This chest of drawers project is the third piece (four if you count the dual 2×10 bookcase build as two) to my dimensional lumber bedroom furniture set. So far the joinery has advanced with each build. The bunk bed was nothing but 90 degree cuts with butt joints, glue, and screws. The bookcases had routed stopped dados for a strong joint that was hidden and visually simple. This chest of drawers build features traditional tongue and groove frame and panel sides as well as floating tenons. I made my first chest of drawers about 5 years ago constructed entirely from pocket hole screws so this will actually be my second chest of drawers.
While I did use floating tenons for the majority of the construction on this project dowels or even pocket hole screws can be used instead. The plans I put together for this build include options for each of the three joinery methods for assembly. It really is up to you. For those who are interested, plans are available here. UPDATE: This is one piece of an entire bedroom set. If you are interested in plans for the entire set CLICK HERE.
As I already mentioned, this project is a dimensional lumber build. Other than the plywood drawer boxes and back panel the rest of this build will be sourced from box store pine 2×10 boards. When working with pine boards you are typically able to find the best pieces inside the widest boards. The wide boards typically contain the pith, or center, of the tree which isn’t really a stable source of material. But if you slice off the material to either side of the pith you will usually find pieces of quarter sawn or rift sawn material. I personally find this to be the best way to get pretty clear and stable material but it also produces a lot of waste.
Speaking of waste, the first step is to rough out each of the pieces to avoid any knots. I wanted my final product to be knot free and contain nothing but nice straight grain. If this is your first time doing this it might get a little confusing going through all of your stock to mark out all of your pieces. I find it helpful to use a bright crayon for your eyes to visually identify marked pieces much easier and to number each piece of the puzzle as you go. For instance, if you need four pieces for the top that are 3” wide by 34” long then I would use the crayon to mark a piece 3-1/2” wide and 36” long and write on that piece T1. Continue this until you have all parts labeled T1, T2, T3, T4. Same for rails R1, R2, R3, R4. This way every part has a name and is accounted for before you begin cutting.
After everything is accounted for I roughed out all of the parts at the miter saw to eliminate any knots and leave nice straight grain pieces. First, crosscutting at the miter saw. I say it a lot but having a dedicated miter saw station with plenty of material support on each side has been incredibly convenient and one of the best things I have done to increase the efficiency of my work flow.
Then ripping the material to rough width for each part. I don’t have a jointer so the way I “joint” the edges of my pieces is by making two or three alternating cuts at the table saw. Each time flipping the board so the fresh cut face is against the saw and each time removing typically 3/16” with each pass. The reduction amount isn’t too critical so long as your last cut leaves you with your final dimension. I just like to take at least a tiny bit more than 1/8” off each time so that the blade is 100% inside the wood which reduces the amount of dust that gets sprayed back at me. It’s not as good as using a jointer but like I said I don’t have a jointer.
Another good reason to label each of your parts as you cut is so that they are easily identified and kept grouped together. Staying organized really helps with longer projects. At this point I had all of my rails and stiles and top boards cut to their final widths. I glued up the top panel into two sections first so that I could run the resulting panels through my thickness planer to clean them up before joining them for the final time.
While the top was in clamps I started in on the side panels. The joinery for these is going to be tongue and groove with solid wood floating panels. When you cut tongue and groove joinery on the table saw you are always referencing off of the outside face. So to make the joinery a lot more consistent from piece to piece I ran all of my stock through the thickness planer not to get to a certain number but to make sure that all of my material was indeed the exact same thickness. I also made sure to run a scrap board through so that I would have some same thickness material to test the joint in the next few steps.
First up is the groove. In my Making Tongue And Groove Doors At The Table Saw video I showed how to make a tongue and groove joint with a standard dado blade. The process is the exact same with a dado blade but much faster. So this time I used a dado blade. I was aiming for a 1/2” wide and deep groove so I set my dado width to about 5/16” and set the fence so that when I ran the piece through, flipped it end for end to change the reference face touching the fence, and ran it though again the resulting groove was 1/2” wide. Flipping the board end for end and making two passes also guarantees that the groove will be centered.
