Single-Drawer Side Table

Quiet sophistication loaded with details

This maple side table has three chief features: a single, wide drawer, an open base with a large three-piece shelf, and subtle detailing to tie everything together. I stole the overall form and proportions from a functional but somewhat poorly constructed table that sat in my kitchen for some time. (For more on stealing inspiration, see page 64.) I like the single drawer, which accommodates large items that don’t fit in typical, smaller drawers, and the open base serves as a display for things too attractive to hide inside a cabinet. Although my table is intended for the kitchen, it would also sit nicely in nearly any room in the house. 

As for aesthetics, I incorporated simple curves for a bit of flair. I like the way the gentle curves of the top and splash play off the uplifting arcs of the stretchers, and the subtle rail-to-leg transition that the simple brackets provide. The bullnosed splash cap accentuates the upper profile while echoing the other gently radiused edges. To accentuate the piece’s lines, I routed a bead into the lower edges of the aprons and rail, and cut a small rabbet into the exterior corners of the legs. Dividing the shelf into three pieces lightens it visually, and setting the corners back from the legs implies an airy feeling while avoiding seasonal wood movement problems. And, after all that, I couldn’t resist making custom walnut pulls for the piece. It really was a lot of fun to build!

A solid stance with simple curves

The mortise-and-tenon joinery connecting the aprons, bottom rail, and stretchers to the legs gives this table great strength, as does the dovetailed top rail. The 3-piece shelf, with its notches set back from the legs, allows for seasonal wood expansion. The curves on the top, splash, and stretchers are sawn, then faired with a block plane or spokeshave. 

Order of Work

  • Make and mortise legs
  • Cut tenons on aprons, stretchers, and rails
  • Fit top rail
  • Cut curves and rout profiles 
  • Assemble frame
  • Make top and shelf
  • Build drawer
  • Make pulls and brackets
  • Apply finish and do final assembly

Legs first for a good foundation

Mill the legs to their final size. Use riftsawn stock (with diagonally oriented annular rings) to ensure relatively straight grain on all leg faces. Then lay out and cut all the mortises as shown.

Cut the apron and stretcher mortises. A hollow-chisel mortiser is a great machine for cutting these mortises. For accuracy and efficiency, first plunge each end of a mortise. Then cut a series of closely spaced holes before removing the waste between them with subsequent plunges. 

Cut the bottom rail mortises. Making a twin mortise-and-tenon joint can be tricky. To ensure success, I employ spacers when cutting the twin mortises (shown here) and their mating tenons. See page 42 for a complete demonstration of the process. 

Apron, stretcher, and rail tenons complete the M&T joinery

Complete the mortise-and-tenon joinery. Start by milling the aprons, stretchers, and rails to the sizes shown in the drawing, and mark them for attractive orientation. Then cut the tenons on the aprons and stretchers as shown. Miter the ends of all of the single tenons except for those on the front ends of the side aprons. Next, saw the twin tenons on the ends of the bottom rail. 

A lifetime tenon jig

The tenoning jig at lower right is a great shop-made table saw accessory. It securely supports a standing workpiece for sawing tenons and other joints. Because the jig straddles the fence, it stands squarely, won’t wander into the blade when you retract it, and the opposite face can be outfitted with custom fences for other purposes. To build it, see onlineEXTRAS.

Tenon trim. Use a shoulder plane and/or fine sandpaper wrapped around a straight, square hardwood block to trim the tenon cheeks for a snug, but easy-sliding fit in their mortises. Also pare the narrow edges of the tenons if necessary to align the aprons with the tops of the legs, and to create a 11⁄2" offset between the stretchers and the bottoms of the legs. 
Twin tenon trick. To saw the twin tenons for the bottom rail connection, I use a tenon jig at the table saw. As when cutting their mating twin mortises, I use spacers to ensure a perfect fit, as described in the article here.

