The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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This Means Drawer!


With my Arts and Crafts inspired TV stand sitting proudly in the living room, performing it’s duty to the best of its ability, I decided to set my sights on making the two drawers that would finally, at long last, complete the project and lead me to bigger and better things, meaning the beginning of a new project. A warped side panel and a difficult glue-up left me with a piece of furniture very slightly out of square; it was an unfortunate side effect of the measures I had to take to get the case together. So first thing I did before measuring the drawer opening was check the divider for plumb. Of course it was off very slightly, less than a degree I would guess, but with the drawers being flush and inset I knew that it would be noticeable. Still, the dark color of the piece should do well to hide any minor gaps. I supposes I could have taken the easy way out and used drawer runners and an overhang drawer face, but I wanted to use through dovetails, and a flush drawer front with exposed joinery is much more “Arts and Crafts” in my humble opinion.  So with all of that in mind I got to work.
I started by cutting the drawer pieces to rough size. With good measuring and a bit of luck my left and right drawers were basically identical in size, so I was able to cut the stock for both drawers at the same time. My left drawer front measurement was just 1/32″ different from my right, so I cut the pieces to final length and laid out the pieces using a cabinet makers triangle. The triangle is just a simple marking system with shows the drawers front, back, and sides. It’s a very handy trick I learned at the  Acanthus Workshop. But this marking system is invaluable when laying out case parts that are going to be joined.

Cabinet Makers Triangle in action

After I had my drawer pieces laid out to my satisfaction I placed the first drawer front in my Moxon Vice and laid out the pins. I use a Veritas dovetail marker at a 1:6 ratio. Chuck Bender, the man who taught me to cut dovetails, insists that the ratio does not have to be exact as long as the angles don’t near the 45 degree area, which would basically weaken the joint. I use the marker for the consistent results, and because I like the angle that the 1:6 ratio produces. Because I don’t like laying out dovetails with mathematics (even though I must say that I did quite well in math at all levels of schooling) I use chisels to do the job. For this drawer front, which is just about 5 1/4″ wide, I used a 3/8″ chisel to mark the pins and an 1 1/4″ chisel to mark the tails. With a little fiddling I had dovetails that were symmetrical, at least enough for my needs.

I had always thought myself pretty clever for using chisels to lay out dovetails, until I later found out that this is a fairly common practice. I should have released that there generally isn’t much new under the sun when it comes to woodworking. But, I give myself a few points for doing it without being told. And it does a pretty nice job.
I saw dovetails pins first, so that is how I lay them out. I went for a layout with four pins and three tails. After adding the cut line with my marking gauge, I got to sawing. The Moxon vice worked well and made it a bit easier not only to saw, but gave my back a break as well. After sawing the pin kerf I cut out the waste with a chisel. I don’t use a coping saw like some do. I have nothing against using a coping saw, I just prefer using chisels for the job. I spent a bit more time than I would like sharpening my chisels for the task, but I knew it would be worth it when the time came.

With the pins cut I used them to mark the mating tails on the drawer sides. This is a straightforward operation and with care can be done fairly quickly and easily. The sawing went well and there was luckily very little trimming I had to do to get the drawers together. After I was satisfied I went to the router table and rounded over both edges of the sides of each drawer. I figured that this would help me with friction and make the drawer slide easier. After I reassembled the drawer and test fit it on the actual stand. I used a smoothing plane to fit the drawer front and after a few minutes of fitting, planing, and refitting, I ended up with a satisfactory fit. There are some minor gaps but nothing I can’t live with. The drawers were probably the most fun part of the build. Now all I need to do is apply the finish  and this piece will be finished..

Cut Dovetails

Finished drawer



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September 2012
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