Barrister Bookcase Restoration (Part 1)

Quite a few years ago, my wife picked up a set of barrister bookshelves because we needed some shelves for the many books that we had collected over the years. The condition of these particular shelves left much to be desired but were still functional.

Only two of the sections actually had covers and, of those, only one with glass in it. Even that one pane of glass is missing a piece. There were also plenty of scratches, cracks, and missing chunks of wood. That being said, the price was excellent and they were still extremely solid so we used them without the covers for years as regular book shelves. As we’ve started to clean out some of our library, we’ve found that they aren’t needed anymore so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a barrister bookcase restoration to get them ready for sale.

What are Barrister Bookcases?

Barrister bookcases are a specific kind of bookshelf characterized by their modular nature. Each shelf, as well as base and top, are individual sections. As such, you can stack as many or as few together to build shelf of the size that is needed. This has the added advantage of making them portable. Each section is quite compact and light making moving less of a chore. In fact, the original design came out of a need to move books in an efficient manner. The individual shelves could be moved as is without even removing the books.

A second defining feature is the presence of a glass cover on each shelf. These covers lift up and then slide in over the top of whatever is on their shelves. This provides protection for the contents from dust and helps keep the shelves looking tidy in general.

Assessing the Damage – Covers

First step is to have a look at the various issues that will need to be addressed. As I mentioned, only two of the original 3 covers survived so I will have to build a third cover to complete the set. In addition, the glass will need to be sourced for all three as even the one that has glass is missing a piece in the corner.

There are some additional problems with one of the shelf unit’s hardware. The runners for the cover appear to be missing. You can see in the pictures below there is a metal rail for the covers to ride on for two of the shelves.

On the third one, there is only a strip of wood present.

It is possible that this third one is older and the wood is original while the metal slides were only introduced later. Given the three are currently together in a set, I think it makes sense to try and recreate a third metal slide here if possible. I’ll have to think more on this one before undertaking it.

Structural Issues

The next challenge is the damage to the front edges of a couple of the shelves. One is only cracked and can be glued back together followed by a bit of finish work to hide the split.

The other is actually missing a significant chunk of wood. I’ll have to patch in some replacement wood and try to blend it in so it’s not so noticeable.

Addressing the Finish

There is a significant stain on the top that I will try to bleach out and refinish to make it less of an issue.

The finish on the faces of some of the shelves has been damaged. I’ll address this as well. Should be an easier fix than the top I think.

Finally, there is a general mismatch in the finish on the sides of the three shelf sections. The grain and finish is very different for each section but they all look like oak. They may have all came from different production runs and later been put together as a harlequin set.

I’m actually not sure that I’ll attempt to do anything with this. The finish on the darkest shelf is badly orange peeled. I may strip the sides of it. I’ll see if I still have energy for it at the end of the restoration.

Next post I’ll get down to work…

Part two of the restoration can be found here.

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