Finishing the nightstands

The first step to installing the drawers is adding the drawer slides.  Here you can see where I cut 3/4″ wide strips of hardwood (poplar in this case, because I had it sitting around) and made sure it was flush with the side of the drawer front.

I ended up needing to add a little strip of polar to the inside of the fronts to give me a place to attach the slides.

IF THERE’S ONE THING I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY:  I would have just bought metal drawer slides.  10 inch slides would fit here, with the cleat installed.  If you go that route, just make it so the drawers are 1/2″ narrower on each side than the drawer face.

I put some tape on the side of the drawers so I could mark the top and bottoms of the dado, then transfer this to the frame.

Here it is with all the slide rails attached.  18 ga brad nails hold everything in.  I’m not gonna lie, this was a huge pain.  It took a lot of sanding and re-positioning to get everything to slide smoothly.  Yet another reason metal slides would have been better.

That being said, once these were lined up and waxed (see below) they actually slid really well.


I used this handy jig from Rockler to line up the drawer pulls.  You can definitely do this with just a square, measuring off each drawer.  If you do, make sure you’re consistent.  Always measure center from the top, and center from the left, for example.  That way, if one drawer is slightly taller or wider, the drawer pulls will still form a straight line.

This was just a demo, not my final line up.  Obviously, this is nowhere near on center.

We’re going to use figure eight fasteners to hold the top on, just like I did in my table build.  The instructions say to use a forstner bit.  I find it’s much easier to just take a router, make the cut depth identical to the thickness of the fastener, and then route out the spots.  We’ll want four total, only on the left and right sides.  This will allow the wood to expand front-to-back on the top, or in the width of the grain.  

Grease everything up with some paste wax.  I use Johnson’s.  It’s cheap, effective, and also works great at protecting the cast iron on your table saw, jointer, etc.  Apply liberally to the slides and the dados in the drawers, let dry, then buff smooth.  

The drawer pulls came with two different lengths of #8 machine screws.  One too short, the other far too long.  Luckily, most electricians pliers have a handy bolt cutter specifically for #8 machine screws.  Trim to length.

And here’s the finished product!

Building the nightstand drawers

We’re almost at the finish line of yet another project. Luckily, these drawers are pretty straight forward. Just be patient, and make sure to mark all the components so you don’t forget which pieces go together since each drawer will be fitted to each opening individually.

I couldn’t really find any drawer slides that would fit with the design we’re using. The stands are just slightly too deep for a 10″ slide and too shallow for a 12″ slide. So, we’re going to use hardwood rails that will slide on a dado cut into the drawer sides.

Start by milling up some lumber. I measured each drawer individually, and they were all right at 6 and 1/8th inches tall. I had about enough room for a 10 inch deep drawer as well. Alder rarely comes in widths greater than six inches, which meant I needed to glue pieces together to get the width necessary. Most hardwoods will come in wider sections, so you may be able to avoid this step by using another wood.

The drawer faces will be 5/4 alder to start with. Glue the pieces together, and then plane both sides parallel to a thickness of one inch. My jointer is only six inches wide, which initially presented a problem flattening the pieces. However, there’s a cool work around I learned recently. Joint six inches of the face flat (you may need to remove the blade guard, be careful!). This will leave you with a tiny notch of wood on one side (see below). Clamp a piece of plywood to your planer table, and then put the piece down so the six inches that are jointed sit atop the plywood. The notch will overhand the plywood. The rollers on the planer will push everything flat, leaving the entire top surface deep flat and parallel to the portion you already jointed. Then, simply flip and plane off the notch. Here’s a video as well.

Repeat the same procedure with some 4/4 pieces. Final thickness should be either right at or just under 3/4″, depending on how much flattening you need. Don’t go less than about 5/8 though, we need to make a dado into the side and still maintain enough thickness that the drawer won’t break.

At this point, using the measurements you have from each drawer opening, rip the drawers down to width and square the edges. We’ll be making a 1/4″ inch deep sliding dovetail in the drawer faces to attach the sides, so the sides should actually be cut to 10.25″ in length.

Make sure to mark the pieces and group them: one front and two sides per stack.

This is really tight, but I did that intentionally. We’ll do final trimming later.

Use a 1/2″ wide dovetailing bit in your router table, and set it to cut 1/4″ deep. On each drawer face, make a cut through the entire width, on each side, with the outside edge of the dovetail 1/2″ in from each edge of the drawer.

