Bedroom Chest: Drawers

I had special wood selected for the drawer fronts, but before I could start work I needed to select material for the drawer sides. I hunted through my lumber pile and found some cherry that seemed like it might work. It was lumber I originally mail ordered for the file cabinet 20 years ago that was warped. By the time I got the boards flat it was about the right thickness for drawers.  I think it’s a little funny that I have cherry as the secondary wood on drawers: I suspect it’s not very common. 

The next step was to cut the grooves for the drawer bottom and the side rail. The drawer bottom groove (not shown) was easy to cut using my plow plain, but the side rail groove was more troublesome because it was in the middle of the board.  The plow plane fence doesn’t reach, and if it did it seems like it would be awkward.  I cut it using my dado plane.

Cutting the groove for a side hung drawer using a dado plane.

Once the grooves were cut, the dovetailing could begin. I used the “blue tape trick”. I wonder how many so-named tricks exist. I know two for dovetails. This trick is a variation on the rabbet trick for dovetail alignment. Instead of cutting a rabbet you lay down blue tape on the tailboard. You do it carelessly so the tape covers over the gauge line. Then you use your marking gauge to cut away the tape at the gauge line, and this gives a tiny little edge from the tape, which is remarkably effective at aligning the tailboard onto the pinboard for marking. You can simply press the tailboard up against the pin board and get it perfectly aligned. This was definitely the easiest scheme I’ve ever used for performing the marking.

Blue tape on the tailboards for execution of the blue trick for marking the pinboard from the tailboard.

On to the dovetailing. I laid out the dovetails so that the pin on the drawer front (top in the picture) blocks the slot cut on the side. This creates an elegant built-in drawer stop. After laying out the front I transferred the layout to the back as well, and then cut the joint on all four corners of the two large drawers. Only after I had the tails all cut did I realize the problem.

It’s going to be hard to slide this drawer onto its side rail.

Because I unthinkingly transferred the marks from the front to the back the drawer has a “stop” at both ends, which means it will be impossible to slide it onto the side rail. Oops. I had to cut out the pin at the back end. I sawed the sides and tried cutting with a chisel, but could not avoid a lot of tearing out of the wood. My second attempt using the router plane was slower, but produced a better result.

Cutting out the tail using a chisel produces a terrible surface on the end grain.
Using the router plane to do the job gives a much better result.

I didn’t make the same mistake on the small drawers. I laid out the back joint separately. I tried making the pins as narrow as possible. I didn’t find the narrow pins to be any more difficult to cut that larger pins, though I did find that I really needed to use my thin bladed Veritas chisel, which seems to be a discontinued item. I wonder if anybody else sells a chisel with a thin blade like this.

Normal 1/2″ chisel at the top. The Veritas thin chisel at the bottom.
Small drawers, front dovetails, with fat pins.
Small drawers, with thin pins.

After the drawers were finished I found that the biggest ordeal was mounting the side rails so that the drawers would move well and were located in the right position as viewed from the front. Very slight changes in the rails would change the gaps around the drawers. I drilled and filled the mounting holes many times before getting a result that seemed acceptable. I’m not inclined to make side hung drawers again. Here’s an example of a crooked gap, where the space between the two drawers is visibly much smaller on the left than on the right.

Uneven gap between the top and bottom drawers.

Here are the little drawers in their final configuration (after more filling and drilling).

The two center drawers in their final configuration.

I felt like I had created too much vertical space for these drawers. I’m never quite sure how much space I need, but the shop is a humid environment, so the drawers will probably shrink, making the gaps even bigger.

Cabinet with all of the drawers inserted.

The project is nearly done. All that remains to be done is the installation of the back, the shelf pin holes, and the finishing of the case. The drawers are already finished, and I do wonder if the large drawers are going to look odd because they are so light. I used shellac on the drawers and door panels but Polyx on the door frames. The Polyx evidently darkens the maple more than the shellac, because the panel rails are the same wood as the much lighter drawer fronts.

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