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Cherry BedA number of years back I built a bed for myself using pictures and plans from an article in Workbench Magazine, Heirloom Bed, March/April 2001, page 52.

Constructed entirely of native New England cherry, it is finished with a natural, hand rubbed tung oil. Cherry will darken naturally with age to a rich reddish brown. The legs and rails are one piece, no glue-ups. This adds a little to the cost but makes the finished product more appealing.

Though not visible, the curved rail of the headboard has a natural grain pattern that looks like a dolphin jumping out of the water. We are always looking for natural patterns to incorporate in a piece.

I modified the bed slightly to have a clearance of 12″ under the bed to allow for storage and easy cleaning.

Cherry DresserDetail of Top, Trim, Chamfer and Lamb's TongueA few years later I designed and built two matching dressers. At right above is pictured the bed and at left the dresser. The dresser stands 48 1/4” tall, 36” wide and 18 1/2” deep. There are five graduated drawers, the top drawer having a faux front to simulate two drawers.

All Five Drawers Are Hand DovetailedLike the bed, the dresser is made of native New England cherry; the drawer boxes are poplar. The convex curves in the bed are picked up in the concave curves of the dresser. The legs have the same curved taper design at the bottom, chamfered on the corners with a lamb’s tongue at each end. The sides of the dresser pick up the tongue and grove slats from the headboard and footboard of the bed. To keep the same feel in heftiness I used stout 2” x 2” legs and a 1” top on the dresser.

In all my pieces I use traditional drawer design with floating tapered bottoms and hand cut dovetails. This project was a twin dresser build, so I had ten drawers to dovetail. At the end of an entire day of dovetailing these 68 year old hands can cramp up a lot ;<)

Hand Cut DovetailsMy current project is to design and construct matching bedside tables with two drawers and some space for books or a small stereo unit. I have a multi-part video series on my American Woodworker blog detailing the design process and modeling. You can view Designing Furniture From Scratch In SketchUp–Part 1 by clicking on this hyperlink.

SketchUp Model of the Cherry Bedside TableAt right is a picture of the SketchUp model of the matching bedside table. You can see how the curves, legs and slatted sides appear in all three pieces; bed, dresser and bedside table. The bedside table stands 32” high, 20 1/2” wide and 19 1/4” deep. The opening is 11 3/4” high and 14” wide; tall enough for an 8 1/2” x 11” notebook.

In the near future there will be detailed SketchUp models and shop drawings on my Free Plans page for all three pieces. Perhaps one day I will design a matching bureau and mirrors. Stay tuned.


Jesse's Finished Drafting TableThroughout my career I was fortunate enough to work with some of the brightest and most energetic young engineers. In my retirement that luck has continued with a string of woodworking apprentices: Amber Baker, Melissa Stylos and Jesse Moy. I call them my apprentices, though I am neither qualified in the traditional European apprenticeship sense, nor do I have an official apprenticeship program. “My apprentices” is a label of affection because I have grown to appreciate and respect each of them for their drive, desire to learn a traditional skill and the quality of labor they brought to the task.

Inside The Drafting Table Is Storage For The T-Square & Other Drawing ToolsToday Jesse came to pick up his completed project and so he graduated in a sense. I introduced you to both Jesse and Melissa in my March 29, 2012 newsletter (Amber in my December 1, 2010 newsletter). See the March issue for Jesse’s background.

Jesse and I met in December of last year when he was introduced to me by Steve Racz of CutList Ruby script fame. Jesse had just finished a timber frame program at The Heartwood School the previous spring and was a co-student with Steve. He told me he wanted to learn fine furniture crafting and could I help him. I said sure, can you spend about two days a week in the shop?

A SketchUp Sketchy Rendering of the Drafting TableThe plan was simple. Jesse was to help me build two cherry chest of drawers to learn fine furniture woodworking. He would be under my guidance each step of the way. We would start with rough lumber selection, then stock preparation, followed by milling, layout & cutting of joinery  etc. He would learn both power tool use & safety and hand tool use & sharpening. I am big on hand tool use and told him he would have to master the use of planes, chisels and hand saws during this first phase. Then Jesse would build a project of his own design, working on his own, getting help from me only when he asked for it. That was the deal.

A SketchUp Sketchy Rendering of the Drafting Table InsideI believe you learn woodworking mostly from doing it – and – having a project of value to work on. Jesse certainly had that motivation. Jesse and his woman friend, Christina, have plans to obtain graduate degrees in architecture. The project Jesse chose is a portable drafting table which he plans to gift to Christina upon her graduation this month from The Conway School’s Sustainable Landscape Design program. Certainly this is a project of value and a labor of love. What better way to learn fine woodworking.

Learning to Hand Cut DovetailsJesse didn’t just choose a project and design it himself. He had to learn SketchUp too, and then model his design and produce the shop drawings to work from. In the tradition of Swamp Road Wood Work’s SketchUp models, Jesse is making his SketchUp model available to anyone who wishes to build this drafting table, or modify his design for another use. At a later date I will place Jess’s drafting table on my Free Plans page.