A dovetailed top rail locks the legs

Finish off the base joinery by connecting the tops of the legs with a dovetailed rail. Lay out the tails as shown in the drawing above. After sawing them, position the rail on top of the dry-clamped assembly, and trace around the tails to lay out the sockets. Then cut out the sockets. 

Dovetail the rail. After using the table saw to rabbet the underside of both ends of the top rail, lay out the tails and saw them to shape with a dovetail saw. Don’t worry if the slope isn’t pitch-perfect, as you’ll be matching the sockets to the profile. 
Saw the dovetail socket. Lay out the sockets by tracing around the tails, extending the lines 3⁄8" down the edge of the leg to mark out the floor of the socket. Then saw along the angled layout lines as shown, leaving your pencil lines intact. 
Waste with a router. Outfit your router with a 1⁄4" straight bit, and rout out the majority of the socket waste in two shallow passes, taking care not to cut too close to the perimeter. The veneer scrap here helps create a level bearing surface for the router.
Finessing the socket. Use chisels to clean up the dovetail sockets. If you don’t have skew chisels for getting into the corners, try paring with a narrow straight chisel as shown. 

Prettify with profiles 

Prior to assembly, you’ll need to do a bit of detailing. First, rout the decorative rabbet on the three outermost edges of each leg. Instead of the router table, I use a hand-held router to ensure consistent depth-of-cut even if a leg is slightly bowed. Next, rout the bead on the bottom rail and side aprons as shown. Then lay out and bandsaw the curves on the side and front stretchers, smoothing them with a spokeshave and/or spindle sander. 

Spring a curve. I lay out the stretcher curves using a metal yardstick sprung to a bow and clipped to a couple of #6 finish nails driven into a scrap board at the corners of the stretcher. Double-faced tape holds the stretcher to the scrap. 

Two-stage frame assembly

Dry-assemble the frame to ensure that the joints pull home and the upper edges of the top rail and aprons sit flush with the tops of the legs. Then place a couple of 23-3/4"-long spacer sticks between the side aprons and stretchers to check their parallelism. Disassemble everything, and smooth all the parts through 220 grit. Then glue up each end assembly in turn before adding the rear apron, bottom rail, and long stretchers in between. Afterward, glue the top rail into its sockets. Finish up by gluing the drawer kicks and bottom runners to the side aprons. Use a 3-1/2"-wide spacer between them to ensure they are dead parallel. Then add the side runners, making sure they extend 1/32" past the inside faces of the legs. Cut a slight chamfer on their leading ends to ease drawer insertion. 

End assemblies first... For each end assembly, start by gluing the apron to one leg, aligning their top surfaces. Then add the stretcher, using a 23 3⁄4"-long spacer stick to register the distance from the apron. Attach the remaining leg, and clamp the legs to the apron. Use another spacer to locate the remaining stretcher end, and tap it into place as shown here before clamping the legs to the stretcher. Use a damp glue brush to clean away excess glue inside the open adjacent mortises.
…then everything in between. With a side assembly lying on the bench, attach one end of the stretchers, rear apron, and bottom rail. Make sure that the apron aligns with the tops of the rear legs, and that the rail sits exactly 41⁄4" down from the top of each leg. Then attach the opposite end assembly in the same manner. Invert the unit, and clamp across the apron and rail. Finally, use your spacer sticks to establish the stretcher offset, and clamp across the stretchers. 

Make the top and shelf

Grain-match and glue-up boards to make the top. Also make the splash and the shelf pieces. Lay out, saw, and then smooth the curves on the splash and top with a block plane and sandpaper. Make the cap, bullnose one edge, and glue it to the splash. Saw the notches in the shelf pieces, and then radius their corners as shown. Use a 1/8" roundover bit to profile both faces of the shelf pieces and the top, except for the rear edge of the top. Sand everything through 220 grit before gluing the splash to the top. Make the shelf cleats and lay out their clearance holes. Drill and counterbore the holes, and then glue the cleats to the side stretchers. Finally, rout the slots for the table top clips with a slot-cutting bit. 

