Introduction: Simple Bedside Table

Inspired by a need to have less junk on the floor by my bed, I decided to make a small table.

The filing system I built a while back, and the jigs which were inspired by it, provided some assistance.

I liked the way the legs had been made on the filing cabinet (in an "effort versus appearance" trade-off) and I _loved_ the speed of set-up from the jigs, so that formed the basis of the design and construction.

I made the same style of legs, but instead of making them of two layers of 40mmx18mm (1 3/4"x3/4") and keeping the same profile all the way down, I used 80x18 (4x1) and angled the surface, so that the front of the front legs and the back of the back legs were straight down, while the inside tapered (only in one dimension).

With the multiple layers of varnish and the care in finishing, plus the design height being perfect, the end result is ideal.

Step 1: Cut Shelves and Sides

To make the table pretty much square, I used the same size of piece which had yielded my filing system.

One strip of 395mm (15 1/2") was taken off the end of a sheet of ply.

That strip then had two pieces of 395 (15 1/2") taken off it.

Finally, the remainder was measured and the jigs were set up to just a little short of half that size, giving two side pieces and a 3mm (1/8") strip of scrap. Keep this, because it's a handy piece for providing a thickness sample.

Step 2: Rout Rebates for Shelves and Back

The two shelves are going to fit into rebates for additional strength.

Once the router is set up for the cut, make a quick test and check with a piece of scrap ply that the lower shelf will be flush with the base of the side pieces. Then rout out the rebate for the bottom shelf from both sides.

To get the rebate for the top shelf, I used the same jigs to set up, but inserted a spacer piece. This meant that there was no change in the jigs, and that the two cuts were identically placed on the two side pieces.

Finally, a small rebate for the read panel was cut. This was set up and the jigs adjusted, and then repeated on all four pieces. Remember to not rout the back panel rebate above the top shelf. (i.e. stop at the rebate for the top shelf).

Step 3: Assemble Frame and Fit Back

Using PVA glue and lots of clamping pressure assemble the shelves and side pieces into a box.

Once the glue has cured, measure the size of the rebate at the back and cut a piece of thin ply to fill it.

Apply PVA around the rebate and fit the back panel.

Use some panel pins as additional fixings. Provide pilot holes for the pins with a bradawl. Since there isn't a lot of room, holding the pins with a scrap of paper can prevent hammered fingers. Drive the heads of the pins below the surface with a punch.

Before clamping the back panel, measure the diagonals and use a long clamp to square up any minor skew in the carcase before leaving everything to cure.

Step 4: Making Legs

I had some 1.2m lengths of 90x18 (four feet of 4x1). The box which forms the shelves is 200mm (8") tall, so I subtracted that from the length of the timber, halved the remainder and cut there. This gave four sets of pieces where the longer would reach from the floor to the top of the side and the shorter would reach from the floor to the base of the side.

These were glued together in pairs.

To cut the taper in the legs, it is important to orient the angled cut correctly. To get the taper from the middle of the piece the legs have to be stacked alternately. as shown in the fourth photograph.

Once the legs were stacked the line was marked and then cut with a handsaw.

Once the legs were cut, the sawn surface was smoothed off with a plane and the vertexes rounded.

Finally the surface was smoothed off with several grits of sandpaper.

Step 5: Attaching Legs

To keep a smooth profile, the legs are attached using only glue.

As always with PVA, the key is a close fit and lots of pressure maintained for a while.

Since the legs are a fairly soft wood, it's also important to use a pad between the clamp and the workpiece to avoid marking the timber.

Step 6: Edging Veneer

To conceal the edge of the plywood, and give a more pleasingly tactile experience to the top of the table, I laid a thin strip of saligna over all.

To give a continuous look to the grain, I chose a piece wide enough to cover both the edge of the ply and the top of the leg, and cut out the un-used piece in the middle.

For a change I tried using Super 77 (other brands are available) contact cement. This is much faster to set than PVA, and requires a hard contact rather than prolonged clamping, so after positioning the coated piece, I hit it with a big mallet, using a piece of scrap to avoid marking the veneer. This glue worked sort of OK (see later). The problem is probably that only one surface was coated, which is not the optimal for the best bond but should be adequate.

The removal of overhanging veneer once the glue had set was done with a small plane, using a very sharp chisel at a very shallow angle for the intricate bits.

Step 7: Stain and Finish

Surface preparation for the finish was done with 240 and 320 grit sandpaper, with the piece then being dusted, wiped with a turpentine-damp rag and then left to dry.

My favourite Cabot stain was used, brushing along the grain. As always, obey the instructions on the tin, and if your brand of stain says "stir well before and during" then do.

Three coats were applied, with a quick polish of 320 grit between the first and second.

The last three photographs above show the piece with one, two and three coats.

Step 8: Tip, and Mistakes and Their Solution

Cutting the angle on the legs was done with all four clamped into a block, using a handsaw. This one cut took an hour. I learned that my handsaw is perhaps ready for retirement. With modern hardened points, sharpening is not necessarily successful, and since a replacement will cost $12.98 I'm going to join the throwaway society. Next time I will set up jigs for an angled cut with the circular saw, which should give better repeatability and much faster cutting.

While fitting the legs, one of them slipped out of place while clamping, leaving it 3mm (1/8") shy of where it should be. I had to use a layer of saligna veneer to shim the leg to the correct height. A nuisance, but not a problem as the end result is unnoticeable beneath the stain.

Using a new type of glue is a fraught process. The contact cement worked fine on one side, but delaminated on the other during trimming. I shaved the failed glue off the veneer with a chisel, prepared both sides of the bond with sandpaper and then made the join properly with PVA as I should have done in the first place. Contact cement may be good, but a glue which you know and understand is much better.

I don't recommend contact cement for this application, but I do highly recommend it for many others. The best tip for using it is to keep the can and nozzles clean. Cleaning the can is easy enough, but cleaning the nozzles is not. A great tip which I found from an on-line forum I can sadly not remember to acknowledge is to keep the nozzles in a jar of petrol. I have a glass medicine bottle with an inch of Zippo lighter fuel in it (other petroleum distillates are available). Once I've finished gluing, I pull the nozzle off the can, drop it in the fluid, and put it away: no need to clean or anything else. Next time, fish the nozzle out with a pair of tweezers, shake dry and use.

The veneer on the top edges is fine, but it was slow and awkward to fit around the tops of the legs. I will change the design to something easier to build for the next piece.