Daunting Drawers

The next move in the dresser is to build and fit seven drawers. I’m daunted by this task. This tends to cause procrastination, which isn’t always a bad thing but it doesn’t help with progress. More on the procrastination tasks later. For now, let’s dive in.

All the drawers milled up and ready for rough dimensioning

All the drawers milled up and ready for rough dimension

I’ve never cut a dovetail other than a few practice cuts over a year ago. Plus I’ve only ever fit a drawer once. It was in 2010 for the Shaker Table Guild Build. It’s a good thing I do research for a living. I scoured my digital and analog resources to find a comprehensive explanation of how to systematically tackle a project of this size.


Sampling of resources

Unfortunately, none of my research turned up something comprehensive. There were tips for how to do things here and there but nothing really summarized how to tackle this many drawers. Therefore, in the spirit of contributing to the community, I offer the following process:

1. Cut drawer parts to rough dimension

2. Use the drawer BACKS as a way to figure out the proper size of the openings (this way you won’t screw up the fronts in case grain continuity is important). Thanks Tom Fidgen

3. Cut the sides using 1/4″ or so less than the shortest dimension of your opening.

4. Cut the dovetails (using the back-to-side joints first for practice).

5. Fit the drawers to the openings without the bottoms.

6. Install the bottoms.

7. Refit the drawers and do any final tweaking.


While cutting the backs and the sides I realized my drawer openings are not as square as they should be. I knew this was a potential problem given my design and lack of experience when building this.

Example of less-than-squareness. The right side fits snug but the left side won't fit at all.

Example of less-than-squareness: The right side fits snug but the left side won’t fit at all.

The key here (I think) is to use the largest dimension and then cut the dovetails with the drawer parts being square.  I confirmed this with an email to Marc Spagnuolo.  The theory is to fit the drawers after they are built instead of trying to cut joinery in catawumpus  parts. I’ll let you know how this goes as it’s new territory for me. As of publication, I’m only at step #3 so if things change I’ll update my post.

If you have any advice or thoughts on my process please use the comments section to help out.



About Shawn Nichols

Heady. Phishy. Woodworker
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6 Responses to Daunting Drawers

  1. Bob Jones says:

    step one – buy this book

    step two – practice cutting dovetails on scrap before working on your drawers (may be too late)


    • Thanks Bob. I’m not familiar with that book but I’ve been reading a lot about Hayward through Schwarz. I’ll see if it’s at my local library first or maybe try to pick up one of the used copies.

      It’s not too late to practice but I’m just not very good at practicing. I’m more of a go for the gusto type woodoworker. Ideally I wish I’d have a shop project or two to practice on but I don’t and we really need this dresser up and operational.

      The worst that could happen is I learn how to fix my mistakes and that’s not horrible either.

      Thanks again.


  2. Marilyn says:

    Sounds pretty daunting to me too. I just try and make a goal .. like .. today I’m doing one drawer or something manageable like that. Don’t worry too much about out of square openings. That’s what hand planes are for.

    Here are a couple of Chris links:


    Are you a woodwhisperer guild member. If so, Marc does a chest of drawers and one episode is dedicated to drawer fitting. I found it really it really helpful.


    • Those are great posts Marilyn. I don’t know if the out of square post will help me because I don’t know if I can clamp my drawers to the carcase but I’ll think about it. The other post is pure gold.

      I am a guild member and have watched the drawer fitting about 10 times.

      Good call on making mini goals. I’m doing it (little by little).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am looking forward to hearing about your experience on this. I think I’ve got the process down, in my head, but haven’t yet done it in practice. I’ve got a desk and a coffee table on the project list, both will have drawers.


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