Tag-Archive for ◊ high-end drawers series ◊

• Friday, October 09th, 2009

Making a drawer handle is a fun opportunity for creativity, but it ought not make a dissociated statement of its own. The handle should be consistent with the design of the whole piece while providing an interesting accent. I like a pull that is inviting to gently grab, yet is sturdy. For contemporary work with graduated-size drawers, commensurately graduated handle sizes may be a nice touch. I usually choose dark, dense, exotic woods for handles.

As I stated in the first installment of this series: “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.”

I think the mystique surrounding drawer making is exceeded in woodworking only by finishing and chair making. I suggest forget that cloud of doubt. Crafting a nice drawer shares principles common to all woodworking:

  • understand the logic of the process
  • be exact, or perhaps more realistically, stay on the correct side of tolerance in the critical parts
  • try to be at ease in your work.

Believe me, these drawers are not perfect; no one’s are! I do, however, try to work at a level where I can enjoy the process and the product, and forgive little imperfections.

I wish you enjoyment and success in your woodworking.

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• Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Hopefully, the drawer will close with the front even all around with the edge of the opening. If not, now is the time to correct this by planing. Soften corners to your preference. Cut a substantial chamfer on the top of the entering edges of the sides.

Closing stops can be installed at the front of the frame to contact the back surface of the drawer front below the drawer bottom. The strongest designs are those mortised into the frame. This generally requires the foresight to make the mortises before assembling the frame. (No comment.) They can also be glued, screwed, or even mortised to the frame near the end of construction, though less conveniently. To ease installation, it is helpful to design the stop with an abutting placement, such as against the back edge of the divider. The photo above shows a simple drawer stop design that hooks over the divider and is screwed to the back of it. The small undercut chamfer, visible at the front of the stop, facilitates fine trimming with a shoulder plane after assembly.

For all but the smallest drawers, two stops are best to create an unambiguous closure across the full width of the drawer. Since the drawer is then in a good, neutral position, it will be easy to open without jamming. I prefer the front face to be a hair inside the edge of the housing.

Alternatively, closing stops can be placed at the back of the case on the runners.

Outgoing stops are optional. A simple, effective design is a small piece of wood, screwed to the back of the drawer divider, which contacts the back of the drawer on its way out, yet can be rotated 90 degrees to let the back pass by to remove the drawer. (You know, to show your woodworking friends.)

I like to bevel the bottom edge of the front of a flush fit drawer to prevent it from rubbing the bottom of the drawer frame. (The drawer is upside down in the photo below.) This way the drawer will run only on its sides. On very small drawers, it may look good to match this gap to the one at the top of the front.

The front is finished to match the outside of the piece. For the sides and back and bottom, think “less is more.” Personal preferences aside, there are a few points to keep in mind: avoid perpetually smelly oil finishes on the inside of the drawers or case, finish the bottoms before assembly, and avoid any film finish on the outside of the side pieces. A light coat of wax on the sides’ outer surfaces and bottom edges will help produce pleasant drawer action.

Next: getting a handle on it and closing thoughts for the series

• Tuesday, September 08th, 2009

Solid wood drawer bottoms are the primary topic of this discussion and are used in this project. However, plywood also deserves consideration as a good quality option. Stable, strong, and easy to prepare, thin hardwood plywood is readily available in many species and thicknesses with flatsawn and quartersawn face veneers. The laminate edges will not be visible except at the back. I do not think plywood bottoms, skillfully and tastefully employed, diminish the quality of a “high-end drawer” in modern furniture.

The thickness of a solid wood bottom should be commensurate with the overall size of the drawer, the load it is expected to bear, and the strength of the chosen species. The Port Orford cedar bottoms of these fairly small drawers are slightly over 5/16″ thick, while those for a chest of drawers might be ½” thick. Gluing up thin stock presents special issues which have been discussed in two earlier posts. Quartersawn wood is preferable because of its resistance to cupping.

The grain runs along the width so this dimension will be stable through the seasons, preserving the critical fit of the drawer width in its housing. The panel is raised on the outside (underneath) face, here with a simple square-edged field, to create 1/4″ thick tongues to fit in the grooves, keeping a small border of consistent width along the two sides and the front. Many woodworkers prefer a flat-beveled or coved panel. The bottom can be sized to leave a very tiny gap at the base of the grooves in the sides to avoid distorting the drawer when sliding the bottom in place.

