Chest of Drawers #2: Still can't make drawers to save my life

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Blog entry by mitchota posted 09-04-2013 11:48 AM 1431 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Case Construction Part 2 of Chest of Drawers series Part 3: Mistake Recovery, and getting to the end »

I’m thoroughly convinced that I don’t know how to make drawers. Every single project I’ve made required me to make some drawers. Of course, since I’m making a chest of drawers, that would mean the drawers are the main feature. Of course, one would think that because I’ve made almost 20 drawers total when it comes to all my projects that I’d have a procedure down. Until the other day, I thought I had a procedure that worked too.

My first major mistake came from the wood selection. I wasn’t really careful about what I was picking up from the store, and I got a piece that seemed to be less cupped than it really was. Turns out it was pretty twisted. I should have gone out to get another piece of wood, but I wanted to see if I could save it.

My second major mistake came in my cutting order for making the drawer front joinery. I had (stupidly) cut rabbets out first to create the lip for the drawer. I figured this would be fine until I started cutting the grooves for the joinery. The first thing I did wrong after that was that I didn’t reference the correct face against the fence so that I would get the appropriate sized tongue that would fit the drawer sides. The second thing I did was after I noticed it was off, I tried to center the groove and see if that would help. It didn’t, and I basically lost all my drawer fronts to a really stupid error. Then I dropped one of the drawer fronts and it hit the ground right on the corner and split right at the rabbet. I decided to call it a night because I was plenty frustrated at that point and I didn’t want to be angry and distracted while using my table saw.

I did go and buy some better pieces of wood and I was able to redo the drawer fronts properly. One of the pieces has a tongue that doesn’t quite match up perfectly, but I have a solution for that worked out. I did a dry fit with a sample piece and it looks like it’s a go this time, so I can groove the sides and put the drawers together tomorrow. I have the bottoms rough-sized, and won’t cut those until I do a full dry-fit and can get an actual size. If there’s one place I tend to mess up the most, it’s on drawer bottoms. I’ve had to re-cut more of those than I’d like to admit.

I’ve learned very quickly that I need to be more diligent with wood selection. I also need to invest in a planer and possibly a jointer very soon. Trying to make perfect stuff with wood from the Borg is an exercise in frustration.

If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s this—I do have to make myself a nightstand, and after measuring up what was left of my old drawer fronts, I found that I have enough material to make the top, so I cut off the parts I messed up, used my router table to “joint” the edges, and glued up a panel that I can now use to make my nightstand. I’m glad I didn’t have to relegate all the pine I used to firewood, and it gives me a head-start on another project.

I still need to finish the chest of drawers, but with my drawer issues seemingly out of the way, I think that I can get it done in the next day or two. Once drawers are done, I have to size up the top and make the base, but I have a feeling that will be much easier than what I’ve been dealing with when it comes to the drawers. I’m hoping my woodworking slump will be over soon. Making mistakes like this sucks. The only thing I can be grateful for is that pine is cheap.

6 comments so far

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3358 days

#1 posted 09-04-2013 12:19 PM

It sounds like you are going to the university of home woodworking and learning your lessons well Mitch. Yours is an all too familiar story to me, as I have run into similar problems many times. It has nothing to do with stupidity, it is just the normal learning experience which many of us, if not most of us have been through and continue to experience with new types of work that we are not yet experienced with. The more mistakes you make, the more you will learn.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View mitchota's profile


48 posts in 2094 days

#2 posted 09-04-2013 12:48 PM

Thanks Mike. I have been getting better at this, and I do have to remind myself this is only the second thing I’ve made that really qualifies as furniture, so there’s a LOT of learning going on. I have to keep reminding myself I’m not Norm and I have to take my time and accept that I will make mistakes.

I’m just keeping notes on what I’ve been doing and with each project, I get a little more careful. The good thing is that I do find working through the errors and getting better to be a lot of fun, so it keeps me going back into the shop to try and make things.

