I recently built two modern bedside tables to surprise my partner when she returned from a trip overseas. I wanted them to feature sharp corners with a waterfall grain and found a great plan/idea from pneumaticaddict over at buildsomething.com using plywood. Instead of laminating two pieces together, like she did, I decided to go with a thinner version using a single sheet, both for ease, cost, and prefered design.
Tools/Products I Used
1 full sheet of 18mm plywood (try to find a sheet that has a thick face veneer, and I didn’t and lived to regret it – more on that below)
Circular saw with straight edge guide/track or table saw
Pocket hole jig
Cutting the ply to manageable sizes
I purchased a full sheet of ply (2440 x 1220) from a timber yard and needed to cut that large piece down into manageable sizes.
I was lucky to have my friend, Kenny, here for the weekend – which made moving the sheet around a lot easier.
Using my circular saw, I cut a piece slightly larger than my finished dimensions. I found while cutting with my circular saw, I got a massive amount of tear out. This is when I realized that I had purchased a plywood with a very thin face veneer. For the rest of my cuts, I covered the cut line with tape, which helped to minimize some of the tear out, but didn’t get rid of it entirely. After cutting a slice roughly 405 x 1350, I cleaned up the edges to their final dimension on the table saw.
Waterfall grain refers to the grain of the wood continuing over the edge, which gives it an awesome wrap-around look. To accomplish this, instead of just cutting the top and side pieces and then giving them individual 45 degree bevels, you cut a wedge from the underside of your long panel, with the aim of removing as little material as possible from the face of the board.
Because I was making two nightstands, I experimented with two different methods to do these cuts.
The first was with my circular saw and track. I set the saw at a 45 degree bevel angle and lined up my track with the cut line.
After this first bevel was finished, I flipped the board over, lined up my track and cut the bevel in the opposite direction.
You should end up with a nice wedge out of the back of your board (I made sure to save this wedge – as it will be useful later!). I continued by cutting the next two bevels for the other side of the top and the right side of the table.
When finished, if you flip the boards and line them up, there should be very little interruption to the grains.
For my second nightstand, I decided to try my table saw. It was essentially the same steps, but instead of having to line up the circular saw track, I simply was able to visually line up the bevels on the blade and run the board through next to the fence.
Both methods worked fine, but I think the table saw was easier and less time-consuming.
Cutting the shelf and back support
Now that I had the top cut out, I could take the interior dimensions and measure for the width of the shelf and cut it to size. The depth will be the same as the sides and top, but the width will be measured to the inside of the bevel on the top piece
I also cut the back support/drawer cover at this point and put pocket holes in both this and the shelf for attaching later.
Always a good idea to give your pieces a cursory sanding before attaching them together. This allows you to get to all the sides without having to deal with annoying, tight corners, etc.
I’m about to do something controversial here. I’ve seen many people join beveled edges with splines, biscuits or pocket holes, but I opted not to use any hardware and to trust the glue, along with the back structural panel and shelf to hold this baby together.
I’ll let you know in a few months if that was a good idea, but it’s been three weeks and I have been knocking the hell out of the drawers (because I am generally an absentminded and rough person) and have observed no movement in them.
Before gluing, I taped up the seams to minimize glue mess and took the wedges that I had saved from the waterfall cuts to use as clamping cauls.
I put tape down on both the surface of the nightstand and the caul and then used super glue to bond the two together, once the superglue is dry, I can then use a clamp on the cauls to bring the beveled corners together.
I also have these nifty right – angle clamps that were super cheap on Amazon and actually work great for these types of glue-ups!
Since I was avoiding any joinery, I made sure to put a healthy layer of glue on both pieces, then waited a few minutes for it to soak into the end grain before putting even more on. I wanted to make sure that there would be no areas left untouched by the glue.
I then placed the corner clamps on and lightly tightened them to hold everything in place while I situated the clamps on the cauls. Before tightening everything up, I placed the shelf in its position, squared it up, and clamped it in place to ensure that the entire structure would remain square while the glue dried. Once the shelf was in place – I tightened everything down and left it overnight.
Annnddd unfortunately, I got distracted around this time of the day with a couple of beers and forgot to snap a pic with all the clamps on…. Typical Raff
Attaching Shelf and Back Support
The next day I was able to take the clamps off and easily attach the back support and shelf. I had been a bit nervous that when I screwed the support, as well as the shelf in, that I would see some movement in the bevelled corners – but I have been (so far) right about the strength of the glue, as there was no movement in the joined edges at all.
Filling and Sanding
If there is one thing I would change about this build, it’s the plywood that I chose to build it with. The face veneer on the plywood is so thin that it chips very easily and takes very little sanding to break through.
Luckily – there is such a thing as wood filler.
I gave both nightstands a good once over with the filler in all the cracks and chips. It isn’t perfect, but it does look much better after it drying and getting a good sanding.
After finishing with the filler and giving everything a nice sand to 220 grit, wiped the surfaces down and chose a nice satin water-based varnish to finish it with.
While water-based varnish isn’t supposed to amber as oil-based finishes do, the ply itself does tend to yellow over time. And, the water-based varnish isn’t known for making the grain pop at all – so I have found that adding a slight tint to the varnish with acrylic paints a good way to lighten any yellowing and really make things look great. I simply placed a few drops of red and blue acrylic paint into the varnish and gave it a good stir.
I love the clean, white appearance of the varnish on the plywood when finished – the tint really does mellow out any yellowing!
I put two coats on each nightstand, sanding to 360g between coats.
Drawers and Rails
While the varnish was drying, I was able to start on the drawers. I carefully measured the inside dimensions of both nightstands and chose a relatively shallow drawer of 75mm depth.
After cutting the pieces to size, I cut grooves for the drawer bottom in each piece on the table saw. My drawer bottom was going to be 6mm MDF (something I conveniently had lying around, or I may have chosen plywood), so I only needed two passes on my 3mm kerf blade to have a perfect slot.
With everything cut, I was able to assemble the drawers with glue and brad nails, attaching three sides before sliding in the drawer and attaching the fourth.
For the drawer front, I used a white spray paint and gave it several coats, with the last coat being a finishing coat of clear spray.
I then finished the drawers themselves with the same varnish as the nightstands.
Now all that was left was to install the drawers! I installed the slides on the drawers and nightstands, careful to keep everything both horizontally and vertically in line.
To attach the face of the drawer, I used plastic spacers to align it with about a 3mm gap at the top and 2mm gaps at the sides. I then clamped the drawer in place, predrilled, and countersunk screws from the back of the drawer into the face.
I’m still up in the air about whether I want to build a handle for them. I like the clean white look of the drawer face, but perhaps it could look even better with a handle to tie the drawer into the rest of the stand.
Let me know your thoughts! Handle or no? Circle or rectangle? Wood or metal?