In Chris Schwarz Blog, Joinery

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There are so many ways to construct a drawer that someone could write an entire book on the variations across time and cultures. I’d buy it. One curious drawer detail that I quite like is to house a drawer’s bottom in slips.

Drawer slips are narrow pieces of wood that are grooved to accept the drawer bottom. The slips are glued to the drawer sides (and sometimes the drawer front). Why would you do such a thing?

– Dovetail layout is cleaner: Because you don’t have to sink a groove in the drawer sides, you don’t have to use a half-tail at the bottom of the drawer side or risk a bad split by putting a whole tail close to the bottom edge. You can use any layout you please. The slips handle the groove.

– They look nice. This is probably the reason I like them. It adds an extra level of detail to the drawer bottom. Most people probably won’t notice, but I do.

– They make the drawer easier to use. You can fish coins and the like easily out of the drawer because of the beveled edge on the slip. Some people say they make the drawers easier to clean and dust. But I don’t dust much.

There is some debate about whether each drawer requires three slips or only two. Some account have slips attached to the sides and drawer front , the slips are mitered at the corners. Other accounts have slips attached to the sides only and a groove in the drawer front.

In some accounts, drawer slips are a mark of quality work. David Denning in “The Art and Craft of Cabinet-making” (Pitman, page 186) says that joiners typically grooved their drawer sides. Cabinetmakers typically used slips.

– Christopher Schwarz

Here you can see the symmetrical dovetail layout, which I like. Drawer slips make this easy.

Here’s a close shot of some slip material before it is installed. Note the bevel on the corner.

This is what the underside of the drawer looks like with slips. My slips are mitered. The slip attached to the drawer front is cherry.

And here’s what they look like from the rear of the drawer.


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Showing 44 comments
  • ChrisW

    Thank you! I’ll use those and put a 1/4" x 1/4" tongue on the bottom edges going into slips.

    As to the miter, looking at it harder, the cherry front and the hardwood side made up the flats and the mitered pieces are the slips with just a regular 45 degree cut. So – it’s not as difficult as I’d thought.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Chris,

    The slips are 3/4" x 1/2", with the 1/4" x 1/4" groove in the 3/4" edge.

    Hope this helps.

    Chris

  • ChrisW

    Hi Chris,
    That miter looks interesting, too. Only a partial miter, just up to the flat edge on one side, offset the width of the flat surface on top, but with the other cut without the offset? Hoping you will show how it’s done.

  • ChrisW

    Great pictures. I’m building garage cabinets and the drawers and roll-outs will need to hold substantial weight. I’ve been doing research and decided to make drawer slips to capture the 1/2" baltic birch bottoms (on 3 sides, with the drawer back sitting on the bottom).

    Can you give me the dimensions you’d recommend for the slip. I’ve purchased cherry and will cut it to size.

    I’ve invested much effort into this project and do not want the drawers to fail – and agree this technique is both stronger than grooved sides and attractive as well. Thanks!

  • Bill Thomas

    Ok Chris, I apologize. I misread your third photo. I think it was the mitered corner of the slips which gave me the impression that the bevel was on the bottom.

    I stand by my statement that this is the only reason I would use drawer slips-for added bearing surface. Otherwise it is more work to make them, and I believe that a 1/4" half pin in the corner is plenty strong enough. Cutting the groove in the drawer side is the simplest method, and making the drawer sides out of a harder wood is probably a better overall answer to making them wear longer.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Bill,

    Actually I stand by what I wrote.

    I never said I bevel the underside of my slips. I don’t. The bevel is on the top. So yes, a slip increases bearing surface.

    Yes, slips help you use thinner drawer sides (3/8") because with a slip you have more room for a nice deep and sturdy groove.

    As to dovetail layout, I didn’t say anything about symmetry. As I wrote, slips allow you to keep your tails a nice distance away from the bottom edge, avoiding a split.

    Sorry I got you all worked up. Never my intention to provoke.

    Chris

  • Bill Thomas

    Typical.
    I have nothing against drawer slips, per se, but Chris, you are trying to justify them for the wrong reasons, and forgetting to mention a couple of important issues. The answering discussion is more of that: comments from people who are not fully informed or thinking clearly.

    First off, normal drawer dovetails are symmetrical, so there goes that argument.

    You say that using drawer slips allows you to make the drawer sides thinner. Whoops! Hold on now!

