Friday, June 7, 2019

Small Chest With Drawers

My wife has had this tiny little jewelry chest.  It's nothing special, but something about it always appealed to me.  It's a small, four-drawer, painted box.
The inspiration
Side view
You can see that it has tiny little bun feet and the drawers have curved fronts that are quite proud of the front of the case.

I didn't bother taking too close a look at how this piece was made, as I'm pretty sure it's some made-in-China crap.  So I decided on some rough dimensions (8" x 6" x 4") and put tools to wood.

The carcase is made from 3/8" thick pine.  The top and bottom are dovetailed into the sides and there's a groove along the back to receive a 1/8" plywood back.  The 1/8" groove is a good excuse to use my old wooden plough plane.  It's the only plane I have that has an iron that thin.
Underside of top
The sides have the 1/8" groove, as well as three stopped dadoes that receive the 1/4" thick drawer dividers.  There rear dovetail pin is wider than the others to leave room for the groove.
Inside face of left side
The three drawer dividers get a little step to conceal the dadoes and bring their fronts flush with the case front.  The stock on hand was not quite wide enough to allow the dividers to extend all the way to the back of the case.  No problem though - they do their job fine.
Drawer dividers
The case came together nicely.  It was a really good exercise in careful marking out.
A first dry-fit
After gluing up the case, I plugged the groove holes on the top of the case and trimmed the plugs smooth.  For the drawers, the fronts and sides are poplar, the backs are pine and the bottoms are 1/8" plywood.  The sides are connected to the front by a single half-blind dovetail and to the back by a through dovetail.  Thin, soft wood is so forgiving when cutting dovetails.  The drawer front has a 1/8" deep x 5/16" wide rabbet on its underside to accept the plywood bottom and the other drawer parts were made to be flush with that rabbet so that the drawer bottom could be glued to the undersides of the front rabbet, the sides and the back.

Drawer parts
At first I was just going to copy the shape of the drawer fronts of the existing chest, but then I thought maybe I'd try something different.  I recalled seeing some "serpentine" fronts on full sized chests of drawers and I thought that might be interesting.  I had no idea if it would look good, but what the hell - this is just a fun project.  So I made a template and a prototype.
Template being used to scribe the shape of the drawer front
This looks nicer than I thought it might
I remember on some serpentine chest I saw somewhere that the drawer dividers had the same shape as the drawer fronts.  After thinking about it, I nixed the idea and it still looks OK.

A couple more details to take care of - drawer pulls and feet.  I couldn't find any drawer pulls tiny enough to fit this chest.  So I experimented with some large nails and found one that seems to be sized right.
Using a cut off nail as a drawer pull
For the feet I thought I'd make some kind of "bracket" feet - two mitered pieces at each corner of the case bottom.
Mitered both ends of a 1/2" x 1/2" pine blank
Made a little template and transferred the shape to the blank.
This half-foot is about 1 1/8" long.
Chiseled and fine-rasped to the lines
Then glued the miters of each pair of bracket feet
Then glued them to the bottom of the case (glue not yet added in this photo)
Here's the feet glued to the bottom (they're not all cleaned up yet)
These look great from the front.  But they look a little funny from the side, where the dovetail joints are seen.
I guess that's why large case pieces have bracket feet that are proud of the case
and mouldings to cover the dovetails
I gave the drawers and the case a coat of shellac, more as a sealer than as a finish.  My wife is going to paint this piece (as practice for another future project), so hopefully the paint will hide the dovetails above the bracket feet.

And here she is, minus final painting.  I'll add the pulls after that.
Glamour shot
All for now.  Catch you on the flip-flop.


  1. Nicely executed Matt. I have a soft spot for these miniature projects. Did you get any pics of doing the serpentine front detail?

    1. No photos of that, Ralph. But after transferring the template shape to the top and bottom surfaces of the drawer front, I knocked the curved ends off with a chisel and smoothed with rasp and file. In the center depression, I made some relief cuts with a saw, then chiseled close to the lines. I was fortunate that my largest incannel gouge was the perfect radius to get into and smooth out that curve. This was a good exercise in careful cross-grain paring with both the incannel gouge for the concave area and straight chisels for convex areas. I did a little scraping and sanding to finish it off.

  2. Beautiful chest of drawers!
    The drawers fronts and the feet look amazing.


    1. Thanks a lot, Jonas. A fun little project. I guess some things I've seen over the years have gelled in my brain and made it to this project.

  3. Ditto with Ralph and Jonas, it is a well executed fun project.
    That serpentine front ad a whimsical look to it that really transformed it, bravo

    Bob, getting ready to dovetail today

    1. Thanks, Bob. I had no idea if it would look good or bad, but it came out nice.

      Now get back to your shop so we can see how your dovetails come out after having practiced a bit.

  4. Matt,

    Add me to the list of "nice work" guys.


    1. Hey, thanks Ken. And BTW, I'm looking forward to your next workbench build.

  5. Very nice Matt, like these drawers very much.