Is fitting drawers the best task in woodworking?

comments (4) March 10th, 2013 in blogs

AsaC AsaC, Contributor
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I think of fitting drawers as the dance of the handplanes. If they are sharp, it is a blast. Notice how I support drawer boxes for planing. Love that trick.
Tha payoff is unbelievable. You can get amazingly precise gaps around the sides and bottom. Dont fret about the front--Ill be laminating thick veneers onto those--an easy way to create half-blind dovetails and also get matching drawer fronts. And the extra gap on top is for summer expansion.
If you prefit your drawer front and drawer back for a snug fit in the drawer pocket, all youll have to do after dovetailing is knock off the squeezeout and level the slightly protruding pins, and the drawer will slide right into place.
My next step was to clean up the top and bottom edges of the drawer box, and make sure the box wasnt rocking and the drawer front was plumb in the drawer pocket.
Now the fun really begins, and your joinery changes from rough-looking to beautiful. I start on the drawer front, coming in from both sides so the end grain doesnt tear out.
Before plaing the sides, I put a fat bevel on the back edge to prevent tearout there. It also helps the drawer slide in smoothly.
Now you can plane the drawer sides from front to back for a perfect fit in the pocket. Here is a great tip: When you are arranging and marking your drawer parts, position the sides so the grain will be downhill at this point, for zero tearout.
The crowning touch is a few passes on the lower edge of the drawer front. Youll need a rabbeting or shoulder plane of some kind to cut this shallow step. This is a Lie-Nielsen block rabbet.
I think of fitting drawers as the dance of the handplanes. If they are sharp, it is a blast. Notice how I support drawer boxes for planing. Love that trick. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

I think of fitting drawers as the dance of the handplanes. If they are sharp, it is a blast. Notice how I support drawer boxes for planing. Love that trick.

Photo: Lucy Christiana

Fitting five drawers recently, planing each one for smooth action and perfect gaps all around, I realized that this is my favorite woodworking moment. Everything I've learned about making a square case, cutting good dovetails (on the tablesaw), honing blades and setting up handplanes comes together in a logical sequence of steps, all surprisingly easy. I'd like to know another woodworking task where the process is as fun and the payoff is as big--and you feel like such a magician!

Another way to look at it is that drawer-fitting is where you appreciate your handplanes most. You'll need at least two of them, a No. 4 (smooth plane) and a shoulder plane, but it is really nice to have a few others.

Personally, I use an old Stanley No. 4 to knock down the protruding pins and tails and the hardened squeezeout around them before switching to my treasured bronze Lie-Nielsen No. 4, set up very tight with a delicate camber on the blade for the final smoothing and adjustments.

You could also use a No. 4 to clean up the top and bottom of the drawer box, and make sure the drawer isn't rocking in its pocket, but I prefer the control of a block plane on those thin edges. I recently upgraded from a souped-up Stanley to a Veritas DX60. What a difference.

Once you have even gaps all around, the last step is to take a few passes on the lower edge of the drawer front. This prevents it from scraping, and also puts a nice fine gap there to match the ones on the sides.

Don't fret about the unfinished drawer front. I am doing my half-blinds by laminating a thick veneer onto the front and trimming it flush afterward, just like Greg Paolini did in his fantastic recent article on tablesawn dovetails. My only difference from Paolini is using a blade with the tips ground to my dovetail angle, like Steve Latta showed way back when.

So how about you? What is your favorite woodworking moment?


posted in: blogs, drawers, fitting drawers, fitting

Comments (4)

B.L. Zeebub B.L. Zeebub writes: Ditto on square cases. When I was putting together my bench with its bank of drawers, I couldn't figure out why the carcase would not just drop in place between my clamped up leg-stretcher assembly. I triple checked my measurements, check. Checked the carcase for square, check. I mean, I was using i-beams to build up from then... it hit me. I checked the level again on the i-beams and there it was, one of the shims had scooted out of place. I tapped it back in place, hot melt glued it down then reassembled the legs & stretchers and VOILA! The drawer carcase slid home with a reassuring thunk. Everything is square. Whew!

As an old friend use to say, "Square is an enigma." How true that sentiment can be.
Posted: 12:27 pm on March 16th

AsaC AsaC writes: I love that moment when the case is done, too. With a square case, everything else is gravy!
Posted: 11:21 am on March 16th

tmu tmu writes: Any time I'm using my hand tools, is my favorite part of wood working.
Fitting drawers is also one of my favorite task. The sound of a well tuned wood plane slicing through the wood is music to my ears. Sawing and fitting the mortise and tenon joinery of a piece also ranks right up there. I don't think there's a part of the construction process that I don't like, except maybe finishing a piece and having to deliver it to the client. My wife says it's like I'm giving one of my children away.
Posted: 7:27 am on March 16th

pintodeluxe pintodeluxe writes: Similar to yours, my favorite moment in constructing dressers, entertainment centers, and case goods is the moment when you have the carcase glued up. All of the dry fitting of components is done, and the frame is permanantly assembled. The time you spent dry fitting and figuring out a clamping strategy has paid off with a square case ready for doors, drawers and beautiful hardware. It's like that critical level on a game show which, once you achieve it, you can't fall below. All the progress you have made is now permanant, and you don't have to take it apart anymore for a last minute "tweak." As an added bonus, much of the sanding is already completed.
Posted: 4:32 pm on March 13th

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