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Making the Mortises

The rest was easy. After adjusting the depth of cut on the router bit, I attached the templates to the case. Because of the stops on the back of each template, positioning was dead on; I needed only one clamp to secure the templates.

The top pivot guide requires a through-hole for the upper pivot spindle. I traced around the guide, then drilled out the hole with a paddle bit; a block of wood clamped to the inside of the case prevented tear-out. A false top shelf, installed after the case was swinging, would hide this hole.


Because the top pivot has a retracting mechanism, the author first traced its location onto the new finish jamb.


Then he cuts out the finish jamb.


And the original top jamb to allow for its operation.


A laser was key for aligning the top and bottom pivots.

Next, I mortised the new top jamb for the retractable jamb-mounted pivot. A wide through-hole must be cut for the pivot linkage, which I started with paddle bits and finished with a jigsaw.

After that, I was finally ready for installation.

Installing the Case

I began by placing the new top jamb over the existing jamb, then traced the cutout for the top pivot linkage. I drilled a series of holes with paddle bits and knocked out the waste with a chisel.

With the top jamb and pivot installed, I shot a laser plumb line from the center of the pivot to the two-layer 3/4-inch-

plywood base on the floor, locating the exact center of the bottom pivot. I double-checked the location with my tape measure, in case the jamb was out of plumb or twisted. Since the jamb was about 1/8 inch out of plumb at the bottom, I moved the bottom plate slightly so that the case would hang as flat as possible in the plane of the wall.

Note that the plywood spacers at the bottom are 1/2 inch narrower than the jamb. I allowed 1/2 inch for the toekick beneath the cabinet because a recessed toekick makes it nearly impossible to notice any gap between the top of the kick and the bottom of the case.

Hanging the case wasn't difficult. As with any pivot door, I first retracted the top pivot by backing out the set screw. When I'm hanging a door, I usually set it perpendicular to the jamb, place it on the bottom pivot, then lean it back against the top pivot. That way, I have comfortable control over the door while I back out the set screw and retract the top spindle.


To install the case, the author first retracted the top pivot.


Then he rocked the case into place.


At this point he realized he had forgotten to provide a screwdriver access hole to drop the pivot back into place. By trial and error he was able to drill a hole from underneath.

It's easy to position the door directly under the spindle and then run the set screw back in, pinning the door into place. But with a bookcase it's not so simple.

Fortunately, this was one problem I had anticipated, which made me feel pretty good. I had designed the case 1/4 inch short of the opening, which provided just the right gap between the top of the case and the head jamb. I backed out the set screw halfway, then placed the case on the bottom pivot and straightened it up in the opening. The top of the case barely scraped across the bottom of the set screw, while the top jamb pivot spindle dragged over the top of the case and then dropped like magic right into the pivot guide. Amazing!

It was at that moment that I realized I couldn't reach the set screw with a screwdriver: I couldn't run the screw in to secure the case completely, and I couldn't back the screw out to remove the case. Suddenly I wasn't feeling so smart anymore — and it got worse.

On my first attempt at drilling a simple 3/8-inch access hole through which I could reach the set screw with a narrow screwdriver, I couldn't seem to find a drill bit sharp enough to get through the plywood. I tried a paddle bit first, then a twist drill. On the third attempt, I realized I was drilling right into the bottom plate of the pivot hinge.

Determined to overcome my own stupidity, I thought about it, then drilled a second access hole, located on a radius layout out of the way of the bottom hinge plate. Now I could swing the case until the new hole lined up with the set screw. Luckily this strategy worked. I turned the screw and drove the pivot spindle all the way into the top guide.

Next time, I'll lay out the access hole when I'm making the bookcase; I'll use a compass to swing an arc so I miss the hardware mortise in the top.

Trimming the Case

Attaching the finished sides after swinging the bookcase made the case easier to maneuver and gave me more wiggle room when I centered it in the opening. I painted both finished sides with glue and secured them with a few trim screws from inside the case.


After swinging the case, the author attached the finish sides.


Then he installed a shim made from high-density plastic to support the bookcase from beneath.


With the case in its final closed position, he scribed and installed the bead.


And head trim, leaving only a slight gap to allow the case to open.

Before starting the trim, I installed a shim made from UHMW (ultra-high molecular weight) plastic, which is pretty slippery stuff (about $18 for a 3/4-inch-by-12-inch-by-12-inch sheet at I ripped a 1 1/4-inch length of the material, then cut a long shim using a Festool guide and saw. I sized the shim to just touch the bottom of the case when the door is closed, which should prevent any minor settling and keep the moving joints in the trim at the top of the case tight.

Trimming the top of the case was tricky. The joint between the architrave molding (parting bead) and the top of the case must be invisibly tight, yet still provide 1/16 inch of clearance for the case to swing.

And that's where I made another mistake: I should have ripped the new top jamb down, to hold it at least 1/2 inch back from the face of the jamb, so that the architrave molding would run back inside the jamb and past the bookcase, putting the joint out of sight.

When I realized I couldn't hide the joint any other way, I swallowed hard and removed everything from the opening. After ripping down and replacing the head jamb, I hung the case back in the opening and started installing trim again.

I scribed the horns on the architrave molding to fit the wall and butt against the head jamb inside the opening. Then I installed a frieze board and finished the entablature with a two-step cap rabbeted in several passes on my table saw.

The base details went on next. With the case closed, I milled a piece of mahogany toekick and scribed it to the floor, leaving 1/8-inch clearance to the bottom of the case. Using trim head screws, I attached the plinth blocks and casings, making sure to securely attach the strike side piece that remains on the cabinet and acts as a stop when the cabinet swings closed. I also added a strip of peel-and-stick edge banding ( to the side of the case so I could hold the trim back and leave a reveal; otherwise, as I mentioned earlier, the case wouldn't open 90 degrees.

Wrapping Up

With the case tight against the wall, I drilled a 3/4-inch hole through the side and into the jamb. A 3/4-inch by 5-inch-long dowel with a mahogany grip locks the case in the opening. (I hide the grip with a stack of books so that no one but JLC readers will know how to open it.)


A mahogany dowel locks the closed bookcase in place.


A false top panel completes the job.

I installed a false top to cover the access and pivot holes in the top of the case, then loaded the thing with books. As I'd expected, one slight tug slips the case free from the shim, and the door swings open with a swoosh of air. One day I might even tape and mud the joint between the jamb and the wall. But for now, no one but me and my dog will ever see it anyway, right?

Gary Katz moderates the JLC Online finish-carpentry forum and is a frequent contributor to JLC.