Tips for flush-fit drawers without the precision of piston-fit

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Forum topic by ppg677 posted 03-14-2016 01:42 PM 955 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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169 posts in 823 days

03-14-2016 01:42 PM

I’m making a chest of drawers, and I’m trying to emulate what is attached in the pic. I’ve already made the box-joined case. I’ve only make a couple drawers before and they were small.

Now I’d like to go with flush-fit as shown, but I’m not sure I have the confidence/ability/experience to do a precise “piston fit”.

What’s my approach here? I think I want to just go with wood runners, and I was planning on Dado-ing the sides of the case for runners, with those supported by a mortise-tenoned stretcher in the front (which is exposed) and the back. I’ve read that the runners should not be glued into the dados to allow for movement.

As far as drawers, I don’t think I have the patience to do hand-cut half-blind dovetails. I could do a false front with a box-joined drawer (which would make it easier to get the face flush). Otherwise is there a reasonable (sub-$150) dovetail jig that has the precision I need for this flush-fit drawer? Any other recommendation for the look I’m trying to accomplish besides going with metal hardware?

Finally in terms of clearance above the drawer sides, now I understand that a “piston fit” clearance is super tight. But would something more reasonable like 1/8” clearance work without binding?

Note I plan on these drawers being about 30” wide and 7” high, so they are pretty good sized.

7 replies so far

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

369 posts in 3935 days

#1 posted 03-14-2016 01:52 PM

1. Make sure the carcase and drawer blades are all square.

2. Fit the drawer fronts and backs very carefully. I use a shooting board for a close fit.

3. Fit the drawer sides to the openings.

4. Dovetail the pieces … accurately.

Nothing to it :)

Regards from Perth


p.s. I will post tips for dovetailing on this forum

-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

346 posts in 2429 days

#2 posted 03-14-2016 01:52 PM

There is a great article in Fine Woodworking about fitting drawers, I can’t recall which issue but the project was a red case of drawers.

I fit my drawer front to the opening and work back from there… I leave it a 32nd on each side and that allows a tight fit after scraping and sanding. Depending on where you live, you have to think about expansion of that drawer up and down in that space, so plan to leave space accordingly. In Denver it’s not as big a concern, but where there are swings in moisture from winter and summer it matters a lot.

Learn dovetails- their like Crack, one hit from a high quality dovetails saw and razor chisels and your be dovetailing everything… I’ve never r done drugs, but my 8th grade health class told me Crack was that bad… Lol…

Don’t be afraid to cut and make mistakes… There are plenty of trees still growing to back up your messes. Peter Korn has an essentials book on woodworking, it where I learned dovetails… Internet will help too.

View splintergroup's profile


1980 posts in 1189 days

#3 posted 03-14-2016 02:36 PM

There are many on-line wood expansion calculators that will tell you how much to expect your drawer faces to move. I think 1/8” would look a bit too sloppy.

View ppg677's profile


169 posts in 823 days

#4 posted 03-14-2016 02:39 PM

>>> Carcass precision

As far as carcass being square, correct me if I’m wrong, but the thing that matters most is the side piece planes being perfectly parallel to each other. Well my rough non-glued fit has a 1/16” difference in width between the front and the back implying that are not quite perfectly parallel. Maybe I can get things perfect during glue-up, but I’ve found large glue ups to be a bit challenging to achieve this kind of precision! I did slightly botch a box cut on the top piece by a good 1/8” (I started one notch slightly off), but that won’t affect whether the two sides are perfectly parallel.

>>>> Dovetail and crack

I’ve done a couple small dovetail drawers. They are a chore :-) I’ve been using one of those double-sided Japanese pull saws for the cuts. That said, for doing the half-blind dovetails, that’s just a chisel operation, right? I would considering box-joining the rear of the drawer and hand-cutting half-blind dovetails on the front if I could get more accurate and faster at it :-)

View MadMark's profile


979 posts in 1420 days

#5 posted 03-15-2016 01:42 AM

Wood expands 20x in width for every change in length. Don’t worry about longitudinal expansion over such a short length.

Chalk dust is used to keep the runners from binding after the runners have been finished. Cut a crown on the bottom of the drawers an a slightly larger radius cup on the glides. This will minimize sticking.

Make the back piece 1/2” taller than the sides so that at full extension the drawer doesn’t fallout.

Cut the faces last and a hair big. Sand or trim for final fit. Cut the face boards from one long board for continuous grain. Mount face last.


-- Madmark -

View JBrow's profile


1348 posts in 887 days

#6 posted 03-15-2016 03:34 AM


I use a Craftsman Dovetail Jig to make half-blind dovetails, but when I checked I did not find it on the Sears web site. However CPO Outlets offers the Porter-Cable 4210 12 in. Dovetail Jig for $115. A pop-up suggested free shipping on a customer’s first order. Four reviewers on the CPO site rated it 5 out of 5 stars and one rated it 4 of 5 stars. I am not sure whether the PC jig cuts dovetails in a rabbeted drawer front or if a false drawer front would be required. My experience with the Craftsman, similar in appearance to the PC jig, is that once I have the jig and dovetail bit settings just right, tight near perfect half-blind dovetails result and are cut quickly.,default,pd.html&antisku=antiskuB&q=dovetail%20jigs&start=1

Precision fit of inset drawers not only requires tight tolerances in the width and length of the drawer front, but also in depth of travel so that the closed drawer stops flush. I can think of two ways to stop the drawers when they are closed so that the front is flush with the face of the chest. The first is carefully fitted fixed stops of some design at the back of the chest. The back of the closed drawer contacts the stop and cannot recess any further into the case.

The other method is to install adjustable stops at the back of the chest. On each side of the back of the chest, a screw is installed in a stop block. The screw head will contact the back of the drawer and stop its retreat into the chest. If the drawer every recesses too deeply into the chest, the screws are adjusted out to reduce the length of travel of the drawer. If the drawer front is every proud of the front of the chest, the screw is adjusted into the stop block to provide a little more travel of the drawer. The disadvantage of the adjustable stops is the drawers must be shallow enough to accommodate the adjusting screw mechanism.

View ppg677's profile


169 posts in 823 days

#7 posted 03-20-2016 05:25 PM

I cut my dados into the sides of my case. But I realized that one case panel (on one side) is concave by about 1/16”. Any guesses as to whether this will mess up the sliding drawer action?

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