A Tale of Two Nightstands

After getting my first table saw and becoming comfortable using it, I was excited to put it to use on something more substantial than the small projects I had been using it for. After much deliberation, I decided on refreshing our nightstands. Years ago, I had built a pair of nightstands using dimensional lumber from the home store. They featured simple butt joint joinery with screws in plain sight that needed to be covered with wood filler. I’ve learned a lot since then and I wanted to take another crack at them.

The original nightstands were based on plans from from Ana White and we wanted to keep a similar style. I browsed around for a while and came across a two drawer variation that we liked better than the originals. I knew we wanted them to be wider, but it gave me something to start with. I planned to use mortise and tenon joinery for the 2×2 frame and plywood for the shelves and drawers. I took some measurements of our existing nightstands and opened up Sketchup. After playing around with different ideas and variations, I finally arrived on my design.

My SketchUp design for the nightstands

With the plan in hand, I bought the lumber and got to work. I bought 2x6s with the intention of ripping them down to 2x2s and 1x2s. This made a LOT of sawdust!

Off cuts and sawdust from the milling process

Once I had my stack of 2x2s, I needed to cut them down to length. I took a scrap 2×2 and clamped it to my cross-cut sled to help extend my stop block capability. I had left some overhang on the left side of my sled and it really paid off here.

Extending my stop block capabilities

Next I moved on to the mortises. My sister had inherited a benchtop mortise machine from our grandfather, and she borrowed it to me for this project. I had a bunch of mortises to drill and the machine made quick work of them.

Drilling mortises with a bench top mortise machine

With the mortises drilled, it was time to cut the tenons in the 2x2s. I used the table saw and crosscut sled to cut the shoulders to a consistent position and depth. Next, I stood them up on end with a custom tenoning jig I built for the table saw. This part was super tedious, but the tenoning jig made me feel much safer than just my rip fence would have.

Cutting tenons with my custom tenoning jig

I was very pleased with how well the mortises and tenons fit together. Just like a glove!

A mortise and tenon

I did a dry fit to make sure all joints fit together properly.

Testing with a dry fit

My sawdust making window in the garage was starting to close and I had to get all my cutting done. It was spring in Minnesota, and I was going to be losing a big chunk of my garage space to our boat. So I tackled cutting up all the plywood for the shelves and drawers, finishing the day before the boat came home.

A stack of stuff ready for assembly

It was time for final assembly. I had glued things up before, but nothing close to the level of complexity of these nightstands. I tried to start easy by doing the sides. Even that was a challenge, though. The sides had 1x2s with tenons to glue into the mortises in the legs, along with plywood to glue to the 1x2s. My plan was to recess the top of the plywood by 3/4″ so that the shelf plywood could use the side plywood as its base and the 1×2 on each side could conceal the edge of the shelf plywood. This meant that the side plywood had to fit in there perfectly or my plan was shot.

Gluing up a side

After getting through that stressful mess, I let the glue dry before learning that first part was like a day at the spa compared to how stressful it was gluing up the rest of the frame. I preset every piece in place so that all I had to do was pull it out, apply the glue, then put it back. With a plan as foolproof as that, it was almost guaranteed I would screw it up somehow.

The stressful part was when I realized how long it was taking me to get each piece slathered in glue and put in place. I was really worried that the glue would start to set before I could get everything where it needed to be. I managed to everything glued and clamped in place, even somehow keeping it all square.

It wasn’t until two days later that I realized one of the back pieces with a big knot in it managed to find its way to the front instead. No foolproof plan stands a chance with this fool on the job!

Gluing up a frame

With the time-sensitive stuff out of the way, I was free to take my time assembling and installing the drawers. I used Brad Rodrigues’ drawer technique, from Fix This Build That, to build the drawer frames. I then put down a piece of 1/4″ plywood scrap to space each drawer in it’s spot and installed the drawer slides.

Drawers installed

Now that the drawers were installed, I could glue up the shelf above the drawers. As I said earlier, I designed the frame to recess the shelf into place and hide the edge of its plywood. To keep it as seemless as possible, I had to make sure the shelf fit very snuggly in place. This meant using clamps every which way to pull it all together and keep it there.

Gluing up the shelf

While the shelves set up, I also glued up the edges onto the top shelf. To cover of the top shelf plywood edges, I had cut 1x2s. I then drilled pocket holes around the under side of the plywood shelf to help reinforce the glue joint with the 1x2s. This worked out well, but I had cut the 1x2s exactly to size. Next time, I will cut them a touch longer and trim them after fitting them into place.

Top shelf with 1×2 edging

The last thing to do for the assembly was to screw on the drawer faces. I drilled holes for the drawer pulls, then used those holes to screw the faces into place on the drawer boxes. I used playing card stacks to perfectly position the faces before screwing them down.

Fully assembled

Man, it felt good to get those bad boys assembled. But, I wasn’t done yet. My wife had chosen a blend of stains for the finish, so I mixed them together and got to work staining everything. Then a couple of coats of wipe on poly and this project was done.

Finished nightstands

I’m really happy with how these nightstands turned out. The drawer slides are a huge improvement over the wood-on-wood slides of the previous nightstands. And the overall configuration is much more useful than the previous design I built years ago. Hopefully these bad boys are around for many years to come!

Check out the full build video!

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