Introduction: Make an Asian Nightstand

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This is an instructable to explain how you can make the Asian inspired nightstand I designed.

The design includes a shelf and drawer for extra storage, and it's 'winged' top helps stop things falling down the side of the bed.

The build can be achieved mainly with or without any power tools, and I'll make recommendations as I go along for unplugged and plugged woodworkers.

I'm entering the instructable into the Woodworking contest, and would appreciate your vote if you enjoy it.

There is an extensive plans booklet available on my Etsy store, with drawings and tips and recommendations, etc. but I have included a basic set of plans here free for the Instructables community.

A video series is also available on my YouTube channel.

Step 1: Rough Material Prep.

Most any hardwood will do to make the nightstand, so consider the final appearance you would like both in colour and figure. Figure is mostly fixed, but colour and texture can be adjusted, somewhat, during the finishing process.

Rough cut all the parts a little over size, and then store them indoors to acclimate (Wood changes dimension as it looses or absorbs moisture. Acclimating the wood to the home environment means that the final sizing and squaring of parts will produce a nightstand that won't fight to stay in shape over the years ahead). How long this takes will depend on the woods initial moisture content, that of the home, and also the circulation of air around the wood. Use the thickest part as a guide, weighing it each week until it's weight remains constant.

Unplugged woodworkers should use coarse rip and crosscut hand saws to rough cut the parts quickly.

Plugged woodworkers could use a band saw, jig saw, and/or circular saw or table saw.

Step 2: Legs

Create a template for the leg's shape, and include on it the locations of all joinery

Square the leg blanks if they have distorted while acclimating

Unplugged woodworkers will find a bench plane ideal

Plugged woodworkers will need a jointer and thicknesser

Trace out the leg profiles onto the leg blanks, and transfer the joinery layout

Chop the mortises for the top rails, and cut the groove that takes the lower rails

Unplugged woodworkers will use chisels, back saws, router planes, etc.

Plugged woodworkers can achieve most of this with a plunge router

The front rail is attached with dowels, and holes for those are bored too

After all the joinery is prepared, the legs can be shaped -- shaping them first makes cutting the joinery vastly more difficult!

The back legs only have a profile cut on one side, but the front legs have them cut on adjoining sides, which is made easier by taping back the waste from the first profile before cutting the second.

Unplugged woodworkers would be best using a bow saw or compass saw for the shallow curves, and a coping saw for the tight curves

Plugged woodworkers will find a band saw or jig saw ideal

Lastly, the ends of the legs are cut square, and the feet are given a chamfer to protect the corners from breaking when the nightstand is pushed across the floor.

Step 3: Shelf Box

The shelf box is made from a veneered chipboard, ply, or mdf panel

Saw the top, bottom, and two sides

Prepare a mitre on each long edge

Unplugged woodworkers will use a panel saw, and accurately shoot the mitres with a plane

Plugged woodworkers should use a table saw, and make test cuts until a perfect mitre setup is achieved

Install biscuits, or a spline, in the mitre joint, and glue the box together

The side rails are part of the box assembly, and are planed to size before being used to knife in their locating groove on the box sides

The groove is then prepared

Unplugged woodworkers should saw, pare, and then finish to depth with a router plane

Plugged woodworkers can use a dado setup at the table saw

Step 4: Top Rails

Square all the rail blanks if they have distorted while acclimating

Unplugged woodworkers will find a bench plane ideal

Plugged woodworkers will need a jointer and thicknesser

Side Rails:

Clamp the two side rails, top to top, and mark the centre point for the quarter-circle cutouts at each end. Then cut them out

Unplugged woodworkers can use a pair of compasses to strike the curves from the centre point, and then use a coping saw to make the cutouts

Plugged woodworkers can use a 2" forstner bit in a drill press to bore the cutouts with the rails still clamped together

Mark in the rectangular cutouts, and bore a hole for saw access. Now saw out the waste.

Unplugged woodworkers could use a brace and bit to bore the access hole, and then a keyhole or coping saw

Plugged woodworkers could use a power drill, and then a jig saw

This is a good point in the build to cut some mortises near the top of the side rails, into which small wooden buttons can be inserted when the top is attached. You'll see from the photo's that I left it until later, after I'd applied the finish. Other methods are available to attach the top, such as figure eight washers, so it's up to you.

Side and Back Rails:

Mark out for the tenons using the plans, and referring to the leg mortises as a guide for exact placement in the height.

Cut the tenons and fit to the mortises. The back rail tenons will need to be stepped to go around the side rail tenons within the overlapping mortises in the back legs

Unplugged woodworkers should use a small back saw and any of chisels, shoulder plane, or router plane

Plugged woodworkers could make clean tenons with a router and jig, or, band or table saw

Front Rail:

Cut the rail stock into the lengths required to make the lattice rail, and prepare the halving joints, before gluing together and boring for the dowels

Unplugged woodworkers should use a small back saw, chisels, and possibly a router plane, then a hand drill and doweling guide

Plugged woodworkers could use table saw, band saw, and router, then power drill and doweling guide

Step 5: Top

The wider boards required for the top are more likely to have distorted badly, and will need flattening and thicknessing after acclimation.

Square up the boards' edges prior to gluing up the main area

Unplugged woodworkers should use a bench plane for flattening and thicknessing, and also for squaring the edges, by raising the board being worked on above the bench, placing it on a second board, and shooting the edge with the plane's side resting on the bench

Plugged woodworkers should use a jointer and thicknesser

Once glued, scrap off any glue squeeze out, and address any slight out of flat. A hand plane should suffice, and the top is probably too wide for most folks jointer and thicknesser anyway.

