Cherry Shaker Side Table

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Project by McPheel posted 03-21-2018 09:47 PM 1631 views 6 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So about a year ago I had a bunch of scrap 2×4s and 2×6s left over from building a shed in my backyard. I used this as an excuse to try building a cheap shaker style side table. I had been wanting to build on of these for ages as i feel once this foundation of furniture building is mastered, it is easy to either lengthen / shorten legs, adjust tabletop sizes, etc. to create entirely different pieces. Needless to say, the $11 scrap wood side table was painted white and lived in our living room for just over a year and was ready to be retired.

I finally broke down and spent a couple hundred bucks on some nice cherry lumber. I purchased enough to build two identical tables that will be the same dimensions as the cheap one as this was build to fit perfectly in our living room. I figured this would be a good excuse to replace the old table and to practice the numerous techniques involved with this build. The idea was that if these were successful i could begin selling some of these pieces to help fund my hobby as I cant imagine just making cutting boards every time i need a new tool.

The idea is that these tables will not use any pocket screws or any other joinery techniques that i think the shakers would not approve of. It will honor the shaker style as much as possible, being build for form and function, but will also include a few subtle features that I felt made it my own design.

First, I carefully cut out and milled the legs ensuring the grain was a vertical as possible, the wood I purchased allowed for a 1” by 1” leg and I decided to let the wood tell me what to do and built the legs this way. I built a new tapering jig and cut tapers down to 3/4 inch at the foot. This was less of a taper then before but i felt looked better then my previous design. I spent hours with a block plane “Pillowing” the faces of the leg and then sanding them to 400 grit.

Second, I built the table top. I was excited to make my first breadboard table top and probably due to my excitement i forgot to cut the main section long enough to cut tenons. No problem now i can practice making floating tenons! I used my router and a few reference lines to mortise each tenon location on the main top and the ends. I made the tenons out of some scrap oak, rounding over the ends and then cutting to size. I glued the tenons into the table end which fit tightly into all the mortises. I was careful to ensure I cut the mortises on the breadboard ends wider then the tenon on each outer one to allow for wood movement.

Third, I then wanted to practice pegging the joints in a way that draws the two pieces tight together. i drilled in the breadboard end, marked center in the tenon then offset about a 1/32” so that the pieces will pull together tightly. I now got to make some handmade dowels. I go a thick steel plate and drilled a hole in it that would be the same as my dowels. Next i cut some square strips of scrap bubinga then pounded them through the plate. Man this works great and i’m going to be using it all the time! so much nicer than store bought dowels! I then glued the center tenon in place and pegged all size dowels in making a very tight joint. I glued the tops of all the dowels so that they were glued in place but not glued into the tenons. I cut a 45 degree taper along the entire perimeter of the top then sanded like a mad man until i was happy with it.

Fourth, I built the skirts and cut the joinery. All of the skirts were fit into place with mortise and tenon joinery that i cut on the router table. All the mortise and tenons stop short of the ends to ensure they are invisible. The front skirt was cut into 3 pieces. removing 1” from the top and bottom. The middle will become the drawer front. I dovetailed the top into the legs and then cut a square tenon on the bottom mortising it into the legs. Forstner bits are a life saver for speeding this up!

Fifth was the most anticipated moment as I was eager to practice building dovetailed drawers. I made the drawer body out of poplar and cut through dovetails on the back of the drawer then half blind dovetails on the front. They were not perfect by any means but i was happy for the experience. Sharp chisels are a must for this. I used my router to cut a grove a 1/8” from the base that would accept my drawer bottom. I was able to resaw a piece of poplar and book match it for the drawer bottom. I then planed down all four sides of the bottom side at a slight angle until the panel slid nicely into the groves. This panel is held in place with a small screw at the back that will allow for wood movement.

Sixth, now to make the guts of the drawer glides. This was always a mystery to me but after looking at some furniture that was build traditionally, i think i got it figured out. Maybe.. I used scrap hard maple to build a couple strips that the drawer will slide on. I wanted something durable so it didn’t wear down over time. This was installed slightly above the bottom of the opening to ensure i had the correct reveal top to bottom. I then used some scrap poplar up against the inside of the skirt that will ride against the side of the drawer. This will ensure i get the proper reveal side to side. I knew i wanted something to stop the drawer from tipping forward when it was pulled out so i ended up grabbing a piece of cherry and dovetailing it into the front and back skirts ensuring that it stuck down just over an inch so it was just shy of the drawer top. I installed a mounting block on each side of the table at the exact center which will be used to mount the table top. If this is the only point the top is mounted at, it will allow for expansion and contraction of the wood away from the center, or so my thinking goes.