    One of the biggest issues with drawer building is trying to make them look good while supporting the weight of what gets put in them. Also, most often, secondary wood is used for the drawer sides, and pine, the most commonly used wood is soft and wears quickly. Yellow Poplar, the wood that I have used the most, is a little better, but still soft.

    Looking at antiques is informative. The drawer sides and their matching runners are usually severely worn. Full sized drawers have often been filled with books or other heavy objects which are far more weight than the drawers were meant to bear. A couple hundred years of opening and closing a drawer will show you what happens to drawer sides.

    The typical drawer side is 1/2" thick. That’s not a lot of bearing surface. If you make them thicker, however, they start looking clunky and you are adding to the weight of the drawer which only makes the problem worse.

    In the last few years I have started making drawer sides out of harder woods. First I switched to quartered sycamore, which is pretty but unstable, so then I switched to quartered white oak. I still use poplar for some jobs if called for for other esthetic reasons.

    You bevel the underside of your drawer slips. The only advantage I can see to using drawer slips would be added bearing surface. If I were to use slips I would make the drawer runners 1" wide, and then with a 1/2" drawer side plus a 1/2" slip I would effectively double the bearing surface. I was hoping that this would be your primary reason for using slips, but no, you bevel them and remove any of that advantage.

  • Adrian

    Actually for the powered router, the bearing guided slot cutter (in a router table) was not the obvious choice to me because stopped grooves would be tricky with such a setup.

    To me the obvious choice for a powered router is the straight bit in a plunge router with an edge guide.

    The idea of mitering is interesting. I was originally thinking I might miter, but then I ended up with the top piece thicker than the sides, so the miter would be at some funny angle. That seemed too tricky, so I figured I’d skip it… I hadn’t thought of the implications for the grooves.

  • Samson

    Adrian,

    I’m not sure I have this straight, but here’s what i understand:

    – you are making a cabinet back that is made of nominal 1/4 inch ply and wish to put it in a groove ploughed into the carcase sides

    An obvious tool for this would be a bearing guided slot cutter installed in an electric router.

    Stopped grooves can also be done with hand tools, but as you’ve discovered it inevitably involves some futzing around with chisels or router planes. Usually the best bet is to come up with a design that gets around the need for stopping: e.g., use a rabbet instead of groove; miter the corners of the carcase members; etc.

  • Adrian

    I suppose I should clarify my statement about the router plane as a precision tool. It seems like mine (Veritas large router plane) has vertical precision, but its horizontal precision is mediocre. The blade has a tiny bit of a wobble from side to side. So if you’re trying to clean the bottom of something to a fixed depth it works great. But for something that requires side to side precision, it doesn’t work so well.

    I tried making the groove entirely with the router. Didn’t work so well. I tried establishing the groove with a knife and that didn’t seem to help me. A saw didn’t occur to me since this is stopped. I didn’t try using the router just to clean up the bottom.

    Actually last night I tried again a quick attempt with just a chisel and that worked fairly well, though I’m not sure I want to chisel out two 16" long mortises with my 1/8" chisel. (The "quarter inch" plywood for this groove is 0.2" thick.) If this is the way it needs to be done, followed up with a router plane to smooth out the bottom, then my original remark still stands about the slips saving you from having to make a stopped groove. This process is a lot slower than using a plow plane.

    I had basically given up on the hand tools and was thinking I’d have to use the powered router. (I wouldn’t dream of operating the router without ear and eye protection.) Wonder if it would wake up the kids, who sleep right above the shop… I’ve never seen a forstner smaller than 1/4". Do they make them? (Though to be honest, chain drilling a 16" long mortise doesn’t seem any better than chiseling it out…worse, maybe.)

  • Bill

    Adrian –

    You say you didn’t have great success with your router plane and that the router didn’t seem like a precision tool. Acutally, a well-tuned (and VERY sharp) router plane is a very precise tool. I can’t claim thousands of hours of experience driving one, but I have used mine enough to discover that it takes practice to understand how it works, and you really want that cutter sharp, sharp, sharp – which can be tricky to do, because of the awkward shape of the cutter and how narrow the cutting edge is.

    Did you try to cut the whole groove, from the top down, using the router plane? If so, that would explain the rough walls. Use the router to flatten and level the floor of the groove after defining the walls. Define the walls of the groove first with knife, chisel, or even the toe of a very fine backsaw. Think of it as a long mortise. The walls will be neatly chiseled and pared, but the floor will be rough. Then use the router plane to flatten and smooth the floor to a uniform depth. I’ve done dados that way – clamp a batten across a board, use a back saw to make to two parallel cuts to the same depth all the way across, take a firmer and a mallet and smack out most of the waste, then level the bottom off with a router plane.

