I spent $40 on some 2x4s and wood stain, and I ended up with a groovy pair of nightstands. Here’s how I did it…
Before, if you had asked me about my experience with handcrafted wooden furniture, I’d probably recount the time my mom put this Amish-made desk in my childhood room and I (being the
ridiculous enterprising kid that I was) decided to paint the entire thing tie-dye with alternating blobs of nail polish (true story).
That DIY paint job was my first and last dalliance with handcrafted wooden furniture… until now!
The background: R and I found an awesome wooden bed frame for our master, but we were significantly less enthused by the other items in the bedroom set… so we decided to shop around. After months of scouring shops and online for nightstands, we weren’t coming up with any solid leads…
So, one Sunday night after a bit of poking around on Pinterest, I very ambitiously told R that I’d be making our nightstands. In true R form, he was like, “sure thing,” and asked no further questions (which is indicative of either his total confidence in my woodcrafting skills, OR his total disinterest in nightstands… I’m gonna flatter myself and go with the former..)
The next morning, I got to planning.
Step One: Find & Fine-tune a Furniture Plan
In the “Pinterest research stage” of this project I stumbled upon an amazing DIY blog called More Like Home. They’re a great resource for furniture plans and tutorials, and after a bit of browsing I decided to try my hand at this very un-daunting nightstand made entirely out of 2x4s.
More Like Home’s plan lists out the exact dimensions and cut list for a finished nightstand that will measure 20″ tall, 20″ wide, and 14″ deep. Since our bed sits pretty high, I decided to increase the height by modifying the length of the side boards (I left all other measurements unchanged).
Here’s what my modified measurements looked like:
- Table Top (A) – Four 20″ boards
- Sides (B) – Eight 25″ boards
- Shelf (C) – Four 17″ boards
These modified plans will result in a nightstand that measures 26.5″ tall, 20″ wide, and 14″ deep.
Step Two: Plan a Cut List
Since I was going for a “rustic / farmhouse / no frills” aesthetic, there was no need to splurge on high quality wood. In fact… the more flawed the wood, the better! (Adds “character,” right?) Going for a similar look? Skip the fancy stuff and head straight for the “Cheap Ass 2×4” section.
Both Lowes and Home Depot post accurate price details for lumber online, so you can browse beforehand to price out the cheapest boards, and the available lengths (8 ft, 10 ft, 12 ft, etc.) If you want to skip the guess work, this life-changing website that will plan a cut list for you.
Here’s what my final cut list looked like:
Step Three: Go Shopping
Once I planned my cuts, I was able to jot down a quick shopping list.
To build TWO nightstands, here are the supplies I needed to buy:
- Five 12′ 2x4s
- Wood stain + poly top coat (more on this below)
- Stain application brush
Here are the supplies I needed, but already had:
- Wood glue
- Some screws (various lengths)
Here are the supplies I didn’t initially know I needed, but later realized I needed:
- Wood shims
- 3/16″ Wooden dowel
And here is the list of tools I used:
- Drill / impact driver
- Tape measure
Step Four: Cut your Wood… OR Call the Cutting Crew (not that Cutting Crew…)
Since we don’t own a saw (…yet), getting wood cut for this project hinged entirely on the compassion of the guys working in the lumber cutting section at my local Lowes store. If they hadn’t taken mercy on my poor soul, this project would have been indefinitely stalled (or, R would have come home from work to find a brand new table saw setup in my woodworking studi– I mean the garage).
While most hardware stores will make a limited number of free cuts when you buy wood, the guys at Lowes went above and beyond to graciously cut all the pieces I needed for this project. If you’re planning on going this route, I strongly suggest calling the store beforehand, then reconfirming that they’ll make the cuts once you get there. Don’t assume anything; they might say no, OR they might charge you for any additional cuts over the free limit.
If you catch a lucky break, make sure you turn up with a plan! (see Step Two)
Step Five: Sand the Sin Outta Your Wood
I hate sanding. It’s tedious, it’s time-consuming, it makes a mess… but it’s also, unfortunately, quite important.
The only way to make this experience tolerable was (obviously) to plunk my ass down in front of the TV and start binge-watching a new show. (I chose House of Cards, and I am now officially obsessed).
I didn’t go crazy here… I just wanted to smooth out any rough patches, and soften any blunt or splintered edges.
Even though it’d be a bit premature to say things were “coming together” at this stage in the project, I noticed a definite increase in interest from Scout, who is quite the nightstand connoisseur (when she dabbled in eating furniture as a young pup, she gnawed exclusively on nightstands).
