As you may have discovered, there are many ways to build a drawer box. What’s your favorite? Whatever it is, your method of choice almost certainly reflects the importance you place on durability, aesthetics and last but not least, getting done fast.
In building drawer boxes, you have three joinery decisions to make: how to join the sides to the front, how to join the sides to the back, and how to join the bottom to all four. As far as we know, the last is a forgone conclusion: Nearly everyone slips the drawer bottom into a groove at the bottom of the front and sides, and either uses the “open back” method (cuts the back so that its bottom edge will end up level with the top of the groove) or grooves the back as well.
Attaching the sides the back, and especially attaching the sides to the front, is another matter. Here, opinions vary and many methods are championed. If you’re new to drawer making, a good way to sample the available techniques and pick up a few techniques is to start with a joinery book. Bill Hylton’s Chests of Drawers, for example, covers drawer building basics as well as taking the reader step-by-step through a number of projects, all of which involve many drawer making opportunities.
Not surprisingly, Hylton and numerous other experts favor a couple of drawer construction methods: For joining the sides to the front, most prefer either half-blind dovetails (for aesthetics and durability) or some type of lock joint, such as that produced by the Drawer Lock Router Bit (for speed and durability) - for more on getting started with either of these methods, see “Drawer Box Joinery Tips”. When it comes to joining the sides to the back, the winners seem to be through dovetails for fancy stuff, and a simpler joint, such as a dado or rabbet and dado for production work.
Still, there are other methods to consider. For some woodworkers, a reinforced butt joint is sufficient. People use everything from biscuits to dowels and even pocket screws (later concealed by the drawer front) to shore up the strength of the inherently weak butt joint. A while back on the Women in Woodworking Forum, woodworker and author Carol Reed posted this interesting and very simple doweling technique in answer to a question on easy drawer box construction possibilities:
“The simplest joint is a butt joint. That said, it needs to be reinforced and that depends on your tooling.
The slickest reinforcement I have ever done was to drill holes through the joint (after the drawer box dried) and glue in dowels. Better than metal fasteners because glue is also used. But that takes a means to drill precision holes for the dowels. A simple guide with your cordless works. In my case I had a floor drill press where the table dropped far enough to do even large drawers.”
If you wanted to give that a try but don’t have a drill press, you could easily handle the alignment problem by constructing a simple jig to go along with an inexpensive drill guide.
Another method, although one that’s hard to duplicate in a most home shops, is “chuck and bore” joinery. In this widely used, established method, round pins cut from the ends of the drawer fronts and backs are glued into corresponding holes in the drawer sides. And while you probably won’t cut this joint in your garage, it’s still one of the easiest ways to end up with solid birch drawer box parts. With Rockler’s Custom Drawer Program, you can simply phone in the sizes of the parts you need and have them delivered to your door, guaranteed square and ready to assemble.
There are many other possibilities, and you might prefer something that we’ve left out. Some woodworkers like a sliding dovetail for joining the sides to the front, and plenty of other’s are happy with a dado joint and staples for both front and back. Our position is this: There’s a lot to be said for time-tested and widely favored methods, but we’re always willing to keep an open mind to new possibilities, like this innovative technique extracted from the ever fruitful Woodweb Knowledge Base:
From contributor O:
For an attractive, durable and inexpensive drawer box, you can use maple print melamine board - 5/8" thickness is good - and screw, nail or staple the box together. Use a dab of melamine glue if nailing or stapling. Then get a roll of Dovetape by 2M corporation which has end-grain dovetail patterns on a transparent self-stick mylar backer (available in mock unfinished end grain for the look of kit drawers or pre-finished end grain to look like you did it yourself). Apply the Dovetape to the front and back edges of the drawer box and there it is. Be sure to locate the nail/staple/screwheads so the mock dovetails cover them.
From contributor N:
Don't you think that you are deceiving your customers? You are making them think they are getting real wood drawers with dovetail joints. It's like putting Ferrari emblems on a Yugo.
From contributor O:
Only the very best kind of customer would be allowed to purchase the chimerical dovetape drawers.