Prized by collectors, Charles Rennie Mackintosh furniture is notable for its clean, elegant lines. This end table is a good example. Here's how to build it.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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$20 – $100
About this end table
Two power tools
A table saw and a plate joiner are all the muscle you’ll need.
Make the whole project from paint-grade yellow poplar.
A well-crafted drawer
The joints are just 1/4-in. oak pegs.
For a while now, I’ve been on the lookout for a simple piece of furniture for my brother to make. He has a modest shop and some experience building, but he’s ready to tackle a “real” project. This table is perfect and one of our favorite end table designs ever. It’s also a great design for a more experienced builder who appreciates a project that’s quick and easy.
You can build the table from paint-grade yellow poplar. It’s widely available at home centers in 1x3s, 1x4s and other standard sizes. You’ll also need 1/2-in.-thick and 1/4-in.-thick material for the drawer. The total cost for the wood will be well under $100. Aside from a drill, all you’ll need to build the table are two power tools: a table saw and a plate joiner. A drill press is helpful but not necessary.
This end table design was originally designed in 1904 by the Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh for a home in Glasgow. Like so many other things Scottish, it’s economical in terms of time, materials and tools.
First, make the sides
Photo 1: Cut the table legs
Begin by cutting the table legs from poplar 1x3s. Mark the ends of all the parts to identify the sides that face out.
Photo 2: Make the biscuit slots
Cut a pair of No. 20 biscuit slots in the top end of each leg. Place a 3/4-in. scrap under the plate joiner to space the slots.
Photo 3: Glue sides and guides
Glue together the table’s sides and drawer guides, cut 1 in. extra long. After the glue dries, trim them to final length.
Photo 4: Make slots in the guides.
Cut biscuit slots in the side/guides, using the spacer again. This puts the drawer guides flush with the inside edge of the legs.
Photo 5: Cut slots in stretchers
Make vertical slots in the stretchers that go between the legs. Butt the plate joiner against a spacer to locate each slot.
Photo 6: Glue table sides
Glue the sides of the table. Use a combination square to make sure the stretcher is in the correct position.
When you buy your lumber, select pieces that are straight and flat. To make finishing easier, stay away from pieces that are green or have black streaks. Most stores have large piles to pick through—and you won’t need much wood—so be choosy.
Side Table Plans
Start by cutting the legs (A) from your 1×3 material. You won’t have to rip the wood; just cut the pieces to final length. Mark the top end of each leg to indicate which sides face out (Photo 1). I always mark each piece of a project like this. If you make your marks anywhere else, sanding will erase them. Ends usually don’t get sanded.
Draw centerlines for the biscuits that will join the legs to the sides (B) and drawer guides (C)—see Figure A. Draw these lines across the inside faces of the legs. Position each leg so that its outside edge faces up, then place a poplar offcut under the plate joiner and cut the slots (Photo 2).
Use 1x6s to make the sides and 1x4s to make the drawer guides. Again, you won’t have to rip the wood, but this time cut each piece 1 in. extra long. Glue the pieces together, making sure their top edges are flush (Photo 3). Cut some more 1×3 material to make the long stretchers (D). Also make these pieces 1 in. extra long. After the glue dries, cut the side/ guides and long stretchers to the same final length. Draw biscuit-slot centerlines on the outside faces of the side/guides, then place the pieces face up on your bench and cut slots in them (Photo 4). Use the same offcut as a spacer under the plate joiner. This method ensures that the drawer guides will be flush with the inside edge of the legs. That’s essential for the drawer to work right. Next, adjust your plate joiner to make No. 10 slots. Mark and cut slots in the legs to receive the long stretchers. Place the spacer under the plate joiner this time too. Cut corresponding slots in the ends of the long stretchers (without using the spacer, of course). Cut vertical slots on the inside faces of the long stretchers (Photo 5). Make a 2-5/8-in. spacer from a 1×3 for positioning the outside slots (Figure D). Make a 5-7/8-in. spacer for the middle slots. Smooth the inside faces of the legs with 150-grit sandpaper. In addition, sand the outside faces of the side/guides and both faces of the long stretchers. Glue all these pieces together (Photo 6).
Figure A: Mackintosh Table
The diagram shows the construction of the end table.
Figure B: Drawer
The diagram diagram shows the construction of the end table drawer.
Join the sides
Photo 7: Create arches
Shape arches from small pieces glued to the table’s apron. With so little wood to remove, just use a rasp and sandpaper.
Photo 8: Glue the base
Glue the table’s base. Clamp spacers between the legs to make sure they’re parallel. Be sure the table is square.
Photo 9: Cut slots in stretchers
Cut open-ended slots in the short stretchers. Slide them in place, making sure their top edges are flush.
The curves on the table’s front apron (E) are a beautiful detail—and easy to make. Start by cutting the apron 1 in. extra long from a piece of 1×4. Rip it 3-1/4 in. wide. Discard the waste, then rip it again to 2-3/4 in. wide. Cut 1-3/4-in.-long pieces from both ends of the narrow offcut and glue them back to the main piece. Once the glue dries, trim 1/2 in. from one end of this piece, then trim the piece to final length. Cut the table’s back (F) from a piece of 1×6 and trim it to the same length. In addition, cut two 1×3 spacers to this length.
