A boy and his drawers

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Once upon a time there was a boy was married to a girl who developed an enjoyment of woodwork. She made many things and bought many tools. One year the boy was given a Bunnings voucher as a Christmas present form work. It sat in the cupboard for a couple of years gathering dust as he didn’t really have anything to spend it on. That was until the day his wife started talking about a biscuit joiner and how it would let her do all sorts of fun things with wood. He expressed mild interest and suggested she use his voucher so that it wouldn’t go to waste. He saw her use the new machine once and was amazed. Totally amazed.

Suddenly the boy realised that he could make boxes for things, and that those boxes would not only look like a box, but also be strong. He could even make boxes for things that didn’t really need boxes. He became the box king at home.

The boy and his wife were in a band that played out, so he made a box for his wife’s bass amp, and his guitar pedals .

But the era of the box king was drawing to a close. He had discovered hand tools, and was starting to lose satisfaction with the venerable biscuit joiner. In the throws of a dying passion however there was one more box that needed to be made. Amongst a plethora of other hobbies, the boy was a radio amateur, and enjoyed tinkering with radios and electronics. But all of the “stuff” was messy and really needed a box.

With that, he started the build. It was to be a grand affair with shelves (some even sliding) and in-built power! Unfortunately he only got as far as building the case before the passion for biscuit joined boxes performed its last death roll and died.

The box was moved around the workshop for a time before it came to finally rest on top of the freezer. Out of the way and soon forgotten where it gathered layer upon layer of dust.

Fast forward several years and the intersection of two situations saw the box make a revival.

The first was that there was a new mess. But this time it was tools. In the boy’s passion for hand tool woodworking he had acquired and restored several planes and other tools. A defining moment came when he was restoring a saw and started reading about saw tills. He came across a post from Ian Wilkie who wrote about the hygroscopic properties of wood dust and how it can facilitate rust. He really didn’t want to have to re-restore his tools because of poor maintenance.

The second was that having learned to make dovetail joints, though still a work in progress, he wanted to start attempting half blind dovetails. He discovered however that there are only so many practice pencil cases one can make without getting bored (for reference, it’s two).

He had been reading and watching the amazing traditional drawer work of people like Derek Cohen, Frank Klausz and Paul Sellers with awe. So it was decided to attempt making some traditional drawers, or “draawers” (since watching Frank whenever he say drawers now, he hear that pronunciation in his head). Paul’s drawer making process was used as a reference, as his long form instructional videos are so easy to follow.

And so the idea of a tool chest was born. The old box would be repurposed to keep his tools dust free.

First the box. This project was never intended to be anything resembling fine craftsmanship. Just practise. Not wanting to waste time in preparing the case, some hardwood runners were installed in the sides in a quick and dirty (and noisy) way so that effort could be shifted to the drawers.

The drawer sides and back were built entirely from left over Tas Oak door architraves and framing. The sides were ripped and finished to 8 mm, and in the case of the bottom drawers, glued to make taller panels. The backs were full depth 18 mm architraves with the rear moulding planed off. While the boy had initially intended on using simple pine for the fronts, there wasn’t enough scrap, so a length of Myrtle scaffolding board (I know!) which had been left by the builder years ago was pressed into service. In order to conserve as much as possible, it too was ripped and finished at 10 mm. A little slim for half blind dovetails, but it was what it was. On the plus side, it allowed for some nice book matching of drawer pairs.

There really was little expectation that this was going to be a worth project to write about, so almost no progress photos were taken, save one drawer’s worth, and then only after the back dovetails had been completed.

After the glue had dried it was onto the final finessing of the fit, preparing the base, a bit of candle wax and flushing each face with its neighbour.

Starting from the top, and working down certainly showed the progression of figuring out “issues”, such that the final two bottom drawers left the boy with a glow of satisfaction. Let us take a look at the progress, and consider the lessons learned.

  1. Whilst nothing says a drawer side needs to be full height, if not it will not support itself when in an extended position. Small “tabs” were added at the back to allow the top drawer to behave like an adult. Secondly, leave a little more meat on the drawer front! That was touch and go.
  2. The next two drawer backs don’t rate a mention. As the back was shorter than the side, and the dovetails were cut normally, an ugly gap was left at the top. Additionally the position of the front dovetails was bad, such that the groove in the front was left exposed.
  3. The bottom two show that the boy is rather adept at heading the lessons of mistakes past. With inset backs and vastly improved positioned tails on the front.

At this point all that was left was to finish the drawer fronts and add pulls. But there was a problem.

With the drawers having turned out far better than expected, the case suddenly appeared to be letting it all down. The brakes were thus applied to the drawers whilst a Tas oak trim was applied to the case. It was at this juncture that the boy started considering that his previously self imposed rank of box king may have been just slightly optimistic. You see the case sides weren’t straight! So how to apply straight trim to a bowed side? Segments, and the judicious use of a shooting board to get it all to fit. That’s better.

The drawer fronts were finished with several coats of shellac before a quasi French polish finish, and completed with buffed wax. A simply stunning result. Because the trim and fronts are very close in colour tone, Tas Blackwood was chosen to make simple pulls and provide a bit of contrast.

Finally it was time to load it up and put it in position. Unfortunately even a cursory study in time and motion would have suggested that that was not the ideal order or events, but that wouldn’t account for enthusiasm and excitement.

On a closing note. It was with a sense of irony whilst writing this, that the boy noted that what started the project was a discussion about saw tills and needing to keep them in an enclosure. And here he is, with the saws sitting on top and very much unenclosed.


Dec 2019

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