Wooden Nesting Tables
Wooden Nesting Tables
REQUIREMENTS FOR THIS PROJECT-
I made the tables as they are shown using a table saw, router, scroll saw, drill press, jointer and biscuit joiner. The jointer is only a convenient way to taper the legs, the alternative is the simple table saw taper jig shown in a photo. You can use a dowel jig instead of a biscuit joiner, or cut mortise and tenon joints if you like. The scroll saw (or band or saber saw) and drill press are only for the curves. Make all the edges straight and you don’t need these tools. The router is used only for edge details and veneering, these can be eliminated too, if you like. So, you can make these tables with only a table saw, hand drill and dowel jig if you choose. I used cherry and bird’s eye maple veneer for the tables shown.
NOW WHAT DO YOU DO when all the relatives show up, plunck themselves down in the living room, and start putting their drinks down anywhere in sight? Sometimes you want to tell them to bring their own tables and chairs, not to mention their own drinks. This set of nesting tables will go a long way to alleviate the first part of the problem, the rest is up to you.
These nesting tables Woodworking projects are relatively simple to make, requiring a minimum of tools. If you choose, you can add a beautiful touch by veneering the rails of the tables, as I did, though it isn’t necessary. Veneering may seem like a very difficult process, but there are degrees of difficulty in veneering as with other woodworking skills. The veneer work here is some of the simplest and is a good way to cut your teeth with thin wood (so to speak!).
Drawing 2- Making The Curve Rail Template. Use this diagram to draw your own template for front rail. Use a similar procedure for other rails if you choose to make them curved too. First draw the rectangular rail with the 4 x 9 inch dimensions. Then put a center line through it as shown. Next locate the center point of the middle arc at 2-1/8 inches above the bottom line and along the center line. With a compass, strike this middle arc as shown. Finally, locate the radius centers of the other two arcs as shown and strike them with the compass. A second way to do this procedure is to replace your compass with a tin can or any other round object with approximately the same radius. First use this cylinder to mark the center arc, then locate it appropriately for the other arcs and scribe them.
Cut Out List, Nesting Tables
4- 1 x 1 x 18 legs
4- 1 x 1 x 19-1/8 legs
4- 1 x 1 x 20-1/4 legs
All the above can be gotten by gluing together
3- 3/4 x 3-1/2 x 41 blank for legs
1- 3/4 x 4 x 9 front rail bot table
1- 3/4 x 3 x 15 rear rail top table
1- 3/4 x 3 x 12 rear rail mid table
1- 3/4 x 3 x 9 rear rail bot table
2- 3/4 x 3 x 12 side rails top table
2- 3/4 x 3 x 11 side rails mid table
2- 3/4 x 3 x 10 side rails bot table
1- 3/4 x 14-3/4 x 20 top, top table
1- 3/4 x 13-1/2 x 14-1/2 top, mid table
1- 3/4 x 12-1/2 x 11-1/2 top, bot table
Let’s Start Building Wooden Nesting Tables
Photo 1- Edge glue your stock to get the widths involved. If you use biscuits or dowels to align the edge joints, be sure you locate them where they won’t be exposed after you cut up the piece. Put thin rippings between the clamps and the wood so the clamp doesn’t dent the wood. Clean the wet glue off with hot water and a rag. It’s harder to clean off after it’s hard.
You will need following woodworking tools:
Begin with two glue ups to get the necessary dimensions for tops and legs. Edge glue stock to make a single wide piece at least 15 x 48″ from which the three tops can be cut (photo 1). The thickness and width of the legs is 1″, which you could easily get from stock thicker than the common 3/4″, but if you don’t have thicker stock you can get all the legs by gluing up a blank from three pieces of 3/4″ stock (photo 2). This means that each leg will have a glue line in it, but if your stock color is consistent these will not be readily visible, and such a glue up is a more efficient use of stock than cutting 1″ thick legs out of 1-3/4″ stock.
Photo 2- This is the glue blank for the legs. Cleaning the wet glue off this is less important because you can remove dried clumps with the table saw. But, these clumps against the table saw fence make the first cut a pain, so at least smear the wet glue flat if you don’t bother to clean it all off. Use a lot of clamps with light pressure rather than a few with a lot of pressure. The number of clamps shown is a minimum for such a glue up.
Let the glue up for the legs dry overnight, even if you use yellow glue which, in most situations, can be taken out of clamps after an hour. Here, however, if the boards you glue up are not straight, the stress of the boards trying to straighten out may be enough to break a one hour bond. When out of clamps rip the blank into 6 pieces at approx. 1-1/16″ square, cut into 12 legs, and bring to 1″ square.