As mentioned earlier, drawers and carcasses crafted at SRWW are almost always joined using hand cut dovetails. In the construction of the cherry chests Jesse learned not only through dovetails, but half-blind dovetails too. He started by practicing straight cuts on scrap wood; over and over and over until he could follow a layout line. Soon he was cutting tails and pins and putting together practice joints. As is typical, his first dovetail joint was almost perfect – beginner’s luck; his second and third not so much. But each one got better and better. Jesse built the first drawers of my cherry chest on his own and I was very pleased with the result.

Jesse's Hand Crafted DrawersThe design Jesse created was full of hand joinery, some quite complex. The carcass employed hand cut through and half-blind dovetails, the drawers through and half-blind dovetails. Several styles of dadoes – traditional and v-grove – were employed. In addition, many of the dadoes were of the stopped variety. While the dadoes and rabbets were cut with the table saw and router, some were formed, or cleaned up, using a shoulder plane & shooting board or chisel. Jesse learned both the value of fine tuning joinery as well as the cost if you skipped this step.

Dadoes, Both Stopped & Through, and Half-Blind & Through DovetailsJesse was taught the tails first method of hand cut dovetails. And he was taught to cut to – but leave – a line when cutting the pins, since pins are laid out by tracing the tails. If done correctly you should still see the pencil lines after tails are cut. The more difficult dovetail joint is the half-blind dovetail because you have to cut to – but leave – the line, and you have to cut a complex angle and keep from unsightly overcutting. The picture below left shows how well Jesse performed this task.

Jesse's Well Formed Half-Blind DovetailsAmong the many things about fine furniture design and crafting Jesse learned was the importance of taking seasonal shrinkage/expansion into account. His top is fairly large and hence subject to seasonal changes in width and cupping. To account for this Jesse employed breadboard ends. He learned to use a moisture meter, first calibrating it and setting it for a particular wood species. Then making a moisture reading and using it to calculate dimensional changes taking into account species, board type (quarter sawn verses plain sawn), area of the country and the application (breadboard). Armed with this information he knew how wide to cut the top such that the average width over the full season would be the length of the breadboard ends.

Further, he learned to elongate the pin holes in the tenons in a graduated way, the first hole in the front un-elongated and each subsequent hole elongated in a graduated way to allow for maximum expansion and contraction. If you look closely at the picture below right you can see this graduated elongation.

Mortise, Tenon & Haunch Joinery for Seasonal ChangesPlanning the inside layout of the drafting table was no small feat. Jesse had to provide storage for the T-Square, allow space and partitioning for the drawers, provide space at the ends for sticks that would hold the top open at the desired angle while drawing, and finally leave space for storage of other drafting tools, pencils, erasers etc.

Hardware choice was a particularly daunting task. Many woodworkers don’t understand the value of selecting and acquiring the hardware before completing the design and beginning crafting. Jesse learned this lesson somewhat the hard way. He also discovered that he couldn’t have chosen a more labor intensive drawer pull than the ones he chose. If you look at the sixth picture from the top you will see what I mean. The drawer pulls needed to be set into the drawer front. Creating the precise opening required the construction of a jig for the router. That was followed by drilling a rather large hole using a Forstner bit and then manually scooping out a ball shaped volume.

The Inside Layout Took Careful ConsiderationNot shown are the 6-lb rare-earth magnets and associated hardware to keep the drawers from falling out when the drafting table is moved. These are mounted into the drawer backs and the partition just behind the drawers. Knowing where to place this partition required detailed knowledge of the rare-earth magnet hardware which Jesses neglected to order until late in the game. To his credit he figured out how to stage the construction and glue-up so he could rescue himself from this situation.

Shown in the picture below right are the spalted maple T-Square and the top with breadboard ends. Both the T-Square and the breadboard ends are attached using pegs. This project for sure employed a wide variety of joinery making it an ideal project for learning fine woodworking. Looking at these pictures, especially the two of the completed piece; I think you will agree with me that Jesse is no longer an apprentice and deserves to be called a fine woodworker. His “graduation” comes with mixed emotion. I am happy to witness his end product turn out so well and I am proud of Jesse and his efforts. But I will miss working with such a talented, dedicated and hardworking individual. A young man who has become a good friend.

Spalted Maple T-Square & Breadboard Ends Attached With PegsDuring the course of our working together I dropped my #5 Jack plane and broke the handle. As a going away gift Jesse gave me a replacement handle and a gift of a Shaker furniture book. Every time I pick up my Jack or refer to that book I will be reminded of a young man with a bright future who passed through my life and shop and gave me the pleasure of teaching him fine woodworking. Good luck Jesse.


