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Need help designing workbench drawer cabinet from hardwood

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Forum topic by toddbeaulieu posted 12-27-2012 12:52 PM 2526 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1758 days


12-27-2012 12:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question workbench cabinet drawers

As with everything I attempt, I spend the first few weeks struggling with design decisions. Hoping someone can point me to a plan/drawings/photos or whatever of something that might help me. I have the next few days off and would love to be able to start working, instead of throwing out design after design!

I am building a medium sized bench with tressels and legs/stretchers. Cherry base and beech top. Here is the actual plan I’m basing mine off of:

The plans call for a plywood cabinet sitting between the stretchers with 3 rows of drawers (two each side). So it’s about 40” long, by 17” tall, by 17” deep.

I actually have cherry plywood that I got a steal on a while back, but I’d really like to stick with hardwood. I have a ton of smaller cherry boards that I want to use. I have the milling equipment.

I’ve spent HOURS trying to design this thing. I think my basic idea for the sides and back are ok, with frame and panel (going for shaker look). I should be able to do panels up to around 11”, but worse case I can glue.

I could make this really long all the ideas and problems clogging my head, but you wouldn’t read it. I’ll try to be quick:

- Thickness – if I mill to 3/4” stiles, how do I join the sides/back? I’d hate to pocket screw, after all the hand done mortise/tenon/pegs I used on the base! I have more thick cherry that I can use for the corner stiles to allow for mortising the back into the ends.

- Top? Not sure what to do here and how to join it. Frame/panel?

- Front? The biggest question. Do I make another frame/panel section for the center? What about horizontal runners? I want minimal intrusion into the drawer space since this is a pretty small cabinet.

The plywood box has none of these problems because it has no face and the four sides are mitered with splines. I don’t like rabbeting the back in, though. I think it would be out of character with the bench. Finally, I worry that plywood would be out of character, and also more fragile.

Any suggestions? Thank you!


10 replies so far

View EEngineer's profile

EEngineer

906 posts in 2367 days


#1 posted 12-27-2012 01:30 PM

Finally, I worry that plywood would be out of character, and also more fragile.

Well, character is one thing, but fragile? I think not!

I have been woodworking for quite a few years now and I like plywood for a lot of things. One of them is exactly what you are proposing for this “box” to encloses your drawers. Plywood is dimensionally stable and strong! Particularly in this application, where you want minimal thickness to maximize drawer space, plywood would seem to me to be the best choice.

If you dimension solid lumber to 3/4” and joint the edges to form large panels you are bound to end up with some cupping and warping as the unit ages. This will make drawer fit problematic and you are bound to end up with drawers sticking and binding. Sure, there are lots of ways to take care of this, but all I have seen require intrusion into the drawer space and some sacrifice of drawer volume.

As for pocket-screws – I hate pocket-screws! I have great success with glued rabbets and dadoes, even in plywood, and I have some heavily-used projects that have been around 25 years with no loosening or racking in that time. But I would skip the splines for mitered corners in plywood and use one of the “locking” miter joints that are easy to do with router bits, at least in good quality furniture plywood.

If I was doing this project, I would build the boxes for drawers out of plywood. I would use some of the solid cherry, cut and mill thin strips to cover the plywood edges. The design you pictured seems to use two separate boxes for the drawers – at this size you probably don’t need any interior bracing to keep things stable. Put a full back on both boxes, rabbeted and glued, 1/2” ply if you are still concerned about strength. Use full extension drawer slides and you will only lose 1” on the interior width of each drawer and the full extension slides will allow the use of the full depth of the drawer.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1758 days


#2 posted 12-27-2012 01:40 PM

I should have said “less durable”, over “fragile”, but even then I’m just talking about surface damage. As I write this, it dawns on me that I built my miter saw station top from plywood, so go figure. But still …

I was actually thinking about captive solid wood panels in rails/stiles. Each of those should be stable, with the panel floating. For the back I drew out three six inch stiles with two 11” panels. I do worry about proportions. I should mock it up with cardboard.

For the top/bottom I’m wondering about glued up panels with slotted screw holes to allow for movement. I see a lot of shaker tables with a flat glued top and rounded edges that stick out just a little.

