Drawer Making

Usual form of dovetailed drawer construction.

Except for cheap work the dovetailed drawer is the only form of construction worth considering. Its chief features are shown in Fig. 1, from which it will be seen that the sides are lap-dovetailed to the front and through-dovetailed to the back. Note that the pins at the front taper almost to a point giving a very neat appearance. Even in machine-made cabinet jobs the drawers are fre-quently hand-doveyiled in good-quality work.

Several features should be noted in the setting out. Since the front is grooved at the inside to hold the bottom the bottom front dove-tail must be low enough to contain it. Otherwise, if opposite the pin, it will show. The back rests above the bottom, and the lower square edge forms one side of the bottom pin. Grooved slips are glued to the sides to hold the bottom. This saves weakening the sides by grooving them, and they increase the bearing surface, so reducing wear. For the general run of drawers the fronts should be of 22mm stuff, the sides and back of 9.5mm wood and the bottom 5-6mm, though these thicknesses would have to be increased for really large drawers. In the latter case, when a drawer is over 61cm or so in length a center grooved rail or muntin should be fitted dove-tailed at the front and notched at the back. Owing to the difficulty of obtaining wood of suitable thickness, plywood is frequently used for sides and backs. It can be quite successful, though it may be necessary to make the dovetails rather coarser than when solid wood is used. This is specially the case when the fronts have to be in plywood. The fine pins would otherwise be liable to crumble.

Plywood or hardboard is generally used for bottoms as it is free from shrinkage. If solid wood is used it should project at the back so that in the event of shrinkage it can be unscrewed and pushed forward. In small drawers where every fraction of space is needed the bottom can be rebated. how the front is treated when cocked beads are required.
There are occasions when the drawer sides have to stand in from the ends, and it is then necessary to use the slot-dovetail joint. Sometimes just one end has to be slot-dovetailed, the other having normal dovetail joints.

For cheaper class work the simple joints are used. At the front are lapped joints, at the back grooves. Items such as painted kitchen cabinets frequently have this construction, but it is never used in good-class cabinet work.

Setting-out of drawer dovetails. Note that pins between front dovetails run almost to a point.

Making a drawer.

The stuff can be full in length full in width. Begin with the front, planing the bottom bottom extra width unnecessary if bottom is of plywood edge of this straight and square. Put a face mark. on it, and plane one end so that it makes a true fit against the side. If anything, the end can be planed a trifle out of square, small at the inside, so that it makes a slightly tapering fit. It should not be more than the thickness of a shaving. Holding the front in position, mark the other end and plane this to fit as before.

The top corners can be chiseled off to enable the plane to be used on the end grain without splitting out. Finally, the width is marked and the surplus planed away. If carefully done the front can be pushed in until it projects slightly. The procedure for the back is practically the same, but the width is reduced considerably. Remember that it stands above the bottom and is set down at the top.

The sides follow. About the same allowance in size is made. Plane the bottom edge true and make the front square with it. Each side should be marked R and L as shown in Fig. 9, so that it can be identified easily. Plane the back edges square, and place the two sides together to see that they are exactly alike in length.


Gauging for the dovetails follows. In order that the back may be positioned exactly, the gauge should be set to the drawer bottom slip from the bottom to the top of the groove. The back edge of the sides is marked with it.

Mark out the dovetails.

The two sides can both be sawn at the same time, or, if several drawers of the same size are being made, all can be cut together. The pins can be marked from the saw kerfs, putting the saw in each and drawing backwards, though many craftsmen prefer to use the marking awl. To avoid confusion it is a good plan to place the parts together loosely in the positions they are to occupy and mark the joining parts and so on, so that no mistake is made in marking out.

After chopping out the dovetails and pins, the groove in the front can be worked and the inside faces cleaned up ready for assembling. Do not hit the dovetails directly with the hammer when gluing as this will bruise the wood and probably cause splitting. Instead, place a block of waste wood over them and strike this. It is inadvisable to knock the joints together dry beforehand as it tends to loosen them. If the inner edges of the lap-dovetails are slightly chiseled off the parts will go together easily, and it will be simple to detect whether any parts need easing.

When cleaning up and fitting it is obviously important that the drawer is not racked about as this would break the joints.

  • Fitting of drawer front and sides. A order in which edges of front are planed; B front fitted. It just barely enters the carcass; C sides being fitted. Note order in which edges are planed.
  • Sawing several sides at same time. Be careful to stop at the gauge line.
  • Supporting drawer frame when planing. Rear dovetails are planed at an angle A so that the plane can be taken right through.

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