Bill Tindall, E.Tn.
There was a request earlier to explain drawer fitting. The advantage of a traditional drawer is that it can be fit. A well fit drawer is almost frictionless. It is a good exercise to learn to plane. Nobody should care if there is some tear-out on a drawer side and with practice there won't be.
Disclaimer: What I am about to describe is not just what I do, but what has been done for the last 250 years of traditional western drawer building, +/- some details that vary with cabinet maker. I have just copied what I have learned from other cabinet makers who are building traditional furniture.
Requirement for a drawer: To work smoothly and look attractive the drawer must fit well. The gap at each side must be attractively small and uniform for each drawer and the front flush with the case. To work smoothly throughout the seasons the height of the drawer must never become greater than the opening. To close smoothly the side and top clearance must be small, but not bindy.
Engineering: Drawer lumber changes height and thickness with the seasonal humidity. The length does not change. To close smoothly the drawer must not have excessive side play. About 1/16” or less total for the sum of both sides is ideal.
The bottom must be stiff enough to carry the drawer’s expected load. For a drawer to hold socks ¼” is plenty thick, but a coin collection might require 3/8”.
Drawers will wear. Worn drawer sides are trivial to fix, runners not. Hence, hard wood for runners (I use maple) and soft for drawer sides (I use poplar).
A drawer is simply a box dovetailed together with half blind dovetails at the front and full dovetails at the back, and a removable bottom that slides in from the back.
1. Making the drawer parts. Cut and fit the drawer front and back to the opening in the case. If the case opening is not exactly square, common, adjust the shape of the drawer front to have about a uniform 1/32” clearance on each side, and for now, 1/32” clearance on top. Repeat for drawer back, but allow 1/16” height clearance . Cut the ends of the sides exactly square and the height so the sides just slip into the opening with about 1/32” height clearance(to be adjusted later). Each side could be slightly different in height to just slip in with the desired clearance.
2. Either mill dadoes into the front and sides for the bottom to slip in or just the front if “slips” are to be used( as illustrated later). For a typical medium to large drawer the bottom of the dado will be 3/8 to 7/16” up from the bottom of the bottom of the drawer, depending on the expected load.
3. Dovetail the drawer box together, indexing off the bottom of the drawer parts. The drawer bottom must be in a plane (geometry) while the top is whatever it is needed to be to get the desired height clearance.
4. Before gluing the drawer together recheck the height fit for all the parts. Saw off the bottom of the drawer back so that the drawer bottom can be slipped in from the back. For example saw off ¼” plus 3/8” for a ¼” thick bottom located 3/8” up from the drawer bottom.
5. Apply glue to all the long grain surfaces. I use liquid hide for any joint that slides together. Yellow glue can be reversed exactly like hide glue and it can be reglued exactly like hide glue. However, hide has a much longer working time and it lubricates joints that slide together. Both these properties are helpful with assembling a drawer.
6. Bang the drawer together with a mallet. With a single clamp quickly go around the drawer twice squeezing the joints together from each direction. Wipe off excess glue from the outside of the joints with a damp rag! A layer of glue here could stick the drawer to the case in step 7. A sharp rap of the mallet will free it (in my experience).
7. Slip the drawer in place and locate the front flush with the case. Some thin shims or a putty knife may be necessary to hold the front in place while the back is centered in the opening by prying or shimming. Picture 1
8. When the glue has thoroughly cured, at least one day at a comfortable temperature and humidity, remove the drawer and clean up the sides with a hand plane Picture 2.
9. If the drawer is bindy on the top, plane to where it isn’t. Picture 3. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until the drawer slides effortlessly into the case.
10. With a thicker drawer side, leading to a heavier drawer, dadoes can be milled into the sides to accept the bottom. Or slips can be glued to thin sides to provide these dadoes. Picture 4.
I mass produce slips to reduce labor making them. The ¼” thick board shown in Picture 4 makes installing them quick and reliable. They are installed oversized and planed flush with the drawer bottom.
11. Finally the drawer bottom is slipped in from the back as shown and secured with a screw in a slot to enable seasonal dimension changes. Picture 5
12. Drawer stops are easily installed before the bottoms are permanently installed. Position the drawer flush with the front and apply a ¼” tall small block against the back of the drawer front with a rub joint onto the divider. I later add two brads to secure the stop.