Dovetailed Components Interface WindowOccasionally I update the tools in the Construction Plus toolbar; usually with fixes and minor modifications. This time, in addition to such changes, Dovetailed Components has been significantly enhanced. In addition to drawing drawer sides for traditional drawers automatically, it now draws contemporary drawers and tailboards automatically too. Contemporary drawers are much more common in today’s furniture and tailboards are useful in constructing carcasses, grandfather clocks, jewelry boxes, blanket chests and much more.

With this release I have included a short User’s Guide. When you download construction_plus.zip and install it, by extracting it to the Plugins folder, you will find Dovetailed Components User’s Guide.pdf in the C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Google SketchUp Pro 8\Plugins\dovetailed_components directory. Of course, your directory will be somewhat different depending on your platform (MAC or PC), Operating System version and SketchUp version and license. So adjust accordingly.

I hope you find this tool useful. I have ambitious plans for its evolution; Dovetailed Components will eventually model the entire drawer, including front, back and bottom. In addition it will allow for custom tails and pins with unequal spacing. In the meantime enjoy this version.


Drawer Sides Tool WindowI have added a SketchUp Ruby script drawing tool called Drawer Side to the Construction Plus tool set. Drawer Side creates the Drawer Side component of a traditional drawer, including front and back tails and dado for the drawer bottom to ride in. A Left Drawer Side instance is placed at the model’s origin. This instance can be copied, placed and mirrored (flipped) to create the Right Drawer Side. From there the front and back can be easily created using the Intersect Faces tool.

The tool’s Drawer Side command shows up in the Draw menu and also on a tool bar called Construction Plus. Its human interface is user friendly and allows for the quick creation of multiple drawers, such as needed for a high boy. Each time you use the tool a new drawer side is added to the In Model Component library with a Drawn Drawer Side With Dadounique component name. To create a series of drawers with the same depth, but progressively deeper, simply change the drawer side width, and perhaps the number of tails and re-Draw.

Drawer Sides accepts Metric or Imperial inputs and user inputs are saved when the tool is used or closed so that they can be restored on the next use. User instructions can be displayed by clicking the Instructions button. Help buttons are also provided for each category on user inputs, as is a helpful picture showing the input information requested. The Drawer Side window will adjust size to accommodate older and smaller screens.

Download Construction Plus and check out Drawer Side. I will probably evolve this tool to add functionality such as drawing the front, back and bottom of the drawer, drawing general tail or pin boards (without dado) and with the same  or different ends. Stay tuned.


Notice the dovetail detail that jumps out at you when you model them.Cutting dovetails in the shop doesn’t require dimensioned shop drawings. Heck, Frank Klausz doesn’t even measure or mark them before cutting. But for many people a drawing is helpful, and for completeness I add them to my shop drawings. That way they pop out at you when viewing a textured rendering in SketchUp, as shown in the picture at right. Since SketchUp models for shop drawings need to be drawn “exact”, we need to know the detailed pin and tail dimensions. Calculating these dimensions can be a little tricky, but with the aid of a simple Excel spreadsheet it’s child’s play. Drawing them in SketchUp can be equally easy if you follow a methodology. In this post I provide you the Excel tool and a basic tutorial. To download them click on Dovetail Calculator and Drawing Dovetails. This tutorial assumes you have a basic understanding of SketchUp at least beyond the novice or beginner level. If you do not, first refer to the Beginner SketchUp Tutorial on my web page.

Dovetail CalculatorOpen the Dovetail Calculator and review the drawing provided which explains the terminology used (or click on the picture at left for an enlargement). I am sure you are aware that the pins are the smaller portion of the dovetail joint and the tails are the larger portion. Start with the board width you are using, perhaps for a drawer side or a carcass side. You must decide three things. First the size of a half pin; the partial pins at the ends of the dovetail joint. Second the number of tails. And third the size of the pin gap. The pin gap can be as narrow as your dovetail saw kerf if you cut dovetails by hand. You also want to choose a combination that winds up with dimensions that can be measured by you measurement tools, for example increments of 1/64″. A dimension of 1 23/40″ isn’t useful; though you can as easily draw it in SketchUp it is not useful in the shop.

In the upper left hand corner the Dovetail Calculator has a table. All cells except input cells are locked to prevent erasure of equations. Only the input cells for Board Width, Number Of Tails, Half Pin Dimension and Pin Gap are changeable. Start by inputing the Board Width. In the tutorial I use a board width of 10″, so input that. Next put in the number of tails desired. The tutorial uses 8, and we will see why shortly, so input that. I usually use a half pin of 1/4″. This is small enough to be visually pleasing and large enough to withstand normal side pressure created by a tight fit without splitting in hardwoods. This is largely a matter of taste and personal preference. If you are using a softwood, one that easily splits, you might want to make it larger. Input 1/4″ for now. Lastly input the pin gap. Some woodworkers like a very narrow gap, even as small as the kerf created by their dovetail saw. It’s a show off thing; it says “I am a really talented woodworker. See my small pins?”. But if you hand cut dovetails, tails first, this creates marking problems and almost requires you use a marking knife versus a pencil. Again it is a matter of taste. For now use 1/4″.

