This is by far my most ambitious furniture project yet, and one I’m most excited about because I get to try some woodworking techniques totally new to me.
I have long wanted to store my photography equipment in my home office, so I have been on the lookout for cabinets with drawers that can hold my camera storage cases. This has turned out to be a painful endeavor because most console tables don’t have deep drawers, and even if they do, have the unacceptable problem of using 3/4-extension drawer slides that don’t open up all the way. (Add this to the interminable list of first-world problems.) Worse yet, the slides are almost always side mount and tauntingly visible. (Add this too!)
Having decided that I had no choice but to build my own console table, I visited our local lumber store to decide on the type of wood to use. I briefly considered sapele, mahogany, or something more exotic like iroku or afromosia. But since this would be the largest piece of furniture I’ve built, I needed a reliable, familiar wood, so I went back to my good ol’ favorite American dark walnut.
Deciding on the dimensions was fairly easy because I wanted the longest but shallowest table that would fit in the office. In the end, this turned out to be about 60″ wide × 18″ deep × 30″ tall.
The main frame and the middle shelf will use 6/4 dark walnut. The sides will feature a 45° chamfer on one inner edge. They will be attached to the top with half-blind dovetails. The middle shelf will attach to the sides using 1/4″ dados.
The cabinet portion will hold 6 drawers of varying sizes. The drawers will close against a 3/4″ walnut frame, but the gaps between drawers will be only 1/4″ to give everything a mostly frameless look. The drawer fronts will use 4/4 dark walnut, with 1/4″-thick lip handles inspired by Room & Board’s Anton series.
The table is 18″ deep, so the top, shelf, and sides (all the 6/4 pieces) had to be made by edge-joining two pieces together. For the most part, this went smoothly, except I was getting worse-than-usual tear-out, so I had to first score every cut by about 1/8″. And it turns out 6/4 walnut is almost impossible to completely flatten, so some edge joints still ended up with maybe a 1/32″ difference in flatness that had to be sanded out later.
The inner edges of the cabinet sides feature a 45° chamfer edge that’s about 3/4″ long diagonally. Routing this was just plain delightful.
Because the main shelf will need to hold up a (very) heavy power amplifier, I decided to use 1/4″-deep dados routed on the sides to provide a strong joint. Because of the chamfer edge, the shelf will terminate halfway into the chamfer, which gives the arrangement a sophisticated look.
The back and bottom of the cabinet use 1/4″ plywood, held in place by tracks in the frame.
Dovetailing the Frame
The finished table will be exceedingly heavy. The top will be the only piece that allows lifting the table for moving, so the joints to the sides must also be exceedingly strong. While a box joint might be strong enough, I wanted to keep the joints hidden from the top surface, so I decided to use half-blind dovetails.
This is by far the most challenging part of the whole project, because I’ve never done dovetails before, and the pieces here are much wider and thicker than what my dovetailing jig can accommodate. But since most of the jig is used for alignment, all I needed was the template if I could carefully align these huge and heavy pieces myself.
Routing the dovetails was also challenging because doing traditional push-cuts would cause severe tear-out. One could first climb-cut the edge, but it felt too unsafe, so I scored the edge instead. That worked well enough.
There are 18 dovetails per joint, and I was worried about getting all of them to join fully. But with enough use of the mallet, they all went in!
While it is possible to order custom dovetailed drawers, I decided to make my own to avoid the wait and, well, for fun. The lumberyard made this much easier since they sell prefinished 6″-wide 1/2″ maple plywood for the sides, and 1/4″ white birch plywood for the bottoms.
I wanted half-blind dovetail joints for the drawer boxes. Routing them was quite frustrating at first because tear-out was extreme. I had pieces where inch-long patches were ripped right out of the first layer of the plywood. No amount of taping helped, and even climb-cutting didn’t reliably solve the problem. I had to again resort to scoring every edge, which easily doubled the effort for every cut. But it did work, and it didn’t take long to dovetail and assemble all six drawers.
The drawer fronts use 4/4 dark walnut. Since their positioning relative to the boxes may have to be adjusted, I wanted them attached using machine screws, so I put wood insert nuts in all the fronts.
This shall be a respectable console table, so of course the slides will be soft-closing, undermount, nicely hidden from view. No 3/4-extension or side-mount slide was remotely considered.
Finishing walnut is always a most rewarding endeavor. The final finish is standard fare: sanding at 80, 120, 180, then just one coat of Danish oil. For the first time, I also added a coat of wax polish.
Building this took over my entire Christmas holiday and then some, but it was well worth the time and effort, and I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. Now my camera case has a proper home—a drawer sitting on invisible, full-extension slides.
The namesake of this piece is Aloe rigens, a pretty medium-sized Aloe from Somalia.