I used a forstner bit to drill a blind hole for part of the hub to set into to make the joint thinner. 10 truss screws to attach.

EPDM shield attached to axle covers the ball bearings to reduce dust accumulation.

Plate 13. Bottom axle.

Another ⅝" bolt for the bottom axle. Drilled throught both sides of tube and added thread lock to the nut.

Ken welded his bottom axle on but my little flux welder doesn't have the power for that thickness. I feel the through bolt is probably stronger. For sure stronger than if I had done the welding.

Plate 14. Frame set.

Frame set into bottom hub.

Plate 15. Bottom shelf.

I prefinished all the wood. Much easier and a better finish.

The metal frame is 43" wide and the bookcase is 48" so I cut hole in bottom shelf for upright.

Plate 16. Underside of bottom shelf.

Added an extra ¾" plywood to underside. Needed this so I could add a blind hole for top of bottom axle which sticks up. 2" x 2" blocks slip over bottom steel tube to tie together.

Plate 17. Bottom shelf installed.

Because the uprights bowed in I had to spread them with a 2x4, slide the shelf on, remove the 2x4, move it above the shelf, and slide the shelf to the bottom.

Sounds easy now, it wasn't. I repeated this procedure many times.

Plate 18. Installed metal spreader looks pretty good.

Plate 19. Sides.


Had to take the metal spreader off and do the 2x4 shuffle because the spreader had to go through the wood sides.

Looks good. Sides sit on top of bottom bar to take the weight. That would leave a 10" wide set of shelves on one side.

Then I started to worry that tall 10" wide section would look out of place and perhaps give away the secret door's location. If I staggered the shelves it would increase the camouflage.

That's another oops. Taking the one side down meant more 2x4 speader shuffling. Stuff like this is why it took 8 weeks. Wish I could have modeled this on the computer.

Plate 20. Sides II.

New shelf configuration.

Three short shelves will go below the spreader and two above. One full width shelf above sits on top of the bar and attached underneath. Still kept a lot of weight over the bar with a little cantilevered.

Made for a much more interesting bookcase. Once again materials driving design.

Plate 21. Parking wheel.

Two pieces of angle iron bolted to the bottom beam with a wheel.

The wheel doesn't touch the floor except when fully closed. The wheel is bolted on with long bolts to allow for future adjustment.

Plate 22.

When closed the wheel rolls over a small metal ramp. The ramp lifts the bookcase about 1/16" at its apex. Once past the apex the bookcase falls forward which presses the it against the trim hiding the door.

The wheel remains on top of the metal ramp's down side which takes weight off the cantilevered part of the bookcase. This isn't necessary but a nice side benefit.

Plate 23. Top latch.

To make sure the entire door is pressed against the front trim, and so appears as a bookcase, I added a top latch. It is the latch mechanism out of a doorknob and works just like in a door.

Plate 24. Side.

The door latch is connected by steel cable to a lever that is pressed to release the door.

The mechanism in the middle is off a typewriter and can be used to change the tension on the cable.

Plate 25.

The release button under a shelf.

I suppose I could have rigged the release button to a book as seen in movies. But that would be Hollywood Cliche. I don't want fad. I want timeless, something I can live with.

Plate 26.

Plate 27.

Stain tests on side that won't show. Oil based stains are my first choice, they're impossible to mess up. When forced to use water based stains I find them very difficult to use and the results to be poor.

Plate 28.

I wanted a very dark stain. Some red stain over some dark stain is almost always my choice.

Dark first, let dry for a day (100+ degree Phoenix, < 10% humidity). Then the red. When the red is wiped off you get a lot of depth. Then a coat or two of amber shellac and couple more clear shellac coats and you get even more depth.

Some woods, like oak, can yield the same kind of depth with just one stain because of its open grain.

Plate 30.

Face trim is ¾" x 1 ¼"Brazilian cherry. Only needs a few coats of shellac.

Normally face trim is glued with wood biscuits to the plywood. An excellent joint to be sure. This has to be done before finishing or the glue won't adhere very well.

I used screws to attach the face frame, visible screws. This ties in to other trim in Feydeau, design to expose structure as much as possible. This allows prefinishing of all parts before any assembly.

Plate 31.

Shelves are set on top of Brazilian cherry blocks. None of those hideous rows of holes for adjusting shelves. Of course this means my shelves aren't as adjustable.

In my 50 some odd years I've never adjusted a shelf. Someday I might, but is that really worth looking at those hideous holes? And besides, if I want to adjust a shelf I certainly can. Unscrew the blocks, reposition and screw them back in. Not exactly impossible.

Plate 32.

Face frame attached. Now to close and test the fit...BANG! Won't close.

Plate 33.

Mark vertical stationary trim with moving horizontal members. I had to do this one member at a time or I couldn't tell what was hitting.

Dovetail saw to make cuts at top and bottom of horizontal trim. Chisel out a 45 degree chunk.

Exposed Structure

Attachment with screws made removal of the face frame members easy. With the existing screw holes reattached pieces went right back to the orginial position.

Plate 34.

Little more adjustment.

Plate 35.

Perfrect fit.

Top face frame member is a normal shelf, bottom is the fitted member. Can't see the difference.

Things I'd Do Different Next Time

No Plan

More time modelling a final design. It isn't just the time spent physically changing things, it's the mental staring at the thing trying to imagine a plan. That caused me to quit early many days just because I needed to step back.

Vertical Steel Tubes

The vertical steel tubes cost a huge amount of time. Now I don't even think they were needed. I would have just used a single tube on the bottom the full width of the bookcase. The metal reinforced wood corners provide enough strength to hold the case together. And losing the vertical steel tubes on the outside of the bookcase would reduce clearance issues.

Things That Worked

Prefinished Wood

It is very difficult to apply stain and varnish in a built bookcase. The vertical edges cause sags and applying to the underside of surfaces is almost impossible. Sticking your head inside a shelf will almost cause you to pass out from the flumes.

The down side is messing up the finish. But it is still easier to fix those small areas later.

Metal Bar Under Shelves

Having the 1" x 1" steel spreader bar under one shelf will elimate any future sagging. Currently I don't see any sagging on any shelf. The back panel supports the width of each shelf and the 1 ¼" hardwood front trim adds strength. But with 1" x 1" steel tube I'd never have to be concerned. The steel would also straighten any warped plywood.