Classic night stand

Build this classic bedside table



Photo by Donna Griffith

The first nightstand I ever built was in carpentry school. Our class shared the shop with the cabinetmaking program, and working in that space really got me thinking about the direction I wanted my woodworking to go. When I built this version, I thought back on the past decade and all the nightstands I’ve built. Many of the lessons I’ve learned since those years in school are reflected in this design.

One lesson I’ve learned is about how I treat the back of furniture. I think it should look as nice as the front, even if only to extend the usefulness of the piece. (One person’s nightstand is another’s end table.) The purpose of a nightstand is to hold things such as a lamp, an alarm clock, books and a glass of water, so the piece should accommodate those sorts of things. And when it comes to design, less is often more. That’s why an understated approach with simple lines like this one will match almost any bed.





Starting up

Get started by dimensioning your rough stock if you didn't buy it pre-planed. I started with rough 8/4 stock for the legs (two inches thick), then jointed two adjoining faces flat and square. Rip the wood to width on your tablesaw and plane it to a final thickness of 1 5/8".

Next comes work with some rough 4/4 stock (one inch actual thickness). Lay out your boards and use a lumber crayon to mark oversized sections for the rails, drawer parts and panels. Mark around knots and defects, and think in terms of multiple pieces. The idea is to break long boards into manageable chunks that can be jointed and planed to final thickness. Rough-cut these pieces now, leaving an extra two inches at each end to allow for planer snipe and other defects. Plane the top, front rails and top drawer guides to 7/8". The remainder of the stock needs to be planed to 3/4"-thick for the door rails and drawer parts.

Tenons, mortises and legs

Rip all pieces to width now, then cut to length. It's especially important to cut the ends of the rails exactly square, since the tenon-cutting technique I recommend relies on this to give you square shoulders.

Mark locations for the front rails on the front legs, and cut mortises into the left and right inside faces. There are many ways to do this, and I usually opt for a plunge router technique. Clamp two legs into your bench vise, extending past the vise so the router fence is unimpeded. The leg closest to you becomes the guide for the fence while also creating a greater bearing surface for the router to slide on. The leg behind gets the mortise first. Fit your router with a 1/4" up-cutting spiral bit to remove the waste, then square the mortises with a chisel when you're done. Repeat the process to cut mortises in the neighbouring leg.

Like mortises, tenons can be cut in many ways. After marking tenon locations in pencil, I like to remove the bulk of the waste with a bandsaw, then finish up with a table-mounted router fitted with a straight bit. Orient the rails end down, with a square piece of plywood against the fence behind the rail, to boost safety and control.

The back rails and legs now need a 1/4" x 5/16"-deep grooves to receive stub tenons as well as the plywood panels. This can be done with a dado blade in the tablesaw or a router spinning a 1/4" straight bit. Centre the groove in the rails in the 3/4" stock. The grooves in the legs should stop three inches short of the bottom.

When you have the stiles and rails cut, assemble these parts without glue and measure for the size of veneered plywood panels you need to fit within them. Test-fit again with everything in place, then put these parts aside for now.

Next comes the drawer. Cut the required parts, including the solid pine drawer front. You can put a drawer together in countless ways; I chose something unusual. The drawer front joins to the sides with one large, half-blind dovetail at each corner. The drawer back fits into dado grooves set 1 5/16" from the back edge of the drawer. This keeps the drawer from tipping forward when fully open.

You can cut the big dovetails with a handsaw and chisel, or devise a simple router jig, as I did. This allows a dovetail bit to do the bulk of material removal, followed by some handwork with a chisel to square up the corners.

Drawer construction

The drawer guides are made from hardwood. Glue together a 1/2" x 3/4" piece and a 1/4" x 1" side piece to form two L-shaped runners. Both get screwed or nailed to the inside of the legs. Also, two pieces of 7/8" x 3 1/4" x 11 1/8" pine need to be biscuited to the top front and back rails, slightly above the drawer opening. These parts have two jobs: they help prevent the drawer from tipping forward when fully opened, and they act as an anchor point to secure the top of the nightstand.

The door is as simple as frame-and-panel construction gets, with a solid wood frame surrounding a pine-veneered plywood panel. If you prefer not to prepare mortises and tenons at the corners, a pair of double #20 biscuits work perfectly on a door of this size. While you're making door parts, chisel out pockets to accept the butt hinges the door will swing on.

The bottom of the cabinet is made from solid pine, notched around the legs and attached to the front and back rails with biscuits. That said, the floor panel is only glued at the front rail, to allow for seasonal expansion and contraction. Just to be safe, make the floor panel with a 1/8" gap at the back, in case the wood expands during humid weather. Prepare the top now (with a chamfered edge all along the bottom edge), then get ready for assembly.

Fit and finish

Dry-fit everything for a final test without glue. When it looks good, take the project apart, complete one more final sanding with #220-grit paper, then stop. You have a decision to make. It's always easiest to stain a project like this before the parts go together with glue. On the other hand, this also means you have to mask off joint areas that won't hold together strongly with glue if they aren't bare and dry. Regardless of whether you stain before or after assembly, final sealing comes last. My choice was easy since my nightstand was built to accompany the bed Jerry Weber made, so I just asked for his recipe and didn't lose any sleep over my choice.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Top pine 7/8" x 15" x 18" 1
Legs pine 1 5/8" x 1 5/8" x 22 5/8" 4
Side rails pine 3/4" x 2" x 10 3/8" 4
Front rails pine 7/8" x 1 3/16" x 14" 3
Back rails pine 3/4" x 2" x 13 3/8" 2
Door stiles pine 3/4" x 2" x 12 1/4" 2
Door rails pine 3/4" x 2" x 9 3/8" 2
Drawer front pine 3/4" x 3 15/16" x 12 11/16" 1
Drawer sides pine 3/4" x 3 15/16" x 12 11/16" 2
Drawer back pine 3/4" x 3 9/16" x 11 7/8" 1
Drawer guides hardwood 1/2" x 3/4" x 11 3/8" 2
drawer guide sides hardwood 1/4" x 1" x 9 1/2" 2
Top drawer guides pine 7/8" x 3 1/4" x 11 1/8" 2
Side panels pine plywood 1/4" x 10 3/8 x 16 1/4" 2
Back panel pine plywood 1/4" x 13 5/16" x 16 1/4" 1
Door panel pine plywood 1/4" x 9 5/6" x 8 3/8" 1
Drawer bottom pine plywood 1/4" x 11 5/8" x 11 5/8" 1
Bottom pine 3/4" x 11 1/4" x 14 1/2" 1
Knobs hardwood 1" dia. 2
Hinges butt-style 2" 2

* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools


Classic night stand

Illustration by Len Churchill

1 comment

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Jan. 9, 2013

3:05 pm

I'm in the process of building this and the front dimensions don't add up. I'm 7/16" off. Guess I'll trim the door stiles. LOL

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