Introduction: How to Build Night Tables

About: The official instructable for Popular Mechanics magazine, reporting on the DIY world since 1902.

While a bed and dresser are the main components of any bedroom suite, today’s well-appointed chamber isn’t complete without a pair of night tables to flank the bed. Our design complements the bigger pieces, yet differs enough to create some eye-catching interest. As for utility, there’s room for a lamp, clock and phone on the top, a drawer for pens and paper, plus an ample shelf for books, magazines or a laptop computer. And, by lengthening the legs below the bottom shelf, you can use the design as an end table or lamp table for your living room or family room.

To match the other pieces in our anniversary furniture series, our solid mahogany night table has wenge detailing and inlays, and decorative panels veneered with highly figured pomele sapele. The veneer and lumber are available from a number of mail-order supply houses. One excellent source for both solid lumber and veneer is A&M Wood Specialty Inc., 358 Eagle St. N., Box 32040, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada N3H 5M2; Making The Legs Rip and crosscut 13⁄4-in.-thick stock to size for the legs. Then, install a straight bit in the router table and use it to cut the 1⁄8 x 1⁄8-in. rabbet at the leg corners for the wenge inlay.

This project was originally published in the November 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics. You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.

Step 1: Materials

Step 2: Making the Legs

Rip and crosscut 13⁄4-in.-thick stock to size for the legs. Then, install a straight bit in the router table and use it to cut the 1⁄8 x 1⁄8-in. rabbet at the leg corners for the wenge inlay.

To make the inlay, clamp a rip fence to your band saw and cut slightly oversize 5⁄32-in.-thick strips of wenge stock (Photo 1). Then, rip these pieces into square inlay strips and crosscut them to length. Apply a small bead of glue to a leg rabbet and position one of the wenge strips. Use masking tape to clamp it in place (Photo 2), and repeat the process for each inlay.

When the glue has set, use sandpaper or a scraper to trim the strips flush. Next, cut 3⁄4-in.-thick wenge into 13⁄4-in.-square blocks for the table feet. Bore and countersink a screwhole in the center of each block and secure the blocks with glue and screws (Photo 3). Then, use your table saw or a sharp plane to cut the 3⁄8-in. chamfer around the bottom edges of each foot.

Step 3: Veneering

Cut veneer sheets to size for the side and top panels. Since the pomele sapele veneer is quite expensive, use plain sliced mahogany veneer for the inner surfaces. When preparing the veneer, plan to make the panels about 1 in. larger than finished dimension—you’ll trim them to exact size when the veneering is done.

Cut the veneer for both the side and top panels, using a straightedge to guide the veneer saw (Photo 4). Make a series of light passes to cut through the sheets. If you press too hard, you run the risk of tearing or splitting the delicate veneer. Then, cut 3⁄4-in.-thick MDF (medium-density fiberboard) to the same size as the veneer for the panel cores, and prepare two similar-size cauls from 3⁄4-in.-thick MDF, plywood or other flat stock. Begin with the side panels.

You can easily press two or even four of these small panels at one time. Begin by applying glue to one face of one of the core panels (Photo 5). Invert the core onto one of the veneer sheets and apply glue to the exposed surface. Carefully position the veneer sheet on the second side. Repeat the process for each panel. Stack the panels and place the cauls on the top and bottom of the pile. Use kraft or wax paper sheets between each panel assembly and also between the panels and cauls.

Apply clamps to the stack, beginning in the center and working toward the edges (Photo 6). Use as many clamps as you can fit around the stack to ensure maximum clamping pressure. Then, veneer the tabletop. Let the glue set for at least 2 hours, separate the panels and allow them to air-dry overnight. Use a cabinet scraper or sandpaper to remove any paper or glue on the veneered faces, and trim the panels to finished size.

Step 4: The Sides and Shelf

Cut the side rails to size, mark the joining plate positions, and cut the slots (Photo 7). Apply glue to the slots, plates and mating edges, join a rail to each panel and clamp until the glue sets. Next, lay out and cut the joining plate slots for the leg/panel joints and assemble the table sides (Photo 8).