Now we must deal with seasonal changes in the front-to-back dimension (across the grain) of the drawer bottom. Calculate rather than guess the amounts. Unless you are working on the driest day of the year, the bottom must extend beyond the back of the drawer. To accommodate seasonal movement, screws pass through open-end slots in the bottom and thread into the back. Make the slots long enough and locate the screws to allow for the largest dimension on the most humid day, but don’t make the slots so long that they will be visible from the inside of the drawer on the driest day. It usually helps to have a thick drawer back and to locate the screws toward the outer surface of the drawer back. (Since I have experience messing up this last detail because I didn’t think it through, I feel compelled to warn you.) Here I used practical washer head screws, but you may prefer the look of a flat head screw in a tapered-rim slot.

I think it is best to lightly glue the front edge of the bottom into the groove in the drawer front (only!) so all of the movement “collects” at the rear of the drawer. I use hide glue for this since its reversibility will come in handy if a damaged bottom ever needs repair or replacement.

For drawers that are very shallow (front to back), it is often possible to simply cut the bottom flush, screw it to the back without slots, and make the groove in the front deep enough to accommodate all the movement that will collect at the front end.

Next: final trimming, drawer stops, finishing.

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• Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Glue up in this method goes easily. No special clamping blocks are required; pressure can be applied directly to the sides with parallel jaw clamps because the surfaces of the tails are proud of the end grain of the pins. Blue masking tape applied to the inside surfaces will eliminate the unpleasant job of cleaning up glue squeeze out in confined areas. Use pinch rods to check the diagonals to ensure the drawer will be square.

After the glued assembly has cured, it’s time for the cool part. Plane the sides just down to the end grain of the front and back pins. This will allow the drawer to barely enter the housing, since the original fits of the front and, secondarily, the back, have remained unaltered during subsequent construction. A jig that is described in a previous post will greatly facilitate this planing.

At this point, I laminated the slightly oversized, slip-matched false fronts using plywood cauls, Unibond 800 glue, and more clamps than I probably needed. After drying, I sawed and planed them flush to the original fronts. Note again that the drawer making method described here will work equally well with regular fronts with lapped or through dovetails.

Check, and trim as needed, to ensure that the drawer lies flat, without twist. Now test the drawer to its opening, conservatively taking light shavings from the sides to get a sweet fit. Swish. It should fit neither like the glove on OJ, nor like your big brother’s boots. Consider the season in which you’re working, and remember that a few thin shavings make a difference. Experience has taught me that the sides do expand ever so slightly in humid weather, enough to bind a drawer that fit like a Ferrari piston in the dry season.

Trim the tops of the front and sides to create adequate clearance for seasonal change, allowing for the most humid time of the year. Keep the top of the front parallel with the top of the housing. Remember that, all else being equal, the gap at the top of a 6 inch high drawer will need to be about twice that of one 3 inches high. I use the Lee Valley Wood Movement Reference Guide, tempered with experience, to avoid stuck drawers during the dog days of summer.

Up next: down to the bottoms.

Category: Techniques  | Tags:  | 5 Comments
• Friday, August 21st, 2009

A full discussion of dovetailing is beyond the scope of this series, but here are several tips pertaining to drawer making.

Much of the success of dovetailing depends on accurately transferring the outline of the tails to the pin board (or vice-versa, if that is your preference). The bottom edges served as references when fitting the front and shooting the sides square, and continue that role as a heavy, flat board, squared to the front piece, aligns the sides to the front while marking for the pins.

Angles for short dovetails should be steeper than usual to improve their appearance and possibly their strength. The tails for these drawers are approximately 5:1 slopes. My usual ratio for medium to larger joints in hardwoods is 7:1.

Layout the joints so the groove for the bottom will be fully within the lowest tail at the front. At the back end, there is a large tail at the bottom which also fully contains the groove, while a tail at the top allows for a neat chamfer.

The grooves to fit the drawer bottom are cut after dry fitting the front and sides and ensuring that the reference edges (the bottom edges) are aligned. For these drawers, I made the grooves 1/4″ wide, barely 3/16″ deep, and 3/8″ away from the edges. Keep the grooves sufficiently shallow and away from the edges to avoid weakening the sides, though not so shallow as to allow the bottom to slip out if it distorts a bit.

Note that the bottom edge of the back piece does not end with a customary squared pin. The little shoulder below the lowest pin allows the bottom of that pin to have an angled surface which has contact through the full depth of the side piece. A squared pin lacks the added strength of the angle, and contacts the side piece only in the thickness remaining lateral to the groove depth.

I prepare the back piece slightly wide at its bottom, cut the joints, loosely dry-assemble the joints, then mark the back piece so I can plane it, after disassembly, to align with the top of the grooves. This method separates the process of dovetailing from aligning the bottom edge of the back with the groove, affording more control in workmanship, as well as making stronger joints.

Next: adding the false front and fitting the drawer. Stay with me, we’re getting to the cool part.