Richard Jones' Chest of Drawers


Chest of Drawers
This graceful piece is an education in cabinet design and joinery.

by Richard Jones

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The first North American publication of (a version of) this article appeared in the April 2001 edition of WOODWORK magazine, 42 Digital Drive, Novato, CA. 94949   (415)382-0580
Thanks to John Lavine, editor of WOODWORK, for his cooperation regarding this online publication.]


1" = 25.4mm
1mm = 0.03937"

In this article, I highlight the following furniture design and making elements:
  • The design process, including a method for smoothly graduating drawer front height.
  • Cutting lists, materials selection and conversion.
  • Gluing the boards to make panels, and a method to attach the side panels to the legs to create a reveal.
  • The jig used for shaping the leg.
  • Finally, I round up the construction including a detailed drawer slide installation procedure.

    The Design Process
       I've been developing a range of furniture specifically for display in galleries and furniture shows, and this cabinet in American Cherry, Walnut, and Hard Maple is an example. Large pieces have their place in shows, but there are assembly, packing, set-up, and transportation considerations, and large items can dominate your space. Smaller furniture is easier to handle and arrange. Modestly sized pieces illustrate style and proficiency, are saleable, and can generate commissions. The leg style used was the design motif that inspired the piece, for this leg had already been used in tables and chairs, but this is my first use of it in a cabinet.
         Designing for shows is both liberating and restricting; you can make anything you like, but will anyone else appreciate it? In this case, apart from the leg form, there were no design limitations. It's often helpful to invent a realistic end use, perhaps a need of ones own to define the brief. This forces concentration on the job in hand and discourages flights of fancy which, if they occur, are filed in the 'for later' category. I didn't picture an end use here because the leg motif was so strong; I was designing for looks and would allow functionality to present itself.
    Richard Jones' Chest of Drawers

         General proportions were determined first, i.e., the width arbitrarily set at 610 mm (24") with the depth of 472 mm (18-9/16") eventually set by the requirements of the proprietary drawer slides, and the height of 1100 mm (43-1/4") chosen as 'attractive.' The inside face of the legs were kept straight to reduce drawer, or door, fitting problems. Doors were rejected, because without hinge limiters, opened doors would hit the leg. Drawers and/or tambour or a flipper were possible choices and drawers were finally chosen because people always welcome extra drawer space.
         With the broad parameters settled--a nest of drawers in a free standing cabinet--detailing was required. How many drawers, and how should they move? Hidden or exposed timber drawer dividers? Proprietary drawer slides? Planted or integral drawer fronts? Exposed dividers were ruled out to reduce the quantity of cluttered horizontal lines. Proprietary full extension drawer slides were chosen, selecting an Häfele Undermount type because they are quite inconspicuous and allow the drawer to fill most of the internal cabinet width. There are always arguments for and against proprietary slides, but I concluded they were a good choice here primarily because I wanted full drawer extension.

         The next choice is how many drawers to incorporate, and eight drawers were chosen, with the top drawer front 80 mm tall so that its bottom edge coincided with the legs shoulder. The choice was made to graduate the height of the fronts incrementally, each front a consistent amount narrower than the one below it. Various ways exist to do this, but I used the following method:

    1. Number of drawers = 8
    2. Top drawer front height = 80 mm.
    3. Every drawer front height must be > 80 mm, therefore calculate, 80mm X 8 = 640 mm.
    4. To find the incremental height increase of each drawer front, subtract this 640 mm from the vertical height available, i.e., 890 mm. Therefore, 890 - 640 = 250 mm.
    5. There are 28 equal increments [I] to divide into 250 mm (see table below.) Calculate, 250 mm / 28 = 8.928 mm. Each drawer front is approximately 9 mm taller than the one above, i.e., 80, 90, 98, etc.

      Finding the no. of increments (I)
      in a stack of drawers
      1st drawer = + 0 I
      2nd drawer = + 1 I
      3rd drawer = + 2 I
      4th drawer = + 3 I
      5th drawer = + 4 I
      6th drawer = + 5 I
      7th drawer = + 6 I
      8th drawer = + 7 I
      Total I (increments) = 28


    6. For all practical purposes the figure used is 8 mm ± to ensure a gap between drawers, i.e., starting at the top, 82, 88.5, 96, 105 mm etc., and these figures reflect the practical realities of production.
          If the incremental height increase had not suited, a drawer would have been removed or added, or the height of the top drawer front adjusted -- along with the leg shoulder -- and some recalculating done.

         The drawer sides are joined to the drawer fronts with sliding dovetail housings, and they're hand dovetailed to the back. To provide a drawer stop a 12 mm reveal (rebate, US rabbet) at the joint of the leg to the carcase side panel is incorporated. Other details include curved elements to complement those in the outside face of the leg; for instance, the bottom 100 mm or so of the legs inner face is also curved, and the bottom edges of the lower front rail, and the bottom edge of the panel sides. The top has a shallow bevel worked on the underside to show a slim edge, the front edge is gently radiused.
         Considering visible hardware requirements at the design stage is important; this prevents giving the impression that pulls are an afterthought. "Design from the handles back," to quote well-known designer Rupert Williamson. Early in the design process it was decided that proprietary pulls would be used, and a few possibilities selected. The choice was narrowed to one pattern, available in four colours, the final choice dependent upon the timber species used for the drawer fronts. They were selected to complement the curve above the high knee of the leg. Some flexibility at the design stage allows for small changes to be made in a pieces final appearance, the techniques used, and timber selection.
         The original design called for the carcase sides and bottom to be made of cherry veneered plywood, the bottom of a piece of 18 mm ply. The sides were to use the same 18mm ply, but it would be glued to two pieces of 6 mm ply to make 30 mm thick. Solid lipping front and back would hide the plywood edges. When it came to material selection in the workshop, the plan changed. There was plenty of solid stock on hand, and only a 28 X 12 mm back strip is needed as seen in the suggested alternative plywood version sketched, and this strip is needed to form a channel for the back panel. Veneered board often doesn't polish up the same as solid timber without staining, and tinting of the polish, which is another reason for not using it in the cabinet I made. (Click here to view the typical plywood construction details.)

    Page 1: Design
    Page 2: Cutting Lists
    Page 3: Building the Carcase
    Page 4: Shaping the Legs
    Page 5: Completing the Carcase
    Page 6: Drawer Work
    Page 7: Finishing
    Drawing 1: Front Elevation
    Drawing 2: Side Elevation
    Drawing 3: Plan View
    Drawing 4: Plywood Construction

    © Richard Jones, 2001. No part of this article
    --text, photographs, slides, sketches, working drawings, etc.--
    may be reproduced in any form
    without the express written consent of the author.