Mid-Century Nightstands Build 01: Planning & First Steps

With Dragon Con out of the way, I now shift my “hobby focus” back into woodworking. With the completion of my “minimalist/mid-century modern” shelf, and the construction of my sawbench done, I embark on the creation of a pair of nightstands.

While others further down the path of furniture construction will often design their own pieces, I am shamelessly ripping off the design of the West Elm Mid-Century nightstands.

West Elm Mid-Century Nightstands
West Elm Mid-Century Nightstand

Design-wise, if it isn’t your cup of tea, skip this part. To me, it has a lovely look to it, smaller than my current bulky pieces, and very nice lines. Construction-wise, however, West Elm is known for their “slightly better than IKEA” use of materials and joinery.

The carcass (the name for the structural framework on furniture) is made from “hardwood” with an acacia veneer with a finish applied to that. The base attaches to the carcass with the same kind of allen-key screws that IKEA furniture does. The drawers sit skinnier than the interior width because of how their glides work. It’s unknown how the carcass connects to itself at the mitered corners, but an educated guess would be biscuits or dowels.

Realistically speaking, I’d expect it to last maybe a few decades, but unlikely to be something I’d pass down to my kids, their kids, and their kids. We don’t expect this of IKEA furniture; I don’t expect it of West Elm furniture.

Build it Better

So with that design in mind, I am setting out to build it better. I want to create something which will last generations. I want to follow traditional woodworking methods such as caring less about the unseen surfaces and letting hand-cut joinery be seen as such.

Here are my goals & specs for this project:

  • Completely unplugged – zero power tools once the wood is in my hands
  • Solid walnut carcass with “waterfall” sides & top
  • Matched walnut drawer faces
  • Walnut legs & stretchers
  • Full-blind mitered dovetails to connect the carcass
  • Half-blind dovetails for the drawer faces
  • Full-width drawers
  • Zero Screws
    • This one I need to determine how to best attach the stretchers, whether by sliding dovetail or something else. It will need to account for some wood movement.
  • Carcass size: 18″ w x 15″ d x 11″ h. Overall height: 24″. I don’t know what the actual carcass height is of the West Elm one, but

If you want to follow along on Instagram, my profile is here. I’ll be posting some images there as I go, but the full write-ups and more pictures will be here on the site.

First Steps

First up, I want to lay out grain pattern in a way that I feel looks best for the nightstands. The carcasses are 15″ deep, and as I didn’t want to attempt to find 15″ boards that were 58″ long, I am joining up two boards for each carcass. Even after this image was taken, I flipped over the second board up.

Lovely figured walnut

The shop. It’s my little sanctuary. Both cars fit into the garage, so this was a rare moment. The sawbench finally has a chance to prove itself.

The Shop and the Sawbench

A good saw is invaluable. For this one, I wanted to match my 1896-1917 D8 Thumbhole Rip. Finally a friend found one in the same date range, also a D8. He sent it off to Bob Page for cleaning & sharpening of the plate, and I finished the handle.

While I do my own saw restoring, Page is a wizard of saw restoration and I’ve wanted to have one he’s restored. It was worth the cost.

1896-1917 Disston D8 Crosscut

All four carcass pieces are roughly dimensioned to length. The overall carcass is 58″ in linear dimension, so I cut them to ~62″ to give room for error, cutting for the waterfall corners, and so forth. Sticker the boards up on my bench until next work session.

The four walnut boards upon the bench

Author: Jordan

Jordan Quackenbush is a hobbyist tool restorer (focusing on moulding planes) and 100% unplugged woodworker. The tactility of woodworking contrasts perfectly with his mostly-digital day job, Creative Director for a Video Marketing Agency in Atlanta, GA, USA. He lives in metro Atlanta with his family. He is on the admin team at the Unplugged Woodworkers & Antique Tools Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook groups.

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