In the February 2006 and April 2007 issues of Woodworker’s Journal, former contributing editor Mike McGlynn showed us how to build the first two pieces of a stunning Greene & Greene style bedroom set he designed: a chest of drawers and a bedstead. Sadly, Mike passed away that spring, leaving me the task of completing the set with the bedside table presented in this article.
With its square legs, breadboarded top, cloud-lift-cut aprons and shelf and classic Craftsman-style details like square ebony plugs and splines, the table is harmonious with the proportions, details and overall flavor of the other bedroom pieces Mike created. It’s also a practical and attractive stand-alone piece.
I built the table from straight-grained African mahogany, using both 8/4 and 4/4 stock, but Honduras mahogany is just fine, too (that’s what Mike used for the other bedroom pieces).
Starting with the Legs
The table’s simple square-section legs are all cut from a straight-grained piece of 8/4 stock, planed down to 1-1⁄2" thick. After jointing one edge of the stock, rip each leg to a little less than 1-9⁄16", then thickness-plane it exactly 1-1⁄2" wide. Re-joint the stock before ripping each of the other three legs. Now match the grain of each pair of front and back legs, and mark the ends and sides of all four legs to show their orientation relative to the assembled table — up, down, front, back and side. The markings will help prevent mistakes during the subsequent machining operations.
Next, chop the square holes for the table’s decorative plugs. You can chop these out with a sharp chisel, but it’s far easier to make them using a hollow mortising chisel setup in a drill press. Clamp a fence to the drill press table to keep the sides of the holes square to the edges of the legs, and bore each square hole a little more than 1/8" deep. Finally, round over the edges of the legs with a 1/8"-radius roundover bit in a handheld router or on the router table.
Making the Aprons
As shown in the Drawings, the legs are joined by a wide apron that also holds a single drawer. Start by planing enough 4/4 stock down to 3/4" thick for the table’s aprons. Cut three of the four aprons 5-1⁄2" wide: two that are 10" long for the sides and one 13"-long apron for the back. For the front apron, start with a workpiece that’s 6-1⁄4" wide x 13-3⁄4 long. Mark a cabinetmaker’s triangle across the entire face, then rip the board into three strips. Take the wider center section and crosscut it into three pieces, as shown in the top left photo, to create a blank for the drawer face and the short sections of apron on either end of the drawer. Now trim the drawer face blank down to its final size of 9-7⁄16" long and 3-3⁄16" wide.
Glue the remaining four pieces together to form an apron that will surround the drawer face and provide a perfect grain match. After this assembly dries, scrape off the excess glue and trim the front apron to its final 5-1⁄2"-wide, 13" long size. Make sure to leave the strip above the drawer opening 1" wide and center the drawer opening side-to-side.
Next, plow a 1/4"-wide, 5/16"-deep groove on the inside face of each apron member, spaced 3/8" from the top edge. This groove will secure the cabinetmaker’s buttons that attach the table top. Now mark the lower edge of the front and both side aprons with a “cloud-lift” shape. Cut the profile out, using either a band saw or jigsaw, and sand the cut edges smooth. Use an oscillating spindle sander or drum sander to smooth the cloud-lift’s concave areas. Then, round over the outside face of the cloud-lift edges using the 1/8" round-over bit. Also run the bit around the front of the drawer face and drawer opening in the front apron.
Milling the Stretchers and Shelf
The bedside table features a handy low shelf, great for holding books, magazines, tissues and so forth. (I adapted the design from the shelf on a writing desk the Greene brothers created for the William T. Bolton house in Pasadena, California.) Stretcher rails support the shelf at the sides and back edge via a tongue-and-groove joint. The joint provides a solid connection in the 3/4"-thick stock. Plow a 3/8"- wide, 3/8"-deep groove on the inside face of each rail, 5/8" up from the bottom edge. Make the groove just a hair wider and deeper than 3/8" x 3/8" to allow the shelf’s tongue to slide into it easily. Round over all long edges of these rails with the 1/8" roundover bit.
Now glue up 4/4 stock wide enough to cut out the shelf, noting that the shelf’s grain runs side-toside on the table. Plane the shelf down to 3/4" thickness, then trim it to its 11-3⁄4" wide, 14-1⁄2" final dimension. Use a rabbeting bit in a router (or a dado blade in the table saw) to cut a 3/8"-wide, 3/8"-deep rabbet on the underside of the shelf, creating a tongue on three edges of the shelf (all but the front edge).
The next task is to cut a notch on both front corners of the shelf, which will capture the shelf’s front edge between the front legs when the table is assembled. With a band saw or jigsaw, cut the 1-1⁄8" x 3/4" notches as shown in the Drawings. Keep your cuts clean and square, as the notches will show.
The shelf’s front edge is cut with a variation of the cloud lift shape so that it harmonizes with the aprons and lends the table more visual interest. Mark the shelf with the lift design, and cut it out using a band saw or jigsaw. Smooth and round over this edge, as you did on the lower edges of the aprons.
