Side Table Slim

Will Browar playing the drums

Will Browar

June 29, 2020

Sometimes you just need a little extra room to put things. In my case, I needed a place to put a drink, some remote controls, and my phone while relaxing on the couch. Based on the dimensions of our living room, purchasing a side table wouldn't leave us with much room to walk through the gap between our couch and chair, and while a coffee table may do, with small children running around, we didn't want to introduce another obstacle into our living room.

I had the idea to sort of build a shelf next to the couch, it would be about 5-6 in wide and the top would sit just below the arm of the couch. I've never built furniture with a drawer before, but one would be really handy to hide the collection of device-specific remotes that are rarely ever used.

Being against the wall, you would see the back, top, and front so the design of the sides wasn't important. I wanted this shelf to fit between the wall and couch without any gaps, so I made sure to cut out space at the bottom so I didn't have to worry about running into the molding that runs along floor.

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Cutting and Constructing

There didn't need to be much to the interior, but I had to consider the height of the drawer and how that would affect where I put support pieces. One things that I wanted to make sure I got right was that the drawer looked like it was tight and flush with the front piece, but not too tight that it was hard to open and close, so I cut out the lower front piece and the drawer face, and confirmed the rest of the dimensions still worked.

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As far as material goes, I wanted to make sure the top was still solid, even though I planned on painting everything, so I used some left over maple from my stool project. I didn't have enough for the back and front, so I used plywood for those and the interior.

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After cutting everything out and doing a quick dry run, I started gluing and screwing everything into place. I added two pieces of wood to the inside for support, but I cut their width to be a little narrower than the top, front, and back. This let me inset ¼ in. plywood for the sides.

The upper support also became a container for the drawer to sit in, so I put everything together based around the height and depth that I planned for the drawer.

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Before securing the top, I decided to add another feature to the shelf to accommodate some electronics I tend to use on the couch. I knew I wanted to add a qi charger and found one that was small and minimal. I've seen some really nice pieces of furniture where the charger is embedded into the bottom of a thick piece of wood and the idea is that you would route out a very thin layer of wood and the charger would charge your device through the wood.

While I would love to figure this out someday, I wasn't confident that I wouldn’t screw up this shelf trying to make that happen. I wound up routing a space along the top and embedding the charger into it. I ran a hole through the top and ran the cord down into the interior.

I also popped a couple of hole in the back where I could run a laptop charger and a Lightning cable to charge an iPad.

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To get everything right, I did a dry run of the electronics. This let me decide where to pop a hole in the back to run power out to a nearby outlet.

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Fingers in the Saw Blade

Up until this project, I had never made a drawer or attempted to create something with more advanced joinery, but I have had enough wooden furniture to know that dovetail and finger joints are true methods for creating solid drawers. I went with finger joints as a way of dipping my toe into the water.

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After measuring and cutting enough pieces for 2.5 drawers, I took all of the pieces over to my friend, Ian’s, place where he had used his Glowforge to make a finger joint jig that helped make sure we could accurately—and safely—cut the finger joints out on a table saw. This helped to make sure all of the joints were correctly spaced and our setup avoided tear-out when cutting with a dado blade.

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After getting all of the sides home, I cut out a bottom and glued everything together. I made two drawers just in case one of them didn’t work out, but they both turned out great. The second drawer currently houses a mix of LEGO bricks, crayons, and play dough in our kids’ play room.

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I wanted to personalize the drawer pull since this was a piece of furniture that was tailored specifically for me, so Ian used the Glowforge again to cut out and engraved a few faces for me that I inserted into a metal pull base.

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My first attempt was to round the edge of the face down and to dip it into a clear epoxy to give it a glazed look. I bet I could figure out the right way to do this now, but back then the edges were sanded a little uneven and air bubbles took away from the look I was going for.

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I eventually wound up using one of the other faces that were cut out and engraved from some walnut. After using some epoxy to secure it into the metal base, I screwed the pull into the drawer.

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I painted everything, ran all of the wires, and installed the shelf into our living room. I knew that someday I would upgrade some of the electronics, so I made it easy to unscrew the sides in case I needed to pull the cables out.

Fin: Part I

This side table serves its purpose while taking up as little space as possible. As always, there are things I might consider doing differently (like embedding the qi charger into the top in a different way), but I learned a lot in making the drawer and it was really nice to design and build something so simple that I use almost every single day.

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I Heard You Live Shelves so I Made a Shelf to Put Above Your Shelf

A few weeks after completing the side table, I realized that I could use a little more room for things like my iPad or laptop when they weren’t in use. While they fit just fine on the side table, I realized I could add a small shelf to make use of the space on the wall above.

To find a material that fit my style I went to my local lumber store and found a beautiful piece of bocote hardwood. I didn’t know the history and rarity of bocote at the time, but it's color and grain pattern were exactly what I was looking for.

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I knew from my experience using ipe that hardwood like this requires careful cutting and routing, so I took my time and marked and double-checked the measurements of each of my cuts.

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I planned on making a shelf that could hold my iPad, so I used a ¼ in. round nose router bit to cut out a groove that would hold the iPad in place. I made the groove long enough so if I ever got a bigger iPad-like device in the future, I’d be covered. I also cut out a second groove that could fit an Apple Pencil or another thin device.

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I picked out some mounting hardware that could hold the shelf flush to the wall and used a cross cut sled to cut the back edge of the shelf to fit around the mount.

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Since I planned on using the shelf mainly for my iPad, I used the rounding bit and the cross cut sled to cut out a place for a Lightning cable to rest when it wasn’t charging my iPad.

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All that was left was to do some sanding and apply a finish. I didn’t want to change the color of the Bocote too much, so instead of using something like boiled linseed oil, I used a clear wipe-on polyurethane. It got a little darker, but it only helped to bring out the wood grain even more.

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Fin: Part II

This shelf is very simple, but every time I take the time to look at it I appreciate the look and the feel of the material.

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