Introduction: Hide-away Bedside Table (Measured Drorings #1)

Before anyone begins: I made this project years ago, and I didn't takes photos or videos during and after. What I do have are two current photos of the finished product, and 12 drawings to go with the instruction steps; the drawings are included among the files, as generic PDFs. The text instructions are very long, and may not fit neatly into this site's format. If for some reason you can't receive all of the text or make sense of the images, you might not want to bother with this project.

Measured Drorings #1

One of the spinoffs of PBS’s This Old House franchise of televised home repair shows is The New Yankee Workshop, in which master carpenter Norm Abram makes wooden furniture. Norm tries to make the process inclusive by offering detailed plans, which could be used by a viewer to make the same piece Norm is making. Norm refers to these plans as measured drawings, but as a true New Englander he says what my ears perceive as “measured drorings.”

I have had no training in carpentry, but over the years I have managed to assemble a fair number of purely utilitarian wooden constructs for home use. Some of these were copied from existing objects, while others were custom-designed to meet specific needs or opportunities. Just about all of the components are plywood, pine lumber (two-by-fours or smaller), and common fasteners. I have used a power drill, a handheld jig saw, a table saw, hand tools, and a workbench and sawhorses for clamping items in various configurations. The results are fairly crude, but they’ve held together and served their purposes. I will now share these creations with the world, by offering my own measured drorings.

Please note that I am making this design freely available to whomever may want to use it, and I receive no money for doing this. I believe that the object arising from the design is useful, but I have no control over how people might build and operate it, nor over what could happen if someone diverges from these instructions. This may come across as legalistic to the point of stomach-turning, but I hereby deny responsibility for any problems or mishaps that may result from anyone reading this text, observing these figures, or attempting to make and use this object.

Hide-away bedside table

My wife and I live in a house that meets our needs, and while we have at times brought in professionals to make modifications, we are mostly content with the basic dimensions. The master bedroom includes a queen bed, with the head along the west wall; a wife-side nightstand that I built (perhaps to be the subject of another droring), which takes up the space to the bay-windowed south wall; and dressers along the north, or husband-side, wall. For a while I crammed a chair with a shattered leg into a corner to serve as my nightstand. Then, after we added three IKEA dressers along the north wall, the corner was filled. This left a space between the bed and the dressers that is 21 inches wide, and there also needed to be swing space for the door of the dresser in the corner (which is a tall cabinet with shelves). A rigid nightstand would have to be moved out of the way any time it was necessary to open the cabinet. I therefore over-thought and over-designed for something that wouldn’t have to be moved all the time.

The result is a small table, hinged so that the top swings up and rearward to vertical, and brings the front legs with it. The front legs are themselves hinged at their tops, so they get out of the way also. A pivoted bar bolted to the back can be rotated up to hold the raised top in place. In this arrangement, the object is no more than three inches thick (with the back very close to the west wall) and less than an inch up from the floor, leaving plenty of room for the cabinet door to be opened fully.

To return this thing to table duty, one rotates the bar to horizontal and lowers the top to horizontal, while adding the slight extra effort to pull the legs all the way to the front, so that they rest towards the front of the base. (Chocks could be affixed to the base to secure the bottoms of the legs, but I haven’t found this addition to be necessary.) The solid back and solid base provide nearly all of the needed stability; I have also added uprights to the back (just inward of where the legs rest when in hide-away mode) to stabilize the structure even more. The accompanying photos show the object in its two arrangements.

This object has been in place for at least ten years, and it continues to hold up well, but it may be inevitable that it would deteriorate (especially as cats continue to jump on it). Only so much can be done with small screws in plywood. In particular, the screws driven up from the base into the back may slowly erode the wood in the back, and the back might start to wobble. It might be reasonable to add shelf brackets between the base and the back, to limit any tendency to wobble. I use the nightstand for light duty only, to hold a small lamp and immediate overnight stuff (glasses, phone, whatever I was reading). When it’s time to raise the tabletop, I move the lamp to the top of the cabinet.

Full disclosure: As one of the photos shows, I have added shims to the underside of the top to get a secure placement between the underside and the uprights. This adjusts for the thickness of the hinges between the top and the back. To avoid needing shims, you might try to make each upright about 24-1/8” inches long. I advise against chiseling gaps in the top of the back for the hinges, because this could interfere with the top being raised fully to vertical.

