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I wanted to replace a broken side table without using screws or nails! This solid cherry side table was an exercise in finer woodworking for me and I’m really happy with the result. I milled the lumber, designed the pieces, and fit them together.

  1. Mill Lumber
  2. Look Up Standardized Dimensions
  3. Assemble Using Dowels

1. Mill Lumber

For this project, I really want to make a nice piece of furniture out of some rough-sawn cherry wood I have. In order to get perfectly dimensional, square & flat pieces of lumber, I have to mill the rough pieces. We made a BITS video all about milling lumber if you want more detail. First, I used the jointer to get a flat face and edge. Next I used the planer to make the other face flat and parallel to the joined face. Lastly, I used the table saw to square up the remaining edge.

Now that I have perfectly milled lumber, I used my table saw to “resaw” the lumber. This means that you are essentially splitting the thicker piece into two thinner pieces along the shirt edge. The bandsaw is the best tool for this process, but mine doesn’t work that great. After resawing, the cut face may look a little nasty. Simply run it through the planer again with the nice face facing down. This gave me the 3/4″ material that I was hoping for when designing this side table.

2. Look Up Standardized Dimensions

When designing this side table, I went into Fusion 360 and modeled the project. Modeling furniture before building is great (actually all of my projects) because I can easily update sizes or heights based on my preferences. I found some dimensions online for things like dining tables, writing desks, and side tables. I took these standardized dimensions into Fusion and built the side table to match a broken one we had in the house. Using the combination of the standardized dimension and some of the existing aspects of the broken table allowed me to make a side table that I really liked. Now that I had the design and the materials ready, I could draw out the shapes and start cutting.

3. Assemble Using Dowels

Once I transferred the dimensions and curve lines from the Fusion model to the milled lumber, I used a combination of saws to cut out each piece. I wanted to avoid metal fasteners this time, so no pocket hole screws or nails. I was excited to use only dowels, which are pretty easy to use. Once I knew where each joint was going to be, I drilled a dowel hole in one piece and used the metal dowel center to dimple the corresponding side. Using that dimple, I could drill the remaining dowel hole so that the small wooden peg would line up perfectly.

Dowels are great if you need to rough assemble a project before adding glue. This was very important for this side table, because I had to measure for and then install the rotating leaf supports before glueing it up. The only metal fasteners in this side table project were the hinges that I needed to add under the flip-up leaves. After adding a final detail chamfer to the underside of the table pieces and adding a coat of finish, the side table was done!

Fine(ish) Woodworking

People have often commented that I should make a project using hand-cut dovetail joinery or some kind of “fine” woodworking project. I’ve never been one to step to a challenge just for challenge sake. But this time, I wanted to replicate the side table as best I could in my own style. Because this project was so minimal, you’d see and screw holes. I decided that a fastener-less project like this would be a good opportunity to use simple dowel joinery. While I’m sure I could have hand cut some dovetails, it would have been an unnecessary flex just to say that I did it. I have the product that I wanted in a way that stretch my skills. That’s fine enough for me.