This project has since been completed. Here are the links to all parts of this build:
Fustion 360: Designing the project
Part 1: Case construction
Part 2: The base
Part 3: The details, assembly, and finish
Part 4: The drawers
Project Plans: Click here
In this video and article I’ll cover making the dual front half-blind dovetail drawers. The table case is made from African mahogany with the base being ambrosia maple. The drawers will be made from ambrosia maple to match the base. The boards I set aside for the drawers have a lot of character but also a lot of defects to work around.
To break down rough lumber I always start at the miter saw station to make all the rough crosscuts first. But in this case I can’t make all of the rough crosscuts right now just due to the way the cuts are laid out.
Then any rough width ripping can be done at either the bandsaw or the table saw. In this case I have a few rough edges that needed to be trimmed so I chose the bandsaw. Also, if the boards are cupped at all the bandsaw is always the much safer option.
Then it’s back to the miter saw to make the last few rough length crosscuts.
One wide face is jointed flat at the jointer.
The opposite face is planed flat and parallel with the planer.
And finally one narrow face of each board is jointed flat with the jointer once again. The reason to do the narrow faces after the planer step is this sequence allows you to choose which wide face goes against the fence so that you can make sure you are cutting in the downhill direction and minimize tearout. Note: safety guard removed for video clarity.
The close-to-final width is established at the table saw with the jointed narrow face against the fence. I didn’t go for the final width right at the table saw and that’s because I wanted to sneak up to the perfect fit with a hand plane.
Before cutting the pieces to their final length I needed to determine the overall length of the drawers. As you can see here, the case is a little more than 19-3/8” wide so I’m going to aim for the drawers to be 19-1/4” long. The reason is I don’t want them to be the exact size of the case width due to expansion and contraction of the case. If I make the drawers to the exact width of the case and the case shrinks in the winter time then the drawers will be sticking out of the case. I’d rather error on the side of caution by making them not as long. So the assembled drawer side length is to be 19-1/4” which means I can subtract 1/8” twice for the setback on both the half blind dovetail joints to give a final length of the drawer side pieces to be 19” long.
Now all the drawer sides can be cut to their final length and all of the drawer front’s can be cut really close to their final length. I’ll get the exact fit for those with a shooting board.
The final width of all the drawer pieces is established with a hand plane making sure the fit is tight enough that there is no slop or rattling around of the pieces but also loose enough that they can be moved easily. It’s also a good idea to label all of the parts when you get this far for consistency sake.
Finally the front’s can be trimmed to the exact size with a shooting board. It’s important to make these pretty tight at this stage. Once the drawer is assembled the sides will be planed once again so if they are loose now they will never be tight after assembly.
The drawer joinery can begin and here you see me setting the marking gauge to the incorrect depth. I have no idea why but I set the marking gauge to the full thickness of the pieces to mark the cut depth… which means I’m marking for through dovetails on the tail boards. I didn’t catch this screw up so I ended up making the drawer sides twice.
The tail boards get marked on both wide faces and both narrow faces.
And the pin boards only get the full thickness marked on the inside wide face.
For the half blind depth I set the marking gauge to leave 1/8” on the front of the drawer and marked the end grain of all the pins. This is the correct setting of the marking gauge that I should have used to determine the length of the tails. If I marked the pins first I would have most likely not mismarked the tail boards. Lesson learned; mark the pins first.
I laid out the dovetails per the dimensions on my plan with a pair of layout dividers. Laying out dovetails with dividers is incredibly easy and foolproof. I won’t go into detail here but if you’re interested in the complete process you can see it in this video.
When using a dovetail guide for the saw marking the dovetails isn’t necessary. However, I do like to mark the end grain face at the very least.
Then the other seven joints are laid out real quick.
I’m using this magnetic dovetail guide for all of the joinery cuts. It’s an easy way to make sure all of your cuts are at the same angle and straight.
One of the great things about this guide in particular is that you can use it with western style saws that cut on the push stroke as well as eastern or japanese style saws that cut on the pull stroke.
It also has a face to make perpendicular cuts which is nice.
The center waste can be completely chiseled out if you prefer but an inexpensive fret saw like this allows you to easily remove the majority of the waste.
Then any cleanup work can be done with chisels being careful to not damage the sides of the tails.
AAAAAnd here’s where I realized I cut the tails too long and needed to remake the drawer sides which was really frustrating. So I ended up putting this project aside and shifted gears to some other stuff. After three weeks away from this project I got back to it and remade the drawer sides.
The pin boards can now be put in the vise at the same height as a hand plane.
Which allows the tail board to be placed across both allowing the tails to be easily marked onto the pin board.
To make the pin cuts I only used the magnetic guide to establish the angle of cut on the end grain and then the back side of the saw can be easily dropped to establish the vertical direction of the cut.
There are lots of ways to remove the waste but I prefer to secure the piece to the workbench with a hold fast and then chop in two directions with a chisel.
It’s super easy to stay inside the cuts and marking gauge lines and relatively quick. Because the magnetic dovetail guide was used there shouldn’t be any test fitting so long as you cut on the appropriate side of the line and you use a square to make sure nothing is sticking up in the way.
To make sure the drawers fit the openings perfectly I wanted to glue them up and let them dry in place. To prevent any minor glue squeeze out from locking the drawers into the opening I waxed the areas where glue could potentially get.
