The Shaker Side Table
One of the quintessential first woodworking projects seems to be a small side table. Some call these side tables, some call them end tables, plant stands, night tables… I have no idea what’s correct, but I’m sticking with side. Feel free to disagree. I’ve never made one so I think it’s about time.
I decided on a classic shaker design, mainly because it fits in with the style of our house, but also because the Schwarz did a great DVD for Lie-Nielsen a few years ago showing the build process step by step. His design has nice elegant lines and should last a lifetime – even with those tiny legs.
The basic side table form is such a great project for the novice woodworker because there are so many different options. As I was building it, all of the different joinery options became apparent. I went with mortise and tenons for the leg-to-apron joint, but you could easily do pegs, dominoes, or pocket holes. The same thing for the drawer construction – I went with dovetails all the way around, but you could do any number of different options. If you want to work on your turning you could make round legs, you could carve them if you want to get crazy, or add fancy moldings. The relatively small scale also makes it approachable from a hand tool perspective. This wood didn’t touch a machine until I turned the knob on the lathe.
Shaker designs generally look nice in most domestic hardwoods – Chris made his out of Maple… I’m going with Cherry – pine may also be a nice choice.
Selecting the right stock for the different pieces actually makes a big difference to the final look of the piece – I had no idea. For the legs you want nice straight grain lines on all four sides – Chris calls this bastard sawn, I call it rift sawn – I’m not sure if there’s a difference. The main thing is that you don’t want cathedrals on any of the leg’s sides interrupting the flow. On the other hand, these cathedrals add some nice interest to the aprons, so if you’re using plain sawn lumber like I am, save these center sections for the aprons and drawer front.
The 18” square top requires some more thought. I don’t have any 18″ wide cherry, but do have some 10” wide stock that I’ll use in a panel – you may have to use 3 pieces. To avoid a harsh line in the panel you want to aim for straight grain to straight grain along the edge. You could also do a bookmatch here if there was something interesting going on.
I didn’t film a lot of the finishing process – mainly because if I think if it’s boring to do it must be really dull to watch – but I did a few tests on some scrap cherry and decided on a thin coat of medium walnut danish oil with a shellac polish – my preferred top coat. I finish everything off with some paste wax.
I’m really happy with how everything came out. The cherry is maybe a little splotchy, but nobody except me will ever notice. It fits in with the house really well and is something I’m happy to take credit for when people comment.