12 Drawer Dresser

12 Drawer Dresser

A master craftsman’s method for making perfectly spaced drawers.

By Bruce Kieffer

I made this dresser for a client whose father designed
and built similar furniture back in the 1950s. Its grid system
is very modern looking, but getting all the spacing just right
requires an old-fashioned, methodical approach to ensure
that the case is square each step of the way. I also used the
same clever system
for positioning the
drawers that my client’s dad
used, and it worked extremely well.
Part of the difficulty in spacing the drawers is
that their fronts aren’t applied–they’re an integral part
of the drawer box. When installing a drawer with an applied
front, you just position the front with shims until the margins
are even, then screw it to the drawer box. This dresser is
different–you have to position the entire drawer. Here’s how
the system works: These drawers are guided by tracks that
run underneath the drawer’s bottoms. When building the
dresser, leave the tracks loose in the web frames inside the
case. Next, build the drawers, slide them in the case, and
adjust each track’s position until the drawer is perfectly centered
side to side. Once that’s done, lock the tracks in place
with glue blocks.This dresser uses web frame construction, which has
gone out of favor in factory-made furniture. That’s too bad,
because web frames do a bang-up job of making casework
absolutely rock solid. The finish is as retro as the construction–
it’s a white stain with a clear water-based polyurethane
topcoat. The funky drawer pulls add the perfect final touch.

 

Construction notes

I determined the heights of the drawers based on the spacing
of my dovetail jig, which is 7/8″ on center. My dimensions
leave a half-pin at the top of each drawer. My jig’s spacing is
fairly standard, but before you build, check your jig’s spacing
and adjust the drawers’ heights and cabinet’s height if necessary.

When you cut the dadoes and rabbets in the case’s ends
(B1) and dividers (B2), note that the critical dimension isn’t
their depth, but what’s left over. When you cut into the sides,
for example, the remaining wood should be 1/2″ thick. This
method ensures that all the other dimensions will work out,
regardless of the precise thickness of your plywood.

I made each row of drawer faces from one long, full-width
board. This avoids mismatched figure and an annoying
banded look that results when narrow boards are edgeglued
together. However, if you goof up one drawer front,
you have to remake all three in that row.

 

Build the case

1. Cut the web frame parts (A1 – A5). Machine the drawer
tracks (A6) (See Fig. B). Cut biscuit grooves for joining the
web frame stiles and rails.

2. Rout the drawer track grooves in the web frame stiles
(Figs. A and C). There are many different parts to deal with, so
label them and set them in stacks for the right, middle and
left sections of the drawer case.

3. Glue and clamp the web frames together. Do not glue
the drawer tracks in their grooves (Photo 1).

4. Lay out and cut grooves in the top and bottom web
frames to receive the dividers (B2, Photo 2).

5. Cut the case ends (B1) and dividers to size. Cut dadoes
in the ends and dividers (See Fig. C). The dadoes should be
cut to a depth that leaves 1/2″ of plywood on the sides and
3/8″ on the dividers.

6. Cut the rabbets on the top of the case sides so 1/2″ of
plywood remains.

7. Rout the rabbets for the back (B8) on the sides.

8. Glue and clamp the middle section web frames and
dividers. Make sure the assembly is square (Photo 3).

9. Drill and countersink the screw holes in the top web
frame for attaching the dresser top.

10. Glue and clamp the top and bottom web frames to
the case’s middle section (Photo 4).

11. Glue the end web frames and case sides to the partially
assembled inner case (Photo 5). This is a lot of gluing and
clamping for one person. Either get some help or do it in stages by gluing a few joints at a time. Dry fit some of
the parts; use them to align the pieces you glue.

12. Cut the bottom (B3) and glue and screw it to the
underside of the bottom web frame. Make sure its front
edge is flush with the front edge of the web frame.

 

Apply the edgings

13. Cut the bottom edging (B4) and end edging
pieces (B5) to size. Rout a 3/8″ radius roundover on the
inside edges of these pieces. Miter and glue the bottom
edging to the front edge of the plywood, leaving all of
the web frame edge exposed (Photo 6). Miter and
attach the side edging. Keep the outside edges flush to
the faces of the plywood. Rout a roundover on the outside
edges of the edging.

14. Cut the top edging piece (B6) to size and fit it
between the end edging pieces. Glue it in place.

15. Cut the divider edging pieces (B7) to size and fit
them between the top and bottom edging pieces. Glue
them in place so there’s an equal overhang on each
side of the plywood dividers.

16. Cut the back (B8) to size and screw it in place.

17. Finish sand the case’s ends (Photo 7).

 

Build the base

18. Cut the base parts (C1-C4) to size. Cut biscuit
grooves in the cross braces and front and back pieces.
Miter the ends of the base sides and ends.

19. Glue and clamp the base together. Drill screw
holes in the cleats for attaching the base to the case.
Glue the cleats to the base.

20. Screw the base to the case. Set the front of the base
3″ back from the front of the case’s bottom edging (Fig. E).

Build the drawers

21. Here are a couple of tips for dimensioning the
drawer parts: First, the lengths of the drawer sides in the
cutting list includes 5/8″ total for their tails. If your jig cuts
a different length tail, make any necessary adjustments
to the sides’ lengths. Second, I add 1/16″ to the finished
length of my drawer face and back, then cut the dovetail
sockets an extra 1/32″ deeper so the ends of the front
and back protrude 1/32″. After assembly, I sand the overhang
flush.

22. Cut the drawer parts (D1 – D10) to size. Measure
the height of all the drawer openings, then cut the
drawer sides 1/16″ narrower.

