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Arts & Crafts side table

Lines  Rimbeaux bedside tables

A number of years ago I got a call from a couple who both needed some furniture for their offices in their new house. I made them a handful of pieces ranging from a couple of desks to file cabinets, a bookcase and a breakfront with a pile of drawers. A couple of months later they called back and said that they were having trouble finding something they liked for their bedroom furniture. Not wanting to have everything look like the Scott Ernst Collection at Ethan Allen, I proposed that we shake it up a little and do something in a different style. They thought that was a good idea, so I designed them a chest of drawers built in quarter sawn sycamore. It was a little contemporary, but definitely with a foot in the past. Next they needed some bedside tables and they wanted them to have storage. That's when I designed them the pieces in the picture above. These chests of drawers are firmly in the Arts & Crafts tradition but with a few unusual details. First of all the legs have a curve to them. Other than the occasional sweep on a bottom rail, pieces from the Arts & Crafts period weren't very curvy. The other out of the ordinary detail was the pulls on the drawers and doors. I love the traditional but quirky nature of these two pieces, the one on the left makes me think of R2D2 from Star Wars. 

Fast forward 8 years and another call from the same couple. They had moved and were needing another bedside table. They just wanted a small table to hold the clock and a book. This time it made sense to match the two existing pieces that they were still going to be using. I did a quick sketch that they liked and then came back later with a full sized drawing that we could hang on the wall in the space to be sure that the scale was right. They liked it and I was off to the shop.

legs 1

After bucking up the quarter sawn white oak I cut the leg blanks to size and started laying out for the joinery.

legs 2

I picked the best flake on each leg and oriented it to be the outsides of the legs. Then I laid out the location of the mortises.

legs 3

I used my hollow chisel mortiser to cut the mortises. 

tenons 1

Then I took the rail stock to my shaper and cut the tenons on the sliding table with a pair of rabbeting heads that were spaced to cut a perfectly fitting tenon. 

tenons 2

The haunches on the tenons were cut flush to the shoulders with the table saw. 

tenons 3

Then I took them to the bandsaw to remove the haunch.

tenons 4

tenons 5

With all of my joinery done I could move on to cutting the curves on the legs and rails. 

curves 1

I have a "library" of curve templates that I had a local CNC shop make for me that come in handy for laying out this kind of thing. You can read more about them in my blog post about making a custom extension dining table if you're interested. Suffice to say, they are a series of increasingly curved arcs that I can pull out and select for whatever curve I need. Here I'm using one to draw the curve on one of the leg blanks. 

curves 3

With the leg curves laid out I could go to the bandsaw and cut the first face. 

curves 4

Once one face of each leg was cut I used a hot melt glue gun to glue the offcuts back onto the legs. This gave me a nice square face to run on the saw table while I cut the second face. 

curves 5

glueing 1

Here are all of the parts laid out just before glue up. I find that it helps to keep things going in the right place to lay it out like this, especially since the side and the back rails were very close to the same dimensions. 

glueing 2

To keep the glue up from being a frantic race against drying glue I used an epoxy instead of a yellow, water based glue. This does two things: first of all it gives you lots of time to get everything together without sweating, and second, it makes parts slippery so that they go together easily. Yellow glue has what is called in the glue world, good initial tack. That means that it sticks and holds quickly. That's great for cycling panels through the clamps, but it's not so good when you have a lot of parts to get together. The epoxy has lousy initial tack and it actually lubricates the tenons so that they slide right in and are able to be manipulated into position easily. I like the West System glues because they have a pump system that measures out the right size squirt of both resin and hardener. One or two squirts of each, stir it up and you're ready to go. 

glueing 3

glueing 5

Next it was time to make the dovetailed drawer. 

dovetails 1

I'm not a guy who's too hung up on woodworking dogma. I'm more of a Git-er-Done kind of guy and I spend my days in the shop thinking of how I can make my projects move along at a brisk (money making) pace. I'm not working at a fast, dismembering, speed mind you, I'm just always trying to work smarter. To that end I do my dovetailing a little differently than some other folks. I start by cutting the 'tails' on the bandsaw. I stack up the drawer sides, clamp them together and cut the whole pile at once. This is really efficient when you have multiple drawers that are the same size. I don't even bother to lay them out first, I just kind of eyeball the locations and angle and have at it. When I have a lot of them to do I will actually set up a dado set and remove the waste on the table saw. (ohhh, I can hear the howls of protest from the traditionalists in the distance already) The nice things about this method is that you can do several at one time, it's very fast and that the cuts are nice and square to the faces.

dovetails 2

dovetails 3

Since I just had one drawer to do I hogged out the waste on the bandsaw an then pared it clean with a chisel. 

dovetails 4

With the tails done I marked out the pins on the sides with an xacto knife and then cut them by hand with a back saw. 

dovetails 5

dovetails 6

I use a trim router with a fence to hog out the waste on the half blind joints on the drawer face. Then I finish them with a chisel. It's lots faster and more accurate than chopping it all out with a chisel. 

dovetails 7

With this method I can do the dovetails on a whole drawer in about an hour.

dovetails 7-2

To give the drawer something to run on I rabbeted a piece of wood and glued it in to fill in the space behind the side rails. The top of the drawer is held by the table top. 

knob 1

I turned a quick knob with a 1/4" tenon on the lathe.

knob 2

knob 3

Then I used a hole saw with a 1/4" pilot bit to cut out the escutcheon that goes behind the knob. To get the white line on the escutcheon I made it out of white maple, dyed it to the dark mahogany color and then used a router to cut a bevel off of the finished piece. This exposed the white behind the dye and gave me my white detail. 


To get the traditional 'fumed oak' look I sprayed Trans Tint dyes on the bare wood. They are nice and transparent and give you a more woody look than if you used a pigment stain. Then it just got a clear top coat. 

You can see more of my side tables in the galleries under Custom Furniture on this site. If you like reading these articles you can sign up for my mailing list at the top of every page of this site. I will never, ever give your contact info to anyone else and will just send you my (mostly) monthly post about what I've been building in my shop.