• Wednesday, May 05th, 2021
wooden drawer handle

Here are some thoughts on handle design that I hope you will find useful for your work.

We experience several aspects of woodwork at once – design, spatial sense, texture, color, sound, smell, style reference, etc. A hand-friendly handle can be a significant addition.

Exotics such as the Macassar ebony, above, are my favorites for handles. They finish beautifully and wear well. Note the stand out from the surface of the piece. This avoids finger grime from building up on the surface of the woodwork.

I almost always want a shape that is directly consistent with the design of the piece. In fact, the curves and proportions of the piece tell me how to shape the handle. I rarely want to introduce a new theme in the handle, though that might work more often for designers more talented than I.

The cabinet handle below is shaped much like the cabinet itself. The hard edges on the top will not be grabbed but the hard edges on the sides have a nice feel, especially since the sides are undercut. 

wooden cabinet handle

Below, the very simple small chest handle in wenge is in keeping with the simple design of the piece that relies mostly on the beauty of the wood, pleasing proportions, and the joinery for interest. The underside of the handle is slightly hollowed to make for a nice finger grab.

wooden box handle

Below, this wall shelf with a side-hung drawer has so much going on with the wood species and figure, plus the undulating surface on the drawer front, that any further statement from the handle would be too much. The simple brass knob fits the bill.

metal drawer handle

This drawer handle, below, in Honduras rosewood, borrowed shamelessly ripped off from a design by Michael Fortune, also fits with the gradual curves of the cabinet. (Hey, I did add the bowed front, which made it a lot more difficult to make.) Speaking of “borrowing,” I will be nothing but flattered if you borrow any of my designs shown here.

wooden drawer handle

The length and bulk of the handles are graduated to be consistent with the graduation in drawer sizes. Yes, that took a lot more work.

graduated drawer handles

Lee Valley offers graduated-size metal handles in a variety of finishes.

graduated size knobs

Finally, sometimes it is fun to introduce something different, such as these manufactured handles, which have been on my tool cabinet for a very long time. 

metal cabinet handles

Give it a try – enjoy enhancing your work with custom handles. Keep in mind too, that thoughtfully selected manufactured handles also can go a long way to add to your woodwork.

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4 Responses

  1. 1

    I made a table with curved edges and formed the handles to mirror the curved edges of the top. I was astonished at how much of a difference adding a bevel to the handle underside made in the functionality of the handle. I wouldn’t describe it as more “comfortable” with the bevel, but remarkably easier to hold on to while pulling out the drawers. I prototyped an unbeveled handle and also a handle that had bevels on the top and bottom, and adding the top bevel made very little difference (and made the handles look more different from the tabletop). With just the bottom bevel I can pull out a drawer with just fingers under the handle, without closing my thumb onto the pull.

    Pictures of the piece here:

  2. 2

    Thanks, Adrian! That is a great example of developing a custom handle by not only appearance but also by feel. Further, the handle designs elegantly integrate with the rest of the piece – a beautiful and practical table. I love the mahogany base with the bookmatched Claro top.

  3. 3

    Hi Rob-

    I thought I was the only one with the gecko and lizard handles on my tool cases. I bought them for my grand kids. They were not enthused. Oh well.

    — Steve.

  4. 4

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks. Yea, and when I open my tool cabinet to start work, the handles remind me to not be too solemn about the whole thing.