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A simple case is elevated by a unique leg design and elegant suspension.

Project #2203 • Skill Level: Intermediate Time: 2 Days Cost: $150

This was a real project of growth for me. I’ve written before about my woodworking journey being defined by life functionality over my desire to create interesting things. Even my first project for the magazine, the Sliding Door Stereo Cabinet from June of 2020, was driven by the need to have a better place to put my TV. 

I was actually working on a design for a work desk when I stumbled upon a piece by Silvio Cavatorta, a prominent Italian designer during the 1960s who has since seemingly vanished from the public consciousness. I quickly dismissed the design for a work desk, but used the idea of Cavtorta’s suspended case furniture as a jumping-off point to design a pair of nightstands.

I was originally going to build the nightstands using only my miter and track saws in my small garage shop. However, fewer travel restrictions suddenly meant I was able to make the project at the Popular Woodworking shop in Des Moines instead. There, I could try out new techniques and tools (such as hand planes) and have direct help from more advanced woodworkers. 

Cut List and Diagrams

Case Assembly

With a design in mind, I started by building the case first since it was fairly straightforward. I broke down the plywood on the table saw, then drilled pocket holes for the sides and bottom. For the top, I used a technique that was common in early plywood furniture, often referred to as plywood edging. It is where a solid piece of wood would be used for the outside edges of the top piece to hide the plies on the side pieces. 

Glue overly-thick hardwood birch edging onto the ends of the birch plywood panels.

A pair of clamps keeps even pressure across the piece.

For the front-facing edges of the plywood parts, iron-on edge banding is used. Available in a roll, it’s easy to cut to length with a utility knife, and it applies easily with a hot iron.

After the glue is dry, use a block plane to trim down the hardwood edging so that it’s flush with the surface of the plywood. Sneak up on the last little bit with sandpaper, but don’t round over the edge.

There are multiple methods to complete the plywood edging, but I used the simplest method: glue. After the glue was dry, I used a block plane to dial in the thickness before smoothing. I veneered the remaining outside edges and assembled the case with some help from Woodpecker’s Clamping Squares.

The case is assembled with pocket screws. They’re fast, easy to install, and last.

Predrill three pocket hole locations, and use a pair of assembly squares to hold the panels while driving the screws home.

Once both cases were assembled, I went ahead and finished them with an oil-based polyurethane. 

Designing the Legs

An easy way to visualize designs is to create cardboard mockups. While I had a design in mind, I wasn’t quite sure how well it would actually work in three dimensions. After building a few different cardboard legs, I settled on a design that was visually appealing in relation to the case.

The evolution of the leg shape. After starting with a cardboard mock-up, cheap alder was used to layout all the parts and fine-tune the joinery setup.

Using my cardboard mockup as a reference, I build a set of test legs out of some alder scrap. This helped me finalize the dimensions and became a template to help me create the final legs. Making the template also helped get me dialed in for the cut depth for the lap- the method of joinery I used to assemble my leg pieces. 

Lay out the leg parts based on the plywood template. All parts are cut slightly long, and will be trimmed later.

Plan Out the Leg Build

Each leg has three components: the top, the main leg, and the bottom. After rough cutting each segment of the leg, I tapered each on a table saw using a tapering jig and the angles noted on the diagrams shown at the top of the article. At this point I picked out my matching leg sets and divided them up so that they could be cut to exact specifications. 

Cut the taper on the legs with a taper sled at the table saw. Alternatively, you could freehand the cut on the band saw and smooth it out with a hand plane.

Four legs are cut — two for each night stand.

Part of what makes this design slightly more complex is that the legs feature a lap that is also tapered, meaning that I had to cut from two different angles. To ensure an accurate cut, I used my template to mark the joint on each leg component. I then used a bevel gauge to confirm the angles matched. Measure twice, cut once is very important with this step! You can cut the joints in any order you like, but I choose the following order:

  Middle joint on the main leg

  Matching joint for bottom piece

  Top joint on the main leg

  Matching joint on top piece

Instead of fussing about with a miter gauge and a dado blade at the table saw, the half-laps are easily cut with a miter saw.

Let’s Start Building

With my plan of action in mind, it was time to cut. With the help of a bevel gauge and my leg template set the first angle on the saw blade. I made multiple passes with the miter saw until I neared the cut about 1/16” away on the far end, then adjusted the angle of the blade and finished clearing out. This allowed me some wiggle room for cleanup and adjustment. Once the overall joint was defined, I made a few passes with the blade down and running to clean things up a bit. With the joint completed, I dry fit the joint and make any necessary adjustments before moving on to the next piece. This process was repeated until all the joints were cut. Remember to “mirror” the leg pieces on the outside so that you end up with matching, opposite sets of leg pieces. 

Testing the angles on my alder mock-up, I used a bevel gauge to set the correct angle.

Transfer the layout lines from the mock up to the walnut legs.

After setting the blade angle and depth stop, it’s a simple matter of making a series of kerfs to make the half lap.

With the rough joints cuts, I smoothed and set the final depth using a rabbet plane and a rasp. The final step before glue-up is to dry fit all the legs and mark the excess on each lap joint. Trim each leg piece down, dry fit once more, then glue together.

Clean up any blade marks with a rabbet block plane.

