Canadian Woodworking

Contemporary sideboard

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Illustration: James Provost
Published: December January 2010

The combination of heart and sap wood give this sideboard a one-of-a-kind flair.


This is a challenging project that covers many different techniques, so don’t get caught up in the entire project at once. In order to simplify things. approach the construction in four stages: the carcase, the doors, the interior and the top.

Two cuts – one set-up
 You can use the same fence set-up to cut both the mortise and the groove.

Knife hinges
 It is much easier to mortise the knife hinges when the piece is apart than when it is assembled and glued.

Forget the plan
 Dry assemble the parts so that you know exactly what size to make subsequent parts.

Give the glue an escape route
 In order to eliminate any problems with glue squeeze-out cut a ⅛" x ⅛" groove in the back of the hinge strip.

Pull joinery
 Use a small mortise and tenon to secure your shop-made pulls.

Floating Drawer
 Not only do the drawer guides give the appearance of a floating drawer, but they will act as a stop as well.

Let the wood speak
Using a combination of heart and sap wood provides a nice aesthetic that showcases the wood’s natural colours.

The Carcase

Once the parts are all laid out, start breaking out the main case parts. The legs will finish at 1 ¼” thick, while most of the other case pieces will finish at ⅞” thick. The panels should be taken down to ⅞” thick for now, even though they will finish thinner. Proceed by jointing one edge of each of the legs and rails.

Cut the legs to finished length. Lay out and cut the ⅜” wide mortises in the legs to accept the four side rails. Use a plunge router equipped with an edge guide to cut the mortises. At the same time, machine a groove to accept the gable panel. The groove and mortise are the same distance from the inside edge of the leg, but the mortise needs to be ⅞” deep, while the groove to house the panel is only ½” deep. The tenons on the top side rails are going to be haunched, so make sure to stop the mortise ½” before exiting the top end of the leg. This will increase the strength of the mortises. Band saw the curve into the outside edge. Fair the curve with a block plane.

Cut the side rails to final length. Make sure you add the length of each tenon – ⅞”. Cut the tenons on each end of the side rails, and then notch the tenons of the top rails to create the haunched tenon. Adjust the edge guide on your router to produce a groove in the top and bottom side rails that will accept the gable panel.

Determine the size of the gable panels by dry assembling the gable frames. Cut the stock to rough length, edge joint each piece and glue the boards together. When dry, plane the panel down to about ⅝” and cut to size. Machine a rabbet around the outside of the panel so it will fit into the grooves in the legs and side rails.

Cut a ½” wide x ¼” deep groove on the inside of the lower side, front and back rails to house the case bottom. Sand and assemble the two gables.

Lay out the hand-cut dovetail joint that will secure the front and back top rails to the upper side rails of the gable assembly. When the front top rail is fastened in place, its front surface will be flush with the back surface of the front legs. The back top rail should mirror this position. Determine how long the top rails need to be. Make sure that the distance between the left and right legs finishes at 42″, and that you have accounted for the length of the dovetail joints. Cut the top rails to length. Cut the tail portion of the dovetail joint on the ends of both top rails. Mark where the dovetail pins will have to be cut on each gable and carefully cut the other half of the dovetail joint.

Lay out the mortises on the inside face of each leg. These mortises will accept the lower front and back rails. With a plunge router and edge guide, cut the mortises to a depth of 1 ¼”. The ⅜” wide mortise should be as close to the outside of the leg as possible to cause minimum interference with the tenons of the side rails. Cut the low rails to length and machine a tenon on each end. You will have to round the edges of the tenon with a file or rasp in order for it to fit the round mortise. Cut the mortises in the lower front rail to accept the knife hinges. Although some planning is required, this operation is much easier to do now than when the case is fully assembled. Mock-up a door and rail to experiment with before cutting a mortise in the finished rail. A router and edge guide will do most of the work, and a sharp chisel will fine-tune the fit of a knife hinge.

Lay out a curve on the lower front rail with a flexible batten. Cut it with a band saw and smooth the curve with a block plane. Mill a ⅜” x 1″ strip that will be the bead on the underside of the front and side bottom rails. At the router table, machine a ½ round with a 3/16″ radius bit on the front of each of the three bead pieces. Sand the bead and the front rail and glue the three pieces in place. You will have to cut the side pieces to length to fit them in place, but the front bead should be cut to final length after it has been glued in place.

Dry assemble the case to determine the overall dimension of the case bottom. Glue the bottom up and, when dry, machine a rabbet around its four edges so that the case bottom will fit snugly in the groove already machined in the four bottom rails. You will also have to cut notches in the four corners to fit around each leg.

With a plunge router fitted with an edge guide, machine a groove in the rear bottom and top rails as well as the rear legs in order to accept a back panel. Sand the parts that make up the case. Because there are many parts (two gables, four rails and a case bottom) you should glue the case in two stages. The first stage is still going to be a handful, so it’s best to have someone to assist you. Dry assemble everything and then start the first assembly. The only part you can leave for the second assembly is the upper front rail – everything else must be assembled the first time. Make sure everything is square, especially the door opening. Once everything is dry, apply small notched glue blocks between the lower front rail and the gables. These glue blocks will help strengthen this important joint.

Cut and clamp two cleats flush with the upper portion of the gables. Eventually you will screw through the cleats to secure the top.

Cut a back panel and machine a rabbet around all four sides. This panel will slide down the grooves in the legs and into the groove in the rear bottom rail. Machine the top cap, which will fit on top of the back. This top cap will have a tenon on either end which fits into the groove in each leg. Sand and glue everything in place. When assembled, the top cap will finish flush with the rest of the upper surface of the case.

