by Geremy Coy
The 18th century – a time when human hands were set to work in order to create the objects of material culture; when men and women by their sweat and ingenuity wrought wares in the latest fashions; when the cabinetmaker, toiling away in dusty corners of the world, rode at the vanguard of improvement and progress.
Over the course of that century, anonymous workers of wood trained their planes and chisels on many problems, perhaps none so unassumingly complex as that of making drawers. Their search for elegant and durable methods of affixing bottoms, in particular, led them to one of the final developments in the art of crafting fine drawers by hand: slips.
Drawer slips – slender pieces of wood glued to the sides of a drawer and grooved to accept the bottom – have remained largely mysterious, especially to those of us on American shores. But the time has come for the light of history to shine once again on these milestones of human thought and hallmarks of careful craftsmanship.
The earliest drawer bottoms were little more than boards nailed to the underside of boxes. This arrangement was perfectly satisfactory, as drawers did not ride upon their bottoms. Instead, grooves plowed into their thick sides engaged with guides attached to the surrounding case.
As time passed, new types of lumber were made available, novel forms of furniture emerged, and fashion began to dictate slimmer drawer components.
English cabinetmakers abandoned the exterior groove, instead designing cases in which drawers rode directly on their bottoms. But the bottoms wore and nails loosened, compromising the integrity of both drawer and case. Something needed to be done.
Web site: Visit the author’s web site for a look at his work and photography.
Article: Read “Restore a Chest of Drawers” for the 20 steps to give new life to a worn piece.
Article: Read “Four Good Ways to Make Drawers,” if slips aren’t your style.
In Our Store: Get the June 2015 issue for step-by-step instruction from Geremy Coy on building a “Sideboard fit for Tea.”
To buy: “Building a Classic Drawer with Alan Turner,” available on DVD or as a download.
From the October 2015 issue