A while back I made a giant wall cabinet to hole my hand tools. It’s been a great addition to the shop and really reduced the clutter. I designed in six little cubbies that I intended to fit with drawers. This past week I finally got around to making them.
I’d originally intended to make the drawers using some simple joinery — either a drawer lock joint on the router table or some kind of dado and tongue using the table saw. I even bought a special bit for the router to make that joint, but in the end I decided to dovetail the drawers for practice instead.
I’d only ever cut one or two half-blind joints previously, and that was in a class. I got out my tools, sharpened my chisels, milled up some lumber for the drawers and I was ready to go.
I used 3/4″ Alder for the fronts, 1/2″ pine for the sides and back, and 1/4″ plywood for the bottom. I worked really carefully and got a decent fit on both the half-blind and through dovetail joints on the first drawer. I was feeling good. I used the table saw to cut the grooves for the drawer bottom (my plow plane doesn’t have a “plywood thickness” cutter). I cut the grooves cut and started assembling…and discovered that I’d cut the grooves in the sides in the wrong place…at the top instead of at the bottom.
Well friends, I was off to an inauspicious start. I thought about cutting additional grooves in the right place. I thought about starting over. I thought about how far I could probably throw the drawer. Then I flipped the two sides, side for side. Guess what? They fit. The fit wasn’t as good as it was in the proper orientation, there were a couple of gaps, but they were snug and plenty strong. Shrug.
It I had a couple of other mishaps along the way. When I was paring out the back wall or one of the half-blind sockets on drawer number two it split off from the face. I wasn’t using much force, this Alder had a lot of shakes/splits. I think this is caused by improper drying. I glued the chunk back on and filled the crack with wood putty. It’s just a shop cabinet, after all.
I gang cut all of the tails, which I picked up from seeing Christopher Schwarz on Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Shop. It made is simpler to get square cuts. The let time I cut dovetails (pretty much every time I’ve ever cut dovetails, for that matter) the tail cuts aren’t square or consistent. You can’t get a proper fit if the sides of the tails are tapered. And it looks sloppy if the angle of the tail cuts isn’t at least somewhat consistent. I don’t know if it was the new workbench, or if my sawing has just improved, but I pretty much nailed every saw cut.
Past attempts have involved a lot of trial and error fitting, paring dovetail faces and general futzing around to get them to fit together. I didn’t have that experience this time. I sawed to my layout marks, used a fretsaw to saw out the waste, and chopped directly on the baseline.
I picked up a trick in a youtube video by David Barron on chopping the waste. If I had an 1/8″ or more waste remaining I chopped that away first. Then I dropped the chisel in the baseline, made sure is was square and gave it a couple of taps, then I leaned the chisel over two or three degrees — away from the baseline — and chopped to about the halfway point. Flip the board and repeat. I had nice tight fits at almost all of my baselines with this approach, where in the past (with a lot of screwing around being careful) I still had bruised baselines.
In addition to using “cabinet maker’s triangles” to keep my drawer parts aligned, I also numbered the joints as a backup. Except for mis-cutting the bottom grooves on the first drawer I didn’t mis-orient and parts.
I’d intended to put some cheap knobs on the drawers and call it good. Then I realized there was no room for knobs. At the very least, they would interfere with the doors closing. Rats. I looked at some recessed ring pulls at the hardware store (and online), but at about $20 each that was too much cash for this project.
I thought about carving some recessed pulls. I saw this in Fine Woodworking. I did 3 or 4 practice pieces, but they took too much time and were too inconsistent. I wanted to get this done TODAY, thank you very much.
So I ran down to the hardware store and poked around. I picked up six cotter pins and six welded steel rings. For $7 total, with tax. And a bag. The rings are chromes, the cotter pins are since plated steel. They had brass cotter pins, but I didn’t want to make my own brass rings, that would be a more attractive option. But I had to do something to make this look better.
So I heated and oil quenched the parts, two cycles on the cotter pins, and three cycles on the rings.
Then a coat of wax and they were ready to install. I drilled an 1/8″ hole, pushed the cotter pin in, spread the legs of the pin, bent the tips over and drove them into the inside of the drawer — just like clinching nails. It worked well.
I rubbed in one coat of Tried & True Oil/Wax finish, and I was done. They pulls look good to me, they were cheap and easy, and the drawers are a wrap!