Making a Penn spice cabinet using mostly hand tools. #3: Long division... the short way.

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Blog entry by JeremyPringle posted 10-03-2011 04:04 AM 2440 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Half blinds for the top. Part 3 of Making a Penn spice cabinet using mostly hand tools. series Part 4: Pictoral of making the graduated drawers »

I spent the last few days trying to decide on my drawer layout, as it has a huge effect on the next step. Since I am done the top, bottom and both sides, its time to make and fit the inside drawer partitions. I decided on 5 levels of drawers. I also decided to graduate them.

There are a few ways that this could have been done. One of them would include measuring and math and blah, blah, blah. Too much work and too time consuming.

I prefer to use dividers to do this task. I first read about it in an article written by George Walker. (Popular Woodworking June 2099) He explains how this method was used by the Egyptians and the Greeks, Romans and all through out history and architecture. It is a method in which the level above any other level, is shorter by the thickness of the divider between them. I know, eh? Clear as mud!

To begin the process, you take one set of dividers and set them to the thickness of the drawer blades. Then you use them to step off the number of dividers in the case. In this one, there is 4. Then for each drawer after the first one, there is an added value. The second drawer is +1, the third drawer is +2 and so on. Add them all up and step off that number plus the 4 to begin with. Because I have five banks, I have a total of 4 drawer blades, PLUS the additional 10 for the added value of the 4 lower drawers. 4 (blades) + 1 (Drawer #2) + 2 (D3) + 3 (D4) + 4 (D5) = 14. So I take my first set of dividers and step off 14 from the top. Then I take my second set of divers and from that point I step off 5. You will have to do some trial and error until you get them to step off 5 perfectly. Now that the dividers are set its back to the top.

From the top, step off one from the larger dividers, make a pencil mark and step off 1 from the small dividers. You now have the top drawer and the first blade marked. From there mark off another drawer and one blade thickness for the second drawer, then another from the smaller divider for the second blade. Now the second drawer is larger then the top drawer by the thickness of one blade. Keep going and continue to add +1 blade thickness to each subsequent drawer.

After I read the original article, even re-read it several times… something was still not clicking. So I pulled out a piece of paper and my dividers and I played with it, and guess what…. It totally worked. AWESOME!!! Since discovering this method, I have found that graduated drawers made with this method… well, they just look… right. Kind of like using Phi, or the golden ratio in your woodworking. It just looks right. I strongly encourage you to not only try this out, but to use it in your woodworking. You would be surprised on how fun and easy it is. Plus the added bonus that there is no real math and you don’t have to use a tape measure. So again, if you want to read the article yourself and maybe it will make more sense that way, June 2009 Popular Woodworking.

Now that I had that taken care of, and the lines marked, I needed to make the rabbet on inside back edge’s of the sides for the back, and the front insides of the sides for the door. The one side to make room for the hinges, and the other to create a stop for the door. Ok, full transparency here is needed. The title of the series says Penn Spice cabinet with hand tools, and in my first entry I explained I would only be using hand tools. When I was making these rabbet’s I found that I was having a lot of tear out. Due to the nature of figured maple, nothing was working. I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to do it without destroying the wood. Rabbet planes? Nope, because these are stopped rabbets (can’t rabbet the dovetails). Shoulder plane? Nope, same problem as the rabbet plane. Router plane? Yes. In fact, that is the route I went and I had nothing but problems. In hindsight, I could have adjusted the DT’s so they were not close to the very front and back, thus I could have used the rabbet or shoulder planes. But again… hindsight. So… here it is… full admission of guilt. I used my router table. I know… I’m sorry. I’m a fraud. All because of poor planning. But hey… look on the bright side. Mistake made, lesson learned. That’s the great thing about being self taught, you learn what not to do in a real hurry.

Thanks again for following along. Next time I will be cutting the dado’s for the drawer blades. I will be using my cross cut saw to make the stopped dado cuts and a chisel and router plane to clean them up. I promise… no power tools.

2 comments so far

View BenR's profile


333 posts in 2629 days

#1 posted 10-04-2011 02:10 AM

Hi Jeremy, I’m trying to understand how you stepped off the drawers. At the risk of embarassing myself; what is a drawer blade and bank?

-- Ben in Va

View JeremyPringle's profile


321 posts in 2475 days

#2 posted 10-04-2011 04:49 AM

A drawer blade is the piece of wood that seperates one drawer from another. A bank of drawers is refering to groups. Eg, I said I am going to have 5 banks of drawers. I am going to have 5 groups/levels of drawers. Because each level is going to have between 1-3 drawers, I refered to each level as a bank. Make sense?

I took a bunch of pictures to explain the process, and hopfully that will help a lot, see post #4.

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