Materials and equipment

Here’s what you’ll need to build this thing:

  • Plywood (I used oak), ¾” thick, cut into three rectangles:18” x 18” (the top),18” x 24” (the back), and 20” x 21” (the base; these are the as-built dimensions, although the width could be 18” instead of 20” to allow for easier assembly). To avoid confusion (I hope), bold type will be used from here on to refer to these three pieces of plywood.
  • A one-by-two, cut into four 24” lengths (or, as noted above, maybe two of them at about 24-1/8”) and one 8” length. (NOTE: The actual dimensions of the lumber referred to as “one-by-two” or “1x2” are 3/4” thick and 1-1/2” wide.)
  • 4 cabinet hinges, 1-1/2” x 3/4” including two screws each; the screws should not cut deeper into the wood than half an inch, so they won’t break through the top (screw length matters only for the screws connecting the legs to the top; longer screws could be used on the hinges connecting the top and the back, if they fit the hinge holes and recesses). A further note about the hinges: I used the packaged kind that come with matching screws. As you go through the steps below, you will want the hinges placed so that they can go from completely closed (with the metal sides together) to open at right angles. Each hole for a screw is narrower at the bottom than above, to match with the head of the screw that will go through the hole. Before you attach any hinge, make sure that it will move as it should and that each screw will rest flat within its hole. The figures should help make this clear.
  • 10 wood screws that cut about 1-1/4” into the wood; I used round-headed blade screws.
  • 6 wood screws that cut about 2” into the wood; I used Phillips.
  • 1 threaded bolt, 2” to 2-1/2” long, with a matching hex nut and two plain metal washers that also match the bolt.
  • Whatever tools you think are necessary to do the cutting mentioned above and to make the connections to follow; I used a power drill to make the screw holes (including slight countersinks for the bottom of the base, so the screw heads wouldn’t protrude) and then hand-drove the screws, but drillable screws could also be used. The screws that come with the hinges, however, may not be drillable.

It will help, in some of the steps, if parts and sub-assemblies can be vised or clamped to a workbench or sawhorses. I suggest reading all of the steps below before doing any of the work, because some options are mentioned that might involve taking different approaches from the beginning.

I sanded all of the wood before assembly, and did a little spot-sanding after assembly, as needed. I did not paint, stain, varnish, seal, or otherwise coat this project.

Step 1:

As shown in Figure 1, set the back on a flat horizontal surface. (If you care which side of the back will be on the inside of the finished table, set the back so that this side is up.) Place two of the long 1x2s along the long side of the back, 1-1/2”-inch-side down, at least 2-1/2” inward from each edge. (NOTE: If you are trying to avoid using shims, use the two longer 1x2s and align the bottoms of the uprights with the bottom of the back, allowing the upper ends of the uprights to go slightly above the upper edge of the back.) (NOTE ALSO: There is a different option for placement of the legs, mentioned in Step 3; if you like this option, you’ll have to place the uprights further inward to get out of the way of the legs.)

Align the uprights so that they will be vertical when the back itself is vertical. Now, to avoid potential problems later, set the top on the flat surface, with its rear edge against the upper edge of the back, and place the legs on the top in the positions where they will be attached later, each with its outer edge ½” inward from the outer edge of the top (see Figure 2). Move things around as needed to make sure that the legs, when attached, will not contact the uprights. Then set the top and legs aside.

As shown in Figure 3, drill holes through the uprights and into (but not all the way through) the back, and secure the uprights to the back with the 10 screws that cut about 1-1/4” inches into the wood, so that the screw heads are up against the 1x2s. The screws will not poke through the back, so the outside surface of the back would not be damaged.

Step 2:

It’s easier to do this now than it would be later. Drill a hole in the back, 1-1/2” inches down from the upper edge and nine inches from each side edge, to accommodate the bolt. (I drilled a hole of about 1/4” diameter and chose the bolt and nut to fit that hole.) Drill a same-diameter hole in the middle of the 8-inch 1x2. Insert the bolt (with one washer at the head) in the hole through the rear of the back, then through the 8-inch 1x2, and secure it with the other washer and the nut (see Figure 4). There should be enough of the bolt left for the nut to fit on it completely, and for the 1x2 to rotate. For now, set the 1x2 horizontally (so it is completely below the upper edge of the back) and tighten the nut enough to keep the 1x2 in place during the rest of the work on the project. (NOTE: If you choose to place the legs, uprights, or both differently than is shown here, you may have to move this 1x2 or remove it temporarily.)

Step 3:

Arrange the back and the base so that the bottom of the back meets an edge of the base at a right angle, and secure the two pieces against one another with vises, clamps, or whatever is available. I chose to make the base wider and longer than the 18”x18" dimensions of the top, to make sure that the bottoms of the legs would rest on the base under any conditions (such as later wobbling between the base and the back). This means, however, that one cannot just rest the base and back together on a flat surface, on their sides, to do the joinery. If one wants to make the base only 18” wide, to match the width of the back, feel free. (One could, of course, set the legs further inward, so there would be no problem with the base being 18” wide; in this case, the uprights would have to placed further inward to leave space for the legs.) To align the base (wider than 18”) and back, I set the back vertically and upside-down, clamped it to a vertical surface, and set the base horizontally (also upside-down) so that the rear edge of the base met and aligned with the bottom edge of the back (see Figure 5). The base should overlap the back evenly on each side, but I don’t think this needs to be measured precisely. Once the pieces are arranged this way and (to the extent necessary) secured in place, drill/drive the 2” wood screws through the bottom of the base and into the back and the uprights, with countersinking as needed so that the screw heads do not protrude from the base (see Figure 6).