Using a 1-gallon paint can as a guide, draw the apron’s arches on the small pieces you cut and glued to the apron (Figure F, below). Form the arches with a rasp and sandpaper (Photo 7). Adjust your plate joiner to make No. 20 slots, then mark and cut biscuit slots in the ends of the apron and back pieces. Mark and cut corresponding slots in the base (Figure D).
Glue the base together, clamping the spacers between the legs (Photo 8). After the glue dries, cut short stretchers (G) to fit between the long stretchers. Cut biscuit slots in the short stretchers. The lower end of these slots must be open so you can slip the parts in place (Photo 9). That’s easy to do—just make three overlapping cuts with the plate joiner to form each slot. Glue biscuits into the long stretchers, then apply glue to the short stretchers and slide them over the biscuits.
Cut the drawer runners (H) to size and glue them in place. Their front edges must be level with the top of the apron. Use a combination square to make sure the runners are parallel to the top edges of the drawer guides.
Figure C and D: Front and Side Views
Make the top
Photo 10: Saw bevel edges
Saw bevels around the table’s top. Use a tall sliding fence to support the top.
Photo 11: Fasten top to base
Screw the top to the base using desktop fasteners. Positioned on the outside, they won’t interfere with the drawer.
Assemble the top (J) from three pieces of 1×8. Trim each piece to final length, then glue them together, making sure their ends are even. Rip the top to width after the glue dries. Sand the top to even the joints, starting with 60-grit paper. Continue with 100 grit, then finish with 150 grit. Cut bevels around the top by tilting your saw blade to 20 degrees (Photo 10 and Figure E).
Using a Forstner bit, drill holes for desktop fasteners in the top edges of the table’s sides (Figure A). Screw the fasteners in place, then turn over the table’s base and center it on the top. Fasten the base to the top (Photo 11).
Figures E and F: Top Detail and Apron Detail
Build a well-crafted drawer
Photo 12: Cut rabbets
Begin making the drawer by using a dado set to cut rabbets in the drawer’s front.
Photo 13: Drill holes in sides
Drill 1/4-in. holes through the drawer’s sides, then cut grooves in the front and sides to receive the drawer’s bottom.
Photo 14: Glue the drawer
Glue the drawer together. Position the back of the drawer so it sits just above the groove for the drawer’s bottom.
Photo 15: Glue in pegs
Drill through the 1/4-in. holes to make them deeper, then glue in short pegs. This makes a very strong joint.
Photo 16: Glue up bottom
Glue up the drawer’s bottom from 1/4-in. poplar. Use opposing wedges to squeeze the pieces between two clamped boards.
Photo 17: Fit drawer bottom
Slide the bottom into the drawer. Don’t use glue, because the bottom must be free to expand and contract.
Now build the drawer. Cut the drawer front (K) slightly undersize—it should be 1/32 in. narrower than the space above the table’s apron and 1/32 in. shorter than the distance between the table’s legs. Using 1/2-in. poplar, cut the drawer sides (L) the same width as the front. Trim them to final length. Using a 1/2-in.-wide dado set, cut rabbets in the ends of the drawer front to receive the sides (Figure B and Photo 12). (You could also make multiple cuts with a regular blade.)
Drill 1/4-in. holes in the sides (Photo 13). A drill press is best, but you can do this by hand—just make sure the holes are perpendicular. Using a 1/4-in. dado set (or by making two passes with a regular blade), cut grooves for the drawer bottom in the front and side pieces. In addition, cut 1/4-in.-wide dadoes in the side pieces to receive the drawer’s back (M). Cut the back to width and length.
Glue the drawer together using clamps in both directions to make sure the front joints are tight (Photo 14). After the glue dries, drill through the holes in the drawer’s sides, making them 1 in. deep. Note: Don’t drill the holes directly opposite the drawer bottom grooves.
Cut 1-in. pegs from 1/4-in. oak rods, then glue them in the holes you drilled (Photo 15). Glue 1/4-in.-long pegs in the other two holes (they’re just for show).
Cut pieces for the drawer’s bottom (N) from 1/4-in. poplar. Trim them to final length and glue them together (Photo 16). Clamping boards this thin is very difficult—I use wedges instead. Cut the bottom to final width.
Using 60-grit paper, sand the edges of the bottom until the bottom slides easily in the drawer’s grooves (Photo 17). Fasten the bottom to the drawer’s back with screws. Remove the table’s top, then slide the drawer into the table. Position the drawer’s front flush with the legs, then make stops (Q) to fill the small gap behind the drawer’s sides. Glue the stops to the base.
Finally, finish your table
Photo 18: Stain and seal
Seal the wood with two coats of poly, then use thin coats of gel stain. Plain poplar can look quite pretty!
Finish the top of the table separately. It should have equal coats of finish on both sides, so it doesn’t warp.
The original Mackintosh table was painted white, and if you’d like to paint your table, we recommend aerosol paint. You can also let the wood darken naturally. I chose to stain my table instead. To avoid a blotchy look, I first sealed the table with two coats of water-base poly. Then I applied a coat of amber shellac, thinned 50 percent with denatured alcohol, to give the wood a golden color. I applied two coats of gel stain followed by two more coats of poly (Photo 18). Whatever stain approach you choose, be sure to test it thoroughly on pieces of scrap.
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Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Forstner drill bits
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.