    O’ course, most of the time, I just put a stacked dado set in my Unisaw…

    Another thing you could do is use a forstner bit of the proper diamter to remove most of the waste, then pare the side walls to proper width, then use the router plane to flatten the bottom. Or just chuck up a straight cutting bit in a spinny, screaming, `lectric routah. Don’t forget the most important safety tip: always wear these (tap, tap) – safety glasses. Oh yeah, and hearing protection.

  • Nick Webb

    Chris, it looks to me like you need to make your bottom a bit thinner (move the bottom face up a bit). If there is not enough clearance then if (when) the bottom sags it will start to rub on the carcase.

  • John Preber

    escamotage?

  • Adrian

    That first pin would have to be mighty narrow for that to work, wouldn’t it? Or you’d have to put your groove up quite high in the drawer to keep it from weakening the tail that it goes through. (I just want it to be strong enough that it doesn’t break while I’m assembling the joint.)

    I need a stopped groove to house a cabinet back and I tried the router plane (which required grinding down a router plane blade for undersized 1/4" plywood) but the router plane doesn’t seem like a precision tool and I found the resulting grooves had poor side walls. I haven’t yet found a way that yields decent stopped grooves. I tried to find the video without success. Is it still there?

  • KerryO

    Wow. I just don’t get it.
    I re-read the article and picture several times and I don’t see how the " slips" work.
    Perhaps a more detailed article would make it more clear.
    Thanks for attempt.

  • David

    Adrian – You don’t need to cut a stopped groove, even if you cut a half-pin on both the top and bottom of the drawer front. What one does is to make the pins quite small, and house the drawer bottom in the bottom-most tail at the bottom of the drawer side. Because the drawer front is half-blind dovetailed, the through-groove will not show on the front (it’s buried in the drawer side tail on the bottom), and it will not show on the side either because the groove on the side is butted up against the drawer front.

    And there are plenty of good ways to cut a stopped groove with a hand tool – Chris has one method in a video on the Pop Woodworking site, I use a router plane for the purpose, and many simply use a chisel and a marking gauge. None of these methods, though is as easy as just cutting through grooves and hiding it in the half-blind dovetailed drawer front.

  • Adrian

    It seems like a major advantage of the slip for hand work is that it would eliminate the need for a stopped groove. (I’ve been trying to figure out how to cut a stopped groove with hand tools and there doesn’t seem to be a decent way to do it.)

  • Tom Buhl

    Thanks much, I too saw the recent Mario article that used slips, but from copy and pix I could not tell what they really looked like or how they worked. So while some folks are asking for an article, I’m appreciative of the blog entry and pix to clarify the article. Of course Mario’s article was about the entire drawer business. Recently I completed a small dresser and used the NK approach. I try to incorporate some new (to me) techniques in my projects just to see how it goes and how I feel about it. Looks like I’ll try slips soon. Cheers, Tom

  • Bill

    Mark –

    When you say something is held on by "nothing but glue", realize that quite often, a good glue joint with good glue is stronger than the wood itself.

    Makers of high-quality furniture have made millions of pieces of furniture mostly held together with "nothing but glue" for a few hundred years.

    I have had at least two occasions (that I can think of right now) when I had to undo a glue joint I had done, because of some screw-up I can’t remember now. In both instances, when I tried to pull it apart after the glue had dried, the joint held and the wood failed.

    A long-grain-to-long-grain glue joint like that used with a drawer slip would be plenty strong indeed.

    As you say, a groove in the drawer side weakens the side of the drawer – then you’ve got the chance that the little strip left behind can split off – and I’ve seen that happen. How much force is being applied of course depends on the piece of furniture – how big it is, what type of piece it is and what it is intended for – and how much *stuff* people pile in the drawer.

    I think those slips in the pics above look very cool. I’ll have to try that sometime.

    So many things to try, so little time…

  • Mark Clench

    I am fairly new to woodworking, so there is a good chance I may be totally wrong here, but wouldn’t a drawer that is groved along its sides and a bottom inserted into the groove be stronger(by stronger I mean the weight it could hold)than a slip that is just butted against the side and held in place with nothing but glue?
    I know the groove would weaken the sides of the drawers, but how much force is really being applied on that part of the drawer anyway?