Photo 3- Make this simple taper jig to cut the tapers in all the legs. Be very careful with such a jig. Use a push stick to hold down the leg during the final part of the cut. Don’t hold your fingers on the leg during the final part of the cut.
Tapering the legs can be done with one of three methods. the simplest, though most tiring, is with a hand plane. Secondly, make a tapering jig as in photo 3 for the table saw. The jig is three pieces of plywood- a base, a side fence, and a rear fence. Position the side fence on the base at an angle equal to the angle of the taper, and place a rear fence behind the leg to keep it from being pushed backward.
Don’t get out your protractor to figure the angle of the taper. Remember “rise and run” from your algebra? Think of the angle as producing a line that “runs” a certain distance to the side over a “rise” of a certain distance. In other words, for every 12 inches of rise along the taper, it runs 1\4″ to the side. Use this figure for all the legs, and begin each taper 12″ above the bottom of each leg. To set the angle of the side fence on the taper jig, position it so that it is out of parallel 1\4″ over 12″ of length.
First cut the taper into one side of a leg, then flip it 180o to taper the opposite side. Notice that now the freshly cut side faces the fence and does not contact it along the taper, only along the untapered area. Make a tapered wedge to fit between the fence and the freshly tapered edge.
Run the jig against the rip fence on the saw. Note that the position of the fence determines the exact location of the taper along the leg. Note also that you must move the fence farther from the blade for longer legs because, being longer and at an angle, the end of the leg will be closer to the blade than that of shorter leg.
Photo 4- If you have a jointer, tapering the legs is real easy. But- keep your fingers away from the cutter head! Don’t pass your fingers over the cutter head as the cut is made, and always keep your eye on the cut as it is made so you know where you fingers are. See text for proper procedure.
The object is to remove 1\4″ of width (and thickness) off all four edges of the bottom of the legs, and have the taper end 12″ above the bottom. A third way to do this is on a jointer, as in photos 4 and 5. Set the jointer fence 1-1/8″ from the front end of the knives (so minimal knife area is exposed), and clamp a stop block to the jointer in feed table 10 inches behind the throat. Set depth of cut at 1/16″. Butt one end of a leg against the stop, and lower the front down onto the revolving cutters and out feed table as in photo 5. Whenever using a jointer, always keep your fingers either behind the cutter head or in front, never pass your hand over the cutter head. Push the leg forward, move your left hand around the cutter head to the out feed table, push the leg through with the left hand and remove your right from the leg.
Photo 5- Finishing the taper cut. Having alternately passed your hands over the cutter head by lifting them above and away from the cutter head, both hands are on the work again during the final portion of the cut.
The effect of this cut is to take a 1/16″ taper off that edge of the leg. Do this twice more for a total of 3/16″, and then do all other sides similarly. Once all legs are done, remove the stop block and run all sides again, without lowering them onto the cutter, but starting well ahead of the cutter as usual. Take about 1/32″ off on this pass. This cut removes the small divot that is formed at the top of the bevel when the leg is lowered onto the cutter head.
Photo 6- Use a hand plane to make th tapers, or to clean them up after making them on the table saw or jointer. A sharp hand plane is a joy to use, a dull one is worthless. Clamp scraps to your bench as shown to hold the work in place as it is planned.
Whether you cut the tapers on the table saw or the jointer, when through a good way to clean off saw or knife marks is with a smoothing plane as in photo 6. Or, sand them with a belt sander, use a scraper, or, as a last resort, hand sand (yech!)
Get out your rails, rip to width and cut to length. If you choose to veneer them with some beautiful wood, such as the bird’s eye maple I used here, now is the time. But- why veneer at all, when you could just use figured lumber to make the rails to begin with? Because it will cost you an arm and a leg, that’s why. Veneer, though not cheap, costs less by surface area (if not by board foot).
Photo 7- Paint the surfaces to be bonded with contact cement with a throw-away brush. Carefully inspect the areas covered to see if the cement has absorbed completely, or if a thin layer remains behind. If it is completely absorbed, apply more. There must be a thin layer of cement on both bonding surfaces for it to work well.
Use contact cement to glue the veneer to your rail stock. Though not as strong as woodworker‘s glue, it is easy to use and more than adequately strong to hold veneer to wood. Cut out pieces of veneer that are larger than the rails to which they will be glued. Apply contact cement to both the rails and veneer pieces (photo 7) and then let it dry before you press the two together. Why? Because that’s how the stuff works, don’t ask me why. It bonds best from about 10 minutes after application to within a few hours thereafter. Read the label instructions carefully, and use only in an area that has cross ventilation, that is, two doors or windows open with a breeze going through, or out on the back porch.