The tongues are cut with the same dado blade. Adjust the height and run a few test boards to make sure you get the exact size tongue you need before cutting your good stock. Then adjust your fence to determine the appropriate length for your tongue. When the top or bottom of the joinery will be exposed, like on a cabinet door, it’s best to make this joint fit with no gap between the bottom of the groove and the tongue. But because the bottom of this joint wont be seen and the top of this joint will be covered by the top panel I sized the tongue to be about 1/32” short of the groove. This tiny void will be filled with glue and will allow a little wiggle room during glue up.
The stock I’m working with is dimensional 2x lumber so it’s 1-1/2” thick. The solid wood panels need to be 1/2” thick so after roughing out enough stock for the left side panels I resawed it in half at the bandsaw to give me enough stock for the other side.
Each side has a upper and lower panel that are a different length. This means four panels need to be glued up. Here you can see an example of how well it pays off to cut out the knots and select the best areas of your material at the beginning. I wanted every panel, rail, and stile to have visually clear and straight grain and in the end that was achieved.
The panels still needed to be reduced to their final thickness. You can wipe off the glue squeeze out during the glue-up if you wish but if I know it’s going through the thickness planer I never bother to do so. I find it much easier to use a paint scraper to give one good scrape and remove the dried glue beads once removed from the clamps.
With the thickness planer setup on my table I started with the thickest pieces and worked my way down. First up was the two top panels from earlier. I wasn’t shooting for a specific number. I just wanted to get these to the same thickness.
For the final glue up of the top panel I wanted to make sure the top surfaces remain flush with very little clean up work later. So I used floating tenons referencing off of the top surface. Any type of added joint where you are referencing off the top surface will work here. Biscuits and dowels will do the same thing.
After running all of the side panels through the thickness planer I was almost ready for the side assembly. It’s a good idea to prefinish the floating panels first though. That way if the panels shrink over time there won’t be any non finished parts exposed. For this entire project and everything else in the furniture set I used Rustic Pine Briwax. Its just a wax finish that looks great and is super easy to touch up down the road.
The panels were then cut to size at the table saw. I should have done this before waxing but oh well. Six one way, half a dozen the other.
Finally the side assemblies can be glued. I made reference marks on the interior faces of each long stile before assembly to make lining everything up a bit easier. Only the frame joints receive glue, not the floating panels. This will allow the solid wood panel to expand and contract as needed. For some reason the panels look a different color from one another in this picture but they actually aren’t.
With both side assemblies in clamps I started in on the dust frames. These are interior frames that will hold the side assemblies together and also offer support for the drawers if you choose to go the route of no using drawer slides. The dust frames consist of two long pieces in front and back and three short pieces connecting them. All 1-1/2” square stock.
Once all of the dust frame pieces are cut go ahead and lay them out as they will be assembled. This will allow you to place the good side of one of the long pieces in the front as it will be visible. Once position is determined the joinery can begin. Again, I’m using floating tenons but dowels or pocket hole screws could be used if you prefer.
Assembling the dust frames is pretty straight forward. Be sure to glue all sides of your floating tenons or dowels.
With the glue drying on the dust frames I went back to the side panels. Each side panel needs a rabbet for the back panel. I made this rabbet a little deeper than the back panel so that I could use washer head screws to secure the back panel later and not have the screws scratch up the wall. I made this rabbet with a regular blade and two passes.
Again, floating tenons to secure the dust frames to the side panels. And again, dowels or pocket holes can be used if you prefer. The key here is to make sure your placement is perfect. Each joinery tool you choose to use will have a certain offset so just make sure you do whatever it is you need to do to make sure the center line of the resulting joint is on the same center line of where the dust frame needs to attach. For me this meant using a speed square set at a determined offset to position the tool where it needs to be. I think I just made that sound way more complicated or daunting than what it really is.
