Almost nothing is more rewarding than creating something with your own two hands. When it's something that serves a purpose it's all the better. Almost anyone can build a small bedside table. It doesn't' have to be anything fancy, just a clean, straight design made from almost any kind of plywood or lumber. Make a simple bedside table using a few tools and supplies.
You Draw First Pardner
Draw up a plan. It's always best when you have something to refer to for measurements, even when building small items such as a bedside table. Draw it up full-size on a piece of cardboard, or ideally, on a piece of 1/4-inch plywood. If it's a square table you have in mind, you only need one side. Rectangular tables typically require a side view as well. If you get confused during the cutting of the pieces, measure the piece in question on the drawing -- it's that simple. Use a straightedge and a tri-square to draw with. Drawing is one of the more enjoyable parts of the process because you get to tweak it with different ideas before you start cutting. Start by sketching a table about 18 inches tall and 18 inches square that will fit beside the bed without intimidating, imposing or getting in the way. Check the drawing for size and adjust the measurements as needed.
Softwood is user friendly. Species such as pine or poplar are easy to work with, and with the right stain, look just as attractive as hardwoods. Pine has lots of defects such as knots and streaks that add character. Poplar has streaks of green, brown and even purple. Hardwoods such as oak, ash or even cherry are traditional, but harder to work with because of a more dense makeup. They are also more expensive. You can make the table completely out of solid lumber, or use a combination of lumber and plywood. Typically the table top is made from plywood with the legs made out of solid lumber, but there's no reason you can't laminate several pieces of lumber together to make the top as well.
Butt Joints Wanted
Fancy joints are not required to build a simple, small table. Skip the mortise and tenons and simply screw the table together. Smaller tables like this don't really need stretchers or braces. Build the table altar-style with four legs and a top. Start by adding glue and screwing 3/4-by-4-by-4-inch pieces of plywood centered on the top of 2-inch-square legs to form a T. You can use sculpted, manufactured legs if you desire. For the tabletop border, glue and clamp 3/4-by-1 1/2-inch hardwood flush around the perimeter. This produces a lip or overhanging edge along the bottom also known an an apron. Miter the corners or use the proverbial butt-joint as before. Sand everything thoroughly, including the legs, and turn the tabletop upside down. Apply glue and place one of the T-shaped legs upside down in each corner. The overhanging apron hides the top of the plywood T. Screw them to the bottom of the table around the perimeter of the plywood T shape. It's strong enough to support your own weight -- but that may be a bit subjective; let's just say it's at least strong enough to hold anything you typically use in your bedroom.
Lets Finish This
Now comes the fun part: finishing. There are a couple ways to go about finishing. You can use an oil-stain that hardens in the wood, or a solvent- or water-based stain with a top coat of lacquer. Oil-stain looks best, but it takes about 72 hours to dry. The beauty of oil stain lies in the fact that you can add more stain every few months to renew it. If you choose to use solvent or water-based stains, you can speed up the finishing. This type of stain dries within an hour. After it's dry, spray it with two coats of aerosol lacquer, sanding it with 180-grit sandpaper after the first coat. Choose satin, medium or high-gloss depending on your taste. Oil-based stain will hold up to water better, and you can always add more stain if you get white water spots on the surface. If you expose lacquer to water it can permanently damage it.