drawers

One of the parts we dealt with the other day in class was the drawer construction. In the chest we’re making, the sides join the drawer front just with a nailed rabbet. It’s stupid that I wrote “just” – as if I’m apologizing for some 2nd-class approach to drawer-making, because it’s not dovetailed. The fact is most English (including New England) drawers in this period are rabbeted and nailed. Even when the side-to-front joint is dovetailed (and nailed) the rear is rabbeted. And they work just fine. No more excuses and apologies. here’s some period drawer details.

Because I’m going to show some rough & tumble sort of drawers, I thought I’d compensate by showing some nicely-made ones too. We’ll start there. A drawer from a chest made south of Boston, c. 1660-1700. Half-blind dovetails join the side to the front. Nailed too, those aren’t added later, they’re the real thing. Bottom nailed up to the sides and rear, toe-nailed into a rabbet in the drawer front. Groove in side engages a runner let into the inside of the chest framing. “side-hung” is what this drawer construction is called. All of the drawers I’m showing you today are side-hung. 

dt drawer w nailsEven with dovetails at the front, the rear is rabbeted & nailed. Same drawer.

drawer back no DTs

 

A rabbeted side-to-front. Nailed. Bottom in a rabbet too.

 

SI table drawer detail 2

 

 

 

Now let’s get to where it’s at: these 2 drawers I photographed at Yale University’s Furniture Study. the cupboard they come from might be New Haven or Guilford, CT. Bottoms run parallel to the drawer front. Single board on one, multi-board on the other. Drawer sides were too thick for the nails, so were cut down where they rabbet into the front. Drawer front is thicker at its bottom edge than at its top edge, remnants from riving wedge-shaped pieces from the log. Turned pulls fit through the front and are wedged inside.

new haven drawers

 

New Haven drawer sides & front

These drawer backs are thin, really like a riven clapboard. Dressed (planed) on the inside, rough outside. Nailed & pegged in some cases.

drawer back (2)

 

for contrast, here’s the front of one of those drawers.

 

 

 

 

drawer front incl knob

These two are from a Boston chest of drawers. Showing the contrast between the front & back. Finished molded decoration on the deep drawer front, the back of the shallow, smaller drawer is almost just as it came out of the log.

 

drawer contrast

 

Here’s a chest with drawer from Ipswich Massachusetts, same time frame. No drawer pulls. No rail below drawer. No framing on the side of the chest covering the drawer. How’s that for simple?

 

mfa loan (2)

 

Usually the drawers are full-width of the case. Here’s two side-by-side drawers. With one removed, you can see the runner set in the muntin in this case. The other runner is set in the stiles at the other end of the drawer.

 

MFA chest drawer detail small

These runners are not anything special. Notches are cut with a saw & chisel, the runners set in. Often toe-nailed too. (this one is not)

runners

As I was picking out pictures, I saw this one & don’t remember seeing drawers done like this before. The drawer front/side is notched – you can just make it out in the top right in this photo. No drawer rail below. I’ll have to go look at this one again, it’s right down the street from my house. Make locally, same period, mid-to-late 17th century.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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5 thoughts on “drawers

  1. Very interesting photo essay on the early techniques. They carried the mantra of “if they can’t see it, you don’t have to finish it” to the max. Beautiful pieces still. That last one, the drawer wood looks very different than the frame/legs. Maybe it was added later? Thanks for the pictures, they are always a treat.

  2. The Dennis chest alias the Anne Barclay Priest chest did have pulls originally. The Windsor chest by a Dutch guy had a weird squared pull-tab nailed the drawer front, later moved to the drawer bottom. Also chests of drawers with doors sometimes had leather pulls, if the guy forgot to calculate room for brass or iron ones.

    On a lighter note, stopped at Ipsweich MA cemetery to take a quick snap of Dennis gravestones. Couldn’t find them. You have to go in the morning when the sun is low enough to strike stones from the East low enough to get under the trees. I couldn’t see a damned thing, but I am 65.

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