The entire table was sanded up to 400 grit then finished with a glossy wipe on poly. I added 8 coats and sanded first with 220 grit sand paper between coats, then 600 grit wet dry sandpaper then on the final 2 coats I used 1000 grit wet dry sandpaper. I finished the entire piece with some paste wax that i buffed off after a few minutes but i did not remove any from the drawer slides so that they were nice an smooth. I had never done a high gloss finish and for my first time I was amazed at how it ended up looking and feeling!

The last touch was to add felt furniture pads on the feet and also on the back of the drawer to soften the sound when it is closed. I put this in the living room and my wife and dogs seem to love it. My only concern is that I may end up being a bit of a coaster Nazi now!

-- Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing - Nick Offerman

17 comments so far

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1895 days

#1 posted 03-21-2018 10:03 PM

Good job! Great write up. Be proud.

View Jerry's profile


3488 posts in 2895 days

#2 posted 03-21-2018 10:16 PM

That is just really beautiful!

-- There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.

View Jeremymcon's profile


420 posts in 1927 days

#3 posted 03-22-2018 02:05 AM

Very nice! I made a similar table not too long ago. I like the original white one too. Was it made with traditional joinery?

View McPheel's profile


31 posts in 2121 days

#4 posted 03-22-2018 02:37 AM

Thanks guys! This is one of my favorite projects to date!

Jeremy, the original white table was built with traditional joinery as well (mostly for practice) but painted white because the spruce was not too aesthetically pleasing. Also the drawer glides and the reveal are not as well thought out as the cherry table. Its really nice to be able to improve on a design after you’ve lived with its cheaper doppelganger for a while.

-- Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing - Nick Offerman

View handmadewithashley's profile


75 posts in 1544 days

#5 posted 03-22-2018 02:49 AM

Nice work! A shaker table is on my build list. It seems like a great skill builder project and I’d like to build more things with traditional joinery. :)

-- Ashley, Alabama, Instagram - @handmadewithashley,,

View woodbutcherbynight's profile (online now)


10413 posts in 3656 days

#6 posted 03-22-2018 03:01 AM

Great project, looks fantastic.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View therealSteveN's profile


8900 posts in 1821 days

#7 posted 03-22-2018 04:13 AM

Nice looking tables, great write up, thanks for posting.

I would disagree with you about the Shakers using pocket hole joinery though. If they had the tools, jigs, and accessories we have available today, they may not have been able to afford them, but they would have wanted to own them. They were very thrifty, and if they owned a tool it was used. Plus they really did as much “power woodworking” as was done during their time. They were gimmick hounds, and a pocket hole jig would certainly been used to join face frames, and dust shelves, if not other uses.

An interesting video found here about the Shaker workshops

-- Think safe, be safe

View McPheel's profile


31 posts in 2121 days

#8 posted 03-22-2018 04:40 AM

Hahaha thanks for the comment therealStevenN, I never thought of the shakers that way but now that you say that, it makes perfect sense. Of course they would want to be able to make quality furniture that was strong and functional as quickly and economically as possible. that is probably why you often see irregular dovetails and half blinds that are cut past the shoulder lines. I guess i always tent to romanticize traditional joinery and i also tent to think of the shakers as being extremely strict and disproving of “cutting corners”. Thanks again for the insight, it will make me feel better about using pocket holes on my next project!

-- Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing - Nick Offerman

View EarlS's profile


4758 posts in 3595 days

#9 posted 03-22-2018 11:29 AM

Nice looking table. I agree that this is a great starter project before moving on to larger tables, desks and such. Shaker furniture is so clean and simple that mistakes can’t be hidden. Nice write-up too. You should give a build blog some thought on your next project like this.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View mochasatin's profile


169 posts in 4210 days

#10 posted 03-22-2018 01:26 PM

Really nice. Great job on the hand cut dovetails!

-- Scott

View mcoyfrog's profile


4757 posts in 4841 days

#11 posted 03-22-2018 03:40 PM

Sweet, love the design

-- Wood and Glass they kick (well you know) Have a great day - Dug

View Joe's profile


581 posts in 2334 days

#12 posted 03-22-2018 04:33 PM

You made the right choice, the table looks terrific. I really liked the way you explained the process and the sharp, clear, pictures added a great deal. Seems like you have found a calling, building fine furniture and describing the events in a manner that people enjoy and understand. Look forward to the book.

-- CurleyJoe, "You only learn from your mistakes"

View UncleBuck's profile


253 posts in 1328 days

#13 posted 03-22-2018 04:47 PM

nice job

-- Terry Uncle Buck Carvins "woodworking minus patience equals firewood "

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4114 days

#14 posted 03-22-2018 06:41 PM

This is a beautiful Shaker table and it displays a lot of wonderful details and fine craftsmanship.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View gsimon's profile


1327 posts in 3360 days

#15 posted 03-22-2018 10:55 PM

love it

-- Greg Simon

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