Coffee Table: Drawers

Small Drawers

For the two little drawers I decided that 1/4″ thick bottoms would be plenty thick enough.  I planned to plow 1/8″ grooves to hold the bottoms. To actually make the bottoms I found a 9″ wide offcut to resaw into thirds, and then plane down to the desired thickness. However, when resawing I had some trouble controlling the work on the second cut because I was worried about safety. I guess I needed a featherboard or something to hold the work onto the fence. The result was a rather uneven cut. I tried to clean it up a bit with the jointer plane at the bench, and there I discovered that it is not possible to plane material this thin. It would just flex away from the plane, and I couldn’t find a workable way to support it in the center. So I just passed it through the planer and hoped for the best. Final thickness ended up below 1/4″ with various parts of the material unusably thin, but I had enough material for the bottoms.  Planing a bevel on three sides so the bottoms would fit in the groove was easy with a block plane.

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The right side of the stack looks good, but the left side has some problems.

For these very small drawers I adopted the approach of having a half-tail at the bottom to capture the groove.  dsc00959_smAfter the drawers were glued together I decided to add a divider to one of them.  This would have been easier before the glue-up!  I used the Lee Valley router plane with the blade pointing sideways, but it turns out that in this configuration you have to extend to blade at least an inch, so I had to use it on top of a spacer block.

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I cut this groove with chisel and router plane after the drawer was already glued together.

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Here is the divider slipped into its groove (shown from the drawer bottom).

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Finished drawer with its divider.

These small drawers are set into the face of the low front apron.  I found it challenging to cut the openings for these drawers with hand tools.  I cut the openings with a jigsaw as straight as I could along my lay out lines.  But then I needed to clean up the edges to make them perfectly straight.  After struggling with planes that wouldn’t fit in the opening or all the way to the edge, a friend suggested using a guide block and chisels.  This worked reasonably well.  The result isn’t really pretty, but it’s hidden by the drawer.  Some people make drawers like this by ripping the apron on the table saw and re-gluing, which guarantees a grain match.  I had to pick out material from elsewhere on the board, but the match is pretty good:

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Can you find the drawers?

dsc00561_smThe handles are made from claro walnut and are curved to match the tabletop.  I cut a bevel on the underside to make them easier to grip.   I had originally thought I would just glue them on to the drawer front, but after my problems keeping the shelf aligned during glue up, I decided that would be a mistake.  So I used 1/4″ dowels to align the joints.  It was tricky to get clamps to secure the curvy part , so I am really glad I made that decision.   The finished drawers with handles are a bit easier to find:

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Big Drawers

The big drawers move on a center mounted wooden rail.  These drawers are short and I anticipate that they will be opened from the side, so I wanted a method that would control racking.  I followed  a Fine Woodworking article that specified a 1/2″ thick rail, so I needed a large space underneath the drawer.  Therefore I used a half pin and put the drawer groove in the tail above it.

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Half blinds in the front, with a half-pin at the bottom this time.

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The back is above the drawer bottom, so no pin at the bottom, just a big half-tail. Otherwise you get a space as seen at the top.


When it came to fitting these drawers I discovered a problem: I needed to plane down one of the support rails by 1/32″ or maybe a bit more.   After some efforts with chisels I gave up and bought a bullnose plane.  I could not think of any other way to remove the material and end up with a flat surface.

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Here you can see the center rail that the drawer rides on, and the drawer with its mating guide installed:

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A neat thing about this design is that it has an integral stop: the back of the drawer front hits the front of the rail.  Unfortunately, I planed the drawer front to its nominal final size rather than leaving it a bit oversized to plane down, so in the end, the stop was in the wrong place.  My first thought was that there is a simple elegant fix: just pare the recess that holds the center rail so it can be mounted farther forward.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a way to do that without buying this, so instead I glued a small pieces to the back of the drawer front:

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The drawer front is upside down, with the mortise that receives the guide rail, and right at the top is that small spacer.

This picture shows the drawer from the underside, riding on its rail:

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Because these drawers are short, stops to keep them from coming out are essential, but I didn’t want stops that hang down or get in the way.   I decided to use an idea I saw in an article somewhere, with slight modification.  I tapped a hole in the side of the drawer, and installed a 1/4-20 machine screw.  This screw can be accessed from the inside of the drawer and when you screw it all the way in, the screw protrudes into the drawer cavity and it whacks into the leg, stopping the drawer from coming out.  I was thinking I might tack some leather onto the leg to make a slightly softer impact.

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Now the drawers are all running smoothly and I just need to make the handles for the big ones.

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