  • John Cashman

    When you write the article Chris, please address the issue of half-pins on drawer sides. One of the things woodworkers have had beaten into them is that drawer sides must have half-pins at the top and bottom. But in many pictures of period drawers, they have a half-pin at the top, and a wide half-tail at the bottom. There is no mention if these drawers use slips, grooves, or whatever. Is there a correlation? Is there more strength with one method? Was it done to speed and simplify construction, saving time and money?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    John Cashman

  • jacob

    Interesting article and comments.
    Having slots instead of slips is characteristic of cheap work as it’s a cheaper (but weaker) detail. It’s weak for 2 reasons; first because it offers a smaller bearing area to the runner and so both will wear out faster, second because the slot weakens the drawer side and it will split at that point when the bottom edge wears enough.
    So you don’t need a slip at the front as this isn’t subject to wear on the runner, and anyway it’s usually a lot thicker so the slot doesn’t weaken it significantly.
    Slips double the width on the runner and so double the life of the drawer.

  • John Fox

    I’m not sure why that last picture had me stumped for a while. It was like one of those negative image/positive image optical illusions and I was seeing it inside out.

    When I figured out what you were talking about I was reminded of an article from Fine Woodworking #150 on NK-style drawers. A google search on NK drawers or a search on FWW will turn it up.

    The NK was developed for industrial production but is equally adaptable to hand work. It takes the idea of the slip to its logical conclusion. If you’re going to use a plywood bottom, it has all the advantages of slips besides providing runners in your choice of material and possibly easing the task of final fitting of the drawer.

  • Chris F

    I must be reading too much and not spending enough time in the shop….I thought everyone knew about slips!

    As others have mentioned, they allow a wider bearing surface for the drawer (so it doesn’t wear grooves in the runner as quickly), and allow a thin drawer side without compromising strength.

    The flush slip design (where the drawer bottom is rabbeted on the top surface rather than the bottom so the top of the drawer bottom and the top of the slip are flush) looks the cleanest to me, but it results in slightly less vertical room in the drawer. It’s also a bit more fiddly to fit. (For reference, see "David Charlesworth’s Furniture-making Techniques", p. 29. It’s online at google books.)

  • Jonas H. Jensen

    Great pictures, and a neat idea.
    I would like to use them on the next drawer project, just to see how it looks and works in real life.
    Good blog.
    Brgds
    Jonas

  • Gene

    I find the concept of the slips interesting, but I honestly don’t think I would ever go to the extra effort of creating them. They’re cool, but a well-made drawer with slots and a solid bottom gets the job done in an efficient, elegant way.

  • David

    Hmm – Perhaps the issue you’ve had with eschewing the slips and just grooving the drawer sides and front and not really reducing the drawer’s depth is that your pins are too big. There might’ve been a very good reason for 18th century "saw kerf wide" pins. 😉

  • Samson

    These are definitely a good thing to have in your bag of options. I especially like them when i need or want thin sides.

    I’d also be interested in your collected wisdom on two other challenges in making user-friendly drawers: strategies for keeping them from pulling out; and strageties for efficiently guiding them in and out smoothly over the long term.

  • Steve McDaniel

    I too would be very interested in an article. I’d especially like to see pictures of historical examples. (Perhaps additional photos of historical examples could be posted as an online extra.)

    I like the option of being able to make thinner drawer sides for the right applications. Like others posting here, the article by Mario Rodriguez was the first time I’ve seen slips.

    One way my drawers differ…the bottoms are captured on all four sides, not three. It is in a groove on the back in addition to the grooves on the left, right, and front. So if I used slips, there would have to be one on the back too. Capturing the bottom in the back may or may not be historically correct, but it seems stronger to me (as long as I’m careful about the glue not getting on the corners of the bottom).

    I know there are plenty of examples showing that drawers with the bottoms nailed to the backs last a long time, but I just can’t get over the idea that part of the bottom is only held on by nails.

    Steve in Humboldt

  • Jerry Olson

    Chris,

    I’ve seen descriptions of slips in the past, although they were usually called drawer runners. I really like the look. I welcome an article.
    In the picture of the underside it appears that you have beveled the underside edges as well as the inside edges. Am I seeing correctly?

  • Brian Ogilvie

    I think there are several very good (but short) treatises on drawer making. The one I recall the most is from a competitive publication and was written by Tage Frid for their March/April 1984 issue, for instance. He uses slips (with a plywood bottom!) but then says that kitchen drawers would be fine with just grooves in the drawer side.