One more chore needs to be done that allows the shelf to fit properly into the assembled legs and stretcher rails: Using a razor saw and a chisel, cut and chop out the stepped notch located in the front-inside-facing edges of both rear legs.
Doweling the Joints
Now it’s time to drill holes for the 5/16"-diameter dowels that join the legs to the aprons and stretcher rails. I was fortunate enough to have Triton’s new Double Doweller on hand, so I used it to bore all the joinery holes. The machine resembles a biscuit joiner and simultaneously bores two holes 1-1⁄4" apart). However, a standard doweling jig will work just fine, or you can use biscuits or loose splines to join the parts. (If you decide to use mortise-and-tenon joinery, make sure to add the necessary length to the apron and stretcher members before cutting them out.)
Start the doweling process by marking each apron with its position (left, right, front, back) relative to the legs. Now mark the dowel hole locations on both the aprons and corresponding legs. Space the holes evenly for four 5/16"-diameter, 1-1⁄4"-long dowels that make up each apron-to-leg joint. Set up the Double Doweller or doweling jig to center the holes on the thickness of the stock, then drill all holes just a hair deeper than 5/8". Reset the Doweller or jig to center the holes in the legs and drill these holes.
Use 2"-long, 5/16"-diameter dowels to join the stretcher rails to the legs: Drill two 1-1⁄16"-deep holes into the end of each rail and corresponding holes in the legs. Center the holes relative to the thickness of both the rails and legs, and locate them so the bottom edge of each rail ends up 5-1⁄2" from the bottom end of the legs.
Fabricating the Top
The bedside table’s top is designed to match the top on Mike’s dresser. It’s a classic Greene and Greene design, featuring a solidwood center panel terminated by breadboard ends. Start by gluing up the top’s center panel, then planing it down to its final 11/16" thickness. Trim the panel to its 13-3⁄8" wide, 13-1⁄2" long final size, then use a dado blade in the table saw to form a 1/2"-wide, 3/16"-thick tongue on each end. Set up your saw blade so you can take a cut from the top face, then the bottom, to leave a tongue that’s centered relative to the panel’s thickness.
Make the two breadboard ends next, cutting each from stock planed to 13/16" thick. Plow a 3/16" -wide, 1/2"-plus deep groove down the length of one edge of each end piece, locating the groove so the bottom of the center panel and breadboard are flush. Next, cut a pair of square plug holes on the ungrooved edge of each end piece, located as shown on the Drawings.
Now, drill a pair of close-spaced 5/32"-diameter holes down through the plug holes at both ends of each breadboard. Use a small file to turn each pair of holes into a short slot. The slots are for screws that secure the ends to the center panel, yet allow the cross-grain-joined parts to expand and contract.
To complete the top, use a chisel to chop out a small slot for the decorative spline at the front edge of the top where the panel and breadboards meet, as shown in the Drawings. Ease the top’s sharp edges with sandpaper, but don’t round them over.
Building the Drawer
The small drawer for this project is basically a five-sided box, with 1/2 "- thick sides cut from Baltic birch plywood and a 1/4" plywood bottom. The corner joints are simple overlapping rabbets. After cutting out the 3"-wide drawer sides, front and back according to the Material List dimensions, cut a 1/2"-wide, 1/4"- deep rabbet on the ends of the two 10-1⁄2"-long drawer sides. Now plow a 1/4"-deep groove on the inside face
of all four parts, spaced 1/4" up from the bottom edge, to accommodate the drawer bottom panel. Size the width of the groove so it fits the 1/4" ply you’re using (1/4" ply can range from 3/16" to just slightly under 1/4" in thickness). Cut the drawer bottom to size, then sand all the parts and assemble the drawer. Capture the bottom in its grooves first, without glue, then glue and nail the rabbet joints that secure the front and back to the sides.
Next, make the drawer support assemblies that house and guide the slide-out drawer. Each support requires two runners and two ends, cut from hardwood, and a side support cut from 1/2" plywood. Glue and nail the parts together, as shown in the Drawings. Drill a pair of holes in each end piece for screws that secure the supports to the aprons. Cut an 1/8"-wide, 3/4"-deep rabbet on the forward-facing end of each support, as shown in the Drawings. This allows the drawer face to slide in beyond the face of the apron, for a recessed look, and acts as a stop for the drawer.
Shaping the Drawer Pull
The table’s complex-shaped drawer pull matches the pulls on Mike’s dresser. Cut out a blank from 8/4 stock planed down to 1-1⁄4" thick, then transfer the curved shape and angled ends of the pull onto the blank and cut it out with a band saw. The pull’s profile is shown in the Drawing. A strip sander is helpful for smoothing the stepped sections of the top, but you can use files and sanding strips just as well. With a sharp chisel and/or a knife, create a slight curve on the ends of the stepped face of the pull. Next, shape the concave curved sides of the pull, either with a carving gouge, or if you’ve got a steady hand, with a die grinder fitted with an oval-shaped burr. After roughing out both sides of the pull, use a sharp curved cabinet scraper to refine the shape, then finish with sandpaper, working from coarse to finer grits.
