This week I worked on the drawers for the huge secretary I’m building. I began with the idea that I would build these drawers using typical 18th-century construction techniques – drawer sides that are half-blind dovetailed into the fronts with through dovetails connecting the sides and backs, and drawer bottoms that slip under the backs and run in grooves cut into the sides and fronts. As I assembled the first drawer, I realized that these behemoths, being 47″ wide and 20″ deep, would be too much drawer for the 1/2″-thick drawer parts I milled. I needed a way to stiffen the drawers, and to add strength.
I turned to drawer slips. Of course, slips are an English design, so I had to justify my choice. Here is how I did just that. If you look into southern furniture design, English designs were held onto longer than any of the cities in the north. As I wrote before, this secretary is going to spend at least its beginning years outside Charleston, South Carolina, so why not use drawer slips along with the other distinctively southern features already added to the piece. It’s not a period reproduction.
That’s all it took.
Because I had ripped the drawer backs to 3/4″ less in width that the sides – something I do whenever I build drawers in an 18th-century manner, except very small drawers – I had to use 1″-wide pieces at the sides of the drawers to allow material above the grooves that catch the drawer bottoms. I decided to use 2 1/2″-wide stock at the center of each drawer, again for support and for strength.
The photo immediately above shows the pieces as seen from the front. Small tongues fit into a groove cut into the drawer fronts. As you can see, there is a lot of work in these pieces.
The photo to the left shows the back end of a set of slips. Each drawer requires a set. The outer slips notch under the drawer back while the center piece, being 3/4″ thick, also is notched at the top to fit just under the drawer back.
The opening photo shows a side piece installed in a drawer box. A small bead of glue is spread on the slip and tongue then spring clamps hold the piece in position as the glue dries.
The last photo, at the right, shows how the center piece is installed. The tongue is glued in the front groove while glue and two nails hold the piece at the back. One thing to make sure of, if you use this technique, is that your drawer boxes are square. Once installed, drawer slips tend to hold the drawer as it is – you’re not going to use your drawer bottoms to help square a drawer.
I am very happy with the results of the added slips. My drawers tightened up nicely and the added strength is welcomed. Can you imagine how these drawers would have reacted if a single drawer bottom were hung in the 1/4″ deep grooves? Even if nailed solid along the back edge, there would have been trouble. And once the bottoms are in place, the look of the inside of the drawers is clean.
Build Something Great!