    If I am going to go to all the trouble of hand dovetailing a drawer, I am going to damn well make a proper solid wood bottom. Besides, it is another excuse to get out my panel raising plane to thin the edges of the bottom panel for the groove or slips!

    –Brian

  • Barry Johnson

    Ever since Mario did that article for PWW I have wondered about the purpose of slips also. Half the reason I went to Philly tool event recently was to talk to him about it, but it was hard to get his attention as he was quite busy.

    Aesthetically I feel like slips detract from an otherwise well contructed drawer. For period pieces I understand it use, but with the high quality plywood available today I would be more apt to glue on a strip on the bottom portion of the sides and run a very shallow groove into the sides and cut the plywood bottom for a tight fit.

    Can’t wait for the article.

    Barry Johnson

  • Barry Johnson

    Ever since Mario did that article for PWW I have wondered about the purpose of slips also. Half the reason I went to Philly tool event recently was to talk to him about it, but it was hard to get his attention as he was quite busy.

    Aesthetically I feel like slips detract from an otherwise well contructed drawer. For period pieces I understand it use, but with the high quality plywood available today I would be more apt to glue on a strip on the bottom portion of the sides and run a very shallow groove into the sides and cut the plywood bottom for a tight fit.

    Can’t wait for the article.

    Barry Johnson

  • David McDonnel "Mac"

    I’ve been using drawer slips for years and I love them. From a mechanical standpiont they most definitly strengthen the sides where they are weakest but they also allow the load of the drawer to be spread out over a wider area, reducing grooving of the drawer supports. On the aesthetic side they really dress the inside of a drawer up nicely, they allow for a thinner side which lets the drawer look more balanced and, as Chris said, they also allow you to layout the dovetails in the most pleasing manner. Coupled with a solid wood, beveled edge drawer bottom it makes a really georgeous drawer that is almost a shame to hide in a cabinet.

    Chris, absolutely do an article on them as it looks like a lot of folks have not discovered them yet!

    Mac

  • Luis

    When I look under a drawer and I see a similar solution I think it is the work of a carpenter. A fine cabinetmaker would never opt for a such trick (escamotage).
    Than I look at the well-done blinded dovetail and I ask me why a sane person make a beautifull joint like this and then ruins the rest with slips glued or nailed?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    The bevel is on the inside corner of the slip. You can see it when you open the drawer. It gives the drawer a more finished appearance, reduces sharp edges and makes it easier to get stuff off the bottom of the drawer.

    Chris

  • Steve in Cincinnati

    Excellent method. I’m confused about the bevel. I can’t see it’s purpose in the photos.

  • Steve in Dallas

    Chris,

    When you use slips, what is your preferred method of securing the drawer bottom? Do you use a nail or a dab of glue along the front edge and let the panel float?

    I also look forward to enjoy your blog.

    Steve in Dallas

  • Mark Salomon

    I agree that a great book could be written on the subject. I nominate Mario Rodriguez to write it. His last two articles in PWW provided some of the clearest instruction on fine drawermaking that I’ve seen.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Hey all,

    Couple things.

    Looks like we’ll do an article on them for the next issue!

    Also, yes the slips allow you to use really thin drawer stock material. The English like thin stock (3/8" in some cases).

    The drawer bottom is slid into the groove (like a frame-and-panel door) Then you nail the bottom onto the underside of the drawer’s back. The nail is in a small slot to allow the bottom to move.

    Perhaps a SketchUp drawing of a drawer with slips would be helpful. I’ll see what I can do.

    Chris

  • Amos

    Chris;

    You must be reading my mind. I have been wondering about drawer slips and how and why they are used. I also want more information on them.

    Would another advantage be that you could use thinner drawer sides (on smaller scale drawers) without weakening the sides with a groove?

  • Steve Spear

    Never heard of drawer slips. How about some more close up pictures. Do they cause things to not lay perfectly flat on the drawer bottoms? A full article would
    be fantastic.

    Steve

  • W.E. Cramer

    I thought I was well read on woodworking articles until now. It’s the first I’ve heard of slips. I second the idea of doing an article in the magazine or expanding the discussion on your blog. Great blog…

  • jim ballew

    I do not understand how drawer slips are used or their purpose please explain or better yet do an article in the magazine. When I first saw them in the pictures I though they were draw runners.

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