Then, set the router up to take a 1/4″ deep cut that is just about 3/32nd’s of an inch into the wood on one side. In my case, this left the dovetail a little thick and I had to experiment to get the right fit. Just be careful, and use scraps to test the fit.

Now, on the outside edge of each drawer, make a 3/4″ wide groove that is about 1/4″ deep that runs the entire length of the drawer. Make this about 1″ up from the bottom. I used a dado blade on my table saw, you could use a router table as well.

Finally, add a 1/4″ groove on the bottom inside of the drawer sides and the drawer front that is 1/4″ off the bottom of each piece. Here’s how it should look afterward.

Now, cut a piece of 1/4 plywood for the bottoms. I had some leftover pre-finished birch plywood, which is a godsend for these kinds of projects. It looks nice, and it’s one last step. However, you should have quite a bit of 1/4 alder plywood left that could be used here too. Simply dryfit the drawers, measure the dimensions, and then add the depth of each groove on each side (minus a bit, so it can float as the seasons change).

For the drawer back, I opted to use some 1/2″ alder plywood I had around. You could use solid wood here too, but I opted to reuse some scraps. The groove on the bottom is the same as the one on the sides.

Apply glue to the dovetail slots and slide the sides in.

Apply glue to the sides of the plywood. Fit it in place, use a square to make sure everything is good, then use some 1″ 18 ga brad nails to fasten the sides.

Once the glue has dried, dry fit your drawers. They’re going to be pretty snug. That’s OK, it’s easier to remove wood than to add it back! The best way I could find to trim the drawers is what I show in the picture below:

Since you have to remove the blade guard, be very careful doing this. It did a really good job fine tuning everything though. I tried my thickness planer, but it destroyed the side of one of the drawers. Lesson learned!

And now to apply stain and finish (don’t forget to sand first!). I am only going to finish the drawer front pieces, so I used tape to partition everything.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t pre-finish these pieces like I have done every other piece of the build. I knew the drawers would need lots of fine tuning, and the only way that can be done is once they’re assembled. I didn’t want to cut a finished edge off and have to refinish it, so I figured this option was best in the long run.

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!

Nightstands: The beginning

Well, about 8 months after I said I’d build some nightstands, they’re finally happening! Not that I haven’t been busy during that time!

Here’s a rough plan for what we’ll be building:

Nighstand Plan

IMPORTANT: These plans do NOT show the various joinery techniques. So, when it says a rail pieces is 9.5″ wide, the piece will actually be about 11.5″ with a one inch tenon on each side.

You should be able to make a pair of these with the following:

-Two 8 ft pieces of 8/4 alder

-Two 8 ft pieces of 6/4 alder (I was actually to use scraps from the bed build and didn’t need these, but you may not be as lucky depending on how wide your scraps are)

-A total of 8 ft of 5/4 alder, 6″ wide. In my case, I could only get pieces that were about 5″ wide, so I had to buy a second, narrow board to glue panels up.

-A total of 8 ft of 4/4 alder, 6″ wide (see note right above)

-One sheet of 1/4″ alder plywood. Don’t spend extra to get two sided ply, only one side will show in this project.

As I mention in the materials list, you should have quite a bit of scrap wood left from the bed project. This is the time to use it!

Start by taking some 6/4 Alder and cutting to about 18 inches in length. Width doesn’t really matter much; in fact, random widths may look more natural. You’ll want a total of about 15″ of width. We’re going a little bit longer than the final dimensions to leave room for squaring everything up and adding the tongue for the breadboard ends. Joint both edges, either on a jointer (which I have bought since doing to bed, such a time saver) or, as I did with these pieces, by using a hand plane.

Dry fit the pieces together to make sure the edges are flush against eachother.

Now, glue everything together with clamps and cauls. The cauls, clamped on both sides of the piece, help hold the piece flat. We’re going to plane this down, but the flater the surface, the easier.

I lost a lot of pictures when I changed phones, so here’s the gist of what we’re doing next. After everything is glued, use a power or hand planer to get everything down to about 1″ or 3/4″ thick. The thickness doesn’t matter much, depending on how warped everything is you may or may not need to take more. Don’t go less than 3/4 though.

