these drawers seem normal to me…

Today Chris Schwarz wrote about a drawer he made for a table he’s got underway.  Said it was somehow unusual. Seemed pretty normal to me, but I rarely make stuff with drawers. I have hopes of a new chest of drawers this winter; but we’ll see. Here’s the last full chest of drawers I made, for my wife the year before we got married.

chest of drawers, 2003

In 17th-century New England joined furniture, drawers are usually nailed together, rabbets front & back. Then the bottoms typically are nailed up to the sides & back, and fit in either a rabbet in the front, or in better versions, a groove in the front.

drawer side-to-front, rabbet w nails.

Here’s one with a half-blind dovetail where the front & sides are joined, then the bottom in a rabbet planed in the front. Nails secure the dovetail. belt & suspenders, this is. This drawer height is 6″, the full width of the drawer is about 45″.

dovetailed drawer, c. 1660s

Now a dovetailed one with a groove in the drawer front for the bottom boards.

Boston chest of drawers, detail


But the back? Those are almost ALWAYS rabbets w nails. Seen just one or two that were dovetailed there.

rabbeted back, nailed

Here’s another view:

rabbet, drawer back-to-side joint

17th-century drawers in this work are almost always side-hung; they have grooves plowed in the sides, that engage slats fitted into the interior of the framed carcass.

slats inside the case, for side-hung drawers

For drawers in chests with drawers, and chests of drawers, usually the bottoms are multi-board affairs, with the boards running front-to-back.

riven Atlantic white cedar drawer bottoms


These boards are fitted side-to-side with a tongue & groove between them:

tongue & groove boards, Savell chest

sometimes you find a drawer that has a single bottom board running along its width. This New Haven drawer is a freak; its multi-board bottom runs along the width of the drawer. These are riven oak clapboards that make up this drawer. Very thin.

oak clapboard drawer bottoms

There. Now you know how to make 17th-century New England drawers.


12 thoughts on “these drawers seem normal to me…

  1. Fabulous set of drawers!
    If I could make that for my wife she might see me in a different light!

    As I’ve been following you Peter the last few weeks, the question I have is how the 17th century Dutch joiners work or approach was like and was different from the New England or English design.
    As a reenactor of 17th century Dutch settlement in the Hudson Valley,I’m experimenting with riving, demonstrating woodworking tools, and attempting to learn to build a ladderback chair and may even attempt wooden clogs at some point.
    Do you have any sources or can you comment on any unique characteristics from the English and Dutch styles?

  2. I always loved that chest of drawers and must get up there later this month to cajole the Topsfield people. I also love your spoons and would like to commission a ladle for my tureen and lid made by Terry Anderson, Mark Anderson’s wife, who does pottery. But I’ll have to dig it out to measure it Jonathan’s Wild Cherry Spoons use to make them but doesn’t any more. I gave away another Anderson tureen plus cherry ladle but shouldn’t have.

  3. I am bothered by that nail so close to the edge. Youd think more splitting would occur….though I guess it really doesnt matter. *shrugs*

  4. I love the pictures, Peter, as well as another dig at Chris! While I’m familiar with th groove and side slat method, the inside and closeup look at the side slats begs the question, why? Why not just run the drawers on top of the slats? Surely that would same a step – no groove to plough?

    • the side-hung method is particularly effective for really wide heavy drawers. They stay supported as you draw them out in use…

      I think it becomes 6 of one, half-dozen of the other. if the drawers run on their bottoms, then you need to be accurate in sizing the drawer bottoms. The side-hung examples have bottoms that just need to be clear of the framing; but the sides need to be accurately grooved to engage the runners.

  5. Considering on a more serious note, these drawers look to be made of riven oak? Would that make for a more uniformly stable and stronger plank that would stand up to the stress of a nail and dovetail combination? Not to mention a few centuries of people treating it with a bit more tenderness than your average Ikea bureau?

    I’m wondering, if you step away from the delicate joinery so popular of the last century or two and move to robust joinery, if joints plus nails, particularly cut or wrought nails, would work as well today? Or do your experiments in furniture making prove this to be true? Forget the poplar drawer sides and stick with riven oak?

  6. When bottom seated drawers attain 100 years of age wear causes the drawer to sink into the opening, then we miust nail strips to the bottom’s edges. It seems that side hung drawers wear more regularly,and wear can be adjusted more easily and they slide in and out more gracefully.Side hanging is a bit trickiern to initially install but it is worth the effort.

  7. I figured there’d be more on this somewhere and here it is. Just one question: are the drawer runners simply morticed into the front and rear stiles? or are there other supports/connections not shown in the photo.

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