Creating the nightstand legs and rails

Now that we have the top of the nightstand finished, it’s time to consider the frame. Let’s look again at the plan:

Nighstand Plan

The nightstand has four primary legs. You want the final height of your nightstand to be the exact same as the height of your mattress, ideally. In my case, that was 30″. Since my top was about 3/4 of an inch thick, that means each leg needs to be 29.25″ tall.

I chose to go with 1.75″x1.75″ for the legs dimensions partly for aesthetics, but also for convenience; the 8/4 S3S alder I am working with is already dimension to just over 1.75″. All it takes to make the legs, then, is to cut them to rough length (30″), rip them down to width, and cut them to final length.

If you have access to a power jointer, I highly recommend ripping the pieces to an initial width of 2″. Joint that edge, the place that edge on the fence of the jointer to joint the adjacent edge. Only take off a very, very small amount though; about 1/32nd of an inch. The S3S lumber should be really close to flat, we’re just making sure we have two, adjacent, parallel surfaces. Mark these so you don’t forget them (I put a small “J” in pencil on the sides that have been jointed) then run everything through your planer at 1.75″. You should get a perfectly square piece!

If you DON’T have a power jointer, just rip the pieces to 1.75″ in width. There aren’t any glued edges like there were on the bed posts, so you’ll be fine.

Image result for mark multiple pieces of wood at once
Credit: Wood Magazine

Making sure they’re all exactly the same length is important; it will help keep the piece from wobbling. Start squaring off one end of each leg at the miter saw, being careful to keep the long edge flat against the saw fence. Now you can either 1) place all four legs so that the squared ends are even, measure 29.25″ off that end, and use a long carpenter’s square to trace a line across all four pieces or 2) using a stop block on your miter saw. My Ryobi miter saw actually came with stop blocks on it’s stand that are adjustable, which is handy! So, I went that route.

Now that we have those pieces, we’re going to do the same plunge routing technique we looked at in the last post to make the mortises. Each post will have at least four tenons on it: There are a top and bottom tenon on one corner, and a top and bottom tenon on the adjacent corner. You can see why this is on the plans above; the green rails will need to connect to the blue posts, and since the posts are on a corner, they will share a rail with two other posts.

The posts used on the front will have two additional mortises each; these will support the rails that frame the drawer faces. It’s really hard to explain how I came up with these measurements, so instead I just have pictures, which speak a thousand words. Essentially, we want a 4″ elevation from the floor to the bottom of the bottom rail. That will match what we have on our bed. Since the rails are 1.25″ thick, we want the tenon to be about 1/3rd as thick. 3/8 of an inch, in this case, since I have a bit that’s that width. The width of the tenon is going to be 1 & 1/8th wide (there was a reason, I can’t honestly remember what it was, but it seems to work!). Finally, the mortise (and tenon) will be 1″ deep.

Measurement from the bottom of the leg to the first mortise. All four legs get this mortise.
Measurement to the second mortise from the bottom, which only the two front posts will get.
Measurement to the third mortise from the bottom, which only the two front posts will get.
Measurement from the bottom of the leg to the top mortise. All four legs will get this. Note: Yes, I’m barefoot. Not, I wasn’t using tools at the time, this was before bed when I realized I forgot to take pics

Make sure when you do this that you mark each post before you cut any mortises. I like to use abberviations: FL would be “Front Left” and BR would be “Back Right”. I built a pair, so they were marked FL1 and FL2, for example. Put the mark on the top or bottom of the post, though we’ll sand it off eventually anyway. This will help you make sure you position the mortises correctly.

Using the same technique in the last post, set the router bit to be exactly centered on the post. Put tape on the table, and use a square to mark the cutting edges of the bit. Transfer those measurements above onto the wood. Now, when you’re routing, you reference both those lines to know where to stop. Here’s a video again, if needed.

One of the front posts with all the mortises routed out.

Now we want to put a 1/4 inch groove down the posts, approximately 3/8 inch deep, to accept the plywood panel. IMPORTANT: Do not put a groove on the sides that have 4 mortises, the fronts will not have paneling but drawers instead. Use the stop you marked out for the bottom mortise as your stopping point for the groove, although realistically you’ll know when you hit the mortise cause the bit will stop cutting.

To make the rails, use the lengths shown in the plans but add one inch to each side so that we can create a tenon. Use a dado blade and miter gauge, again, just like we did in the last post for the breadboards to cut out the tenons. Round over the edges with a chisel so they’ll fit in the rounded mortises from the router table.

We also need to add a 1/4 inch channel to all the rails that will go on the sides and back. The four rails on the front will not get grooves. If this seems confusing, just look back at the plans and carefully mark all the pieces so you don’t lose track of your cuts.

Notice in the picture above how A few of these have the tenon in the center of the width, and a few have the tenon at one edge. For each nightstand, the four top rails will all have the tenon on the edge like that (shown two images below). The rest will all be centered.

You’ll notice as you’re doing this that the routed channels will actually connect and overlap at the top and bottom mortises. To accommodate this, we’re just going to cut the end of each tenon that will to into those slots at 45 degrees to make a mitered tenon. See below.

BEFORE YOU GO ANY FURTHER: Now is the time to apply the finish. You’ll never be able to get all little corners and nooks once it’s glued up. Sand everything to 220, apply gel stain, and then a minimum three layers of wipe on satin poly. After it’s assembled, we’ll scuff sand and poly again for added durability.

Do a dry fit of the pieces, sand the tenons lightly as necessary for a snug fit. Then measure for the plywood panels.

This plywood was surfaced on the opposite side with alder. This side is lauan plywood. Though it won’t be seen, I still sealed it with some poly and shellac.

Disassemble everything. Using an acid brush, spread glue on each tenon and inside each mortise. Then, reassemble the piece (don’t glue the panels, they’ll float) and clamp everything together like so!

Before it dries for too long, make sure to measure the diagonals of the posts; so, BL to FR and BR to FL. Make sure these measurements are even; that’s how you’ll know all your edges are square.

Chessie Puppy for scale

Stay tuned for drawer construction!

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