Joint one of the long edges flat with your hand planer. Use that edge against the fence of your table saw to cut the top to 14″ in width. Then, use the miter gauge on your table saw and a stop block to make one of the side edges perpendicular to the two long parallel edges you just made. Finally, using the miter gauge again to keep everything square, make the final cut at 13″. It should look something like this at that point:


We left it at 13″ wide because we’re going to have two breadboard ends, one on each side. They will be 2″ wide each. We will take a half inch off each side of the top we built to create a tongue, which will combine with the four total inches of breadboards to give us a 16″ wide finished top. Here’s a brief video on doing breadboard ends. You can also look at my table building process for a much larger scale version.

I did, however, find a few ways to make the breadboard end process simpler using a table saw for these small pieces. You can use the miter gauge and stop block, as we did before, to make the tongue. Use the stop block on the rip fence to set the blade so it will take a 1/2 inch cut. Then, set the depth. We want to take 1/3 the thickness off each side. In my case, that meant a 1/4 inch deep cut. Start this video at about 1:30 for a visual explanation. A breadboard end, after all, is essentially a giant tongue and groove joint.

Another thing I did differently was I did a stopped groove to conceal the tongue on the breadboard. That would look like this.

Image result for breadboard ends on table

I cut the groove using a 1/4 inch bit in my router. I marked the edges of the bit with table on my router table, and did a plunge cut, in several passes, to do the internal groove. I didn’t bother hauncing the tenons, I just left the tongue one uniform depth. But I did use drawbore dowels.

Here’s what the top should look like when all is said and done! I stained exactly the same as we did on the bed: Bartley Brown Mahogany Gel Stain and multiple coats of wipe-on polyurethane.

Dining table: The Finished Product

Well, the end is nigh!  In a good way though.  Once you’ve finished part two of the table top build the rest if very simple!

Start by using a chamfer bit to get a 45 degree profile on all of the corners.  This will reduce the sharp edges, and give the table an elegant edge profile.  I used this great cordless trim router I got for Christmas, but literally any router will work.  If you’ve managed to make it this far in the build without the use of a router at all (wow, serious kudos if so) then just use a block plane to add the chamfer.  Sand everything down to a universal smoothness, starting with 80, then 120, the either 180 or 220 grit (this will depend on wood type and stain type, a whole separate blog post on its own…).

Vacuum everything, then apply stain.  I used General Finishes Antique Oak, in a water based formula.  This causes it’s own unique issues, since the water in the stain will raise the grain some.  You can either 1) wipe the whole table down with a damp cloth, let dry, then sand to final grit again (essentially pre-raising the grain) or 2) apply the stain, apply sanding sealer, then sand.  I went with #2.

The shellac based sanding sealer does two things; it helps protect the stain from being removed when I lightly sand the raised grain off.  It also keeps the Aquacoat (see below), which is water-based, from reactivating the stain.

The table after stain and shellac

For the finish, I elected to do multiple steps, in an attempt to reduce the rough texture you can get from the coarse grain of oak.  To do this, I opted to use Aquacoat clear grain pore filler.  Lightly scuff sand the table after both coats of shellac go on with 220 grit sandpaper.  Apply Aquacoat to directions on the container.  I did two layers.  If you use a less grainy wood, like Maple or Cherry, this step won’t be necessary.

After the Aquacoat, allow to dry for a minimum of 72 hours before applying an oil based finish.  Finish with a three coats of General Finishes Arm-r-Seal.

You’re remember that the frame looks like this after being built:


On each of those four short braces, we’re going to put four figure eight clips.  These clips allow the table top to move freely as the seasons cause it to expand and contract.  Mark out four spots on each beam, far enough into the taper that a 3/4″ #8 screw can go in.  I chose to put all 16 fasteners facing the space between each set of beams so they won’t be seen.  Use a router or forstner bit in a drill to make a small 3/4 inch diameter cutout that is the depth of the figure 8 clip.  Predrill holes, and fasten them to the table base and table top!

Assembling the table top pt. 2

Well, we’re finally getting toward the end of this project; or at least it feels like it.  However, this part was by far the most intimidating part of the process for me.  It took a lot of skills that I’ve never tried before.

I sent the two pieces I made in the previous post off to a local lumber yard that let me use their drum sanding services.  For a fee, they took those pieces and sanded them down to an even 1.5″ thick on each one.  Once I got them home, I glued the two pieced together the same way we did in the last post.  Before you glue, though, take this opportunity to start your final dimensions of the table.  Take one of the two pieces, measure from what will be the glue line out 20″.  Use a straight edge guide and cut this out with your circular saw.  Now, one of your boards is exactly 20″ wide and both sides are parallel.  After you glue, you can use that side you just cut as a reference for cutting the other side at 40″.  Then, square up the ends at 94″.  Why 94″?  The final length is going to be 96″.  We will two 3″ breadboards on each end (explained later).  However, each breadboard will be attached to a 2″ tenon.  So we need 94″ total.