After cutting one half of the joint, use the cut part to transfer the joint location to the mating part.

Mark both sides of the joint, and keep your cuts inside the line.

Keep a sharp block plane at hand ­— it’s invaluable when fitting the half-lap joints.

Apply glue to both sides of the joints and apply a single clamp centered on the joint. Let the glue dry for several hours.

Finish Up the Legs

Once the glue is dry, it’s time to finish shaping the legs. I used a router with a 1/4” roundover bit on all edges of the legs, then used a chisel to blend the corners where the router couldn’t reach. (You can also use a utility knife, a technique that Logan Wittmer calls neanderthal.) I then sanded and finished the legs using the same oil-based poly as the bases. 

A palm router is the perfect size to add a roundover to each of the legs. Where tight angles prevent the bit from cutting the full roundover, use a chisel and sandpaper to rough in the profile.

Attaching the Legs

The legs are attached to the case using 1/4” brass rods that I picked up from a local hardware store. First, I needed to determine the exact location of each brass rod in both the legs and the case. I chose three attachment points: the center of both leg joints and a point that is opposite and parallel from the point on the top joint. Mark these three points on each leg and use a 1/4” drill bit with depth stop to drill the 1/2“-deep holes. You’ll want to drill the holes after finishing to ensure the rods fit correctly. 

Drill mounting holes for the legs with a drill bit and stop collar.

Once the holes have been drilled on both legs, transfer the rod location to the case using dowel spikes. Remember to take into account that the top of the leg is attached 1″ down from the top of the case. Drill these holes using the same stopped drill bit. 

To locate the holes on the case, use dowel centers. When pushed firmly, these leave dimples to locate the holes.

With all the holes drilled, the last step before assembly is to prepare the brass rods. First, trim them to length using a cut-off wheel (careful, they get hot) and then lightly sand. Next, you’ll want to use a solvent to remove any oils from the factory to make sure the epoxy you’ll be using to attach the brass rods will adhere correctly. Before mixing the epoxy, I lightly dry-fit to confirm none of the rods would bind before final assembly. Once you’ve mixed the epoxy it’s hard to make corrections. 

Cut brass rod to length and rough it up with sandpaper. Install the rod in the case with epoxy.

Apply a dab of epoxy to the tips of the brass rods and mount the legs on the rods.

After you’ve glued the legs to the case, give it plenty of time to cure. Just because the bottle says it’s a 5-minute epoxy doesn’t mean it’s ready to go after that short time. 

The drawers are also constructed with pocket holes. The holes are on the outside of the front and back so they’re not visible on the finished drawer.

Building the Drawers

From the start, I wanted the drawers to be free from hardware, having a sloped front that invited you to grab it from the underside. The drawer case is constructed from 1/2” Baltic birch plywood, with a groove cut 1/2” from the lower edge to accommodate the drawer bottom. The front side has a 5° slope, which requires a small amount of massaging of the front groove on the table saw so the bottom plywood doesn’t bind. The drawers are assembled using a pocket-hole jig. Just like the case, remember to install the screws so they are out of sight.

The drawer front is a solid piece of 1″ birch. The top edge is also trimmed to the same 5° slope as the drawer case, so it blends with the rest of the drawer. Since the nightstand doesn’t have a face frame, the drawer front can’t be attached until the drawers are installed. 

Mount the drawer slides inside the case. A drawer slide jig like this helps the process go smoothly.

Installing the Drawers

I used the very handy Kreg KHI-SLIDE Drawer Slide Jig to install the drawers. Alternatively, some strait scrap bits and a few clamps would work as well. First, I installed the slides to the case, then rested the drawer on the extended jig to line up them and screw them to the drawer itself.

The drawers get mounted to the slides. Here, I prefer to use the slotted mounting holes so I can fine-tune the drawer fit.

The final piece of the puzzle is installing the drawer front. This is positioned using double-sided tape, then it’s screwed in place from the inside of the drawer.

After the drawers were installed, I used double-side tape to align and attach the drawer front. Once I was satisfied, I permanently attach it with two countersunk screws from the inside. 

Level the nightstand with a series of shims under each foot as needed. Check the front-to-back and side-to-side lean with a bubble level. After confirming it’s level, use a marking knife and a spacer block to mark trim lines on each foot.

Level The Nightstand

The final part of the project is leveling the nightstand. If you’re particularly talented at math, you could probably calculate the exact length of the legs in advance, though there’s nothing wrong with trimming at the end like this. After confirming that my workbench was absolutely level, I shimmed the legs of the nightstand until the top also measured level. 

After trimming each foot with a handsaw, use adhesive backed sandpaper on a flat surface to true up each foot.

I used a marking knife to mark each leg for trimming. After cutting to final length, use sandpaper to take off the saw marks and smooth out any small imperfections. You could use a power sander to handle a leg that is slightly too long, but beware that’s a slippery slope to have a nightstand resting on four little nubs.

Final Thoughts

Like any projects, there were quite a few things I learned along the way that I’ll carry into future projects. For example, after completing construction, I found that the nightstand is just a little bit front heavy and threatens to tip when the drawer is fully extended. Changing the angle of the main leg slightly would solve that problem in a jiffy. Overall though, I’m very happy the design and growth it represents for me as a woodworker.

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