Photo 8- Once the cement has dried, place the veneer pieces on the rails and firmly bang down on all areas with a rubber hammer, or roll over it with a wallpaper roller. Make the veneer pieces larger than the rails, at least 1/4 inch wider all the way around, so it will be easy to locate them on the rails.
It is possible that your wood will absorb too much of the first coat of contact cement, so it is best to apply two coats if there is any question. When dry carefully position and apply the veneer. Locate it correctly the first time because once the cement grabs it is there permanently. They don’t call it contact cement for nothing. Bang it down with a rubber mallet (photo 8).
Trim the excess veneer off the rails with a flush trim bit in the router table as in photo 9.
Photo 9- Use a flush trim bit on your router table to flush trim the veneer to the rail edges. Keep your fingers a fair distance from the bit at all times, because the router could grab the work and throw it, pulling your fingers in, especially in a climb cut. See text.
To prevent tearing out the veneer, climb the cut, or feed the veneer into the cutter in the direction of rotation. While doing so, press down firmly on the rail so that the bit does not grab the wood and throw it. Because you are cutting through such thin wood this is easy to control, whereas in other situations climbing the cut with a router is risky at best.
Photo 10- Here a scroll saw is being used to cut the curve on the front rail, but a band saw will do the job too. A scroll saw has a finer toothed blade however, leaving a finer surface that needs less or no finish sanding.
The flush trim bit you use will get gunked up with contact cement, so you might want to buy one of the cheaper ones used for trimming counter top laminates.
Trace the pattern onto the curved front rail, and cut it out with a band, scroll, or coping saw (photo 10). Note that this is the only rail with a curved edge as originally designed, but if you wish you can make all the rails with curved edges too. In this case you may want to increase the widths of those parts. You will also need to adapt the curve template design to suit the varying lengths of rails. Smooth the rough edge with a drum sander mounted in the drill press (photo 11), or by hand.
Photo 11- A drum sander in a drill press in a very convenient way to smooth out the curved surfaces. Note that the work rides on a plywood table clamped to the drill press table. This is so the drum bottom can reach below the work, ensuring that the sander hits the entire thickness of the stock.
Cut a 1/4″ x 1/4″ dado along the top inside edge of all the rails, at 1/2″ from the top edge (photo 12). This provides a convenient plane for drilling holes for screws that hold the rails to the tops.
Photo 12- You can use a dado cutter on your table saw to cut the hole drilling plane, or just use your combination blade, taking two passes to end up with a dado 1/4 inch wide.
Use biscuit joints to attach the legs to the rails. Carefully mark out the legs so you know exactly where to cut slots- and where not to. Orient the legs so that the glue line is on the side of the front legs (so it is not seen from the front) and on the front of the rear legs (so it is not seen from the side).
Photo 13- Biscuit joinery has the advantage of being very fast, and is certainly plenty strong for these tables. Once you are set up as shown it goes fast. But if you don’t have a biscuit joiner, you can join the legs with dowels using a dowel jig. Two 1/4 or 3/8 inch dowels in each rail end are sufficient.
To cut the slots on the legs, clamp a fence to your bench as in photo 13 to hold the leg securely as you cut. Offset the slots on the rails so that the face of the rails is 1/8″ behind the face of the legs.
Photo 14- Use very gentle pressure when you glue these up. The biscuit or dowel joints do not depend on clamp pressure to achieve their strength, so all you need to do is squeeze the parts together until they touch. Put clamp blocks between the clamps and wood to avoid dents and to avoid rust stains when the water from cleaning the glue hits the iron clamps. Clean the glue carefully with hot water.
Glue up the rails and legs in two steps. First glue the rear rails and front rail to their corresponding legs. Let these dry, then take them out of clamps and glue the side rails and front legs to these assemblies (photo 14). Doing the glue up in two stages this way reduces the number of clamps on the legs at any given time and avoids congestion. Check that the rails are square in relation to each other at the second stage.
Photo 15- Cut a cove detail into the bottom edge of all the table tops. If your cove bit has a bearing you don’t need the fence, but I usually put one there anyway for safety and because it helps guide the work along.
Cut the tops to size, and trace the curved shape onto the edges of the uppermost top. Cut these curves out with a band, scroll, or coping saw and smooth by sanding. Set up a cove bit on the router table with a fence as in photo 15, and cut a cove into the bottom corners on the sides and fronts of all tops; not on the backs. Note that this cove cannot be more than 1/4″ wide, because on the two inner tables it is close to or adjacent to the plane of the table legs.
Photo 16- Use a tapered bit with countersink to drill holes for the screws. You don’t need the countersink here, but it cuts away some of the wood above the dado to make it easier to get the screw in place.
Attach the table tops to the legs with screws located in the special groove cut inside the rails. Turn a top over, and clamp its rail assembly in place as in photo 16. Drill for screws as shown, but don’t cinch the screws down yet.
