In essence, a drawer is nothing more than a box without a top—a front, a back, two sides and a bottom. Individual examples, however, belie this simplicity.
They run the gamut from the modern kitchen drawer slamming shut on metal slides to the drawer of a well-made Victorian desk whispering home with a nearly airtight sigh. The former is often an anonymous, interchangeable unit with a false front. The latter may be a finicky individual precisely fit to an opening in a particular piece of furniture, its unique face blending beautifully with the grain of the wood surrounding it.
Puked open, a drawer reveals more of its personality. Each of its five pieces may be cut from a different wood. The front, which shows most, is chosen for its species, color and grain; the thinner sides for long wear; the back for strength; the bottom for stability.
Not only is the front the most visible part of a drawer, it also takes the most abuse. As you will discover in the joinery section of this chapter (page 76), keeping it attached to the sides requires a durable, solid joint. Front-to-side joints range from the utilitarian rabbet joint to the handsome, hand-cut halfblind dovetail. The rabbet is quick and easy to cut; producing the dovetail can be an art form in itself.
The joint between the back and sides also requires strength, but it shows less, so simpler joints such as dadoes suffice. Lastly, the bottom slides into grooves in the sides and front.
A drawer’s most basic function is to hold things. But it must also slip in and out of the piece of furniture housing it without
jamming or chattering. As with joinery, mounting a drawer offers many choices (page 87). Every method must support the drawer, prevent it from tipping as it is pulled out and stop it as it slides home. The perfect drawer will glide nearly out, then hesitate a bit; drawer stops (page 95) prevent the unit from being inadvertently pulled all the way out or pushed too far in.
Different types of furniture demand different methods of mounting drawers. In carcases, drawers can be side-mounted: grooves routed in their sides slide on thin strips of wood attached directly to the cabinet sides. They can also be supported by a U-shaped frame with runners at the sides and a rail at the front. Here, the drawer slides on the bottom edges of its sides—a traditional technique called bottom – run. In frame-and-panel cases, drawer supports sit on strips attached to the frames only.
Commercial metal drawer slide runners—like those found on file drawers—provide a wheeled side-mounting option. One-half of the hardware attaches to the carcase and the other half to the drawer sides. Used extensively in kitchen cabinetwork, metal slides can support great weight and provide access to the very back of the drawer.
Whether meant to hold pajamas in a quickly made child’s chest or nightgowns in an heirloom highboy, drawers will form an integral part of many of your cabinetmaking projects. Each of the thousands of times someone opens one of these drawers, he or she will be reminded of the care you took to build them.
Set off by the simplicity of a metallic single-pull handle, a solid wood drawer glides smoothly in and out of a frame – and-panel cabinet. Grooves routed into the drawer sides run along supports attached to the frame of the cabinet.