Olly Writes

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Drawer Construction

There are several different ways to construction a traditional drawer, which most commonly involves cutting hand-dovetail joints; usually single-lap or “half-blind” dovetails where the sides meet the front, with through dovetails at the back – although, I’ve also seen people use a sliding dovetail housing, for the rear joint. While this joints offer strength beyond the sole reliance on the adhesive used, they are time-consuming to cut and, if you’re working to a commission, it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to cut the cost down on a large chest of drawers, for example. Even with a time-saving router jig; unless you buy the very best, you’re going to end up limited to cutting pins and tails of equal width – just as you might find in a mass-produced piece of furniture! 😛

So, I’d like to take a little time to talk about drawer construction and to share with you this method of “efficient” joint design that I’ve recently come up with…

Okay, so, it’s probably wrong for me to claim this idea as ‘my own’, as I’ve certainly seen very similar ideas mentioned elsewhere and it is possible that I’ve seen this very design in another source but, I’ve purely forgotten where or when!

This is about being able to make a drawer quickly, but also one that shouldn’t fall apart if it’s slammed shut. For me, the most important joint of any drawer seems to be the joint used where the sides meet the ends of the front. When I’m thinking about joint details and construction like this, I always ask myself what would happen if the glue failed or if the adhesive wasn’t there… The last thing you’d want is for your client to open drawer, several years down the line; only to find the drawer front comes away in their hands!! That’s why I’m proposing this ‘lock’ or configured ‘lap’ joint, which offers a good amount of glue surface with all the grain fibres overlapping, and it is inherently stronger than a rebated butt joint.

Joint between Front and Sides.

Although I’ve drawn the above front as one full thickness, and jointed it accordingly, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t create the joint with timber one-third thinner and then restore the full thickness again with a ‘false’ front, glued and screwed on after. I’m not sure whether there is already a router cutter available that would cut this joint in one go. Admittedly, you would have to make several cuts here to complete the joint but, in a batch-operation, I still believe you would save a lot of valuable time against cutting dovetail joints.

False Front Method

This is actually very similar to a popular method used to construct drawers where the front ‘overlays’ the frame of the carcase, as opposed to being inset inside an opening. A simple drawer box would be constructed to fit inside the opening (perhaps, even, using through dovetails at both ends), with the false front to be glued and screwed on after, overhanging the edges where necessary.

A similar joint could also be used at the rear of a drawer except, here, I’ve bough the back in by an extra 6mm, to add some more strength to that otherwise very weak and frail section at the back-end of each drawer side. The downside is that, where drawer backs often finish slightly lower than the front and sides (to prevent binding and catching), you would end up with a slight gap (both above and below) where the groove is cut continuous across the with of the timber. Of course, you could work out a method for cutting stopped grooves, but then, that could affect the speed of the making process, as two sides of a drawer are opposites, not identical.

Joint between Back and Sides.

I don’t know why this has suddenly come in to my sub-conscious, as I don’t have any commissions coming up where I could use this and it’s been over a year since I made my first chest of drawers in pine, for a friend (and those were all hand-cut, I should add, as I wasn’t charging for my time!). At some point, I’ll have a rummage around and see what scraps I can find to produce something like this and how effective it is compared with spending £400+ on a top-of-the-range dovetail jig. Unless, of course, a job comes along where someone requires a series of drawers, all made to within a low (but reasonable) budget… 🙂

All comments and opinions are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

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One response to “Drawer Construction

  1. Lazy Larry 29/08/2010 at 11:50

    I have never tried this joint but have seen it on lots of nice furniture… I prefer dovetails.. and have a Leigh D4R … makes variable spaced dovetailed drawers fast and repeatable for production runs…

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