Whenever you attach a table top to its rails, you have to make provision for the fact that the top will shrink and expand across the grain with moisture variations in the air. If you don’t, when the top moves (and it will), it will break any glue bond resisting its movement, or break screws. Or, if the glue or screws hold, the top itself will split. One way or another, you have to let the top move or it will wreak revenge in a most unpleasant way.
Photo 17- Now you do need the countersink. Use it to expand the top 1/4″ of the hole in the rail to give the screw room to move as the table top changes dimension with changes in humidity.
With these table tops, the amount of movement will be minimal because the width of the tops is never greater than 15″. Since you don’t need to expect them to move a lot, you can make lesser provision for their movement. Remove the rail assembly from the top after drilling screw holes as above, and bore countersinks in the rail tops over the screw shank holes as in photo 17. Bore these about 1/4″ deep. Put the rail assembly back on the table top and screw it down. The countersunk shank holes will allow the table top to drag the screw shank back and forth a bit as it moves, without pushing against the body of the rail.
Figured veneer will benefit from fine sanding down to 600 grit paper, to bring out the way swirling grain plays with light. A durable finish on top, such as polyurethane varnish, is advisable if these tables will be used for any purpose that may get them wet, such as potted plants or Uncle Fred’s unending supply of frosty aluminum cans.
A good book on finishing is Bob Flexner’s Understanding Wood Finishing.
Wooden Desk Furniture
Wooden Desk Furniture
This style of secretary desk is very handy for writing out the bills and other necessary paperwork. One nice thing is that when you get sick and tired of all this accounting, you can just flip up the lid and all papers, envelopes and check stubs fall inside, neatly out of sight and mind. Seriously though, it provides good storage, takes little space, and gives a fair size desk area to work on.
Construction is none too complicated too, because it is mostly made from solid panels. These are easier to construct than frames with floating panels within, but you must be careful with solid panels to make provision for wood movement. Any wide piece of wood is going to move across the grain with moisture variations, and if you don’t join the pieces such that they can move freely then surely something will break. This desk is a study in allowing for wood movement.
Parts List to Build A Secretary Desk:
2- 3/4 x 16 x 38 sides
1- 3/4 x 22-1/2 x 15-3/4 desk top
1- 3/4 x 22-1/2 x 16 lid
1- 3/4 x 6 x 24-1/2 top plate
4- 3/4 x 2 x 22 top and bottom rails
6- 3/4 x 1-1/2 x 22-1/2 drawer frame rails
4- 3/4 x 1-1/2 x 13-1/2 mid and upper drawer frame runners
2- 3/4 x 1-1/2 x 12 bottom drawer frame runners
3- 3/4 x 7-1/2 x 23 drawer fronts
1- 3/4 x 1 x 11 feet from which to cut out base pieces
6- 1/2 x 6-7/8 x 15-1/2 drawer sides
3- 1/2 x 6-7/8 x 21-3/8 drawer backs
2- 3/8 x 4 x 6-3/4 cubby horizontals
1- 3/8 x 4 x 8-1/2 cubby horizontal
2- 3/8 x 4 x 6-1/2 cubby verticals (inside)
2- 3/8 x 4 x 6 cubby verticals (outside)
1- 1/4 x 23 x 37-1/2 plywood back
3- 1/4 x 14-3/8 x 21-5/16 drawer bottoms
How to Build Secretary Desk with Hutch Out of Wood
Photo 1- Edge glue stock together to get the wide parts you’ll need. I make wide glue ups like this and then rip the glue up to get several parts. Using biscuit splines or dowels to align the boards during glue up makes the procedure go fast and easy.
Begin by gluing up the panels, as in photo 1. You’ll need a panel for each side, one wide one for the desk top and lid, as well as several for the drawer parts. If you are lucky you’ll find stock wide enough for the drawer parts, but I wasn’t so I glued together pieces wide enough to rip out three drawer parts at once. Nesting the parts this way makes for less clamping since you are dealing with less panels.
You’ll need thin stock for the drawers and cubbies. If you don’t have a planer, visit a page on this site with info about making thin stock by clicking here.
Dealing with wood movement begins with laying out the sticks for this panel glue up. Not only will the panels tend to change dimension along their width, but if the sticks are flat sawn they will tend to cup slightly with moisture changes. This is because the moisture-related movement of most woods is greater in the direction parallel to the growth rings than it is perpendicular to the rings (see drawing). Since shrinkage (or expansion) is greater one way than the other, tensions build up which cause the wood to bend, or cup.