Round the notch shoulders. Clamp the notched shelves together, carefully aligning the notches with a thick back-up block that prevents exit tearout and provides solid router support. Then use a 3⁄8" roundover bit to shape the outer corners. Sand the rounded over corners while still clamped up. 

Build the drawer

I joined my drawer box with hand-cut dovetails for their strength and character, but feel free to use any solid joinery you like. Just make sure it’s sound to help prevent racking in use. I used poplar for the drawer sides, and plywood for the bottom. Measure the assembled drawer to fit the bottom, and rabbet its edges to fit the grooves. Initially build the drawer to fit its opening very snugly, then hand-plane it as shown to finesse the fit. When it operates well, inset the front 1/8" from the rails, size the drawer stops, and then glue them to the rear apron. Don’t screw the drawer bottom in place yet. 

Begin with the bottom. With the drawer right-side up, check for any rocking on a dead-flat reference surface. Then upend the drawer as shown, and plane the high corners equally, rechecking against the reference surface. Repeat until the drawer sits flat. 
Sides and top in tandem. Check the fit of the drawer in its opening, and plane small amounts from the top edges and sides until it just fits. Then plane each side as shown to achieve a snug, but easy sliding fit. Next, plane enough from the top edges to allow seasonal movement. 

Brackets and pulls

Use the patterns to lay out the brackets and pulls, and saw the parts to shape, saving the offcuts to use as cauls. After sanding the parts, glue on the brackets. To install the pulls, first drill the locator holes and the pilot holes as shown. Unclamp the pulls and enlarge the locator holes to serve as screw clearance holes. Then counterbore the clearance holes to a depth that yields the perfect screw tip projection. Finally, attach the pulls with screws, being careful not to overdrive them. After the pulls snug up nicely, remove them for finishing. 

Bracket glue-up. Spread glue sparingly on the long-grain surface of a bracket, and put it in place with its curved offcut atop it. Then apply clamp pressure in tandem against the apron and leg. 

Locator holes first. At the drill press, make a drill guide block using a 7⁄64" bit to bore two holes spaced as marked. Clamp the block in place, aligning it with the drawer front as shown. Hand drill both holes through the drawer front, then flip the block end-for-end, and repeat at the opposite end of the drawer for the second pull. 
Set up for the pull pilots. After striking light pencil lines from the center of the locator holes to the bottom of the drawer front, clamp a 11⁄2"-wide spacer to the drawer front, aligned with its top edge. Straddle the lines evenly with the pull, and clamp it firmly to the drawer front. 

Drill the pull pilots. Carefully gauge the depth of the pilot hole to extend through the drawer front and as deeply into the pull as safely possible. Flag your bit at this length, and then drill the pilot holes into the pull from inside the drawer. Remove the drawer bottom for better drill access.

Finishing up

After giving everything a touch-up sanding, I applied two coats of water-based dye stain, having mixed vintage maple and honey amber in equal proportions. After letting the dye dry for a day, I topped it off with four coats of wiping varnish, very lightly sanding with 320-grit between coats, and rubbing out with 0000 steel wool before applying and buffing the last coat. I applied thinned shellac to the drawer walls and bottom before screwing the installed bottom to the drawer back. After your finish work, screw the shelf pieces to their cleats, attach the top with table-top clips, install the pulls, and wax the runners, kicks, and their contact surfaces on the drawer. 

Shelf alignment. Place 1⁄4"-thick spacers between the shelf pieces and against the legs. Add veneer shims at the notches if necessary to pack them out. Balance the overhang lengthwise and lightly apply clamps. Tap the ends into alignment as shown, and then snug up the clamps. 
Shelf attachment. After removing the spacers, invert the table and drill pilot holes through the cleat’s previously bored countersunk clearance holes into the shelf pieces. Flag the bit with masking tape as a depth reference.
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