Archive for ◊ July, 2009 ◊

Author:
• Sunday, July 26th, 2009

There are so many ways to make drawers that a book would be the right medium for a comprehensive discussion of the topic. This introduction begins a series of posts, not likely to be contiguous, which will focus on one method for high quality, fairly small size drawers suited for a craftsman’s best projects.

Sometimes I wonder why we woodworkers bother with the niceties of fine drawers. I still warmly remember the hectic weeks with a newborn baby in a new house when I stole any minutes I could to build a large tool cabinet for my new shop. Six drawers, nothing too pretty: rabbeted plywood, bottoms running side-hung in dadoes, glue, screws, and feeling tired but happy. Now more than two decades, college expenses, and a lot of woodworking later, they still run smoothly. It would be nice if everything worked this well.

Nonetheless, at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum it is certainly possible to combine function with beauty. A logical process, with special attention paid to the critical junctures, will produce enduring, exquisite drawers. This series is based on traditional methods, but I will feature some modifications that I use because they make sense.

This is not the only way to make fancy drawers, nor do I propose it as the “best” way because that judgement depends on function and aesthetics which are ultimately the provinces of each craftsman for each project. For making high-end drawers, as with almost all of my woodworking, I employ machines and hand tools, though the latter predominate and certainly are used for the precision steps.

The next post in the series will address the fine points of case construction with regard to drawer fitting.

Author:
• Saturday, July 11th, 2009

And the winners are . . . end mills! Here’s why.

I do most of my mortising with my trusty Elu 3338 plunge router, currently available as the DeWalt 625, in conjunction with various jigs, most involving a template guide riding in a slot. In the past, I used solid carbide upcut spiral router bits with generally good results, though I often encountered two problems.

First, 1/4″ and 3/8″ spiral bits are usually sold with cutting lengths of 1″ and 1 1/4″, respectively. I often want to make mortises deeper than that. Second, 1/4″ and 5/16″ diameter bits, especially some rare, long-length, HSS versions, will sometimes vibrate in the cut and produce steps on the mortise walls. Even a 3/8″ bit may be made with a surprisingly thin web at the core of the spiral which can cause the bit to flutter when cutting dense woods.

I like standard, four-flute, center-cutting, single end mills in uncoated solid carbide with a plain shank and a 30-degree helix. These are available in longer overall lengths with longer cutting lengths than router bits, thus allowing deeper mortising. I find the cutting action of these four-flute end mills has less vibration and is smoother and more balanced than that of router bits. This results in cleaner mortises. Furthermore, these end mills are generally less expensive than comparable router bits.

The photo at top shows, from left to right, 1/4″ and 3/8″ upcut, solid carbide router bits, and 1/4″ and 3/8″ end mills. The 3/8″ end mill is 4″ long with a cutting length of 1 3/4″. The router bits tend to strain in the cut whereas the end mills purr like a sports car. The mortise pictured below is 3/8″ wide, 2 3/8″ long, 1 1/2″ deep and was cut in bubinga, a dense wood, with the bit at the right in the top photo. The walls are very clean and true.

The disadvantage of an end mill is that the cutting diameter equals the shank diameter. Therefore, I usually mortise with a 1/4″ or 3/8″ end mill using a router collet of the same size for each. A 5/16″ end mill can be used with a shank adapter though I prefer to avoid these adapters. When mortising with end mills, just as with router bits, it is good practice to cut the mortise in small depth increments, always listening to and feeling the feedback from the machine and adjusting your technique accordingly.

Sources for end mills are industrial supply houses such as MSC, Enco, McMaster-Carr, and Grizzly. It will take a while to go through their catalog algorithms or directly study their catalog pages but these are good ways to learn about this type of tooling. The upgrade has been worth it for me.

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