I'm a big fan of hidden compartments. I also enjoy designing and building my own furniture. This is my first attempt at combining both. This is also my first instructable. I built these matching nightstands for a friend and his wife. She provided me with the basic design, size and finish. His only request was if I could add a lock on one of the nightstands to secure a firearm and other valuables. I decided to surprise them both by building in a locking hidden drawer. I built these nightstands using solid oak dimensional lumber as well as 3/4 inch oak veneer plywood. Both pieces are identical, but only one has the hidden drawer. The dimensions for the bedside tables are 28 inches tall x 22 inches wide x 18 inches deep and were copied from the inspiration of this project; the Mason Bedside Table from Potterybarn. The tools I used for this project were: miter saw, circular saw, router, air nailer, electric drill, miscellaneous clamps, screws and glue. In addition, I used the tool that got me started on woodworking; the Kreg Jig. I used my miter saw for all of the cuts on the dimensional hardwood and my circular saw for the cuts on the plywood.
Step 1: Build the Top
I started the project by building the top. I wrapped the front and sides of a 18 1/2 inch x 16 1/4 inch piece of 3/4 inch oak veneer plywood with 1 x 2 solid oak, mitering the front corners. The dimensional hardwood I used measures 1 3/4 inch x 3/4 inch and is from a local millwork shop near my house. This is a bit wider than the pieces you can get at the big box stores. I secured the solid oak to the plywood using glue and pocket screws in the angled holes I made with the Kreg jig pocket hole system. The finished top is 22 inches wide x 18 inches deep. A 3/4 inch cove moulding trims out the top. I mitered the front corners and glued/nailed the side pieces to the top leaving a 1/4 inch reveal. I did not fasten the cove at the front as this will be part of the front of the hidden drawer.
Step 2: Build the Sides
The sides are built by attaching 1 x 2 x 28 inch oak to the sides of a 15 inch x 25 inch piece of 3/4 inch oak plywood using the Kreg jig. This allows for a 3 inch leg at the bottom of the table. I added a 15 inch long oak 1 x 3 (actual size 3/4 inch x 2 1/2 inch) at the top and a 15 inch long oak 1 x 2 at the bottom of the plywood to fit between the 28 inch 1 x 2s. I also glued/tacked a 15 inch long 1/4 x 2 piece of oak on the 1 x 3 at the top to match the width of the legs and to give a shadow line near the top. To give the sides a little more detail I added a small moulding to the inside of the frame. I mitered all of the corners and tacked them in place with a pin nailer.
I also cut a 1 1/2 inch wide by 1/4 inch deep vertical groove on the inside of the 3/4 inch plywood using my router. The groove (a dado cut the same direction as the grain of the wood) was set back about 4 inches from the front and extends down about 12 inches from the top. This is to hold part of the secret drawer locking mechanism that I will explain in more detail later in this instructable. Note: The photo of the groove was taken after I had stained the table.
The finished sides were then screwed to the top using pocket holes/screws.
Step 3: Add Rails to Connect the Sides
In frame and panel construction the vertical pieces of the frame are called stiles and the horizontal pieces are the known as rails. Using the miter saw I cut three 16 1/2 inch long 1 x 2 rails and one 16 1/2 inch 1 x 3 rail. Using the Kreg jig/pocket hole screws I connected the rails to the stiles which are the two side panels. The upper most rail is the 1 x 3 and is left loose as it will be the drawer front for the hidden drawer. I recessed the rails 1/4 inch from the front to match the profile of the side panels. I used solid 1 x 6 oak for the drawer fronts. Actual dimensions were 3/4 inch x 5 1/2 inches so I spaced the rails 5 3/4 inches apart to allow for a 1/8 inch gap at the bottom and top of each drawer. I prefer the look of an inset drawer although they require more precision to build than an overlay drawer. Adding the height of the 1 x 3, the three 1 x 2s, and the three 1 x 6s with gaps equals 25 inches which matches the panels for the sides. For the rear of the table I used a 16 1/2 inch 1 x 3 rail at the top and a 16 1/2 inch 1 x 2 rail at the bottom. Before installing the rear rails I first cut a 1/4 inch wide x 1/2 inch deep slot in the bottom of the 1 x 3 and a 1/4 inch wide x 1/4 inch deep slot in the top of the 1 x 2. These were then secured to the table's sides using pocket holes/screws. I cut a 16 inch x 21 1/4 inch panel for the back from 1/4 inch plywood. To insert the panel it must first be slid into the slot cut in the upper rail and then dropped down into the slot in the lower rail. Sorry, but I forgot to take a picture of the back.