Prepare the stock to make the 'wings', cutting it to length and squaring the two blanks up

Lay out for stub tenons on the sides of the glued up top, and for corresponding mortises in the 'wing' blanks. The front mortise should be fractionally longer than it's tenon towards the back, and each subsequent mortise should be increasingly over-length (this will allow for a little movement, likely in such a large cross grain panel).

Cut the tenons and mortises

Unplugged woodworkers should use a rebate plane, chisels, and a coping saw will be useful in removing the waste between the tenons

Plugged woodworkers will probably find a plunge router to be best

Position the 'wings' and bore two holes through the underside of the top, passing through the tenon but not out through the topside of the top. Then elongate the holes in the tenons to allow for movement

Shape the internal profile of the 'wings', leaving them very slightly proud of the main top

Unplugged woodworkers should use a rebate plane to cut a stepped profile, before smoothing it with rounds, curved scrapers, and a shaped sanding block

Plugged woodworkers will probably find a suitable profile cutter for use in a router table

Attach the 'wings' by gluing the front half of the front tenon joint, and then by driving wooden pins into all the holes. These pins should receive a little glue, just before they bottom out in the holes, to keep them in place but not stick them to the tenons.

Once the glue has dried, shape the outside profile of the 'wings', and flush the inside profile to the main top

Unplugged woodworkers should use a bench plane, curved card scrapers, and a sanding block

Plugged woodworkers will, probably find a suitable profile cutter to use with a router

Step 6: Drawer

The drawer has half-blind dovetails for the front, and locked dado joints at the rear, but alternative methods would be fine.

True up the acclimated drawer parts, and size the front and sides to a snug fit in the shelf box

Unplugged woodworkers should find a bench plane ideal

Plugged woodworkers could true up the parts with the jointer and thicknesser, but I'd recommend using a bench plane to sneak up on the snug fit

Mark out for the half-blind dovetails and cut them in the normal way (see the video if you've forgotten)

Unplugged woodworkers should use a dovetail saw, and chisels, and a fine coping saw or jeweler's saw can be handy

Plugged woodworkers could use a router jig

Make a groove to accept a plywood base in the front and sides. Position it to run through the lower tail, so that it gets hidden on assembly

Unplugged woodworkers should use a dedicated plough plane or combination plane

Plugged woodworkers could use a table saw or router table

Mark out for a groove to accept the drawer back, and cut it out. Cut the back to length, so that the drawer sides will be parallel once assembled

Unplugged woodworkers should use chisels, a router plane helps to keep a consistent depth, and a back saw

Plugged woodworkers could use a router for the grooves, and a chop saw to cut the back to length

Finish the Drawer Front:

Since I wished to stain the drawer front but not the sides, it seemed sensible to do that at this point.

The front was first fumed with ammonia, then treated with a solution made by dissolving steel wool in white vinegar. This helped remove the reddish tint of the meranti, and darken it somewhat. To achieve the full depth of colour, I further treated it with a commercial ebony stain.

Finally it was coated with a lacquer

The drawer parts were assembled with glue and left to dry

To lock the rear joints, small wooden pins were glued in at opposing angles

The drawer was then carefully planed to a sliding fit within the shelf box


My original design called for a brushed stainless steel rod handle, which you will find commercially available, but at the time of writing I am still considering other options.

Step 7: Finishing

The following applies to the meranti that I used, and explains how I achieved the colours I wanted. You may need to experiment if your wood or colour choices are different

Dark Brown / Black:

Fume for an hour or two, until all redness disappears. Place parts into a sealable container (zip-lock bag is great) ensuring circulation around them all. Add one or two pots with some ammonia in them into the container - the fumes will rise and circulate on their own. Seal the container until done. Remove parts and dispose of ammonia.

Dissolve a wad of '0000' steel wool in a cup of white vineagar (start this a week or two ahead of time). Apply the resulting solution to the fumed wood. You will soon see a colour change taking place. Allow to dry.

Apply a commercial ebony spirit stain, as per manufacturers instructions. Allow to dry.

Deep Mahogany Red:

Mix some commercial Peruvian Mahogany spirit stain with grain filler, and apply to wood

Buff off excess filler with a rough cloth before it dries

Scrap and/or sand any remaining filler excess away, leaving a smooth surface

Apply two or more coats of the stain until a consistent appearance is achieved


Knock off any raised fibres with a fine abrasive, and remove all dust

Apply three coats of a clear lacquer, or similar surface finish, rubbing down between coats

Step 8: Assembly

Dry assemble the two side frames first and re-bore the dowel holes that intersect the side rail tenons

Bore holes for screw reinforcement of the shelf box to shelf rails to legs joint - through holes in the shelf box and shelf rails, and pilot holes in the legs. Also countersink the holes on the inside of the shelf box, so that the screws lay just below the surface.

Glue the side frames, checking for square, and allow to dry

Join the two side frames with the shelf box, rear rail, and front rail, installing the reinforcing screws as you go. A single pair of clamps across the top of the legs at the front and back should be all you need until it's dry

With the top upside down, invert the base and centre it on top. Install buttons to secure it.

Stand back and admire your work!

Thanks for reading my instructable.

If you liked it, please vote for it in the Woodworking contest.

If you build your own, please post a picture in the comments.

Cheers, Mitch

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