This cupping is usually not very great, but if all the sticks in a glued up panel that is 18″ wide cup in the same direction, the combined effect can be enough to make the entire panel cup a quarter inch or more. If the panel is screwed to something straight, the cupping will pull against the straight part and the result could be a split panel or a very twisted piece of furniture.
The solution is to arrange the panels so that the individual sticks in it do not all cup in the same direction (see drawing). Do this by orienting the tree center direction of each stick on the opposite side from the adjacent sticks. This way if cupping occurs, the effect on the panel will be to make it follow an “S” curve, which will reduce the overall effect of the movement and keep the panel relatively flat.
The drawer frames consist of rails that run between the desk sides, and runners that “run” along the sides. These runners serve double duty both as a place for the drawer above to rest and slide upon, and as the kicker for the drawer below. The kicker prevents the drawer from tilting down when it is pulled out. There is no drawer frame above the top drawer to act as kicker, so you must apply kickers for it later. The desk top would serve as this kicker, but then when the desk lid is opened it would hit the top of the uppermost drawer front, so it must have space between the lid and the top drawer. This space is provided by a front and rear rail. Note that the bottom drawer frame runners are shorter than the others. This frame fits between the two bottom rails, rather than on top of them, and thus has less room.
Photo 2- Use this table saw dado setup to cut grooves in the drawer frame fronts and rears to serve as mortises. If you don’t have a dado set for your saw, you can use a regular combination blade, just do several setups to get a mortise that is 1/4″ wide and centered in the part.
Join the frames with slot mortises and stub tenons cut on the table saw. Set up a 1/4″ wide dado, 1/2″ above the table as in photo 2. Clamp a stop on the fence as shown to limit the length of the slot to 1-1/2″ at its deepest point. This stop must have the same slot cut in it so you can locate it over the blade. Center the slot along the 3/4″ thickness of the parts and cut the slots on the inside edges of all front and rear rails.
Photo 3- Cut tenons on the ends of the drawer frame runners using your miter gauge at the table saw like so. Again, you don’t need to use a dado set here, you can make the cuts with repeated passes using a combination blade.
To cut the tenons on the runners, leave the 1/4″ dado setup on the saw, remove the stop, and put your miter gauge on the table. Set the fence 1/2″ from the outside of the dado, and lower the blade to about 3/16″ from the table top. Cut out the tenons as shown in photo 3, making two passes on each side to clear out the waste. With the dado at 3/16″ above the table, the resulting tenon will be too thick to fit the mortises. Raise the blade a hair and recut the tenon, then check the fit. Adjust and fit until the tenon is a snug fit in the mortise- not so tight that it pushes the mortise walls apart, but not so loose that it rattles around in there.
Photo 4- Glue up the drawer frames. Before you put on the C-clamps, check to see that the frame is square by putting your tape on the diagonals across far corners. When these two measures are equal, the frame is square.
Glue up the frames by pulling them together with bar clamps, then cinching down the mortises onto the tenons with C clamps as in photo 4. Check that the frames are square before you put on the C clamps, after they are on you can remove the bar clamps.
When the panels are out of clamps sand them flat and smooth. You’re a better woodworker than I if you can do this really well with a belt sander. I take mine to a local cabinet shop with a wide belt sander, which levels the panels accurately and leaves an excellent finish. They will have a minimum charge of 20 bucks or so, but it is well worth it. Machine sanding will also reduce the thickness of the panels significantly. If you start with stock that is 13/16″ thick (as much standard 1x lumber is) you can have it all sanded to ¾ finish thickness. Have the drawer frames sanded to the same thickness at the same time, and do the same for the drawer and cubbie parts so that they have consistent thickness. This will help the dovetailing procedures a great deal.
Photo 5- A hand plane will smooth the angled cuts on the desk sides quickly and easily. It will do the same for all edges, though a block plane works best for end grain (that’s what they were made to do). If you don’t have a hand plane a belt sander will do the job, or a stationary belt or disk sander, or hand sanding, though this alternative will take time. A hand power plane will work well here too.
Rip the sides to width and cut them to length. A good way to cut wide stock to length is with a large cut off box on the table saw or you can use a miter gauge on the table saw with an extension fence screwed to it. I was able to cut the width on my 10″ radial arm saw. Measure and scribe the angle on each of the sides, cut this out on the band saw or with a sabre saw. Smooth the resulting edge by sanding, or with a hand plane which is much faster (photo 5). Don’t plane against the grain!
Photo 6- Cutting the dadoes in the desk sides with an overhead bearing flush trim bit. The bearing rides against the wood fence which is attached to a piece of plywood. The plywood is clamped to the desk side and bench with handscrews as shown. You could also use a straight flute bit and template guide in the router for this operation.
