Making dresser drawers

(Seven-drawer dresser build, part 1)

Rachel wanted a bigger dresser to store stuff in. Dressers can be found for free from time to time, but they are usually banged up and ugly, not the right size, and most don't make very good use of the internal space for storage. So I'm building one.

The one I'm building is to be seven drawers high, and that takes up a lot of wood for the drawers. I had been picking stuff up off the curb that could be cut up into drawers, and I had enough wood without having to buy any.

Seven drawer fronts, seven backs, and fourteen sides cut out. The last two pieces glued together from scraps that weren't wide enough.

Dowel-tenon joints

First challenge: How to join the drawer sides to the front. I want the front of the drawer to extend past the sides to hide the drawer slides.

In better quality furniture, this joint is often made as a sliding dovetail joint, but it's hard to get it right, and the deep dovetail really weakens the drawer front.

Box joints are much stronger, but a box joint is not ideal this far from the corner. I have used box joints for this joint before, but it was a lot of work. Another super strong option, which I used for my tool stand drawers is a lot of narrow tenons. But again, lots of work. I figured I'd try fewer, larger tenons, and then I thought I might as well make them round, so I could drill holes instead cutting mortises.

To make the round tenons, I needed a template for my pantorouter. I cut out some circles with the bandsaw table at an angle to make some cones, then made a jig to sand them perfectly round on my disk sander.

These cone shaped templates are then screwed onto one piece of plywood to use as a template.

The template is then attached to the pantorouter. I designed it for 5/8" dowels with a 3/4" space between them so I could cut them with my 3/4" router bit.

But part-way through cutting the 14 joints, I realized I hadn't tightened the follower clamp, so it drifted and some of the tenons were under-sized. So I re-cut them all to 9/16" (14 mm). That's still larger than any dowel one would normally put into the 18 mm thick boards. But with the dowels cut from the board itself, I don't have to worry about whether there is enough wood around the dowels.

I very carefully measured the hole spacing on a piece of hardwood, then drilled it to use as a drill guide. I clamped that to the end of each board and drilled the holes.

I had to swing the drill press table out of the way, with just a corner reaching under the drill so as not to interfere with the clamps I used. That's why I don't use a fancy drill press table. Though in retrospect, if I used a wider piece of wood for the drill guide, I could have moved the C-clamps further away from where I drilled.

Box joints for the back corners

Next question: How to join the back corner?

I'd normally use my screw advance box joint jig for this, but having just recently made a box joint template for my pantorouter XL, I figured I might as well use that.

Here's my setup, with a sacrificial piece of wood above and below the workpiece to prevent tearout.

It's more intuitive to make the cuts from the top down, but cutting them bottom-up throws the shavings down instead. That makes for less of a mess around the machine, though I need to clean the shavings out from time to time.

Before assembling the drawers, I needed to cut a rabbet on the bottom edge of the front boards. The drawer bottoms will just glue flat on the drawers, visible from the side, but it goes in a rabbet on the front to hide it.

Normally, drawer bottoms are put in a dado, but by gluing them flat on, construction is simplified, and I get more space inside the drawers. The glue is as strong as the wood, so it's stronger this way because I get a better glue area and I don't have to weaken the sides with a slot.

Gluing the drawers together.

All seven drawers, without backs. They take up quite a bit of space!

Next, cutting the box joints in the back pieces...

... and gluing those in place.

Veneer for the drawers

I wanted some nice veneer for the drawer fronts. I had some pieces of an old mahogany desk top, which I picked up along with these antique drawers, from the garbage.

After cutting pieces to the right length, and cutting it apart where the boards were joined, I planed the pieces on both sides.

Then cut them to veneers, about 4 mm thick on my 18" bandsaw

The yield was not as good as I had hoped. Some of the boards had these slots cut in the bottom side, and a lot were joined edge to edge with dowels, which made for a lot of waste. The boards were not long enough for two drawer widths. With the poor yield, I figured I'd have to splice some pieces end to end to get enough material, so I also cut the shorter pieces into veneer while I was at it.

Re-gluing the pieces of wood to get pieces wide enough for the drawers.

The wood I used had finish on both sides, and wood glue won't stick to that. So I had to plane the front of the drawers to expose the bare wood. I used a hand plane for that, just to avoid planing too much material off the wood. That, and I wasn't sure if the varnish would dull the jointer knives. But I think I would have been ok, because it didn't dull the hand plane very fast. If you ever tried to plane white paint off a piece of wood, you will know what I'm referring to.

I also hand planed the bandsawed side of the veneers so that I'd have a flatter surface to glue to. It would not have been much more work to smooth it all the way.

I spread glue on the back of the veneer with a rubber spatula...

... and also on the front of the drawer, then placed the glued surfaces together.

A scrap of carpeting serves as a pad to get even pressure. I previously used towels for gluing thin layers and veneers on drawer fronts, but the carpeting is better because one layer is enough and I don't have to worry about ruining it.

A board on top of the carpeting spreads out the clamping force, then lots of clamps. Ironically, the board I'm using is from an old drawer!

Attaching the bottoms

Next, applying glue for the bottom. The bottom is glued straight on the edge of the drawers, except for the front, which has a rabbet cut into it (the front extends down a bit further than the rest of the drawer).

Brad nailing on a thin piece of plywood. The brad nails aren't ideal for holding thin plywood, but I'm mostly using them to hold it on while the glue dries. The glue is what makes it strong.

I was running out of scraps of thin plywood and paneling, so I made do with pieces that didn't cover the whole drawer.

I scraped the plastic coating off the paneling wherever it needed to be glued. Here, I'm applying glue to add a strip of plywood over the joint. I then put another piece of plywood on top of the strip and weighed it down while the glue dried.

Plugs for the screw holes

Some of the veneer had some screw holes in it. I have some plug cutters for making plugs to fill holes, but the smallest I have is 3/8" (10 mm), and I didn't want to drill that large a hole. So I made some 1/4" (6 mm) plugs on my pantorouter.

A scrap of wood with a 1/4" hole helps guide the drill. The point of the drill is where the old screw hole is, so it would wander if it wasn't guided.

Then some glue applied to the hole with a wooden splint, and tapping the plug in place.

I flush trimmed the plugs with a chisel.

Seven drawers complete. Next I need to build the body of the dresser. Hopefully, that will go a bit faster.

Next: Making the frame for the dresser

I was plaing around with a timelapse camera while making the drawers. So you can see all the action. But just straight up work is really not that exciting. If it's interesting, I shoot video of it.

Making drawers timelapse, part 1
Making drawers timelapse, part 2

Next: Making the frame for the dresser

See also:

Under bed drawers
(similar design)

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