This kind of butt-joinery is not considered ideal by carpenters. Also, the placement of the screws into a parallel layer of plywood and parallel to the grain of the 1x2s might lead to wearing-away of the wood around the screws, and wobbling. See the earlier statements about options for adding more support, although I’d want to avoid anything that sticks out from the bottom of the base or pokes a pointed screw tip through the plywood. What might work: shelf brackets in the elbow between the back and base, secured with nuts and bolts, with the holes in the base countersunk from the bottom so that the base remains flat on the floor (see Figure 7).

If you’d prefer to cut dovetails and connect the base and back with glue, you may then have to change the dimensions of the back to make it longer, so that there is still a 24” space between the upper surface of the base and the underside of the top in the finished piece. I also don’t know if that kind of joinery would hold up structurally, nor if screws connecting the dovetails in both directions would be any better.

Step 4:

Each hinge I’ve used is arranged so that one side surrounds each end of the pin and the other side surrounds the middle of the pin. The side surrounding the ends is rounded and the side curves towards the pin. The side surrounding the middle can lie flat against a flat surface.

I chose to set the legs inward from the front edge of the top. I drew a line two inches in from the front edge of the top and aligned the outside of the fully-flat side of a hinge to this line, with the outer corner of the hinge ½” in from the top’s side edge (see Figure 8). I then marked the wood through the holes for the hinge, removed the hinge, and mirror-imaged these steps on the other side. I then drilled the holes in the top for the hinges. (The hinges you use may not be exactly the same as mine, so I’m not giving measurements for marking the screw holes; just place the hinge where it should be and make the marks through the hinge holes.)

Step 5:

See Figure 9 for details on the hinges. To attach a hinge to a leg, I secured the leg vertically to a sawhorse, and placed on its end the side of a hinge that surrounds the ends of the pin, centered on the leg, with the holes concave, to receive the screw heads. Because of the curve towards the pin on that side of the hinge, I placed on the leg as much of the flat part of that side of the hinge as I could. I marked the holes on the leg end, removed the hinge, drilled holes, replaced the hinge, and drove the screws. I then repeated these steps for the other leg.

Step 6:

Steps 4 and 5 set up the easiest way to attach the legs to the top (see Figure 10): Rest the top on a flat surface with the underside facing up; rest a leg along the underside so that the unattached side of the hinge lines up with holes drilled in the top; drive the screws; repeat for the second leg.

Step 7:

This involves driving more screws parallel to plywood layers, and these screws are even shorter: the ones that come with the hinges. If there is wood erosion here, however, there is a way to address the problem: now and then, relocate the hinges elsewhere along the edges between the top and the back. In the table that I made, there has in fact been no erosion from the hinge screws, which still seem snug.

With these hinges, it doesn’t matter which piece of wood gets the pin-end or pin-middle side of the hinge. What matters are setting the hinge with the pin along the inside of the upper edge of the back (see Figure 11), and making sure that the holes in the hinges are shown as wider above than below. I set a hinge so that the outward side was ½” from the outer edge of the back, drew the screw holes, removed the hinges, and drilled the holes. These actions were then repeated, mirror-image, for the other hinge. The actions were repeated yet again to create the hinge-screw holes for the rear edge of the top.

Step 8:

This will complete the construction, and if some of the work seems awkward, I can say only that this was less awkward than changing the order of some of the steps (like attaching the top to the back before attaching the legs to the top). It might be easiest if two people are involved, one to hold the top and another to drive the screws, but I was able to complete the tasks by myself. My preferred order for the final tasks is thus (see Figure 12): drive the screws to attach the hinges to the upper edge of the back, and then secure the top and back so that the screws can be driven to attach the hinges to the rear edge of the top. If you have chosen to make the base 18” wide, you could rest the base-back assembly on its side on a flat surface, and then place the top-legs assembly, also on its side, close enough to allow for the screws to be driven to the top. If the legs seem to get in the way, one could tape or bungee them to the top to hold them still. What I did, however, was to set the base-back assembly upright, hold the top horizontally with the legs down and making contact with the base, and drive the screws.

With construction finished, loosen the nut on the rotating bar enough for it to be pivoted (vertical for hide-away mode, horizontal for table mode), but not enough for the bar or the nut to be completely loose.

Step 9: Conclusion

Before embarking on this project, one may want to study materials costs, and think through the steps to get a rough idea of how long it would take to do all of the work. In my case, I considered the costs to be modest because I already had all of the necessary tools, and a free weekend provided enough time. (I also have no idea if the price of oak plywood has risen steeply over the years, and someone might be reading this several years after I post it, so giving a current price may not be helpful.) Because this has turned out to be a long and involved set of instructions, I would recommend the project only to someone who’d benefit from the hide-away aspect.

--E. Michael Blake