Bedside Table Project

I made a pair of Shaker-style tables to go beside my bed.

I got my inspiration from several Fine Woodworking articles I read (thanks to my online subscription). The basic dimensions for this table are from some online furniture catalogs. It’s about 27″ tall, with a table top about 18″ x 22″. I used a CAD program to draw up a design first.

I first milled all the cherry stock to rough dimensions and glued up the top panel. Tried to be careful to pay attention to grain orientation and color matching as much as possible.

Then I added breadboard ends on the top panels to help keep the tops flat. The mortise and tenon part was probably overkill for this little table, but I wanted longer tenons to support where the pins are going to be placed. I planned to pin the ends with cherry dowels. Note that the tenons will end up being closer to the sides of the panel once it’s cut down to final dimension.

Of course, in order to allow for wood movement the middle and back holes in the wide panel had to be elongated. The front hole is not elongated – the breadboard is glued and pinned on the front tenon so all the expansion occurs out the back.

I started looking around the shop for a round file to elongate the holes, then I remembered I had this piece of threaded rod lying around collecting dust. I figured it was worth a try. I clamped the panel in place and ran the threaded rod through, and it made surprisingly quick work of elongating those holes! In fact I probably made them a little wider than necessary, but that won’t hurt anything! This worked pretty well I think:

I had to be careful to avoid disturbing the outer edge of the holes, otherwise the breadboard ends would be loose. The end result is that the panel is allowed to move while the dowel still holds the breadboard end tight against the panel.

You can see the elongated hole in the pic at right.

I spent some time carefully sorting through the leg stock, picking which pieces show the nicest grain on the sides that will show. I also tried to match the color as well as I could.

Once I settled on which leg would go where, I separated them out by table and stood them up as they would appear on the tables. Then I marked a square across the top to show the orientation. These marks help keep the pieces easily identifiable as to which face is inside. This is really helpful for the mortiser, which is the next step.

In my design, the front legs are different from the back (I will use top and bottom drawer support pieces instead of a face panel with the drawer cut out).

As a result I needed to put 3/8″ double mortises in the inside faces of the two front legs of each table, instead of the long mortise. So to keep those front faces separate I marked them with a double line, as you can see in the photo at right.

All seemed to be going just fine, until I noticed that I did THIS on one of the front legs:

Well, I wasn’t too happy to see that. I thought about making another leg… but I would have to match the color again and break up another piece of 8/4 stock, and I didn’t want to do that. So I decided to plug it. I just selected a piece of cherry from a scrap that had similar overall color, and I cut it so it almost fit in the mortise – just a half-hair over width. Then I shaved down both faces with a block plane so it made a slight wedge shape, glued it up and drove it in (carefully). The grain is a slightly different angle, but I think you’d really have to know it’s there to even notice it.I think it turned out OK:

I sawed up the front drawer stock so the top and bottom support pieces will be from the same board as the drawer front. The grain matches too, but it will really be hard to tell that since these are such small pieces. I laminated these support pieces to some scrap maple & oak, to build it up to 1¼” wide. Then I completed the joinery for the front legs, including the double M&T joints and the dovetail joints. These pics just show how cutting a little notch in the bottom of the dovetailed end can help hold the stock in place to make marking the leg a lot easier and more accurate.

Once I was happy with all the joinery, I was finally able to taper the legs. I made a simple taper jig to do this. I have tried the cheap taper jigs you see everywhere but I never felt totally in control as I pushed the workpiece past the blade – there is no way to hold the stock that feels comfortable to me. Making a jig like this is really simple, and it’s worth the time spent.

Before I ran one of my legs through on this jig, I ran a practice piece of scrap. It’s a good thing I did, because I hadn’t considered that the pawls on my splitter would cause a problem. As the taper moves past the splitter, it acts as a wedge between the splitter and the outside pawl. This eventually started binding and felt like it was about to start twisting. I stopped the cut and figured out how to fix the problem – simply holding that pawl up with a spring clamp eliminated the problem.

The legs taper from 1-3/4″ down to 1″. When it came time for glue-up, I glued them up in two steps (made the two sides, then assembled them with the front/back pieces).

Then I cut the top panels down to final dimension, and planed a bevel on the bottom edges. I did this by marking layout lines on the sides & bottom of the top panels, then using a hand plane to cut down to these lines. I started out with a No. 4, but then I sharpened up a No. 5 and I was surprised at how quickly I was able to cut these bevels. Of course, I heated up the shop at bit in the process!

You can see here how the corner looks as I’m planing down to the layout lines. This resulted in nice, crisp corners all around. I don’t think I could have done as well with the table saw.

So… this is what it ended up looking like:

I tapered the ends down from 3/4″ to 1/2″. I thought about taking it down to 3/8″, but I thought it might look TOO thin — plus I worried about exposing my breadboard mortises! I think this looks OK, but you really can’t see the bevel unless you are looking from a low angle.

I resawed and jointed/planed all the stock for the drawers, planed them about 1/8″ over thickness, and left them alone for a few days so they would have time to quit moving. I then finished thickness planing them and they were ready to start making the drawers.

After I glued up the tables, I installed the doublers/runners/kickers. I used some leftover hard maple for these parts. Once these were in place, I was finally able to fit each drawer side to its opening. Once all the parts were trimmed to a snug but free-moving fit, I did the dovetail joinery and finally glued up the drawers.

The panels for the drawer bottoms were hand-planed to form the edge bevels, and secured with a slotted screw in the middle of the bottom which allows for wood movement.

So, I’m now to the point of final sanding and finish. First, I had some color matching problems to deal with. I used a light dye to fix some lighter colored boards in my top panels. The fist picture shows one of my top panels – you can see that the bottom board is darker than the rest. The second picture shows how it looks after an inital application of dye – better, but the bottom board still stands out. So I masked off that board and sprayed the rest of the panel one more time, and the result was a much better color match… not perfect, but better.

I had the same problem to deal with on the other panel… except this time the darker board was in the middle.

I also had to touch up a small strip of sapwood in both panels, using an artist’s brush to apply the dye to these areas. The end result is pretty good I think.

I realize that the color will darken and even up more with time, so I was VERY sparing with the dye. After the dye dried and I was happy with the color match, I applied a liberal dose of BLO and let it cure for a week. Then over a period of about three days, I applied several coats of a wipe-on varnish mix.

For the finish I mixed equal parts BLO, spar varnish, and mineral spirits, applying a coat about every 24 hrs. As I progressed I added more spar varnish/MS to the mix, and rubbed lightly with steel wool. Finally, a coat of wax finished it off.

A couple of things to mention – I was surprised at how much the oil darkened the cherry. It’s hard to tell in this pic, but the tables are already significantly darker than the cherry vise cover on the end of the work bench. I also didn’t expect the cherry to look as “blotchy” as this with the oil (you can see it most prominently in the drawer front of the left table and the side of the right table). I think this will even up with time – we’ll see.

I turned a couple of simple knobs out of cherry to complete the drawers. I figure if I don’t like the knobs, I can always make some more…