The drawers in the coffee table I built for the August issue (which starts mailing later this week to print and digital subscribers) are a just a bit different than my usual approach, as I had a couple challenges to overcome.
The most obvious is that because these are through-drawers, the drawer bottoms are captured on all sides by the drawer box, so while I would usually force any wood movement to the back, that wasn’t an option here. The choices were to use plywood to minimize the problem, or leave enough room for the drawer bottoms to move seasonally.
I’m not particularly fond of plywood, so I chose the second option, and glued up 1/2″ (or so) drawer bottoms from some Eastern white pine that was left over from another project. The grain in the bottoms runs front to back, so most of the expansion and contraction is forced to the drawer sides. So, I cut 1/8″-deep grooves on both 1/2″-thick sides, and 1/16″-deep grooves in the two fronts of each drawer.
The rabbet around all four edges of the drawer bottom is 5/16″, so the panel has plenty of room to move. (Should I have cut a shallower rabbet on the ends? Perhaps – but these drawers are approximately 3-1/2″ deep inside; they won’t be holding anything heavy, so I’m not worried about the bottom breaking out…especially because it’s supported on all sides.)
Another somewhat curious feature of these drawers is the four fronts. I bought some nicely figured cherry that was approximately 7/8″-thick – but it was a teeny bit twisted. I thought I might get lucky. I cut each front just a little overlong (which of course shortens the length of the twist), then flattened each front individually. I’d hoped to end up with fronts in the 3/4″ range (I’m not all that big on exact measurements, by the way – I think they’re overrated.) Well, I never get lucky. I ended up with one front in that range, but the remaining three were too thin for half-blinds.
So I built the two boxes out of white pine, cutting through-dovetails on all the corners, and I made them approximately 1/2″ too short from front to back. Then, I took my fronts down to approximately 1/4″ each, and glued those on – basically, each front is a thick piece of veneer. To get a good bond across the entire drawer front, I spread glue with a 3″ paint roller, then clamped each front to my 4″-thick benchtop to better spread the clamping pressure.
If I’d used cherry as my secondary wood for the front, the veneers probably wouldn’t have been obvious to the casual observer – particularly on the sides after the shellac soaked into the end grain on the dovetail pins. From the top, the glue line is more noticeable, but only when the drawers are open.
And I already wrote about the final challenge – dealing with extreme changes in humidity. But, a little handplaning over the weekend, and the drawers are now moving smoothly.