Forming Plugs and Splines
There are a total of 24 plugs that decorate the table: 20 on the legs and four on the top’s breadboard ends. To make the plugs, start by cutting a 3/8" x 3/8" “log” from African blackwood or ebony (to match those on Mike’s bedroom set), then shape and slice off the individual plugs. Trim both ends of the log square using a smoothcutting, fine-toothed crosscutting blade, then put a small 45° chamfer all around the edges of each end of the log. An easy way to do this is to make a 45° angle jig out of plywood and use it with a benchtop strip or disc sander. Give the ends a quick polish using a flap sander chucked in the drill press, then cut off a 3/16"-long plug from each end of the log. This yields two plugs per cycle. Repeat the chamfering, polishing and cutoff process to make about a half dozen more plugs than you need and pick the best-looking ones for the table.
The two L-shaped splines, which adorn the front corners of the top, are cut from a 3/16"-thick, 1/2" x 2" piece of blackwood or ebony using the band saw or scrollsaw. Use a strip sander or sanding block to put a small chamfer on the outsidefacing edges of the splines, and flap sand the splines smooth.
Sanding and Finishing
Before proceeding with finishing, it’s important to dry-assemble the entire table to see that it fits together properly. Use clamp pads and don’t over-tighten the clamps, to prevent denting the wood. Then, use a rubber or dead-blow mallet to gently take it apart.
To get a clean, even finish, it’s best to sand and finish all the mahogany parts before gluing the table together. Start sanding with 120-grit paper, then 180-grit and finally 220-grit. Wipe the wood down with distilled water applied with a sponge or damp cloth to raise the grain. When the wood dries, re-sand lightly with 240-grit paper. If you want the table to match the rest of Mike’s bedroom set, stain the mahogany using a blend of Lockwood red and brown mahogany aniline dyes. Wear rubber gloves to keep moisture from your fingers from smudging the dye. Then, apply two coats of satin wipe-on polyurethane finish.
Assembling the Lower Frame
Putting the bedside table together is done in several steps. Assemble the legs, aprons and stretchers/shelf in two steps: First, glue up the side aprons and side rails with the corresponding front and back legs. Apply a thin coat of glue to the dowels, as well as into the dowel holes. As the joints are clamped up, thoroughly wipe off glue squeeze-out from the finished surfaces with a damp cloth or sponge.
Next, glue the subassemblies together with the front and back aprons and rear stretcher rail: Lay one subassembly on an old towel on the workbench (so the wood doesn’t get dented or scratched) and glue the aprons and rail in place. Slide the shelf into its groove in the side and rear rails (no glue), then glue the other subassembly in place. Apply clamps to draw the framework together. Then carefully drive the 1/4" dowels through the holes in the front legs and into the front corners of the shelf.
After removing the clamps, you’re ready to install the drawer assembly. First, screw the drawer box, drawer face and pull together. Set the face flush with the bottom of the drawer box with it centered side to side. Center the pull, side to side, and locate it slightly above the center of the drawer face. Drive a pair of 2"-long, #8 washerhead screws through pilot holes from the inside front of the box through the drawer face and into the pull.
Now slip the drawer support assemblies in between the front and rear aprons, on either side of the drawer opening and temporarily clamp them in place. Slide the drawer into its opening, then unclamp and slide each support inward until its runners engage the drawer box loosely. Adjust the supports so the drawer is centered in the opening and slides in and out smoothly. Secure the supports by driving a pair of 1"-long #6 screws through each end of its ends.
Installing the Top and Plugs
Assemble the top next by applying glue to only 3" to 4" of the tongueand- groove joint closest to the rear edge of the center panel and breadboard ends. Clamp the parts together, making sure that the back edges of the panel and breadboards are flush. Drive a 2-1⁄2"-long, #8 pan (or washer) head screw into the slotted holes in each breadboard, driving them just enough to pull the tongue-and-groove joint tight. Check the assembly for flatness, then drive the two splines into the slots at the front of the top with a rubber mallet. Apply glue only to the part of the spline that seats into the center panel slot, so the spline won’t split out when the center panel expands or contracts.
Install all the decorative plugs on the legs and top next. Apply a few drops of glue into each square plug hole, then carefully drive a plug in (chamfered side up) using a plastic-faced mallet, leaving each plug a little more than 1/16" proud of the surface.
Cut the six hold-down buttons to size and shape from scrap stock, and bore a pilot hole through the center of each one. To mount the top, set it upside down on a towel-covered workbench, then place the inverted table on top of it. Center the table side to side and adjust the front of the top so it overhangs the front legs by 3/8". Lightly clamp the table and top together, then set the six hold-down buttons into the apron slots: one each into the front and back aprons; two into each side apron. Screw all six buttons down using 1"-long, #6 screws. Now flip the table over, clean any dust or grime from the surface, and give the whole table a fresh coat of paste wax applied with a fine plastic abrasive pad or #0000 steel wool. As you stand back and admire your completed project, don’t forget to say a quick “thanks” to Mike.