Cut dadoes in the insides of the desk sides for the drawer frames and desk top to fit into. Cut these using an overhead bearing flush trim bit in the router, along with a straight edge for the bearing to ride on (photos 6 and 7). Note in the photos that the straight edge is attached to a piece of plywood. This is because the clamps would get in the way of the router’s travel if the straight edge were clamped directly to the desk side, and the plywood allows the straight edge to be clamped from behind. Also, the ply gives added spacing which I needed because of the height of my overhead bearing bit.
Photo 7- Your fence height and height of the overhead bearing flush trim bit need to be coordinated so that the bearing hits wood and the bit cuts the dadoes at the correct depth, 1/4″. This may be easier to attain with a template guide and straight bit, but such a setup is a little trickier to align due to the offset of the template guide from the bit.
Cut stopped dadoes for the drawer frames, but cut the desk top dado through. This way the desk top has the added support of a through dado, needed because leaning on the desk lid will apply leverage on the top itself. But the drawer frames don’t need this added strength and the front looks better with a minimum of through dadoes. Stop the dadoes at 1/2″ from the front edge of the sides, and cut the dadoes at 1/4″ deep.
Photo 8- Use this setup to put a stopped dado in the front corners of the drawer frames. If you don’t have a dado set for your table saw, these cuts can be made with a band saw or by hand.
Cut the front corners of the drawer frames to fit around the stopped dadoes in the sides by setting up a 3/4″ dado on the table saw as in photos 8+9. The fence needs to be set against the dado cutter so that it will cut along the full thickness of the drawer frames, so screw a board onto the fence as in the photo so you don’t mar the fence itself. Clamp a stop on the fence as you did when cutting the slot mortises in the frame rails. The length of cut only needs to be enough for all surfaces to clear when the frame goes into the dado in the desk side. The depth of cut is critical-make it exactly the same as depth of the dadoes, so that the front rail ends contact the inside face of the desk sides in front of the dado.
Photo 9- A dado set makes the cut fast, easy and accurate since it cuts to a very even line and is easy to adjust for depth. Make test cuts on scrap to be sure you don’t cut too deep, making a visible gap on the front of the drawer frame.
Join the four top and bottom rails to the sides with dowels, or with biscuits. In the case of the former, accurate drill press setups will be necessary to bore the holes in the desk sides, and a dowel jig will suffice for the rail ends. For biscuits, the lower rails can be joined with a single setup of the biscuit joiner fence as in photo 10. Locate the biscuit at about 1/8″ from the inside of the bottom rails. This is because on the back bottom rail you will cut a 1/4″ rabbet on the outside of the rail to take the plywood back, and the biscuit must be out of the way of this rabbet. On the front there won’t be a dado, but use the same setup as on the back to save some time.
Photo 10- Use a biscuit joiner to locate biscuit splines for the top and bottom rails. Or, use a dowel jig for dowel holes in the rail end, and set up with a drill press to bore dowel holes in the desk sides. If you don’t have a drill press, make a wood drilling guide by boring a hole of the dowel size you will use in a thick chunk of scrap. Align this chunk on the desk side so that when the drill bit is placed in it, the bit will be aligned correctly for the dowel. Use this to bore the dowel holes.
The top rails are positioned horizontally along their faces, unlike the bottom rails, and so require an extra step with the biscuit joiner. You can’t cut the slots for the top rails in the desk sides by resting the machine’s fence on the desk side’s edge, as you did for the bottom rails. You must position a fence along the desk side as in photo 11, and butt the bottom of the machine against this fence. This requires careful measurement to locate the slot accurately, because you must account for the distance from the cutter to the outside face of the machine, which butts against the fence. On mine this measure was 13/32″, which required some mathematical gymnastics to figure exactly where to locate the fence. Measure twice, cut once.
Photo 11- Aligning the biscuit joiner to a desk side for the top rail joint. You need to know exactly how far from the biscuit joiner base the blade is located in order to accurately locate the clamped on fence.
Locate the rear top rail 1/4″ forward of the desk side rear edges, because it must be out of the way of the plywood back.
Cut rabbets in the rear edges of the desk sides for the plywood back, as well as in the top outside edge of the rear lower rail. Cut these on the table saw with a dado, or with a router and a 1/2″ rabbeting bit. Don’t cut the rabbet all the way through on the bottoms of the sides. Stop it where the rabbet on the rear lower rail begins. To do so on the table saw, you must start the cut in the middle of the panel for one side, and stop the cut in the middle for the other. For the latter, turn off the saw when the cut reaches the end point, and wait for it to stop before removing the panel. Don’t try to “climb the cut” on a table saw, that is move the work onto the blade in the direction it is spinning. This is tempting for stopped cuts but extremely unsafe with a table saw.
