Building a Mid-century modern Nightstand
In this project I’m building a pair of walnut nightstands for a client inspired by the mid century modern design. I focus in on my process of how I mitered the corners so the grain flows across them and all four corners line up perfectly.
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Today I’m building this walnut nightstand, and I’m going in depth on my method of how I cut the miters so the grain flows around the corners, and all 4 miter fit perfectly tight the first time.
So let’s get into it.
This build starts off like any other, cutting to length, milling to thickness and jointing edges, with one exception. I’m keeping the boards for the sides and top as one length to help ensure the grain matches on the mitered corners. I’ll cut them apart after I do the glue up.
Once I got everything milled to thickness and edge jointed I used some floating tenons to help keep everything aligned during the glue up.
After the glue was dry I cut the sides and top to length. I labeled each piece to keep track of where it goes in the project so I don’t end up with a miss matched grain pattern.
When I lined up the track saw I took my time to be sure I was cutting 90 degrees to the edge. This is especially important, because if you are off and need to make a second cut to straighten it out, you risk messing up the grain match on the corners. The more material you remove the worse the match will be, until the two ends get so far away from each other they no longer match at all.
Now that I cut them to length I cut them to their final width, making sure I oriented them so I was always ripping of the back edge.
To prep them to be mitered I milled some scrap pine wood and edge jointed it so I would have a straight edge to guide my work pieces. I used some CA glue to attach them, and butted both pieces against the table saw fence to ensure the edges lined up.
Once they were prepped It was time to set up the saw to cut the miters.
First I set up a sacrificial fence I could screw to. Then I used a scrap piece milled to the same thickness as the nightstand sides to set the height of my auxiliary fence and screwed it in place. I made sure my scrap piece slid snugly underneath it.
Then I glued on a runner to ride along the auxiliary fence.
Now setting the blade is the most important part. I took the time to adjust it so it cuts a perfect 45 degrees, then I raised the blade so the outside edge of the tooth just kisses the outside edge of the auxiliary fence.
I ran my test piece to be sure it was right to the edge no more no less and at perfect 45 before running the rest of the pieces.
Once all the pieces were mitered all it took was a couple of taps from a mallet to remove the pine strips.
Since glue alone in a miter joint isn’t that strong, I used some floating tenons to reinforce the joint. If you don’t have a festool domino you can easily jig up a router to make your mortises.
Before I do the final glue up I cut a dado in the back edge to accept the back panel.
Walnut Plywood is crazy expensive and I need less than a half of a sheet for this project, so I used some ¼” birch ply as a core and resawed some walnut to veneer over it.
Cleaned up the edges, tapped them together, applied a little glue and through it in the veneer bag. While the bag sucked tight I made sure nothing had slipped and everything was still lined up.
Finally ready for assembly. I used some CA glue to attach some clamping blocks to the edges to give me something to clamp to, then flipped them over to apply the glue. Prior to glue up I did pre-finish the inside faces and tapped off the edges so I wouldn’t get any squeeze out on the finish.
There are a lot of floating tenons and edges to apply glue to so to give me some extra working time I used a slow set epoxy to do the glue up.
The top piece took a little convincing to get in place, but a little brute force and some help with a few parallel claps, it popped right in.
I measured the diagonals to be sure it was square let the glue set up so I could knock the glue blocks off and moved on to cutting the decorative bevel on the front.
I put my sacrificial fence back on and elevated it slightly above the blade. This created some space between the blade and fence so the off cut would not get trapped and reduce the chance of it kicking back.
The angle and height of the blade and is just an arbitrary number determined by a few test cuts on some scrap wood. I adjusted it until I found an angle I thought looked good that day. Then muscled up the cases on the table saw and cut the bevel.
To create the legs I laminated up some 8/4 lumber and milled it square. I set a stop and my miter gauge to cut them to length. The pieces where so short and the blade was so tall I opted to clamp each piece to the miter gauge as I cut them.
To cut the mortises for the floating tenons I screwed some scrap plywood to the table to make a quick jig to hold the small pieces, and plunged away cutting two mortises per leg.
Then for the corresponding mortises did a little layout, on the bottom of the nightstands and while standing on my assembly table I cut the mortises for them.
While trying to keep track of which side had the mortises, I marked out for a decorative angle to be cut on the legs.
I sliced the angles off at the band saw. I use a little blue tape to hold the off cut on until I cut the opposing angle. It seemed a little safer that way. Then cleaned the saw marks up at the disk sander before gluing them in place.
To make the drawers it was back to prepping the material. I took my time at the jointer to be sure I had a good square edge. It makes it a lot easier to fit the drawer to the opening.
To cut the dovetails in the drawers I used the Leigh Dovetail jig. It may be a little complicated to use but well worth the time to figure out if you are doing any kind of production work.
Then I set up my dado stack to run a dado for the bottom panel. I set it up so it would pass between the pins on the drawer front, and through the lower tail on the sides. This way when its put together you don’t see the dado and I don’t have to deal with chopping out stopped dados on the ends.
I find it easier to cut the drawer sides a little long, then cut them to the final length after cutting the dove tails. This way I don’t have compensate for the length of the tail before its cut. I can do a test fit of the drawer and measure exactly how much to cut off the sides.
Then I cut the rabbet in the end of the drawer sides to accept the back, and do another dry assembly to measure the length of the drawer backs.
Once I have all the parts cut out I added some glue to the dovetails, tapped them together, slid the back in place and used a pin nailer along with some glue to install the backs.
No matter how careful I am there is always an edge of the drawer that is not perfectly flush, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a few strokes of a hand plane.
I’m using blum self-closing drawer glides for this project. They seem complicated to install but all you really need is their setup jig.
You use the same jig to pre-drill all the holes. There are two in the back of the drawer for the alignment pin, then switching to a smaller drill bit and turn the jig sideways to pre-drill for the screws to attach the drawer glide to the bottom of the drawer. It’s that simple.
To install the drawer glides inside the nightstand, I cut 2 spacers the correct height out of some scrap plywood. I rested the glide on the spacers while I pre-drilled and screwed them in place. I then moved them to the other side to insure I have the glides installed at the same height. I did the same thing for the middle glide and just rested the bottom glide on the bottom of the cabinet.
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