Confession time?  My table is a quarter inch narrower than it should be.  I’ve always said I won’t hide my mistakes!  The MDF edge guide I used flexed in the center of the table length while I was cutting and took more off the center than it did the ends.  So, having learned my lesson, I reset the straight edge of fix this, but this time I added a clamp in the center of the guide too.  When I got halfway down the table, I moved the clamp behind my saw so I could finish the cut.  Learn from my mistakes!

Even though the top two pieces should have basically been exactly the same thickness, I did have a slightly raised glue joint on one end.  I was able to clean this up with my hand plane.

NOTE:  I did not sharpen my plane before I used it (actually, for a long time before I used it).  BIG mistake.  I ended up gouging a few spots, and had to belt sand them out.  Sharp tools are a godsend, dull ones make everything harder.  Lesson learned.

On the ends of the tables we’re going to be using breadboards.  Here’s a GREAT article on what they are, and why they’re necessary.  Essentially, the table top is going to want to expand and contract from side to side as the seasons change.  As the pieces expand at different rates and in different ways, the table could warp or cup.  The solution it to fasten to boards on the ends to hold everything flat.

Here’s the kicker: if you don’t do that properly, you could ruin the table.  If you just use screws to attach the pieces (as many, MANY DIY furniture blogs would have you do) you’ll actually keep the table from expanding and contracting.  This will, inevitably, cause cracks and damage to the table.  The solution?  A tongue and groove joint with haunched tenons!

I did a pretty poor job documenting the pictures as Don and I worked on this, but here’s the steps:

  1. Cut a board that is about 2 inches longer than the width of your table.  Plane it to the exact thickness of the table.
  2. Mark out your mortises/tenons. I chose three tenons, each 7 inches in length.  The space between each tenon was also 7 inches.  This left 2.5″ on each side for the haunches.
  3. Add about 1/8 inch on each side of where your tenons are marked.  This will allow the tenons to move as the table expands.
  4. Using a dado blade or router bit, make a groove in each breadboard.   Because my table was 1.5″ thick, I opted for a half inch groove.  I went about 3/4 inch deep to balance strength and aesthetics.
  5. About 1/8 inch at a time, plunge out the mortises with your router.  We did it on a table by marking out the mortises and slowly lowering the piece onto a half inch spiral bit.

Set a guide on your table so that it will take 2 inches off each side.  A really handy trick I found was to use scrap pieces as the spacers between two pieces of plywood.  Glue them together so the spacers are exactly as wide as the table.  After the glue dries, joint one edge of the plywood pieces so they’re dead straight.  When you clamp this guide to the table, you’ll ensure that the shoulder of each side of the tenon matches up on each side!

Mark and cut out the tenons.

Leave a little extra and fine tune as needed.

It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it should be tight.  I used my block plane and chisels to tune everything up.

Mark two hole locations on each breadboard where the tenon will enter the mortise.  I went 1.5″ in from each side of the tenon, and 1″ deep off the shoulder of the breadboard.  It’s all aesthetics, really.  I decided to use walnut dowels, 3/8″ thick to drawbore everything.  The walnut will add a really nice contrast.  You could use any hardwood, really.

Here’s the really important part: ONLY ADD GLUE TO THE CENTER TENON.  You want the other tenons to be able to move back and forth and float.  Now, in my picture below, you’re probably noticing I have glue on the outside dowels, right?  Well, what I did was drive them most of the way in, apply a tiny bit of glue to the dowel, and then tap it in about another 1/4 inch.  That means the glue is only sticking the dowel to the breadboard, not the tenon.

Cut off the dowels with a flush cut saw, clean up with a chisel and sand.

Now that you’ve seen my pictures, I cannot emphasize enough how much you need to watch this video.  There were a few steps I didn’t document well, such as elongating the dowel holes on the outside tenons.  Watch the video!  That’s my cop-out for the day.

Assembling the table top, part 1

I’ve taken a somewhat minimalist approach on this post, because I’ve covered a lot of these topics before.  To build the table top, we’re going to start with 8/4 lumber.  I chose white oak, in part because of the cost (relatively less expensive) and in part because I am a big bourbon drinker, and like the idea of using its signature coopering wood in my build!  As a bonus, it makes the shop smell fantastic after you work with it; it’s like walking into a rickhouse!