The results are a tail width of 31/32″ and a tail width plus pin gap of 1 7/32″ (1/4″ + 31/32″). These are usable dimensions; they can be used by your measurement devices to set a pair of dividers for example.

Now play with the Dovetail Calculator by substituting integers 1 to 10 for the number of tails (fractions of tails aren’t useful). Notice that inters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 give results that are increments of 1/64″ which means any of these integers can be used as the number of desired tails. Integers 5, 7, 9 & 10 should be avoided, at least form the point of view of marking them with typical measurement devices used in the United States. The Dovetail Calculator can easily be modified for metric system measurement devices.

Experiment with other choices for Board Width, Half Pin Dimension and Pin Gap to get a feel for the results. OK, set the inputs as originally suggested (10″, 8, 1/4″ & 1/4″). The important results to remember (write them down) are 8 tails, 31/32″ tail width and 1 7/32″ tail plus gap width. Close the Dovetail Calculator and open the Drawing Dovetails tutorial. Notice there are scenes along the top labeled Step 1 through Step 14. Follow along with me, but don’t try to change the tutorial drawings themselves. Instead, open another blank drawing and draw your own from scratch using the explanation here and the tutorial as a reference.

Look at Step 1. We start out by drawing a rectangle 10″ wide by 26″ long. This is the arbitrary side dimensions of a drawer we are going to model. The sides, back and front will be 1/2″, but don’t worry about that for now.

Step 2. Using the Move tool bring the end lines of the box in 1/2″ on each end. Notice the construction line and green axis mark the original length of the rectangle. We are moving these ends in to account for the 1/2″ thickness of the front and back, which will become obvious shortly.

Step 3. Using the Tape Measure tool draw lines parallel to the top and bottom 1/4″ IN from the edges. This creates a half pin construction line. If you haven’t already, use the Tape Measure tool to create a parallel line 1/2″ OUT from the right end. This creates a tail width construction line.

Step 4. Using the Protractor tool start at the intersection of the top parallel 1/4″ IN construction line and the parallel 1/2″ OUT construction line and form a construction line 8 degrees from the top parallel 1/4″ IN construction line. I will explain why 8 degrees in a moment. Now, using the Tape Measure tool draw a line starting at the previously described intersection down along the parallel 1/2″ OUT construction line and make it 31/32″ long, the width of a tail. Again using the Protractor tool start at the end of this construction line marked with the construction cross and draw a construction line 8 degrees sloping upward (opposite slope to the previous angled line). You have now formed the outline of a tail.

The angles used for dovetails are somewhat arbitrary, but most dovetail markers use two angles, generally a combination of 6:1, 7:1 and 8:1 run over rise. The larger the first number the shallower the angle. Shallow angles are appropriate for hardwoods while steeper angles are more needed by softwoods. I use the 7:1 side of my marker which corresponds to an angle of 8.130 degrees or simply 8 degrees. Coincidentally this angle is also very useful for beveling the bottoms of drawers or raising door panels.

Step 5. With the Line tool outline the tail. It requires two short angled lines and one line the width of the tail. Refer to the zoomed view of the drawing. At this point you can choose Edit/Delete Guides to remove the construction lines.

Step 6. Using the Select tool with the Ctrl key select the three lines you just created to form the tail. With the Copy/Move tools and the Ctrl key copy these lines 1 7/32″ to the left and parallel to the green axis. Immediately type the characters x7 to replicate this move seven times. If you type anything after this step before typing x7 the multiple copy feature will not work. Seven is the number of desired tails, eight, minus 1, and 1 7/32″ being the tail width plus pin gap width.

Step 7. Use the Eraser tool to delete the opposite end line which will also eliminate the surface. In addition erase the short lines inside the tails. Refer to the drawing. Now select all lines and using the Move/Copy tool make a copy alongside the original. While still selected, use the context menu (right click) choose Flip Along/Group’s Red (assuming your drawing looks exactly like mine).

Step 8. While still selected move the second set of lines into position as shown to complete the dovetail outline. Now create a surface by drawing a diagonal line from one corner to the other as shown.

Step 9. With the Erase tool eliminate the diagonal line. The surface should remain. Now with the Push/Pull tool give the drawing a thickness of 1/2″, the thickness of both sides, back and front.

Step 10. Select the dovetailed board and make it a Group or a Component using the context menu. Using the Rotate tools followed by the Move/Copy tool place it as shown on the origin. Using the Move/Copy tool with Ctrl, make a copy and move it in place as shown, that is, along the green axis and 19 1/2″ from the first so that the outside dimension is 20″. With the Rectangle tool and opposing corners of the sides as extreme diagonals for reference, draw a rectangled surface as shown.

