Monday, June 27, 2016

Mini Chest With Drawers - Part 1

The result of my "Dovetailing Deep Dive" was that I had a four sided box (not yet glued together) with no top and bottom (or front and back, depending on what I was going to do with it).  I decided to make a small chest of drawers, so the open spaces became front and back.

I've been reading lately about historical construction techniques, so I wanted to try a few things.  First, I'm going to separate the chest into three drawer compartments, oriented vertically like a typical bureau.  So I needed to practice letting a dovetailed piece into a sliding dovetail housing.
Some practice at sliding dovetails
I did a little work with tapered and non-tapered sliding dovetails.  The piece fitted into the housing on the right above is a tapered DT.  The other three slots include two straight DT and a dado.  Since my rails were only 1 1/2" wide I decided on non-tapered sliding DT.  And because they were from 1/2 thick stock I didn't think there was enough material to try tapered DTs.  The practice joints came out pretty good.

Laying out the tails and cutting them out was straight forward.  Knifed a baseline all around 1/2" from the end.  Penciled a line on the end grain about 1/16" from each face and used a DT marker to get the angles.
Tail layout
Sawed to the lines
The only cleanup I did was to the shoulders.  Then I marked the locations of the recesses using the actual work piece and a knife.
Knife-marking the recess on the edge

Squared the knife lines onto the face to about 1 1/2"
I sawed just inside the layout lines and removed a triangle of waste with a 1/8" chisel (the top of the recess was less than 1/4" wide).
Starting to remove waste
BTW, in sawing to the lines, some people will saw well past the end line on the face of the board so that it's easier to remove the waste.  In the first photo above, my recess second from the right has these saw lines extended past the stop line.  Even though this will be inside the cabinet, I think it looks horrible and just can't do it that way.
Waste removed almost to the diagonal saw kerf
From there, I used the original knife lines to guide the chisel in paring the walls.
Paring to the knife lines
Then it was a matter of running the knife in the corners and chiseling out the waste until the recess was completed.  This took several iterations.
Knifing to deepen the side wall
And here's what it looked like:
Completed recess
Another view
Then it was time to tap the tail into the socket and see how it fits.
Half way home
This one came out great.  I had 8 total to do and a couple of them were a bit loose.  Just a small gap leads to a poor fit.
A little gappy
Way too lose (same joint as above pic)
The two photos above are of the same joint, only I've let gravity pull the cantilevered rail away from the joint in the last photo.  Oh well, not perfect, but not too worried about it.

Next time I'll continue with mortising these rails to fit drawer runners.  Until then, have fun and stay safe.


  1. Very cool. Tapered, sliding dovetails are high on my list of joints to learn. Looks like your getting a handle on it.

    1. Hey Greg. This was my first time for sliding DTs, tapered or not. It was surprisingly easy. As we've learned from Sellers and others, good layout makes all the difference.

  2. I'm impressed. A stopped sliding dovetail joint is something I've thought of but have not tried to do yet.

    1. Yeah, I hadn't dried it either. I've seen them in furniture, particularly how the drawer divider front rails connect to a carcase. And I wanted to be able to incorporate it in a future project so it was time to practice it.

  3. Likewise, never done this, your first attempt looks pretty good!
    I trust your project is getting ahead faster than mine, spend the day cleaning up the garage. Progress, small progress...

    1. Thanks Bob. I magically managed to get the first one spot on. And most of them were OK, but a couple were a bit loose. The strength of the knife line cannot be understated.

  4. Hi Matt,
    very cool sliding dovetails. I think we all have to fight with these little gaps.
    One question, have you thought about making a paring jig (block of wood, beveled at the angle of the dovetail)?

    1. That's a great idea Stafan. I've seen that in use somewhere, but I thought I'd try this freehand this time. Sometime in the future I'll try that.

  5. This reminds me of the candlestand that was made in "the woodwright's shop" It had sliding dovetails where the legs were connected to the post. I made one out of pine about 20 years ago and the soft wood didn't work too good for holding the tails tight. Guy

    1. That sounds like a fun project. Something I might like to try someday.