Is fitting drawers the best task in woodworking?
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?
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. Don't fret about the front--I'll 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 you'll 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 wasn't 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 doesn't tear out.
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.
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.
The crowning touch is a few passes on the lower edge of the drawer front. You'll need a rabbeting or shoulder plane of some kind to cut this shallow step. This is a Lie-Nielsen block rabbet.