Four Good Ways to Build Drawers


Sliding dovetails aren’t just for building bookcases. This technique works extremely well for constructing drawers that will be mounted with mechanical drawer slides.

When you follow these instructions you’ll end up with an inset drawer that has a perfect 1/2″-wide space for a drawer slide. By merely putting the socket in a different place you can create an overlay or lipped drawer, too.

A couple notes on this technique: You need the right-size bit for the joint. The common 1/2″-diameter dovetail bit is too big when using 1/2″-thick drawer sides. You’re better off with a 3⁄8″-diameter dovetail bit, which is commonly available.

Also, you need to take some care when making the test cuts on the male portion of the joint. If your drawer uses a different species of wood for the sides than for the front, check the fit of the male portion of the joint in a socket in both species. This might sound a bit odd, but different species react differently to a cut. It might just be .002″ difference or so on each side of the joint. But with sliding dovetails, even small amounts matter.

Finally, cut all your parts 1⁄16″ wider than your finished size. The router bit will tend to blow out the grain when it exits the work. After you mill all the joints, run each long edge over your jointer to remove the inevitable tear-out. — CS

To cut the socket, set your 3⁄8″ dovetail bit so it protrudes 5⁄16″ above the top of your router table. Set the fence so there is exactly 9⁄16″ of space between the bit and the fence. Make a test cut to confirm your settings.

Cut the sockets on both ends of the drawer front. Note that I use a backing board faced with sandpaper. This minimizes tear-out when the bit exits the work. The #220-grit sandpaper keeps the work in place during the cut.

Using the same setting, cut the socket on the back end of the side pieces. This socket holds the back in place.

The finished result. You can see the tear-out on one of the joints. Also note the “cabinetmaker’s triangle” drawn on the edges. This reminds me of which way my parts will be oriented as I machine and assemble them.

To cut the male portion of the joint, leave the height of the bit the same. Shift the fence so only 7⁄64″ of the bit protrudes from the fence. This measurement worked for my Oldham bit, which measures .275″ at its smallest point. Your bit may vary.

Make a test run before cutting the groove in the sides and front for the drawer’s bottom. The parts should slide together easily and require just a couple taps from a mallet to seat them firmly.

In the end, this technique produces a wicked-tight mechanical joint with just a couple tool setups. It’s one of those few techniques that is both fast and strong.