Step 11. Use the Push/Pull tool to give the front a thickness of 1/2″. Select the entire drawing. Choose Edit/Intersect/Intersect with Model.

Step 12. Move each side away from the front and with the Push/Pull tool move the tail surfaces in to create the pins. Notice I have moved some and left the others so you can see what I am doing. Do the same to the other end.

Step 13. The Intersect with Model tool leaves a few lines that should be cleaned up. Use the Orbit tool to view the back side of the front and erase the lines on the inside of the pins. Notice I have erased some lines and left the rest so that you can see what I am doing. When the lines are cleaned up make the front a Group or Component.

Step 14. Using the Move/Copy tool and Ctrl make a copy of the front. Using the context menu Flip Along/Group’s Red flip it. With the front as the reference assemble all pieces and you have your basic drawer or carcass construction.

This methodology may seem long and complex as you followed along with me, but once you get the hang of it and do it on your own you will find drawing dovetails is quick and easy. I keep a pointer to the Dovetail Calculator on my desktop so that I can access it quickly. I draw a lot of dovetails and find it very useful.

Notice the additional 3/4" beyond the half pin to allow for the beveled bottom.In reality drawer construction is slightly more complicated because the front and back dovetails are different in traditional style drawers (see The Design & Construction of a Traditional Drawer and The Crafting of a Traditional Drawer). I will leave it to the student to figure out how to modify this methodology and Excel spreadsheet to take this into account. Right now I am tired and hungry and am signing off.

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On Chiefwoodworker’s Blog I posted an article on The Design & Construction of a Traditional Drawer. This is a companion article which describes the crafting of a traditional drawer. If you have not read The Design & Construction of a Traditional Drawer you may want to do so before delving into this article. The drawer I discuss here is for an Office Table I am currently building, not the Bedside Table I used in the previous article. But the techniques are the same.

Three pairs of glue-ups form the drawer bottom.I’ll start with the bottom. This office table’s drawer is rather wide, deep and shallow. The bottom of the drawer is almost 24" square. If I used a three piece glue-up to construct it, each piece would be a minimum of 8". Since my jointer is only 8" I decided on a six piece glue-up, each piece approximately 4 1/2". I first glued up three pairs of two boards to get three pieces approximately 9" wide. The picture at right shows these three pairs sitting side by side. If you look closely (click to enlarge the picture) you can see these pairs are not yet joined. I like to mark triangles with a carpenter’s crayon to remind me how I plan to join boards.

Before applying glue and clamps, the edges have first to be prepared. Four conditions are important to achieve a joint stronger than the surrounding stock. First the edges must be recently jointed or planed so that surface oils from the wood, or dirt from the environment, are removed. Second, the edges must be in the same plane, i.e. coplanar. That means that each edge must meet the other at all points of their respective surfaces. This doesn’t require that both edges are square, but they should be very close. Third, you must use the appropriate glue and maintain the appropriate temperature for curing. The fourth condition is to apply the appropriate clamp pressure. To understand this condition I refer you to Fine Woodworking, Issue Number 194 where you can read an article titled Get Serious About Clamping on page 37.

To assure condition three is met I use Titebond Original for most applications; Extend when I need more time, or Type III when moisture is an issue. My shop is heated so temperature is always well within the curing range.

Joint is planed just before glue-up.Check joint for flatness with a straight edge.To assure condition one I plane my edges just prior to glue-up. I never rely on recently sawed or joined edges. In my opinion the best joint requires planed edges. Edges planed just prior to glue-up plays right into assuring condition two, that is, to be sure both edges are coplanar. To do this I mark boards to be joined as shown above right. Then I fold two boards together, the two that form the joint, such that the marked sides are facing each other. I align the edges as best I can and clamp them together. Next I put the sandwich in a vice and plane the pair of edges that are to be joined as shown at left.

It is possible that, if not careful, the edges will be planed slightly out of square. But that will not matter if they were folded correctly. It is akin to a board that is ripped along its length with the table saw blade set a little off ninety degrees. If you put that joint back together with the edges joined as they were cut there will be no gaps. The same is true when you fold and plane.

Bottom glued and clamped waiting to cure.The edges do have to be straight, or flat. Shown right above I check the for flatness using a straight edge. After all joints are treated the same way I can apply glue, bring the panel together according to my markings, and apply clamping pressure. The final panel is shown at left, waiting for the glue to cure. The manufacturer says that glued pieces can be worked after just one hour of curing. I always let them sit overnight because I don’t want to risk stressing which may weaken the joint.