23. Rout the half-blind dovetails in the drawer parts.
Note: On the three lower drawers, the bottom edge of
each drawer’s face hangs 11/16″ below the drawer’s
side (Fig. A). This distance is 3/4″ on all other drawers.
Because of this offset, there is no dovetail socket at the
lower end of the drawer faces. Half-blind dovetail jigs
are not designed to allow for this blank space, but there
is an easy way to create it. Rout the lower tail of each
drawer side using a sacrificial backer board rather than the drawer face. Once that tail is cut, remove the sacrificial
board and substitute the drawer face, then cut the remaining
tails and sockets (Photo 8).

24. Lay out and drill holes in the drawer faces for the drawer
pull bolts. The pulls are centered on the drawer faces, and
there’s a 1/16″ reveal above the pulls when they’re mounted.

25. Lay out and cut the drawer bottom grooves (Photo
9). I use my table saw and a flat-toothed 1/8″-kerf blade. I
make two cuts to define the groove’s width so the drawer
bottom slides easily into it.

26. Cut the drawer bottoms (D11) to size plus 1″ extra in
width. When I assemble a drawer, I slide its bottom in place
and use it to square the drawer. Since it’s easier to sand and
finish a drawer without the bottom in place, the 1″ tab
makes it easy to remove the bottom after the glue has dried.
Cut the drawer bottoms to their finished widths after the
drawers are assembled, then reinstall them.

27. Assemble the drawers.

 

Mount the drawers

28. Make the drawer guides (D12), and trim their widths
just enough so they slide in the drawer tracks. Slightly chamfer
their back edges and corners. Cut two 11-13/16″ wide by
19-3/8″ long spacers from 1/4″ plywood. Use these spacers to
center the drawer guides on the drawer bottoms (Photo 10).
Align the back ends of the guides flush with the back edges
of the drawer bottoms. This will leave the tracks 1/4″ shy at the front so the drawer
bottoms can slide into the
grooves in the drawer face.

29. Slide the drawer bottoms
into the drawers and
screw them to the bottom
edges of the drawer backs.

30. Make the drawer
track stops (A7).

31. Insert the drawers in
their openings and push the
drawer faces tight against
the web frames. Shift the
drawers side-to-side until
the spaces between the
drawers and case are equal.
The tracks will shift along
with the drawers. Once all
the alignments are made,
carefully remove the drawers
without disturbing the
alignment of the tracks, then
glue the stops in place
(Photo 11).

 

Build the top

32. Cut the pieces for the
top (E1 – E3). Miter the ends
of the edging pieces and fit
them to the panel. Glue the
edgings (Photo 12). Shape
a 3/8″ radius on the top’s
corners, then rout a 1/4″
radius roundover all around
the top’s edge. Align and
screw the top to the case.

 

Finish

33. Disassemble any
screwed-together parts and
apply your favorite stain and finish. To achieve a whitewashed
look, I applied one coat of Bix Pre-Stain wood conditioner applied
with a foam brush, one wiped-on coat of Zar Country White Wood
Stain, and three brushed on coats of Varathane Water Based
Polyurethane Clear Satin (Sources, below).

Cutting List

Fig. A: Exploded View

Fig. B: Drawer Track

Fig. C: Front Elevation

Fig. D: Top View

Fig. E: Side Elevation

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Build the upper and lower web frames, which run the full length
of the case. Glue the rails, but don’t glue the drawer tracks. You’ll
adjust their positions later when fitting the drawers.

2. Rout grooves in the rails for the plywood vertical dividers. Guide
the cut using a shop-made template. Size the slot so the plywood
fits tight in the grooves.

3. Glue short web frames to the vertical dividers, making the middle
section of the dresser. Position the web frames upright so the
assembly is easier to clamp. Use L-shaped squaring blocks to
ensure that everything stays square.

4. Build out from the middle section, starting with the top and bottom
web frames. For assemblies like this, I work on sawhorses and
use long, straight support boards and large squaring blocks.

5. Stand the assembly on end to add the remaining web frames and
end panels. I prevent glue from dripping on the floor by placing a
sheet of cardboard under the assembly.

6. Glue edging onto the front of the cabinet. The edging is mitered
at the corners, down at the base. Draw the miters tight with long
clamps.

7. Use an orbital sander to sand the cabinet’s ends. An orbital
sander is not as aggressive as a random orbit sander and gives a
better final finish.

***Build from the center out
to make the drawer openings
perfectly square.***

8. Rout the drawer joints with a half-blind dovetail jig.

9. Lay out the drawer-bottom grooves so they’re in line with the
bottom socket of the drawer’s front. Cut the grooves, then glue the
drawers.

10. Remove the bottoms from the drawers, then glue a guide precisely
in the center of each bottom. Use two plywood spacers to locate
the guide. Put the bottoms back in the drawers and slide the drawers
into the case.

11. Adjust the tracks side to side to center the drawers. Then glue
stops on either side of each track to lock it in position.

12. Glue and clamp the edging pieces to the top. Do the long sides first, and then fit and attach the ends.

Sources

Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Colonial Bronze, colonialbronze.com, 860-489-9233,
Satin Bronze Drawer Pulls, #425, US10 finish.

Bix Manufacturing, bixmfg.com, 615-792-3260, Pre-
Stain, #6002.

UGL, ugl.com, 570-344-1202, Zar Oil Base Wood Stain,
#139 Country White.

Varathane, rustoleum.com, 847-367-7700, Water Based
Polyurethane, Clear Satin #2002.

This story originally appeared iAmerican Woodworker June/July 2009, issue #142.

Purchase this back issue.