Step 4: Build the Drawers
I built the 3 main drawers out of 3/4 inch oak plywood. The drawers are 15 1/2 inches wide x 14 inches deep x 5 inches tall. I used the router to cut a groove in the drawer sides to hold the drawer bottoms which were cut from 1/4 inch plywood. Using wood glue and pocket hole screws, I assembled the boxes making sure to align the boards with the pocket screws to the front and back. The holes of the front board will be covered by the drawer front and the holes at the rear will only be seen if the drawer is removed. The drawer slides are 14 inch Knape & Vogt 8450FM full extension soft close slides. I feel these are the nicest soft close drawer slides available. They are not too stiff to open and have a silky smooth operation. The drawer slides were installed per the directions that came with the slides. The solid oak drawer fronts are fastened to the drawer boxes with screws that are drilled from inside the drawer box front panel into the backside of the 1 x 6 oak boards.
The hidden drawer box was built using 1 x 2 poplar and assembled with pocket screws just as the other drawers. The drawer bottom was glued and nailed to the bottom of the box In order to keep this drawer as deep as possible. I lined the inside of the drawer bottom with grey felt. The drawer front was made up of a 16 1/2 inch 1 x 3, 1/4 x 2, and 3/4 inch cove moulding. I beveled the edges of the 1 x 3 a couple of degrees to allow for easier, bind free closing. I built this drawer first and used a cheaper knock-off soft close drawer slide. It is much stiffer to open and does not open fully even though it was advertised as being full extension slides. If I were to build another I would stick with the Knape & Vogt slides.
Step 5: The Secret Locking Mechanism
I remember watching the movie "National Treasure, Book of Secrets" and being intrigued by the Resolute Desk with the secret compartment and combination lock using the desk drawers. I wanted to incorporate something similar to keep the hidden drawer locked.
I wanted the locking mechanism to be simple and purely mechanical without using springs or cables. The design I came up with uses nothing more than some levers, bearings and gravity. To build the lock I started by cutting grooves into the inside of the 3/4 inch plywood sides (as mentioned in an earlier step). The grooves are 1 1/2 inch wide x 1/4 inch deep and extend about 12 inches down from the top. This slot will allow a 1/4 x 2 x 10 inch piece of oak to sit flush within the channel. The top 2 drawer slides will keep the 1/4 x 2 from falling out. I drilled a 5/16 inch hole in the 1/4 x 2 oak just above the upper drawer slide on the left and just above the second drawer slide on the right. I then glued in a 5/8 inch long 5/16 diameter oak dowel into the hole. I pressed on some bearings that I had scavenged from an old set of roller blades that fit tightly on the dowels. I also drilled a 3/8 inch hole in the 1/4 x 2 about 4 inches down from the top. I screwed and glued a 1/2 inch cleat to the bottom of the hidden drawer at the back edge of the drawer box.. I then used a piece of 3/8 inch oak to act as a wedge at the hidden drawer's cleat. I drilled and glued a 5/16 inch dowel in the wedge to line up with the hole I had earlier drilled into the 1/4 x 2. I counter sunk and screwed the wedge on to the table's inside using screws with a smooth collar near the head so that the wedges could pivot freely. The weight of the 1/4 x 2 and the bearing keep the wedge locked on the drawer cleat. A small trapezoid shaped cam screwed on the left side of the top drawer and right side of the second drawer will momentarily lift the bearing causing the wedge to drop away from the cleat. Where the cam is mounted on the drawer determines how to position the drawer for unlocking.
Step 6: Finishing
I started by sanding the table with 150 grit sandpaper and followed up with 320 grit until everything was smooth. Sanding is my least favorite part of the project although I love the feel of a piece of wood after at has been worked with some fine sandpaper. After removing the dust with a tack cloth I applied a coat of 1 part General Finishes Ebony Dye Stain mixed with 3 parts of their Natural Stain. This combination gave the bedside tables a gray/black, almost silver looking finish. These dyes/stains are water based and are easy to work with. They dry fast and have no odor, however, because they are water based they did raise the grain in a few areas. I smoothed these out by lightly sanding the areas with super fine sandpaper. Next, I added 3 coats (with light sanding between coats) of General Finishes water based Satin Top Coat to protect the stain and give it some depth. The last step of the project was to install the drawer pulls
I took all of the pictures of the bedside tables with my iPhone and for some reason could not get the color of the stain to be an accurate representation of what they look like in person. All in all, I am happy with the way they turned out. I enjoyed the challenge of hiding the secret door and engineering the locking mechanism. My friend ( and more importantly his wife!) love their new night stands.