The drum sander is used to finish dimension.A few additional comments about glue-ups. I don’t use biscuits. I don’t believe they add strength, in fact may reduce joint strength. I have never been able to achieve alignment as well with biscuits as I can by carefully hand aligning and tightening the clamps. But I also leave my stock 1/16" to 1/8" thicker than final, and use my PerformaxPro 22 – 44 Drum Sander to bring the glue-up to final thickness as shown at right. Notice that the panel hangs over the side of the drum sander, about 2" in this case. I can flip the panel on alternate passes, effectively providing capacity for a 44" panel. This comes in handy, especially for wide panels and figured woods. A traditional planer often will leave figured stock with tear outs. Not the drum sander. This machine is worth its weight in gold.

Fives pieces make the drawer.The marking gauge is used to mark the ends.When I have completed milling all drawer pieces to size I have five parts; a back, two sides, front and bottom as shown left. The next step is to mark the back, sides and front for dovetailing. I start by marking the ends with the thickness of the mating parts. The back and sides are 1/2". The front is 3/4" thick. However, the tails that will mate with it are blind tails and therefore only set in 1/2". This allows me to set the marking gauge to 1/2" and leave it that way for the marking of all pieces. Shown right I am marking the end of a side.

By the way, here is a tip about setting the marking gauge. Once you set it, leave it set until after glue-up. You will be surprised how often you put the gauge away only to discover you missed one mark up. Then you have to match the original setting risking a slightly different setting.

The marking gauge I use has a round blade that is beveled toward the depth gauge side. This tends to force the depth gauge tight to the board and produces a clean straight mark. In addition, the mark is cut across the grain and is deep enough to provide a guide for chiseling as will be seen later. A close up of the gauge and its resultant mark can be seen below left.

Marked up end and marking gauge.Step one with the dividers.Next I mark the tails. There is a lot written and debated about whether to mark tails or pins first. You can read all this material and join in the debate, but in the end all that matters is what works best for you. I am a tails first guy. Don’t ask me to justify it with facts or reason. I just prefer it.

With a pencil I mark off a half pin on each end of the side’s end. Enlarge the picture at right to see the two half pin lines 1/4" in from each end. Next, I use a divider and through trial & adjustment I set it such that when I gently step it across the board (leaving no marks), starting at a half pin mark, it ends even with the other edge, shown at left below. In this case, because the drawer is so shallow, it only takes one step. If the drawer were wider I would decide how many tails I wanted and adjust the divider such that the last step still ended at the edge. The divider setting that satisfies this condition turns out to be the width of one tail and one pin.

Step two with the dividers.Tails all marked.After I have the divider properly adjusted I again walk it across the board but this time apply pressure to mark the board. I must walk it from both half pin marks to complete the marking. Using a dovetail marking tool (not shown) I complete the marking shown right. Notice the two small holes created by the divider. I can place my pencil in these holes, slide the dovetail marking tool up against it and draw lines across and down the side. I am careful to stop the vertical line at the horizontal mark left by the marking gauge. If I am sloppy and extend this line beyond the horizontal mark I am apt to follow it with the saw. Note I mark the waste areas with an X. No matter how accomplished one gets cutting dovetails this step should never be eliminated. It is too easy to cut away the wrong piece if not reminded by these marks.

The dovetail saw is used for the vertical cuts.The fret saw removes the majority of the waste.The picture at left shows how the tail cuts are made using a dovetail saw. I prefer a western style dovetail saw with a rigid back. I have tried Japanese Dozuki Saws and like how easily they start, and how quickly they cut. But I just feel more in control with a Lie-Nielsen 15 ppi Dovetail Saw. The most important parts of this cut is to cut exactly perpendicular to the face of the board and to stop at the horizontal marking gauge line. Try to follow the vertical line exactly, but if you don’t it is not a real problem; these tails will be used as a mask and copied onto the pin board, hence the error will be self correcting.

I use a fret saw to remove the majority of the waste. I cut as close to the horizontal line as I dear making sure to leave enough material so that the marking gauge line can guide my chisel. This is where the Xs marking the waste comes in. If you have lots of tails, as you would in say a six board chest, it is awfully easy to be cutting along and inadvertently cut a tail off. That ruins the whole piece.

The chisel cleans up the waste.Completed pins and tails.Next I use a sharp chisel to clean up the waste, shown left. This can be a tedious step if you have a lot of tails, but in this case there is only one clean up per end. This task is made much easier if your chisel is very sharp. I like to sharpen mine just prior to use and several time through a project if I have a lot of work. The sharpening is easy and quick. It also affords you a break from chiseling.

When the tails are complete on both ends of each side I use them as a mask to mark the pins on the front and back. I then use a similar process to craft the pins. Completed tails and pins can be seen at right. Note the pencil lines on the edges of the pins on the top board. Since the tails were used as a mask I cut the pins such that I just leave the pencil lines. This will assure a snug fit. Also note how perpendicular the tail ends are to the face. This is very important.

Half blind tail sockets completed.Completed half blind dovetails.Perhaps one of the most important tools in the shop is the coffee cup, full of hot coffee, shown above right. This tool is essential when hand cutting dovetails. It calms the nerves and steadies the hand. I use whole bean Eight O’clock coffee and grind it fresh.