The matching joinery needs to be cut on the dust frames if using dowels or floating tenons. I set a few bench dogs in my table to make this process really speedy. This Paulk work table has proven to be a great tool for my work flow.
Time to use the hammer…..a lot! Floating tenons or dowels results in a lot of pounding joints home. 60 floating tenons were used here which is exactly why I chose to use a machine for the joinery instead of cutting it all by hand. I’m incredibly impatient with hand cut joinery.
The second side assembly is installed on top of the remaining floating tenons and is driven home with a few violent whacks of a rubber mallet and scrap block. After these were properly seated I stood the chest up on my work table, as it’s much flatter than my shop floor, and clamped everything together.
Next I filled the grooves previously cut in the feet. This is just a visual detail.
The plan calls for metal drawer slides although you could modify things a bit and make the drawers a little taller and add a 1/2″ piece of wood along the sides of the drawer opening to track the drawer front to back on the dust frames without the use of any drawer slides. I much prefer metal slides. They are pretty inexpensive and in my opinion make interacting with the project much more enjoyable. To install them I made a simple jig that would position the slide at the correct height and 3/4” in from the front.
Next up is the drawer boxes. These are all made with 1/2” plywood. Each drawer box can be cut from a single strip cut from the long direction on a 4’x8′ piece of plywood. I used my usual PureBond hardwood plywood for this. It’s a good quality plywood that wont’ set you back as much as baltic birch will. And it’s made in the USA and formaldehyde free which are both great in my book. After cutting each strip to width but before cutting the individual pieces to length I used a dado blade to cut a groove for the bottom panel. Then cutting them to length was relatively quick at my miter saw station.
The price difference for good quality 1/4” and 1/2” plywood isn’t much so I haven’t bought 1/4” plywood in a while. I had a few sheets of 1/2” on hand so I used 1/2” for the drawer bottoms and the back panel. 1/4” ply is plenty acceptable for both of those applications.
I normally make my drawers with pocket hole screws (and have never had one fail by the way) but in the interest of trying something different I used tiny 4mm floating tenons for the drawer box joinery. Because the drawer bottom was eventually going to be completely glued in place and the drawers would be supported on both sides with drawer slides I’m not sure if using floating tenons added any benefit over using my normal pocket hole screw method. But like I said, I wanted to try something new.
Floating tenons did slow down the assembly process considerably compared to pocket screws. Each floating tenon was glued into each mortise on the short pieces first.
With the first long piece in place glue is spread in the bottom panel dado and the bottom panel is inserted. Then the second long piece and second short piece are added. Glue is used on both sides of each tenon and the mating faces as well as in each dado for the bottom panel. There is absolutely no reason these drawers should fail.
And of course they needed to be clamped and checked for square.
At this point the top panel had been glued up and ready to go for a little bit. I used my cutoff sled to trim up one side, flip the panel, and cut it to it’s final length.
The top panel is a solid wood glue up that needs room to expand and contract so you can’t simply secure it from below with screws. In situations like this you need to either purchase or make some table top hold down brackets. I made a set of really ugly (they will never be seen) L shaped brackets that hook to the bottom side of the top dust frame. A hole is drilled in these that is slightly larger than the screw and washer head screws are used to secure it in place.
Before installing the drawer boxes I milled the pieces for the drawer fronts. I changed my mind several times on how I wanted to do the drawer fronts. In the end I decided to plane down the material I set aside earlier to 3/4” thick. That’s definitely not recommended. Removing that much material with a thickness planer is a bit ridiculous. If you have a bandsaw with enough resaw capacity removing most of the material there is the better route. Or even buying 1×10 boards for this might be better. But I was working with the materials and tools that I had on hand so the planer is the route I went. I filled my dust collector can twice while making this project.
After the ridiculous amount of plaining was done I sized the panels on the table saw to be 1/8” less in both directions than the space available for the drawer.
