In Shop Blog, Techniques

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There is precious little information out there about placing your hardware so it doesn’t look awkward. My theory: Woodworking writers get so worn out by the time that they reach the end of a story that all they do is write: Apply three coats of your favorite finish, attach the hardware and enjoy!

Oh, if only life were that simple. It’s no wonder I see so many projects with terrible finishes and hardware that looks like it was stuck on by drunk chipmunk.

Yes, there are guidelines to placing hardware. We’ve written about some of them in Woodworking Magazine, particularly about placing hinges.

But what about knobs and the common bail pulls? This week I’m adding some bail pulls to a chest that has graduated drawers and I wanted to figure out if there was some sort of system I could rely on to create the right look without just winging it.

So I looked at a bunch of pieces this morning that I liked. Most of it was Southern furniture, but that should come as no surprise to those who know my upbringing. I found three systems:

1. For tiny drawers where the pull is nearly as tall as the drawer is wide, the entire pull was centered on the drawer front. That is, the distance from the top of the pull to the top of the drawer was the same as from the bottom of the pull to the bottom of the drawer.

2. For small drawers, such as 6″ wide or so, it was a little different. The mounting posts of the pulls were centered vertically on the drawer front. So if the drawer were 6″ wide, the mounting posts would be exactly 3″ down from the top edge of the drawer.

3. For big drawers near the bottom of a carcase, there was a third system. The mounting posts of the pulls were slightly higher than centered. How high? After looking at a lot of photos, I found that one common ratio was to divide the drawer front into nine divisions and put the mounting posts four divisions down from the top , a 4:5 ratio.

I am sure there are other schemes for placing hardware — I’m not saying this is gospel. But it results in natural-looking hardware placement. The slightly higher pulls at the bottom of the case don’t really look all that high when you are standing in front of the chest. They look basically centered, maybe just a little high. This gives some visual weight to the bottom of the case (a good thing).

The system works, and I was really pleased with the way the hardware was spaced on the drawers. Now if I could just get the sheen consistent on all the surfaces, I’ll be ready to drink that St. Bernardus beer I’ve been saving.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 11 comments
  • J Nelson

    Mr. Schwarz,

    You recently had a blog about the Encyclopedia of Shaker Furniture. If you have your copy handy turn to page 35. There is a picture of an 18th century chest of drawers from New England. The spacing you describe is also used in that chest. It creates a remarkable visual effect. The design paradigm is probably English and may embody the use of entasis.

    On the other hand, the Shakers put their wooden knobs dead center on their drawers, and that also works. It just creates a different feeling. One is sophisticated and elegant, the other is simple and utilitarian.

  • Gene Rosinbaum

    At last, having been a cabinet maker for 37 yrs I found some body who is passing down some of the tried and true methods for hardware placement. I spent untold hours build a huge Hicory and oak set of cabinets in a custom home and I shuttered as I heard the owner’s idea about the placement of her pulls. I took me 30 min. to talk her out of it. But you artical will give me an "EXPERT" reference from now on. Thank you and may God bless you and yours today.

  • Martin Richter

    This is about as timely as it gets, I am fitting drawer faces into an eight drawer chest now. I’ll be making a jig to make sure the holes are drilled correctly, I have way to much blood sweat and tears in this project to make a mess of this now.

  • David Riseberg

    I think I can live with these guidelines, on most drawer setups. My question to everyone would be, what happens, on the few instances where you build a drawer that is taller than it is wide? Is it centered, or does it tend to be placed with the bottom of the pull at the center of the drawer? I’m in that situation now. 3 stacked inset drawers. 7 1/2" wide x 9" tall. Its the only thing holding me up from finishing the project.

  • Carl Joseph

    I learnt recently that the varying height of the handles on a set of drawers is because you rarely look at a set of drawers head on. More often than not, you are looking down at it so the varying height of the handles makes it look centered.

    Great analysis of this Chris.

  • Nathan Beal

    Thanks for the info. I was working on a school project last semester and I still haven’t placed the hardware, since I wasn’t sure how to "center" it visually. This will help me get it finished.

  • John Schreiber

    I go with the idea that the mass of the hardware should be just a little (perhaps 4 units above and 5 below is right) above center.

    By the way, great use of SketchUp. Too often it’s used only in the basic mode. The other styles are great too.

  • Dan Santos

    Interesting post as I was just thinking how awkward the hinge placement looked on the small Chippendale chest done for Popular Woodworking…

  • D Grant

    The second example for ‘small’ drawers is interesting, since in the other two cases the centre of the hardware is above centre. I think I would always use the first convention, though I don’t make as many pieces with large drawers – my idea of a ‘tiny’ drawer is about 1" deep, not 4"!

  • jacob

    I always think they should look central which would make the handles in the photograph and in your second drawing all a bit too low. First and last drawings spot on.
    It’s a bit like entasis in ancient Greek buildings, perhaps.

  • Matthew Dunne

    Mmm, Sint Bernadus. The abt, I hope?

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