The most difficult of dovetails is the half blind dovetail – the socket that is. The tails are used as a mask. The dovetail saw is used to cut the side of the socket, which is a compound cut because you must hold the saw forty-five degrees to the end and eight degrees to the sides. This provides only a partial cut of the socket side. The rest is done with the chisel.

The completed half blind dovetail is shown above right. Notice you can still see the marking gauge scribe lines. Most cabinetmakers leave these lines as a signature of hand dovetails.

Completed through dovetails with pencil marks visible.Completed through dovetails, beveled bottom and notch.The completed pins can be seen in the picture at left. Notice that the pencil marks can still be seen on the edge of the pins. Leaving these lines provided a nice snug fit. Not so tight as to cause splitting and not so loose as to leave gaps.

Finally, a view of the finished through dovetails, including the beveled and notched bottom is shown in the picture at right. In this picture you can see how the beveled bottom rests in the dado and touches at only one point all along its edge, decreasing friction and binding so that the bottom can expand and contract freely. In fact you can see that the bottom has already expanded somewhat in the recent humid hot weather.

Also shown in the picture at right above is a notch in the center of the beveled bottom. After the final finish has been applied and dried I will drive a screw and flat washer through the grove and into the back, tightening it just enough to support the wide bottom, but not so tight as to impede expansion and contraction.

This completes the crafting of a traditional drawer. In a future article I will describe in more detail hand cutting through and half blind dovetails. Stay tuned.


Traditional drawer front viewA SketchUp drawing of this drawer can be downloaded by clicking here.

There are many ways to design and construct a drawer. For example you may use plywood for the material and dadoes or nailed butt joints as the primary joinery. On the other extreme is the hand cut dovetailed joinery, floating beveled bottom, and made of hardwood design-and-construction. The latter is the subject of this post. This traditional design has been perfected through the ages and is bullet proof when considering strength and environmental conditions. Provided you follow a few – sometimes not so obvious – design guidelines, this drawer will last for centuries.

I use this design in all my furniture and have no desire to vary from it regardless of the architecture or period of a piece. It can easily accommodate a flush, inset, beaded, lipped or any other style front. It can be used with hardware sliders, wooden inset sliders or simply slide along guides. I can’t think of a design criteria this drawer cannot meet. It is always nice to design an original piece or sub assembly; but when the ages have provided you a design that can not be improved, I believe it is time to surrender and use it.

Let’s take a quick look at the overall design. Click on the picture at left above to enlarge it. The drawer is a five-sided box. The front and back are joined by the sides using dovetailed joinery. The tails are on the sides and the pins on the front and back. The tails and pins are beveled in such a direction that they resist being pulled apart thus providing a very tight mechanical joint; a snuggly fit dovetailed drawer will make one believe no glue is needed. The bottom slides into the sides in groves and comes to rest at the front where a tongue on the front edge of the bottom seats in a grove in the front. A side benefit of this is that the bottom tends to square up the drawer at the time of glue up. Now let’s look at the design in more detail.

The Sides

Traditional drawer bottom viewStill looking at the picture at left above you can see the sides with their tails. Sides and back are usually 1/2″ thick and the front 3/4″ to 7/8″ thick. The sides dovetail into the pins in the back to form a through dovetail. A through dovetail is a joint where the pins and tails are visible on both corners. The sides dovetail into the pins in the front to form a half blind dovetail. A half blind dovetail is a joint where the pins and tails are visible only from the side and not the front. The thicker front provides for the side’s tails to protrude into the front 1/2″, locking with its pins, but the pins are faced and disguised by the remaining 1/4″ to 3/8″ material. Not shown in this picture is a grove on the inside face of each side which supports the bottom. Since the thickness of the bottom is 1/2″, like the sides and back, this grove begins 1/2″ up from the bottom edge, is 1/4″ wide and 1/4″ deep. It will be clear later that this will provide a 1/4″ clearance between the bottom side of the bottom and the bottom edge of the sides.

The sides will expand/contract in width. This needs to be compensated for. I have calculated that it will change a total of 7/64″ over the course of a year. Since it is going into a 5″ tall opening, and since May is about the driest time of the year and my material has been in my shop for a very long time, I will cut it to 4 7/8″ wide.

The Back

The back is usually 3/4″ narrower than the side width, allowing for the bottom to extend under it to its back side. Click on picture above right to enlarge it. Note that a side has three tails in the front and three tails in the back. However these sets of tails are not the same width. The front tails are evenly and symmetrically spaced. The back tails are all the same width but biased toward the top of the side. In addition to the three tails there is a 3/4″ square tail on the bottom edge. The reason for this will become obvious later.