Step Six: Assemble The Sides
More Like Home suggests that you attach your planks using a kreg jig and pocket hole screws. Pro: this reduces the visible screws on your finished product, Con: you need a kreg jig.
Since I don’t have a kreg jig, I had a couple of options: 1) buy a kreg jig, 2) attempt to make pocket holes without a kreg jig (here’s a tutorial), or 3) figure something else out.
I chose option 3. After a bit of head-scratching, I came up with my plan (and y’all are in for a real treat…)
Each side consists of four 25″ side planks, so to start, I lined up the pieces for each of my two sides…
Then (are you ready for this shit?) I GLUED them together. I’m not kidding. I literally glued them together with wood glue (but wait, it gets better!)
Once I had tentatively constructed my sides with wood glue, I decided that I needed to reinforce the connections (lest the glue fail and cause the planks to separate, resulting in four very shallow nightstands…) After some thinking, I decided to accomplish this with
a totally legit piece of wood some randoms wood shims I had lying around.
Yes, you read correctly. Some random wood shims I had lying around.
Before I could affix my mediocre reinforcement shims, I had to plot where I wanted my shelves to go. Since I wanted to keep my storage options open, I arbitrarily marked a line 11″ down from the top (rather than the 6″ suggested by More Like Home).
My thought process for this reference line was to install the shelf directly above, and affix my shim directly below. And that’s exactly what I did.
I lined up and attached my shims, and the result was almost (dare I say it?) decorative. Not that it actually matters, because these shims would be inside-facing, and hidden directly below the shelves.
Step Seven: Assemble the Table Top
If you follow More Like Home’s guidance and assemble your sides with pocket screws, you have a little more leeway with building your table top. But since my glued-together sides instilled about as much confidence as Peter Russo’s gubernatorial campaign (haha! House of Cards reference!), I wanted something a little more structurally sound.
Then inspiration struck in the form of a 3/16″ wooden dowel.
With the table top boards lined up on their sides, I measured and marked spots for two sets of opposing holes on each board. Then, I used my drill to make those holes…
See where I’m goin’ with this?
Then I (sloppily) sawed off a bit of dowel, dabbed some glue on the top, and stuck it in the hole. I repeated this for the second hole on the same board. Once I had dowels in both holes, I dabbed on some more glue and flipped over my second board, guiding the holes onto the dowels.
In retrospect I could have used this approach for constructing the sides as well, but I think that’d kinda be overkill. Your table top is ultimately the MVP holding everything together here, so as long as that’s structurally sound, I think you can goof around a bit on the sides (i.e. the wood shims and glue method).
Step Eight: The Holy Union of Sides & Top
I lined up the top of one ‘side‘ piece with the edge of my ‘top‘ piece, then attached with 2-1/2″ screws straight through the top (centered, for aesthetics). Repeat — one screw through each board of your top — then flip ‘er over and attach the second ‘side’ piece the same way.
(If you’re wondering if it’s a terrible idea to do this project on a rug, the answer is yes).
Step Nine: Add the Shelf
I didn’t take any pictures of this step, but basically I just slid the shelf boards between the sides and positioned directly above the 11″ reference line I drew earlier (and my awesome shims). Then I attached each board by drilling screws through the outer side of the nightstand using my 2-1/2″ screws (one on either side, so two per board).
And then… that’s it! Construction is complete!
Step Ten: Stain
So this is what I hauled into the garage:
The funny thing that I’ve learned about making your own furniture is that you look at something very differently when you’ve made it with your own two hands. If I saw these tables on the sales floor at a furniture store, I’d be inclined to ask, “since when did Amish carpenters start dropping acid?!” But since I made these nightstands, I’m looking at them through through rose-tinted pride goggles (not to be confused with beer goggles… which I was also wearing by this point).
Anyways, it was time to stain. There are a couple of options for staining — you can use a water-based or oil-based stain, then top that with a clear coat of polyurethane… OR you can use a two-in-one that combines the stain and poly in one step. Since I’m impatient, I went with the two-in-one.
It takes a while to build up the stain. The first coat yielded a “log cabin” vibe…
Things started to get a little more interesting with the second coat, and shit really got real when I applied the third (and final) coat. And finally, they were ready to come inside!
Here’s the finished product:
This post contains affiliate links. Wanna know more? Check out the Disclosures page.