Chris Schwarz, Drawer Contstruction, Scott Meek, Tool Cabinet and Surround
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New Tool Cabinet: Building the Drawers, Part 1

I read The Anarchist Tool Chest by Chris Schwarz and liked it. I finished his landmark book more than a year ago and after taking it all in, I decided to focus on developing a set of quality joinery techniques which I would then continue to use and perfect. I bought a fence to help me easily make mortises with my router (the mortise = the difficult step in making a mortise and tenon joint). Of course, Mr. Schwarz would cut a mortise by hand, but I think adopting mortise and tenon joinery vs. pocket screws would make him happy; even if I use a router. And, after using pocket screws extensively on this project, I am not inclined to use them this extensively ever again.

For drawers, my preference, at least for now, is making the corner joinery using dowels. I am certain there are woodworkers who would tell me that creating dovetails for drawers is just as fast and easy. I’ll bet they would be right given enough time to get good at cutting dovetails (and the hard part, the mating sockets). Why not just take the time to master the dovetail joint now? Well…

After making the first drawer for my new tool cabinet, I was impressed by the strength of the dowel joint. When two boards can stay joined without the assistance of cured glue, that strikes me as good joinery. I first saw this type of joint in Fine Woodworking and have seen photos of it only a few times since then. I have used dowels this way with two previous projects without a hint of joint failure. The dowel drawer joint is about as simple to make as can be; the only thing easier would be using nails or screws. When using dowels of a contrasting color, the dowel drawer joint looks good and most people would be content with the look of quality this joint imparts. But in short, this joint is simple to make, fast and strong. All of these attributes are important to me about now.

And so, that is the topic today: drawer construction using dowels. But there is a little more to it because for the first two drawers, I am using somewhat expensive under-mount, full extension, soft close drawer slides – approximately $38.00 per pair. This is a first for me and there is a little more to consider as I build these two drawers. The drawers must fit the slides just right. The drawer parts go like this – 3/4″ pine for the drawer fronts and backs, 1/2″ red oak for the sides. The bottom is 1/4″ home center plywood (which means I don’t know what this material really is). Later, I will add a figured wood drawer face to the boxes. Here is a photographic journey through the process…

The drawer box components cut to size minus the plywood bottom.

The drawer box components cut to size minus the plywood bottom.

Room for the drawer bottom - a 1/4" slot, 1/2" in from the bottom edge.

Room for the drawer bottom – a 1/4″ slot, 1/2″ in from the bottom edge.

Drilling for dowels.

Drilling for dowels.

In the pic above, I have two mating boards securely clamped to my twin box beam assembly table. I want these boards positioned just right so the dowels align properly and nothing moves while I drill the holes.

An unexpected issue.

An unexpected issue.

Please note in the photo above a little problem. When deciding the position of the 1/4″ cherry dowels, I decided to make them off-center. On the ends of the boards above, the dowels are at the most 1/16″ off-center, positioned towards the inside of the drawer box. When driving these dowels all the way in, the pressure from glue being in the dowel hole caused some splitting and then some glue leaking out. This was a minor problem I will attempt to correct for in the second drawer.

Glue-up; note the dowels.

Glue-up; note the dowels.

Adding mounting clips to the drawer bottom.

Adding mounting clips to the drawer bottom.

Trimming the dowels via a pull saw and a block plane.

Trimming the dowels via a pull saw and a block plane.

Eliminating scratches.

Eliminating scratches.

On occasion, I can get some scaring when using my pull saw. To prevent this, I have used blue tape in the past, but this time I decided to drill a 1/4″ hole in a business card. Then I simply slipped the dowel through the business card. Worked pretty well.

A completed drawer side after sanding.

A completed drawer side after sanding.

Close-up on dowels.

Close-up on dowels.

Getting ready to mount the drawer on the slides.

Getting ready to mount the drawer on the slides.

Success!

Success!

Once drawer completed, only 10 more to go.

One drawer completed, only 10 more to go.

In the pic above you can see that I have the components formed for the second drawer, so I’ll continue to make progress in the coming week. Also, now that the first drawer is built, I can make a couple of minor adjustments to the second drawer; mostly concerning how the drawer connects to the expensive drawer slides. This first drawer is about 3/8″ too long. I made an adjustment to the plastic orange and black clips seen earlier in this post, but I know on drawer #2 to make it a little smaller. One other thing I may do is switch from 1/4″ plywood to something thicker like 3/8″. The plastic clips attach with screws and the screws I am using protrude through the drawer bottom a little. But, I may just use 1/4″ plywood and file the little protrusion down. Oh, and the drawer slides’ soft close feature is pretty cool.

Just in case you want to know, including the drawer slides, the red oak, pine and plywood, each of the lower two drawers will cost nearly $85.00 to make. I bought 1/2″ thick hobby red oak and a 1/4 sheet of 1/4″ plywood. It seems everything costs more when you buy the stuff already cut down to a smaller size.

GREAT NEWS TODAY – I saw on Instagram where Scott Meek had some prototypes of his upcoming hand plane kits available at a reduced price. My wife and I love to vacation in Asheville, North Carolina. Last summer, I spent several hours in Scott’s workshop taking a sharpening class from him. I was showing this plane kit to my wife who remembered me visiting Scott. She says, “You should buy one.” Done. Scott only had three prototypes available, but I was one of the lucky ones to buy one. So, at long last, I will soon have a Scott Meek wooden body hand plane. I am not really sure what size it. Looks like a jointer plane which I already have one, but you never know when you will need two.

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Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).

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10 Comments

  1. The drawers are looking great. Dowel joints are plenty strong but gluing them can be tricky. You need a shallow groove or two along the length of the dowel to allow air and glue to escape. Then drive them slow to allow the escape to happen.

  2. I think the through dowels look great! Anyone who has actually worked with dowels know they present their own set of challenges in spite of being considered “easy” to use. Craftsman figure out ways to make it look easy πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Art. I agree; the dovetails look fine and they work well. I’ll be needing more dowels to get through the remaining 10 drawers.

  3. Pingback: New Tool Cabinet: Four More Drawers Finished | Jeff Branch Woodworking

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