View exterminate's profile


136 posts in 2051 days

#3 posted 09-04-2013 05:13 PM

Mitch, Your experience sounds alot like mine last year. I had been wanting to try cabinet making for awhile, and a co-worker trusted me enough to pay me up front for the materials for three new cabinets, and enought wood and veneer to reface his existing cabinets. So off I went to the local lumber store. Being the first time buying at anywhere other than the borg, I didn’t know what to look for, or how to choose good wood, but I forged ahead and bought 120 bf of soft maple. Some of it ended up being usable, some of it not so much. I was lucky enough to have a planer, so that helped, but no jointer. When I got to the doors and drawers, I can’t tell you how many screwups I made. tounges too loose, tounges too tight (with the same setup mind you! How was that possible!) I cut rails too short, after measuring twice. I don’t know exactly how much wood I screwed up, but it was alot (I’ve still got some smaller pieces that I use as cauls and stops). In the end, I learned ALOT, and the end results actually turned out pretty good. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe how I was feeling at the time though. Keep at it, and you’ll get it, but as Stefang said, its completely normal….Good luck!

-- Albert Einstein - "I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right."

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2310 days

#4 posted 09-04-2013 07:20 PM

Get the jointer and planer. For what you’re paying at the Borg, you’ll recover the cost of the machines really fast.

Case in point:
I am nearly done building my new easel. It’s built out of 90/50 cherry with some walnut trim. I got 50 bd ft of cherry for $127.50. I bought it from a place that does custom millwork. They seem to have better grades of wood. This was sold as rough cut, but they put everything through the planer at least once each side so they can see what they have.

I priced out the cherry from Home Depot (just for comparison) and it was well over $550. If I had bought select PINE from Home Depot I’d have spent more than I spent on the cherry and pine isn’t really stiff enough for an easel so it would have been crappy :)

Getting a jointer and planar has made a huge difference in what I’m able to afford to do.

OH! And your pieces will be flat and straight :)

View NGK's profile


93 posts in 1935 days

#5 posted 09-04-2013 07:42 PM

If you avoid buying “twisted” boards, you don’t need a jointer, especially if you can bet by with a little less thickness than 3/4 inch. If a board I cupped too much, either don’t buy it or rip it in two or three pieces lengthwise before planing to 5/8. You can even go down to the standard 1/2-inch for drawer sides with problem boards.

The same for bowed boards. You’re going to cut most of them to shorter pieces anyhow, so skip the part where you cut a lot of wood off with your jointer. Just cut these bowed boards shorter from the get-go and plane them to the desired thickness. You use thickness with every operation to “flatten” imperfect boards. That’s why some of us prefer to start with rough-sawn boards which are typically a little over and inch thick.

A jointer is basically a waste of money. A planer and good table saw with quality blade is the key. I have an seven-year old 8-inch jointer that just ties up space and gets used about once every 2-3 years to demonstrate its use to someone else. Careful handling with a quality table saw blade eliminates the need for a jointer. I can rip boards for a table-top glue-up with no edge sanding. And no biscuits. Biscuits in flat panels are to assist in alignment, NOT for strength. Biscuits can be a help in strength, however, when end-grain is involved with the glue joint, as in fastening a table leg to aprons.

For my money I’d rather have an edge-sander than a jointer.

View mitchota's profile


48 posts in 2094 days

#6 posted 09-05-2013 01:32 AM

Thanks for all the advice guys. I have decided the next thing I have to buy is a planer. Since I know you can make a sled for the planer that makes it work like a jointer for flattening the faces, I figured that I wouldn’t need the jointer until I had the money (and room) to spare for it. I’ve also used my router table’s split fence with an offset to edge joint boards and it’s worked like a charm.

On a better note, I was able to cut everything else out and fit things today, and I’m good to go now with the drawers. I have everything dry-fit and it’s all working out well.

Live and learn. And now to save some $$$ for the planer.

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