Cut out the desk top to fit in its dado, and prepare to assemble the carcase. The only parts that get glue are the biscuit joints that join the rails to the sides, and if you wish, the desk top to the sides. But you cannot glue the drawer frames onto the sides, because their grain direction runs at 90o to the grain direction of the sides. Cross-grain gluing like this over a wide expanse of panel will cause failure because the panel will expand and contract along its width with moisture variations, and the drawer runners will not expand and contract along their length. Truth is that the runners will do so along their length a tiny bit, but so little you can’t measure it. But the side panels will move 1/8″ or more, and if they are glued to the rails something must break. You can glue the desk top to the sides, however, because its grain direction runs the same as the sides, so it will expand and contract with the sides and thus stay aligned.
So how do you join the runners to the sides so that the panel can move? Use screws with holes that are larger than the screw shanks, so that as the panel moves it does not bear against the shank directly. Glue the rails and desk top pieces, and assemble the carcase with the drawer frames placed within their dadoes. Scribe light lines across the sides where screws will hit the centerlines of the drawer runners. Use a tapered bit and countersink setup to drill holes for four screws in each runner. Set the countersink just deep enough to glue in a plug over the screw once it is set. Use a drill bit of a size for a good fit on the screws. Then- before you set the screws- use a larger bit to expand the diameter of the hole in the desk side by half the difference between the screw shank and the screw head. Don’t make the hole too large, or the screw head won’t have anything to grab. Then set the screws, and glue plugs in place.
As I said above you can glue the top in, but end grain gluing like this is not always the best. Since you are there with screws anyway, you might as well screw it down too. The hole depth you use in the runners may not be best for the holes in the top, since you are going into end grain. A slightly less deep, or less wide, hole may prove better for a good grip. In general longer screws work better in end grain. Do tests in samples of the same wood.
There is one other accommodation you must make for the movement of the sides- the length of the runners. Be sure the total length, front to rear, of the drawer frames is slightly (1/16″ or so) smaller than the space in which the frames fit. This is so that if the sides shrink they will not compress the plywood back of the cabinet against the ends of the drawer frames, in which case the frame would actually push the plywood out of its rabbet.
After the carcase is out of clamps, apply kickers under the desk top for the upper drawer. Use screws with larger shank holes in the kicker, just as you did for the drawer runners.
DRAWERS AND CUBBIES
The advantage of dovetails is that the parts are mechanically locked together. You can acheive the same effect with router-cut sliding dovetails, and they take less time. This woodworking project uses sliding dovetails to join the drawers together as well as to join the cubby parts to each other and to the top plate.
Photo 12- Cut dovetail slots for the drawers and cubbies on the router table with this procedure. Use a 3/8″ wide router bit. Set the bit at 1/4″ above the table for the drawer dovetails and 1/8″ above for the cubbie dovetails.
Start by cutting the dovetail slots in the drawer fronts and in the rear end of the sides. Set up on the router table as in photo 12. Stop the cut 1/4″ from the top of the drawer fronts by placing a clamp on the fence as shown. To stop the cut on the other side of each drawer front you’ll need to move the clamp to the other side of the fence.
Photo 13- Cut the dovetails on the ends of parts for the drawers and cubbies with a router table setup like this. Having stock of very uniform thickness will help a lot to make uniform dovetail tenons that fit the grooves consistently.
To cut the dovetail tenons you’ll need to hold the part upright while it goes by the cutter. Make a tall fence for the router table as in photo 13 to hold it so. Lower the bit in the table just a hair (1/64″ or so) from the height at which you cut the slots, and make a cut on each side of the part to form the dovetail shape. Use test pieces for fitting while you try different locations of the fence. The fit of the tenon in the slot changes a great deal with minor changes in the fence location, because the change happens on two sides, doubling the final effect. Move the fence in very small amounts by relieving some- but not all- pressure on one of the clamps that hold it to the table and tapping the fence with a hammer. Then tighten the clamp. The tenon should fit into the slot without being banged in with a hammer, but with little or no slop in the joint.
Cut 1/4″ dadoes in the bottom inside edges of the drawer fronts and sides, 1/2″ up from the bottom. Don’t cut these dadoes on the drawer backs. Assemble the drawers by gluing and sliding the drawer sides in the slots in the drawer front until the bottoms of both parts are flush. Then slide the plywood drawer bottoms into their dadoes in the sides and front. Next glue and slide the drawer back in place. To support the plywood at the drawer back, glue a 1/2 x 1/2 x 4″ strip on the inside of the drawer back, under the plywood.
Photo 14- Use this set up to cut the dovetail slots in the top plate as well as the desk sides for the cubbie components. Do a lot of careful measuring to be sure you are centering your slots just where they need to go. Remember that the parts are longer by the dovetail tenons.