Mark the locations of the rail mortises in the side assemblies and use a router with a spiral up-cutting bit and edge guide to cut the joints. Remember to take two or three passes to cut the full mortise depth. With the routing done, finish the joints by squaring the ends of each mortise with a sharp chisel (Photo 9). Cut 3⁄4-in. mahogany stock to size for the front and back rails. Install a dado blade in the table saw to cut the tenons on the rail ends (Photo 10).

Readjust the blade height to cut the shoulders of each tenon. Test the fit of the tenons in their joints. If a joint is too tight, you can sand a tenon cheek lightly until it fits. If a joint is too loose, you can glue a veneer shim to the tenon cheek. Cut the bottom shelf panel to size, then mark and cut the joining plate slots in the panel edges. Cut the mating slots in the bottom rails, then join the rails to the panel (Photo 11). Cut the plate slots in the table sides for the bottom shelf joint (Photo 12). This job is easy if you clamp a straight board to the side to act as a guide in locating the plate joiner. Next, lay out and cut the plate slots in the top edges of the side assemblies and back rail. These slots will be used to join the tabletop to the base.

Step 5: Making the Top

Rout the inlay rabbet along the front and two side edges of the veneered top (Photo 13). Cut the inlay strips to length, and glue them into the panel rabbets using masking tape as a clamp (Photo 14). After at least an hour, remove the tape and sand or scrape the inlay flush. Rip 13⁄16-in. stock to width for the top-panel edge bands. Note that the back strip is 3⁄8 in. wide and the side and front strips are 11⁄8 in. wide.

Cut the strips to length. Glue the back edge band to the panel first and, when the glue has set, begin to apply the side and front edging strips (Photo 15). When the glue has cured, mark guidelines 1⁄4 in. from the edges and use a sharp plane to shape the angled profile to the lines (Photo 16). Next, lay out the position of the joining plate slots on the bottom side of the tabletop, and cut the slots with the plate joiner. Apply glue to the mortises, tenons, slots and plates for assembly of the table base. Join the bottom shelf assembly and top back rail to one of the table sides, and then add the opposite side (Photo 17). Stand the base on a flat table and apply clamps to pull the joints tight. When the glue has set, add the top to the base assembly (Photo 18).

Step 6: Drawer Construction

Cut the drawer parts to finished dimension. Use a 1⁄2-in. dovetail bit in your router to cut the slots in both the drawer sides and face (Photo 19). Note that the slots in the face stop short of the top edge, so mark the top limit of the cut and proceed slowly. Clamp a straightedge to the workpiece to act as a guide and run the router base along the edge. Then, use a 1⁄4-in. straight bit and accessory edge guide to cut the slots for the drawer bottom in the sides and face (Photo 20).

Remember that the slot in the drawer face extends only between the dovetail slots. Install the dovetail bit in a router table and use it to cut the joints on the ends of the drawer sides and back (Photo 21). Clamp a backup board and guide strip to the workpiece when routing to prevent the wood from splitting at the end of the cut. Trim the small notch at the front edge of the drawer sides with a dovetail saw.

Spread glue in the dovetail-joint mating surfaces and assemble the drawer box. If the joints fit properly, you won’t need to clamp the joints. Compare opposite diagonal measurements to make sure that the drawer is square and adjust it if necessary. Slide the drawer bottom into position and fasten it to the back with screws. Screw the drawer slides to the bottom of the drawer (Photo 22) and night table sides (Photo 23), and slide the drawer into position.

You should have a 1⁄16-in. margin at the top and sides of the drawer face. If the space is uneven, sand or plane the face until it looks correct. Bore a hole for the knob, but don’t install it until the finish has been applied.

Step 7: Finishing

First remove the drawer and slides. Then, sand all parts to 220-grit, dusting off thoroughly when switching grits and when complete. We used Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish for our table. Use a brush or rag to liberally soak all surfaces, and let the parts sit for about 30 minutes before wiping off any excess. Allow the parts to dry overnight, then sand lightly with 320-grit paper and dust off before applying the next coat. Apply at least three coats in this manner. After the final coat has cured, rub the surface with 4/0 steel wool and polish it with a soft cloth.