Installing drawers on full extension metal slides is super easy. Just place two shims inside the opening to elevate the drawer slightly. I believe these shims were 1/8”. Then slightly pull out both the drawer and the drawer slide and secure the first screw on each slide. Pull the drawer out half way and secure the middle screw on the slides. And finally pull the drawer all the way out and secure the rear screw. Remove the shims and you just mounted a drawer the super easy way.
With all the drawers mounted I added the drawer fronts. These were sized slightly less than the opening for the drawer so I used shims to center the drawer in the opening. No need to measure here. Just put it where it needs to be visually. To secure the drawer predrill and use screws through the front of the drawer in the location of where the drawer pulls will be. Then pull the drawer forward and secure it from the inside with six screws, three near the top and three near the bottom.
Finally, add your drawer pulls. Before making this project I asked everyone on my Facebook page if anyone would be interested in turning some drawer pulls so I could purchase through them instead of an online retailer. So these drawer pulls are pine and were turned by my friend Ted Alexander. Thanks again Ted.
I should have sanded before installing the drawer pulls. Oh well. Lots of sanding. I’m sure you know how much fun sanding is. One thing to note here is to make sure you really do a good job sanding the end grain of the top panel to 220 grit. If you are going to use the same wax finish this will close off the end grain so that it remains the same color as the rest of the wood once the finish is applied. You can see how well this matched in the final pictures.
The rest of the Rustic Pine Briwax can be applied after all of the sanding. I really like using a wax finish on projects as it’s incredibly easy to apply and touch up down the road. It’s not like a film finish where you have to remove refinish the entire surface. If this gets scratched or dinged just dab on a little more wax and buff it out. Super easy.
The very last step is to write a special message or sign the inside of the rear panel and install it in the back rabbets.
While this is a relatively in-depth project to complete its one that comes with a high reward. Not only is the final product a quality solid wood piece of furniture that will last a long time but the process is a great learning experience. It covers tongue and groove joinery, making solid wood panels, interior frame construction, drawer making, and inset drawer fronts. I hope you enjoyed this project and are able to give it a shot. Plans are available below with a few different joinery methods.
Chest of Drawers Plan
Tongue And Groove Chest Of Drawers PLAN
UPDATE: This is one piece of an entire bedroom set. If you are interested in the entire set CLICK HERE. This strong chest of drawers build was designed to match my 2×4 and 2×6 bunk bed and 2×10 bookcases. Materials cost to build this chest of drawers where I live is about $150-200 depending on where I shop. Every piece of solid pine on this project was cut from 2×10 lumber from the box store. All knots were avoided as I selected the best parts of each board for each part. The chest of drawers is a solid design and a great skill builder for a few types of joinery. The side panels are made with tongue and groove joints with floating panels. Material can be resawn for solid wood panels in the sides or you can use plywood. The main assembly joinery can be floating tenons, dowels, or pocket hole screws. The drawers can be made however you wish but are sized in the plans for either pocket hole screws or floating tenons. There is a lot of flexibility with the project allowing you to complete it with the joinery you choose. The overall size is 52-3/4″ high, 16-1/2″ front to back, and 35-5/8″ left to right. The plans are in imperial units only at this time. The following is included in the plan:
- 15 detailed pages
- shopping list
- helpful links
- a rough lumber layout diagram
- a plywood layout diagram
- reference diagrams for specific part and assembly dimensions
- step by step 3D assembly diagrams with written instructions
The entire plan is included in one PDF document. Most everyone will have a PDF reader installed on their computer already but if you do not you can use the free program Adobe Reader to view the plans. You can download Adobe Reader HERE. The checkout process for this plan uses PayPal. You can use major credit or debit cards through PayPal. You do not need a PayPal account. To purchase the plan follow the link below. After you purchase the plan you will receive an email receipt from me containing a link to download your plan. Make sure to check your inbox and spam filter for the receipt. If you do not receive the email within 10-15 minutes or encounter any problems please contact me.