To finish off the carcase, machine a hinge strip of the same thickness as the front top rail. Cut it to fit between the front legs. Both the hinge strip and the lower front rail need to finish with the same reveal against the legs – about ⅛”. In order to eliminate any problems with glue squeeze-out, cut a ⅛” x  ” groove in the back of the hinge strip, close to the bottom edge of the surface that is to be glued. Any extra glue will remain trapped in the groove instead of oozing out from the joint. Cut the mortises for the hinges then clamp and glue the strip in place. With the first, and most difficult, step complete you can focus your attention on the next step – the doors.


Break out: In woodworking terms, this refers to cutting out parts from a rough board to use and later refine as project components.

The Doors

When making doors, I often make them about 1/16″ oversized on each of the four sides. Once the door is assembled I can trim it to size and make sure it is square. This process also leaves a clean edge.

I used a slip joint to secure the four corners of these door frames. It’s a strong and fairly easy joint to make. When cutting the parts to size keep in mind that the frame stiles and rails will extend all the way to the outer edge of the door. Cut the pieces to finished size. With a tenon jig in your table saw, cut the female slots in each of the rails. With a dado blade in your table saw, machine the male end of the joint. This joint is strong because there is a lot of face grain glue surface area. There is also a mechanical aspect that helps hold the joint together. Once all of the slip joints have been made, plane the stiles 1/16″ thinner than the rails. This difference in thickness will help hide any slight variations once the frames are glued up.

Machine a ¼” wide x 5/16″ deep groove on the inside edge of the door frame that will house the door panel. This groove will have to be stopped at both ends of the rails so that it isn’t visible from the doors’ sides.

I used book-matched solid wood for the door panels. Cut the wood to rough length and re-saw it, creating a pleasing match for the panel. Glue these two pieces together then plane them to final thickness. Trim the panels to size and run a rabbet around the perimeter. Sand the frames and the panels then assemble the three doors.

Trim the doors so that they will just barely fit into the opening. Machine the mortises for the knife hinges and install the hinges – I usually use only one screw at this point so I have the option of making a slight adjustment if the door doesn’t fit perfectly. With the four doors hinged in place, trim each door so that there is a 1/16″ gap around each side of the four doors.

If you decide to use hand-made pulls instead of store-bought pulls, rout a small mortise in the door frame to accept the handle. Machine or hand cut three pulls to fit the mortise and provide you with a comfortable, positive grip. This is a good opportunity to add a unique touch to a project. Sand the door frame before installing the pull. Break any sharp edges and sand the doors.

The Interior

Cut four drawer guides 1 ⅛” high x 1″ wide x 14″ long. Machine a 9/16″ high x ½” wide rabbet in the top corner of each guide. Install the outside two guides so that when the drawer is pulled out the door will not interfere with its movement. The guides will eventually be glued and screwed to the underside of the top rail, but for now just use screws. Install the other two guides so that the drawers will bypass the middle door when it is pulled out. It is important to note that the drawer guides will act as door stops, so position them appropriately.

With the guides installed, drill a 3/16″ hole in the back upper corner of the door and install a ‘press-in bumper,’ available at These bumpers will stay in place over time and will cushion the door when it closes.

With the guides in place you can determine the width of the drawers and the size of the drawers’ top cleat. Construct the drawers and attach the top cleat on the upper portion of the drawer sides. Drill a hole with a 1″ diameter in the center of the drawer face to act as a finger pull and round over the edge to create a comfortable feel. Use a block plane or rabbet plane to fine-tune the fit of the drawer. These drawers can be pulled out of the cabinet and brought to the table to make setting a large table easier, avoiding the need for a drawer stop. Drill a 3/16″ hole in the bottom corner of each drawer and install more rubber ‘press-in bumpers.’ They will work wonders in terms of preventing scratches on any surface on which you place the drawer.

Laminate enough wood to make a shelf. Cut it to size then drill four holes for shelf pins. A nice touch is to create small notches in the underside of the shelf that register in the shelf pins so that the shelf will not slide forward. I also use a spokeshave to create a slight arc on the front of the shelf, which gives a lighter, more delicate look to the shelf.


Choose some interesting wood for the top and laminate the boards together. After planing those to final thickness, cut the top to size. I went with a 1″ overhang on the front and back and a 4″ overhang on the left and right sides. I also chose to keep the front and back edge of the top straight and to add a profile to either end. You can experiment with different overhangs and edge profiles to achieve the look you want.

Use screws to attach the top to the base. Because the top is solid wood, it will move with changes in humidity. One way to protect against splitting the top is to drill oversized holes in the cleats and rails then use washers and screws to secure the top. The screw will be able to move slightly within the oversized hole.


After removing any glue squeeze-out, check the entire piece for any scratches. Remove the doors, drawers, shelf and top so that each piece can be finished individually. Apply the first coat of varnish thinned about 20%. Each additional coat can be thinned slightly, but this is not necessary. Thinning each coat will cause the finish to dry a little more slowly and give you a bit more time to brush on the finish. Be sure to sand between coats in order to remove any dust nibs or imperfections. After the final coat, let the finish on your new sideboard cure for a few days then rub it with 0000 steel wool and wax. Wax will help keep the finish scratch and stain-free while also providing a smooth feel.

This is not a simple weekend project. It can quickly become overwhelming, but keeping the four stages in mind – the carcase, the doors, the interior, and the top – the entire construction will be simplified. And when you’ve completed this sideboard, don’t tell your friends it’s easier than it looks. Heck, tell them it’s harder than it looks! Only you will know the truth.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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