I do have a nice lock miter bit.

View EEngineer's profile

EEngineer

906 posts in 2367 days


#3 posted 12-27-2012 02:29 PM

Captive wood panels are a good way to go. The floating panels won’t lend much to overall strength, however. If you make them solid wood then you will have to leave some room for expansion.

Once again, I have had great luck with plywood as wood panels. Plywood simply doesn’t move! With plywood panels, I actually glue them solidly into the rails and stiles and it makes an extremely rigid structure. And since you are burying the plywood ends in the rails and stiles, you don’t need to worry about dressing the ends of the plywood. My workbench (nothing as nice as what you are planning, lol) was built this way and is going on 30 years old with no problems.

Good luck! Make sure you tell us how this all ends up.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1758 days


#4 posted 12-27-2012 06:08 PM

Listen, if I mess this plywood up due to my incompetence I’m still going to blame you! ;)

Ok, ok … you convinced me. I’m half way through cutting up the plywood I am worried about the lock miter because everything has to be absolutely perfect for four of those joints to go together correctly. And frankly, I’m not very good at this yet.

So tell me .. how did those poor Shakers manage w/o plywood? I’m still going to learn how to build this w/o it … guess I just need to pick my battles and work my way up. I really need this workbench for every other project. Tired of trying to clamp stuff to the table saw!

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EEngineer

906 posts in 2367 days


#5 posted 12-29-2012 01:02 AM

I understand your concern about the miters and trying to get the box square.

The last thing I did mitered was these

The geometry was quite a bit different but maybe you can takes something away from what I did that worked. The stock here was only 1/2” thick so I couldn’t do a locking miter. The first guard I did I used small glue blocks at each corner. What a pain! I had a helluva time getting it aligned and square.

The second guard I actually used the panel to align things. Since the panel was cut square it forced the alignment for me. I used a simple strap clamp with four corner blocks (HF has these) and nothing but glue in the miters. Came out perfect. A couple of these might help a lot.

I did say there are ways to use solid wood to achieve your goals. If you look at old furniture, you will see some of these. In most cases, though, it involves additional frames and uses some of the volume you could be using for drawers. For instance, a mortise and tenon frame between each drawer, dadoed into the sides will help control warping and cupping of the sides.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1758 days


#6 posted 01-07-2013 08:11 PM

Thanks again for your help. You owe me a beer (or three) for the pain and suffering of building those plywood boxes! I messed them up, but they’ll “do”. Next time I want to try the plastic tape trick and splines. I don’t like using the lock miter on such things. I was foolish enough to not only use on the four sides, but also the sides to the back! Don’t bother … I know! (now)

I finished my bench last night and posted it here on LJ, if you’d like to see it.

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Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1913 days


#7 posted 01-07-2013 08:47 PM

I believe you are overthinking this.

I would construct the cabinet out of the cherry plywood. I would attach the sides to top and bottom with tongue and groove and the center board with full width dado. I would glue a backer board of thin plywood into a rabbet in the back to keep everything square. I would face frame the plywood edges with real cherry wood. I would leave the cabinet frameless (other than edging the plywood) and I would hang metal drawer slides, three per side, and slide in your drawer boxes…then mount your drawer faces, made with the good stuff. You don’t need horizontal dividers for the drawers.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1913 days


#8 posted 01-07-2013 08:49 PM

BTW, nothing is keeping you front building the bench. The cabinet can be added afterward…and in fact, if you don’t build it last you run the risk of making the cabinet the wrong size for the opening.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1758 days


#9 posted 01-07-2013 08:55 PM

Thanks Jay.

You’re right on with this, including over thinking it. But it’s done now.

The plans called for two boxes to make it easier to manage. If I did it again, I’d do exactly what you said. I’d also build it a little shorted because putting even the half-sized box in/out between four stretchers was a PITA!

And I had already built the base and top before starting in on the cabinet. Admittedly, I have little experience with ply and I’m not that good with it yet. Probably sounds stupid because it should be easier to work with ply!

View Cosmicsniper's profile

Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1913 days


#10 posted 01-07-2013 08:58 PM

Cool, Todd. Sorry to see its an older thread! Glad it worked out for you though.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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