I really struggled with the finish on this project. It's funny how the more you learn about woodworking and finishing in particular the more you're willing to get outside your comfort zone and try something new. At the same time trying something new can lead you into trouble.
Though I couldn't stray too far from the finish I used on the bed right next to it, I still wanted to try a couple of things I've read recently on finishing and finishing prep work:
The first was to do alot more scraping than sanding. Like most woodworkers I hate sanding. So after having read countless articles on the subject that say you can almost totally do away with sanding by using a card scraper I decided I'd take this path. The key word above however is the "almost". Because the sides and back of this case are frame and panel construction, I had to be very careful to get away from making cross grain scratches with my card scraper. So after having scraped the thing prior to assembly and then spot scraped after assembly to make sure all the joints are flush etc, I spent about another 3 hours hand sanding with 180 grit and suing steam to get rid of any dings etc that tend to show up during assembly. Of course the second I put a stain on the thing, I find all kinds of cross grain scratches, dents etc. It's enough to drive you crazy. So after sanding off the trouble spots and restaining all went well.
The second thing I read decided to try was to use a glossy sheen for the first two coats of polyurethane and then apply the satin sheen for my last coat. The logic behind this is that this type of finish is naturally glossy. Silica is added to the glossy to turn it into a satin. If you can imagine tiny little grains of sand inside the finish reflecting the light in different directions you can see how this would work. If you apply satin finish for all coats, you are hiding a little bit of the wood on each coat. So by doing it the way I did it you theoretically get the best of both worlds. This seems to work quite well but as you can probably tell in the photo the nightstand is a bit shinier than the bed. In retrospect, I should have placed a second coat of satin on it to dull it down a bit to match the bed. I think I'll do that as soon as my wife isn't looking!
This project gave me my first experience hand cutting dovetail joinery for the drawers. As you can see from the picture, they turned out pretty good. There are tons of online articles on this subject but I'd like to make a couple of comments regarding my experience in the hopes of helping along other first time dovetailers.
1. Every article I've ever read about drawer construction says "make your drawer front 3/4" thick and use 1/2" thick material for the sides and back. This is a big pill to swallow when you're planing 1" thick material down to 1/2". It's natural to think " hey if 1/2" is strong. then 3/4" is even stronger!" However, when you cut your drawer sides the extra thickness amplifies and error you make with the saw. I cut my tails first and then transfer the outline of the tails onto the pin board using an Xacto knife. When you do this you're marking on the hidden side of the board not on the show side so you have make sure your cuts are square.
2. Because I wanted to match the colour of the bed, I had to stain this project. I put alot of thought into how to treat the pins on the drawer front so that I had a nice contrast with the drawer sides. Finally I read an article by Jeff Jewitt in Fine Woodworking that explained what to do. First stain the drawer front and use a #2 or #4 artists brush to stain the pins. I used an oil based stain and had to be very careful not to put too much stain on the brush so that the oil didn't wick into the tail board. It's painstaking but it can be done. Then I applied one 2lb cut coat of dewaxed shellac to the whole drawer. This is the final finish for the inside of the drawer and I chose it because dewaxed shellac has the nice property of having no smell after about 1 hr of curing and is compatible with the polyurthane topcoat. The final step is to apply the wiping poly to the drawer front.