Larry Ciesla

jeffersonian bookstand

jeffersonian bookstand

Legend has it that Thomas Jefferson designed this bookstand in 1810 and had one built out of Walnut.  Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong reader and learner who by 1814 had accumulated over 6000 books.  Included in his library was a woodworking book by André Roubo entitled L'Art du Menuisier (The Art of the Carpenter).  In that book is a description of a folding two-sided music stand with a ratcheting mechanism to allow for angle adjustment.  It is believed that Roubo’s book inspired Thomas Jefferson’s design.  While Thomas Jefferson was himself a woodworker with a small workshop located on the second floor of his home in Monticello, in all likelihood, he had some other skilled craftsman build his bookstand


Interestingly, after the British burned the Library of Congress in 1814, Thomas Jefferson sold his entire collection of books to the Library of Congress to help them rebuild the library’s collection.  Perhaps more importantly, Jefferson used the money he received from this sale to rid himself of debt!  So Thomas Jefferson’s personal library has, in effect, seeded today’s massive Library of Congress.  You can still find Jefferson’s copy of L’Art du Menuisier at the Jefferson reading room at the Library of Congress.

Larry Ciesla presenting Rev. Dr. William Lewis
                  the Jeffersonian Bookstand
View of the bookstand opened
Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis (Left) being presented the Jeffersonian book stand by maker Larry Ciesla.  Reverand Lewis is the Senior Pastor at the Community Presybeterian Church in Celebration Florida.
An example of the bookstand as it may actually be used.  The bookstand supports up to five books on a rotating base allowing the user to easily move from one open book to another.
original bookstand on display at
                the Smithsonian
Replica of the Jeffersionian Bookstand
This picture is taken from the Smithsonian Web Site showing the original Jeffersonian bookstand on display.
My replica is the same dimensions, made from Walnut as the original, but with a marquetry image on the top stand.

view showing rear ratchet
Here you can see how the top bookstand is held in position.  When the top is closed the support fits into the groove allowing the top to close flat.
wooden hinge
I used a wooden hinge to connect the support arm holding each bookstand to the ratchet mechanism.

Each support arm fits into one of these openings on the supporting columns that hold the bookstand together.

You can see how the supporting columns fit into the top and bottom of the bookstand unit shown on the right.
wooden hinge
The next series of pictures show how I fashioned the wooden hinges. 

The stock is milled to 1/4 inch thick and a marking guage is used to mark a line 1/4" around the perimeter of one end, then the gauge is set to 1/8" to find the center point where I will drill a 3/64 hold to later accept a brass rod of that diameter.

A box jointing jig is used to cut away material to create a standard box joint. 

Here you see the mating pieces forming what would normally be a box joint, but I'm going to craft a wooden hinge instead.

I've used my drill press to precisely drill a 3/64" hole all the way thru.  Later, after I've relieved the wood necessary to allow this to operate as a hinge, I'll insert a 3/64" brass rod into the hole thus making the hinge.  Not also that I've made an extra just in case.  (I should have made two or three extra because the next couple of steps were very difficult.)

A dovetail saw is used to cut at a 45 degree angle between each finger of the box joint.  Then a 1/4" chisel is used to carefully remove the material.  See how the lines I made earlier with the marking gauge come in very handy for this step.

Here is the result ready to have the brass rod installed completing the hinge.