The length of the back and front are determined by the opening width. I like to leave 1/32″ to 1/16″ on both sides for clearance. If there were no Cock beading on this draw I would leave 1/32″ on each side or 1/16″ overall making the drawer front length the opening width minus 1/16″. However, because of the extra step of a Cock Bead, and the fact that I can’t use my block plane to shave the bead without destroying it’s curves, I will leave a total 1/8″ making the drawer front length the opening width minus 1/8″.

The Front

This particular draw design has what is traditionally called Cock Beading around the perimeter of the front. The beading is approximately 3/32″ in radius and hence stands proud of the front surface by 3/32″. The top bead extends to the back face of the drawer front, while the bottom and side beads end at the beginning of the pins. This is done both to maintain the strength of the dovetail joints and to show them off; if you had cut dovetails you want someone to see them!

As mentioned previously the front is usually 3/4″ to 7/8″ thick. It has half blind pins on either end and a grove 1/4″ wide and 1/4″ deep on the inside face. The grove is positioned up from the bottom to align exactly with the groves in the sides. This distance is different on lipped fronts versus inset fronts.

The front will also expand/contract across the width. Like the sides I need to compensate for it. There is also the chance, that because the sides and the front are different material (maple versus birch) that a mis-match in expansion/contraction could cause problems. A quick calculation reveals that they will change the same amount. Therefore I can cut the front to 4 7/8″ as well (before trimming with the Cock Bead).

The length of the front is the same as the length of the back.

The Bottom

Taper detailThe bottom has a taper along each edge. The taper is designed such that the top surface of the bottom just touches the top side of the grove in the sides, and the bottom of the taper touches the bottom inside corner of the grove at just one point. See the picture at left. This single point of contact (actually it is a line if you consider the depth of the bottom) allows the bottom to expand and contract with seasonal humidity and temperature changes without bind, which would likely happen if this were a tongue in a grove. The forces generated by seasonal changes can be quite large, sufficient to break joints or put cracks in a board. Eliminating this potential binding with a taper assures those forces will not be exerted on boards or joints. Making this tapered cut in the shop is a trial-and-error cut. I set my table saw for an 8 degree off normal or 82 degrees. I then creep up on the thickness I want, using scrap wood and testing for good fit after each cut, hoping to avoid the error in trial-and-error. When cut right the taper will seat all the way in the grove, touch the top of the grove and the bottom inside corner, but still slide rather freely.

The bottom has a tongue along its front edge. This tongue seats in a grove on the inside face of the front. This joint is glued so that the bottom is anchored to the front and all expansion/contraction appears at the back as the bottom will alternately extend beyond the back or fall slightly short of the back surface of the back. It is important to know how much this total seasonal change will be and how deep the bottom should be cut at the time of assembly. Suppose for instance that you are building the drawer in May in the Northeast United States. This is just about the driest time of the year. If the stock has been in your shop for some time, it may have reached equilibrium with the surroundings and its moisture content may be low, around 7%. If it has not reached equilibrium it may be high, say 14 – 28%. You need to know the specific moisture content for your situation, and then you need to calculate how much the bottom will expand/contract around its nominal dimension.

I should mention at this point, in case you do not know, wood expands almost entirely in a direction across the grain. It expands negligibly in either the direction of the grain or radially. This is why plainsawn lumber always expands more than quartersawn lumber of the same species.

Expansion/Contraction calculationLet’s take the specific example of this draw bottom. The depth of the drawer bottom is 10 1/2″. I measured its moisture content (MC) to be 7% with my Delmhorst J-2000 meter. The drawer is crafted in mid February in Western Massachusetts (USA). The wood species is yellow birch.

Click on the picture at right to enlarge it. This is the output of a program called Wood Movement Master by Kite Hill Software (no longer in business). You can find many such programs on the internet, many for free and many for thirty-ish dollars. It requires a little interpretation. I am calculating a board centric figure, that is, I just want to know how much the board is going to expand or contract. The board is Flatsawn (Plainsawn) and the bottom is made of a two board glue up. (All other things being equal, a glued up board will have less seasonal change than a single board and the more boards the better to a point. I inputted this bottom was constructed from two 5 1/4″ board to create a 10 1/2″ bottom. Note that the results indicate that each board will move a total of 7/64″ over the entire year for a total movement of 7/32″ or nearly 1/4″. Note also that the bottom is currently at its smallest or most shrunk. Therefore I choose to cut the bottom to 10 3/8″ (10 1/2″ – 1/8″) at the time of glue up. It will be 1/8″ short of the back surface of the back, but six months from now it will stick out 1/8″ further than the back. Since the back is 1/2″ thick there is no chance of anything falling out of the drawer when it is shrunk.

There should be plenty of room behind the finished drawer to allow for the bottom to expand out the back. In this case it needs at least 1/8″. Also, the drawer needs stops to keep it from sliding into the opening too far. Do not place the stop behind the drawer bottom or the position of the front when closed will change with the seasons.

In a future post I will discuss how I hand cut half blind and through dovetails.


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