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Dovetail Drawer Construction Guide

Dovetail Drawer Construction Guide

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Building a dovetail drawer happens to be one of the favorite things to do. I have always thought that were just for the best woodworkers, and it would be very hard and difficult to even master. While it does take some planning as well as careful setup, the average home woodworker should be able to achieve it.

First thing that should be mentioned is that the quality of the dovetail jig and your overall set up are very important for making a dovetail drawer. I love my dovetail jig that I got as a gift from Rockler. This jig is able to make various dovetail joints. For the drawers, I have used the half-blind dovetails.

Items Needed For Drawer Construction:

  • Dovetail jigs
  • Table saw
  • Router bushing and bit set
  • Surface planner
  • Plunge router
  • Miter saw
  • Sanders
  • Finishing supplies
  • Clamps

Step 1:

I normally make drawer boxes out of maple wood. These give the drawers a strong and resistant feel for everyday ear and tear. Although, because if the hardness, it isn’t as forgiving and for the first few practice runs this is a great choice. One important thing is that your materials need to be exactly sized and matched. I often will surface plane my materials to be between 5/8 inch and ½ inch and will use my joiner planner and table saw to make stock materials that are in exact inch multiples. The rockler dovetail jig will produce drawers that are even in height. Be sure that you are verifying the dovetail spacing on your jig before you start.

With the half-blind dovetails, the back and the front of the drawer will be cut to be the exact final width. For instance, I am using side mounted 100lbs ball bearing slides that need the drawer to be 1 inch narrower than the rough opening for a drawer. The sides are then cut to be ½ inch shorter than the wanted depth of the drawer. It is vital that you have selected the drawer slides before constructing your drawer to ensure that it will fit right.

Step 2:

The drawer back and front will then be loaded into the horizontal part of the jig and then clamped. The side will be positioned offset in the vertical part of the jig by integrated stop that will ensure a right ½ inch offset alignment. It is vital to know that you will be viewing the eventual inside of your box. Aligningthe teeth bar and back bar are going to be bested on the material thickness. Small amounts of change will result in larger changes in the final box, so ensure that you are making small adjustments. It is recommended that you test on scrap material before you move onto finished parts. Once done routing, each joint should be labeled as 1-4. The jig produces a matched set which will give you the best fit for joints that are cut in the same routing step.

Step 3:

Your router needs to be setup with the right dovetail bit and bushing. The bushing will ride along the jig teeth. The height of your bit will determine the tightness of the fit. I learned this myself after becoming frustrated with a fixed based router to use a plunge router with micro-height adjustable stop to dial in the joint. There is a differences that just 64th of an inch can change the joint from too loose to too tight. When you are using maple wood, you have to ensure that your joint isn’t too tight because it can cause the wood to crack with the final dovetail. Your joint should just need a gentle tap with a rubber mallet to get it together.

Step 4:

Once you have carefully set up the router, it will now be able to run around each of the jig teeth to provide a dovetail profile. You will begin to notice that the half-blind dovetailhas the tails and pockets on the inside of the drawer have become rounded. This is part of the joints that will become invisible once it has been put together. It is vital that you take your time to make sure that all of the materials have been removed properly. Once the jig has been dialed in, the drawers can be done quickly. It does take around the same amount of time for 10 drawers as just one drawer.

Step 5:

I prefer to use ½ inch plywood as the bottom of the drawer. ¼ inch material may be used for smaller drawers but it can cause it to sound quite hollow, or cause sagging in larger drawers. Because of this, I have begin to rabbit the edge off of the bottom to make the thickness 3/8 inch. This lets it fit in a dado to the drawer sides, which becomes invisible once it has been assembled. If a full ½ dado was used, it would show in the final dovetail joint. The dado for the bottom needs to be aligned with the center of the tail.

Step 6:

Your drawer should be dry fit with any type of fine adjustments that are made with sand paper or sharp chisel. The rabbited part of the drawer bottom needs to be towards the drawer bottom to make it invisible in the final product. Birch plywood may be used for the bottom because it looks like maple when it is finished. Although it is more expensive, maple plywood makes sure that the bottom and sides match when finished and it adds anextra nice touch.

Step 7:

Once a fit has been made, the drawer can then be glued and clamped. The whole surface of the dovetails will need to be coated in glue. Although, the bottom of the drawer shouldn’t be glued into the dado. The bottom needs to be sized to allow for contraction and expansion by being around 1/16 inch smaller than the maximum size that would fit into the dado slot. Dovetails will hold the drawer together without any clamping, but I do clamp mine to make sure that the drawers will be perfectly square while they are drying for a tight joint. For larger drawers, use multiple clamps.

Step 8:

Finishing starts by sanding the drawer to achieve smooth joints over the dovetails. A large amount of time needs to be spent on this step. I begin with a 60 grit to level the surface and then follow up with a 120 grit and then a 200 grit sanding disc on my orbit sander. Between 60 grit and 120 grit is when I use high quality wood filler to fill in the imperfections within the joints.

Step 9:

The finishing method that I personally use is just a water-based satin polyurethane and I apply around 2 or 3 coats finish followed by 220 grit sanding between the coats. This is where the hard work really pays off. The drawer will be strong and it will be quite hard to pull the front off the drawer. I also use a custom branding iron to put my logo on the sides of the drawers.

Step 10:

Installing a good quality under mount or ball bearing slide hardware and drawer fronts where it is needed will be the last step. If everything has been built in a good square, then the process is easy. The 3-inch-tall dovetail drawer will make a great roll-out shelves in kitchen cabinets.

Thank you for reading “Dovetail Drawer Construction Guide” by DC Drawers. Stay tuned for more from the experts at DC Drawers.