In Shop Blog, Techniques

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While my dad was sleeping off the flu in February, I was plundering his drawers. The man has an English chest problem like I have a hammer problem. I pulled out all the drawers of his six or seven 19th-century chests of drawers and gave a close look at their construction details.

One of the features I quite liked was the way that some of them dealt with the groove plowed in the sides and drawer front that capture’s the drawer bottom. There are lots of ways to deal with the groove so it’s not visible on the outside of the drawer.

– You can use drawer slips instead of a groove.
– You can bury the groove in a half-tail in the drawer’s side.
– You can, with care, bury the groove in a full tail in the drawer side.
– You can skip the groove and use a plywood bottom and cleats.
– And on and on.

Many of the drawers in my dad’s house use what we moderns would call a finger joint at the bottom of the drawer side. It’s essentially a half-tail with a 0Ã?° slope. It’s easy to cut using hand tools, looks pretty good and avoids having a big half-tail at the bottom of the drawer side. Click here to see a photo I took at my dad’s.

I used this layout in a couple drawers that I built yesterday and I like it. The only trick comes when you are transferring the tail layout to your pin board. The groove plowed in the finger joint prevents you from getting your knife against the pin board.

So instead, I just used the wall of the groove and a square to strike the knife line on the pin board. It worked fine. There are some other details to my dad’s drawers that I’ll discuss in future posts. Right now I have to go help shoot a magazine cover.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 7 comments
  • Casey Gooding

    If I recall, isn’t that basically how Frank Klausz does them on his dovetail video?? I don’t remember because I lent my copy to someone two years ago and can’t seem to get it back.

  • Greg Peel

    I’m certain that you have a good aim and focus, but I hope that magazine cover survived anyway.

  • Kelly Taylor

    Your explantation is great, I think it really cool that someone is taking the time to bring out that kind of detail. You know you could do an entire article on different techniques and examples and do a pro vs con on each of them.

    Also, on the english chests that you have looked at, on the half blind dovetails are the saw lines brought down past the joint? (you know so you caw out the pins more and less chopping). I am just wondering if english pieces are more refined on the interior of the drawer.

    Your attention to details like this and your openess to readers is why I love your magazines.

    Keep up the good work!!!

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I wish I were an expert on drawer styles so I could answer your question. I actually have seen a lot more English pieces than American. Slips appear on 19th c English pieces. This appears on 19th c English pieces. Both are in 19th c. English texts about woodworking.

    I sure that someone out there could do better than my lame explanation.


  • Kelly Taylor

    Is this technique specificly on English 19th century pieces? Do drawer slips show up more in the 18th or 19th century? Is the technique limited historically to specific furniture types or wide spread?

    I imagine this could be an article in the future, drawer design, english, american with different time frames.

    Kelly D. Taylor

  • Christopher Schwarz

    I do not recall any of the drawers looking separated there. But I will check the photographic record at home (I took a bunch of pics) and I’ll report back if I see anything that went wrong.


  • Chris F

    As compared with a "half-pin at top and bottom" design, it seems like this would give less of a mechanical lock between the side and front at the bottom of the joint.

    Did you see any evidence of separation in the "finger" in the old chests?

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