Then drawers are glued up making sure to not go crazy with the glue.
And the slid into place to sit overnight.
The combination of wax in the case and not going crazy with the glue worked great as the drawers slid out easily the next day.
Because the maple I’m using is much harder than the mahogany I feared that the drawer sides would dig into the mahogany over time if the bottom panel was to be installed in a groove. To eliminate the possibility of this I decided to cut a rabbet in the bottom of the drawer so the drawer bottom could be glued into place and be flush with the bottom of the drawer sides. This now means the sides cannot dig into the mahogany case as all of the weight is distributed along the bottom of the entire drawer.
And of course the round corner from the router bit needs to be squared with a chisel.
I debated on what to use for the drawer bottom and ultimately settled on 1/4” MDF. It may not be a traditional material for a drawer bottom but in this application where the bottom panel will be glued in place and doesn’t have room for expansion and contraction it makes sense.
After verifying the panels fit they are glued in with a minimal amount of glue.
Once the bottom panel was dry I did the final clean up of the drawer sides. Because the drawer has two fronts it’s important to not let the plane blow out opposite front when planing. To prevent this I made a tiny chamfer with a block plane first.
Then I made any final adjustments necessary for a smooth operation.
One final detail is to use a block plane to cut a small chamfer around the perimeter of the drawer to even up the gap around the drawer. There typically isn’t a gap at the bottom but adding this chamfer makes the drawer visually appear perfectly centered in the opening and is a great way of hiding any imperfections you may have made in fitting the drawer front.
Then the drawer fronts can get a few light passes with a smoothing plane.
If the grain is cooperating and not going in several directions you can get away with a really nice surface finish right off the smoothing plane and eliminate sanding all together. I actually didn’t have to sand any of the wood on these drawers.
I normally would have applied the finish last but I had limited and sporadic shop time so I went ahead and finished the drawer fronts only. I didn’t have much of the same finish I used on the case so I just made sure it was at least on the drawer fronts and pulls. The sides, inside, and bottom will be finished with shellac.
Speaking of drawer pulls, I went with this piece of wenge that has been hanging out in my shop for a long time. Ebony is another good choice for the pulls but I thought the solid black look of ebony would be too plain for the project. To me, wenge fits this project better because it’s grain is visible and has enough contrast to flow with the rest of the wood.
The milling process once again… Crosscutting to rough length at the miter saw.
Jointing at the jointer..
Planing at the planer..
And cutting to final width at the table saw.
At this point I decided to change the drawer pull shape from a round shape to a long dovetail that would better match the project. The round shape looked good when I designed this project in SketchUp but not so much when I thought of it being in place.
The dovetail pull was shaped to match the dovetails in this build so I used the magnetic guide to set the blade angle on the table saw.
And then ran the board through on both sides to establish a dovetail.
I did this on both sides of the board so I can experiment with two different height pulls. Each side of the board was long enough to get four pulls from.
I cut the first side to result in a 3/4” high pull and the second side to result in a 5/8” high pull.
And of course these get a slight chamfer just like the rest of the proud dovetails on the case. It’s much easier to get a consistent chamfer on the long edges before cutting each pull.
Then the stock is cut in to four oversize pieces establishing one angled crosscut.
And a stop block is added to cut the opposite angled face and establish the length of the pulls.
With all of the pulls cut I thought the taller, or thicker, drawer pull would just stick out too much so I went with the shorter, or thinner pull. The outside face and angles are the same on both pulls.
I made a simple jig to locate the holes on both the pulls and the drawers. First, a scrap of MDF was ripped to the same width as the drawer pulls and the width of the pulls transferred to the bottom edge. Then a hole was drilled halfway through the width of the drawer pull and what looked to be an appropriate amount away from the edge of the pull. A stop block on the drill press fence was set for the first hole.
The MDF was flipped over and the same hole was used to position the second stop block on the fence.
This gives two stop blocks that are the same distance away from the drill bit so that you can drill both holes without flipping the pull around and risk the holes not being centered along the width. In this case it’s OK if the holes are not 100% in the center as they will both be off by the same amount and still mount horizontal.
The chamfers on the ends needed to wait until after the holes were drilled because the chamfers will change the length of the pull slightly.
And then a quick coat of finish on the pulls.
To locate the screw holes on the drawer fronts a square is clamped to the jig so that the holes are centered vertically on the drawer. The jig is centered left to right and then the face of the square is taped to the face of the case. This is just enough to keep it stationary while the holes are located.
And with the jig removed the holes are drilled all the way through.
Again, a little bit of finishing out of order as I added shellac to the rest of the drawer, inside and out.
Next the pulls are installed with a couple of screws.
The shellac is knocked down with a 320 grit standing sponge.
A liberal amount of wax is applied to the inside of the case and to the drawer bottom and sides, and this project is finally done.
So with the project done there’s two things to note. The drawers slide effortlessly in both directions with no problems. I’m actually a bit concerned at how well they slide considering the fact that my daughter should be walking and pulling herself up on everything in the next few months. The second thing is that I wish I would have had the wood grain flow from one drawer front to the next. Instead, I chose to have the most amount of ambrosia and curl on the fronts which I think is a mistake. The drawers look great independently but the fact that the grain doesn’t flow from one to the other is distracting to me. Oh well, I’m still very happy with the piece.