If you start with 8/4 rough lumber, you’ll need to do the same steps we did for the hard maple frame in the previous post; joint one face, plane the other side parallel, then joint the edges perpendicular to the faces.  I was shooting for 1.75″ thickness, which would leave a quarter inch to sand and surface the table top once everything was all glued up.  My final thickness will be 1.5″.

If you don’t have access to a jointer or planer, buy S3S or S4S pre-surfaced lumber, and use a hand plane to joint the edges.  You want them as flat and squared as possible.  This will ensure a solid glue joint.  After laying out the boards for the appearance you’d like, use this method to joint the edges.

Laying out the boards for appearance
I would have REALLY liked to avoid that piece of sapwood on the top right board being on the inside.  But, the other side of the board had some worse imperfections, and this was the only way to make it work.  

Once you have the board layout together, it’s time to prep for gluing.  I made some custom 48 inch sawhorses to support the whole thing using this guide.  I then put some duct tape on the top to keep the boards from sticking to the sawhorses.  

Now it’s time to clamp.  While my pipe clamps are five feet long and I could technically clamp the whole table top in once piece, I decided to do it in two pieces.  Doing two, ~20 inch pieces would allow me to send it to my local lumber yard, where they could flatten each piece and sand it down to exactly 1.5″ on their 36″ drum sander.  For those who don’t have access to a service like this, I’ll cover some other options later.  After I get the two pieces back, I’ll only have one glue seam on my final piece as I join those two pieces, which can be easily flattened with a hand plane.

Spread a good, quality wood glue like Titebond 3 on the edges, using an acid brush or foam brush to make sure you get a nice, even layer.

I used cauls to help keep the top as flat as possible.  Essentially, you tape two pieces of wood (I used 2×4 scraps) and flatten one side each.  Then, clamp them down to the table top to keep everything flat.   Pipe clamps do the majority of the work providing pressure for the glue up.  I got 10 of these Pony clamps for $125 with the pipes, which is a ridiculous Craigslist find.  The guild also has a bunch of clamps I could have used.

Follow the directions on the glue bottle, but leave this clamped for at least an hour, if not more.  When the glue is kind of tacky, use a cheap chisel or metal scraper to remove the glue that squeezes out.

Double pedestal dining table, part one!

AUTHORS NOTE:  The first time I published this, I wrote solely on how to do this using machinery that I had at my mentor’s house.  I realized, afterward, that part of why I started to write this blog was to make these projects more accessible.  So, I have now added italicized instructions which clarify how to accomplish these items without access to expensive machinery.

First and foremost, sorry for the long delay between posts. I haven’t stopped working, but the projects have been household maintenance related (and puppy training related!).

The cause of much of my delay…

Just in time for the holidays, I’ve started the building process for our new dining room table. I used several different styles as the overall inspiration for this table. It’s somewhat influenced by the farmhouse style, in that it will have a large, thick slab of wood for the top instead of a thinner top with aprons on the side, like a more traditional table you’d see.

We want a table that can regularly seat 8 people, but could expand to 10 when necessary. Our room is about 14′ long by 12′ wide, so we decided to go with a 40″ x 96″ table. For the height, we’re going to be right at 29″ tall, which is about standard. To make sure this was the right fit, I cut a sheet of plywood and placed it on some sawhorses in the room.

It’s huge! But in a good way. And, actually, it fits pretty well within the normal spacing parameters. The long sides are each 50″ from the walls, and the short sides are right at 30″. Everything I found recommends 36″ to allow for chairs and room to move. Since we won’t regularly seat people on the ends, I’m not worried that we only have 30″ there. That also leaves us 14″ for a china cabinet on the right wall, which should be just about right for my grandmother’s cabinet we will be using in the future.

I have been very, very lucky to be paired with Donald Turner as my woodworking mentor through the St. Louis Woodworker’s Guild. Don has been a great resource for design, construction, and technical advice. He’s helping me take my idea and make it reality, and I can’t be more grateful. The entire frame building process took place at his shop, which makes mine look puny! Here’s the design he helped draft based on my ideas:  Pedestal Table 2D design

For the table base, I’m using this kit from Osborne Wood Products. I ordered it in soft maple, since we’ll be painting the entire base and frame. We also opted for the “extended” version that is a little longer and includes a third leg on each pedestal. If you were going to make your table smaller and sit people on each end (say, a 72″ by 36″ table) you’d probably want to opt for this kit.