Cut the dovetail slots in the top plate for the cubbies to hang from by setting up with the router held by hand as in photo 14. Clamp a fence to the top plate as shown, and run the router base edge against this edge to refer the cut. As with making biscuit cuts in the middle of a board, you must measure carefully from the cutter to the edge of the tool in order to locate the fence correctly. Cut dovetails for the cubbie parts using setups similar to those for the drawers.
Cut two 3/4″ dadoes at 1/4″ deep in the ends of the top plate to join it to the sides, as well as a stopped rabbet in the rear for the plywood back. Glue and assemble the cubby structure on the top plate. Flush the rear of the structure to the inside of the rabbet for the plywood back. Place the top plate on the desk sides and screw in place. No need for wider shank holes because, as with the desk top, the expansion/contraction of the top plate follows the sides.
BASE AND HARDWARE
Make the base pieces by rounding over the edges of long pieces of stock, then cut them shorter. Don’t give the edges a full roundover though, lower the bit in the table about 30% of its cut. This gives a softer effect.
To cut out the small parts, first cut miters on the ends of the long stock, then cut the small pieces to length. This is safer than trying to cut miters in pieces 2-1/2″ long.
Assemble the bases by progressively stacking them together directly on the desk bottom. Turn the desk upside down, glue and screw the longer base pieces to the desk bottom, then glue and screw the middle ones to the long ones etc. until all are in place. Locate the screws carefully so you don’t hit the ones below.
While the desk is upside down, glue and screw corner blocks where the bottom rails and desk sides meet. Also install corner blocks behind the miters on the bases, to hold each side of the individual bases together.
Photo 15- Desk lid hinges are designed to hold the lid open firmly in a horizontal position.
Special desk lid hinges are necessary to keep the lid from going past the horizontal when it is opened. To install these hinges, place one on the desk top in position and trace around it with a sharp pencil. Then follow inside this tracing with a chisel to outline the cut, and carefully clean out the waste. A carving gouge is handy for cutting the curve end of the hardware. Cut the mortise depth so the hardware is flush with the desk top (photo 15). Repeat the procedure on the lid. Note that the center of the hinge pin should come to the front upper edge of the desk top.
Once the lid is fitted onto the hinges, make the final cuts on the outside edge of it to fit it to the top plate. Close the lid, and scribe the angle and its location on the upper edge of the lid. Remove the hinge screws, and cut the angle on the table saw.
Round over the drawer fronts and desk lid with a 3/8″ round over. Cut and fit a piece of 1/4″ hardwood veneer plywood to fit in the rabbets for the back. Nail in place.
Polyurethane varnish is a good choice for a practical piece of furniture like this, because it is durable. Give it two coats, sand with 400 grit between coats, and then polish with extra fine steel wool before a coat of furniture paste wax.
An excellent book on applying finishes is Bob Flexner’s Understanding Wood Finishes.
by R. Bruce Hoadley
A craftsman’s guide to wood technology.
The definitive work on the material characteristics of wood for woodworkers.
To order click here. This will link you to Amazon.com where your order will be taken.
This book was first published in 1980 by Taunton Press, publishers of Fine Woodworking Magazine. Its author, R. Bruce Hoadley, is a wood technologist who has spent a great deal of time researching the properties of wood. The purpose of the book was to give non-scientist woodworkers a solid understanding of the properties and characteristics of the material we deal with.
If you intend to go farther with woodworking than just building a few projects now and then, this book is required reading. It explains in detail and in readable English the nature of the material as well as why it does what it does. Why does wood shrink and expand? Why does it cup, warp and twist? What’s the difference between cup, warp and twist? What’s the difference between figure and grain? This book was intended to be and remains the basic reference for woodworkers on these kinds of questions.
Some of the book goes a bit farther than you will need building furniture. A chapter on the strength of wood contains info on compression, tension and shear characteristics in wood which you will never bother calculating to build a table. As well you don’t need to know about wood’s thermal conductivity or fluorescence, though these things are interesting to read about.
But the majority of subjects covered will have application in your craft. You need to know how wood and air-borne moisture interact. Hoadley’s explanations of how machines cut wood will help you get the best out of your machines. His treatment of joinery will help you make strong joints. He also gives a basic discussion of finishing wood as well as a chapter on finding wood and how it is measured and graded.
This is the best book available for understanding wood.
- The Nature of Wood
- Figure in Wood
- Wood Identification
- Water and Wood
- Coping With Wood Movement
- Strength of Wood
- Other Properties
- Machining Wood
- Joining Wood
- Finishing Wood
- Modifying Wood
- The Woodworker’s Raw Materials
- Afterword: Forests Past and Future
To order the book click the link at the top of the page.