The top of this table is going to be solid white oak, 1.5″ thick. My best estimate is it will be about 200 lbs. Strength is key here, and it’s better to overbuild. I could use oak for the frame, but the grain would be difficult to hide. The base is soft maple, but I don’t think that’s really going to be strong enough for the frame pieces. On Don’s advice, I opted for hard maple. It’s strong, cheap(ish), and paints well. I purchased it rough cut in 8/4 from WunderWoods in St. Charles.

If you don’t have access to a jointer and planer, consider buying S3S or S4S presurfaces 8/4 lumber.  While it won’t be perfectly flat, it will have most of the work done, and you can clean it up with a hand plane.  

Since it’s rough cut, the first step is to establish a flat side. That’s a job for a jointer. Don’s jointer makes mine look like child’s play.

I’ll put this on my Christmas list

Once we established a flat side, we can use the planer to make the opposite side completely flat and parallel.

Multiple passes required

We took the thickness down to 1.75″. We then ripped the pieces to 2.5″ widths, and cut them down to final length on the miter saw. The two long stretchers were 90″ and the four shorter stretchers were each 34″.

We’re using a half lap joint to build the frame. This will make a strong frame that can be easily assembled. It’s also a relatively simple joinery technique. The top of the pedestal is 8″ wide, so we laid out the spacing for each lap joint accordingly.

Set the table saw to exactly half the width of the board, then cut through it in multiple passes (pictured below). Use a miter gauge or crosscutting sled on your table saw to do this.  You could also cut it with a handsaw, bandsaw, or even a jig saw.  Just make sure you’re consistent. Use a chisel to remove the waste.

To cut the taper, we marked the line with a pencil based on the design Don drafted.  Then, we cut about 1/16th inch off that line on the bandsaw, and used the jointer to clean the edge up.

In absence of a bandsaw, use a straight edged piece of MDF to guide a circular saw to cut the angle, similar to how I’ve cut sheet goods in previous posts.  

Checking the fit

I forgot to get pictures of the next step, but hopefully a written explanation should suffice. With the frame on a table, bottom side up, place the pedestal (bolt side down) onto the frame. Align the pedestal with a square so that the sides are flush with the frame, then mark where the bolts touch.

Using the smallest bit you have, drill a small pilot hole through center of the spots where the bolts were marked. We used a drill press to ensure the holes would be square, but you could get away with a drill guide like I’ve shown previously.

Turn the pieces over, and using a forstner bit (on a drill press) or spade bit (on hand drill), make a hole large enough to receive the washer that came with the kit, and drill about halfway through the wood. Then, drill out a 3/8 inch hole through both sides where the bolt will go through.

The picture below is how it looks when assembled.  I sat on it, and it had no problem handling my weight.  We don’t plan on gluing any of the half lap joints; the bolts should pull everything together, and it will be easier to move if it’s not glued.

Walnut T Desk with File Cabinets

This is a recent piece my friends commissioned for their home office. They wanted to be able to work next to each other, but weren’t able to find something they really liked off the shelf. The top of the T is 9.5 feet long. Table top is 3/4 A2 walnut plywood framed with 6/4 lumber. Cabinets are the same plywood, with prefinished birch drawers and solid walnut faces. All finished with a layer of shellac, then grain filler with Zar Moorish Teak, then three coats of semi gloss Arm-r-seal.

I’ll start by admitting I didn’t do a great job photographing every step, but that’s partially because this was a custom job for my friends, and I wanted it to be a one-of-a-kind piece, so I didn’t upload plans like I normally would. The top is built in three sections for transportation and convenience. The top pictured is one of two that creates the top of the T. It is 3/4 walnut ply, cut to 23″ in width and 56 inches in length. The frame is walnut, cut to about 1″ thick with a 1″ rabbet on which the table top rests and is glued to. This makes the desk 24″ wide by 57″ tall.

On the mitered corners, to add some strength, I decided to put some splines. I clamps these two scraps to the table top, then used my biscuit joiner to cut a spline into the miter. Two splines on each corner.

I took some walnut and planed it down to fit snugly into the splines; about 14mm or so. Glued in place.

Picture of the splines after flush cutting and finishing. I got the finishing steps from this article, finish #1:

Drawer faces in process. I know the opening to my cabinets is 25.5″ tall, so I am opting for 26″ of total drawer face, leaving a quarter inch overhand on the top and bottom.

Planed, sanded, awaiting the finish.

Plywood cabinet boxes built using general dimensions from this video. I decided to add a back, get rid of the top (since it will be covered with the desk top) and add a piece of support to the top of the front as well. Additionally, instead of trimming it out with lumber, I edge banded the plywood with walnut veneer.

Here you can see some of the pockethole screws. I tried using a knock-off from Amazon, but had really bad results. The lock ring was loose, and even when it wasn’t loose, the depth on the holes was too deep and the points of the screws poked through. Kreg K4 to the rescue! Well worth the extra cost, worked like a charm. Drawer slides are from Rockler.

Half inch prefinished ply for the drawers, with a 1/4″ groove for 1/4″ prefinished ply to create the bottoms. The Kreg Microjig was a lifesaver here as well. I modified the plans from the video so that the screws would be on the face (which will be covered by the solid walnut front) and on the back, where they won’t be seen.

A look at one of the cabinets after completion.

The final product, assembled! Metal L brackets on the corners where the parts join, and I simply plywood box built to add extra support on the back. Metal brackets sit inside the file cabinet and screw up into the plywood to hold the top down.

Sinker Cypress Flag Memorial Case

For the Reddit r/woodworking Dovetail challenge, I decided to finally tackle a project I’ve been meaning to work on for a few months: a memorial case for the flag my family was presented at my grandfather’s funeral in November. My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression, served in the military until retirement, and raised a large and loving family. To honor his roots and the connection we have to our family, I built the case completely out of cypress taken from our family’s land there.

If you’re looking for perfect dovetails, this won’t be for you. But, it’s a special wood (in rarity and in sentiment) and I wanted to think outside the (90 degree) box (literally and figuratively) when contemplating a way to incorporate dovetails. This was really something I did for my family and myself, but I also know my grandfather would be proud to know that I made this and would want me to share the process as well.

The sinker cypress I had to work with. This was reclaimed from my family’s property. I don’t know how old the tree was, or how long it had been in the mud, but the character is beautiful.
Using these plans I began ripping down the cypress. Really the only change I made to the plans was that, instead of just gluing the joints, I added dovetails and dovetail splines.
To get the necessary 22.5 degree angle, this was really the best option. I also build a 45 degree miter sled for my table saw, with a 22.5 degree piece I added on to cut the molding that gets glued on.
I’m sure there are many ways to layout the dovetails, but the dividers method was by far the easiest for me. It worked really well. I used a bevel set to 7 or 8 degrees to mark the angle, I honestly can’t remember.
Marking the waste
Using a Japanese style dovetail saw I got off amazon, I was able to cut the pins.
It was about here that I realized how brittle this sinker cypress is. It would continue to cause me issues, as the cypress wanted to splinter really bad. My chisels are sharp, but this wood just didn’t want to cooperate.
The fit. It’s not perfect, but these were literally the first handcut dovetails I’ve ever done, so I am happy with them!
Again, not perfect, but I am happy with them. Also, a lesson for others to learn from my mistakes. Don’t make your rabbet cut go through your dovetails! I think my family will forgive me for that mistake.
Glued and clamped.
After glue up.
Now it’s time to mark out the splines. I used the same dividers method, but opted for only three splines since I was worried about the very thin ends on these 45 degree joints.
Use a saw and chisel to remove the waste, just like a regular dovetail.
Since everything HAD to be hand cut, I laid out the rough measurements of the splines, trimmed with my chisel to fit, and sawed into individual splines.
Splines in, glue setting.
Used a flush cut saw to trim the splines. you can see where the splines and the tails splintered quite a bit.
Beauty shot of the splines
I decided to coat with shellac since durability isn’t really an issue. I really liked the way the shellac brought out the color in the wood too.
I had another piece of thinner cypress, also from our land, that I planed down to about 1/4 inch thick. Three panels, edge glued and then trimmed to make the back panel. Not pictured: I cut a sheet of Lexan glass to fit the inside of the case as well. The glass shops near me either 1) wouldn’t make a triangle cut or 2) wanted $80 to do it. $20 sheet of Lexan to the rescue.
The finished product. Well, almost finished. But I want to leave the final step of filling the case with my grandfather’s flag as a private means of remembrance for my family.