We began production of our Type 2 Dividers this week, and we hope to begin selling them in June or July.
As long-time customers know, we struggled to produce the first version of these dividers. They were beautiful. They functioned very well. But they were difficult to manufacture in great volume. While we were charging $185 per pair, we probably should have charged $285 or more because of all the hand-fitting and hand-polishing.
So we took the dividers out of production and have been tinkering with them for some time.
OK, so the next part of this story is what you don’t ever get to read when it comes to tool production. Many toolmakers are loath to credit the designers and machinists who figure out the nitty-gritty stuff. I want to give them their due.
Last year, we began working with Josh Cook, a mechanical designer and woodworker who was really interested in our original dividers. He sent me a pair that he’d made based on photos from our website. And we went from there.
Enter machinist Craig Jackson of Machine Time. You might know Craig as the creator of the EasyWood turning tools, which I love. After the EasyWood business was sold to another party and things went south, Craig went back to high-tolerance part production. But he loves making woodworking tools. So he took pity on me and now works with Crucible on some of our tools.
Together the three of us worked through a bunch of variables to come up with a design for these dividers that is:
The Crucible Type 2 dividers are new from the ground up. I can promise you that they have the same feel in the hand – like a heavy and smooth stone you found on a riverbank. Ever since we finished the first pre-production versions, I have kept a pair at arm’s length.
The hinge is completely redesigned and astonishingly smooth in use. While the pointy legs of the dividers are the most visible aspect of the tool, the hinge might be the most difficult part to design and manufacture. After I-don’t-know-how-many iterations, the current hinge is (here’s a technical term) sweet. Its tension is adjusted with a No. 8 screwdriver – something every woodworker has. You can set the dividers to move stiffly and hold a setting. Or you can lock them down to rabidly maintain the position of the points.
We also wanted to make these as affordable as possible while still making them functionally and aesthetically great. And make them in the U.S. with U.S. materials. The goal was a $100 retail – a little less than you would pay for a Starrett compass.
On Tuesday, Craig called me to let me know that they were cranking out legs for the dividers. In a few weeks, hinges will begin production at another shop. If we have any luck, assembly will begin in June and we will start selling them shortly after.
Thank you for all your patience. It won’t be long now.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. I know that some of you are asking: Where is Raney Nelson in this? We parted ways amicably more than two years ago. Raney has evolved the design for the dividers to match his aesthetic. We have promoted his version many times on our blog this year and fully support his efforts at Daed Toolworks. If you are looking for ill will or grudges, you won’t find them here.
The following is excerpted from “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making,” by André-Jacob Roubo, translated by By Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán & Philippe Lafargue.
Since the most exotic woods are very expensive, and for the most part difficult to work, one rough cuts them with a saw, in both their thickness and width, in order to conserve the materials by making the least waste possible, and at the same time to diminish [dress] them most easily, given that much cannot be done except by the toothed plane, at least for making them the correct size, which one cannot do with the [jointing] plane, given that these woods are often very hard, or which is even worse, of a curly grain, the iron of the standard/jointing plane cuts very little into it, causing tear-out [splinters] such than one could not remove without doing wrong to the different pieces which would be found to be too thin or too narrow. What’s more, this type of joinery being made to be polished, it is necessary that no voids be found in the entire surface, either along the length or width, which, consequently, requires the use of toothing planes, at least for the wood of an extremely hard quality, or of a grain mixed with burls, as I just said before. The wood which is less hard and more straight-grained than those of which I just spoke, one removes the material [dresses them] with jointer planes and in the ordinary manner. However, one will do very well to finish them with toothing planes, in order to avoid all types of tear-outs on their surface.
When the pieces are too small, or of a wood too hard to be planed ordinarily, that is to say, with bench [jointing] planes and other planes, after having sawn them, one squares them with rasps and Files of different types, as I will explain later. But whichever method the woods are dressed, the cabinetmakers use, for squaring them, the square made of ordinary wood. However, it would be good for the squares to be of iron or of brass/copper, named squares a chaperons [a square that has an applied fence/guide on its edge; a try square], of which one section is turned completely flat, and the other is perpendicular, like that of Fig. 2, where one would cut off part a–b–c–d, so that when orienting the square in whatever manner, the upper section is always perpendicular to the piece that one is working, as one can see in Fig. 4, where the upper section of the square, supposed to be c–f, is perpendicular to the other section, g–h, viewed from on end, in this Figure. These same squares could also serve to change direction one above the other, that is to say, the upper section above point i, and the other g–h, positioned flat on the work (see Fig. 4).
This square can also serve as an angle for drawing [laying out] the work, however it is constructed as I have supposed, or as it is represented in Fig. 2.
Figure 1 represents another type of square appropriate for marking right angles on different parts, where ordinary squares are not convenient to use.
The squares of which I just spoke cannot be used except for projecting angles [outside corners] and flat surfaces. As it sometimes happens, when one has cavities of a right angle to cut into the wood, like mortises or other works of this type, one uses for squaring them (or at least for verifying that they are pierced squarely) a square named squared cross, which is composed of two iron bars A–B and C–D [Fig. 3] ,of which the latter is set perpendicular to the first, with which it is stopped [locked] by the means of a screw E, such that this square serves at the same time to verify that the sides of the chopped [cut] holes are perpendicular to the surface of the work, and assures the evenness of depth. One lowers section C–D of the square, from F to D, of a length equal to the depth of the part which one wishes to excavate, as one can see in this figure, which I have represented by punctuated lines, the same square as the other side of the mortise.
Although I have not represented here anything but squares and right-angle triangles, it is however good to have miter squares, and bevel squares also of iron, for the reasons that I said above. If I have not illustrated them here, it is only in a desire to avoid repetitions, and to not multiply uselessly the figures, and by consequent, the Plates.
Figure 5 represents a type of square, or better said, the caliper for verifying at the same time that a piece is perfectly square and an equal thickness in all its parts, which is necessary, especially for the pieces which one squares with a File.
Marking gauges of iron are of a form a bit similar to that of Fig. 5, except that instead of the returning arm as in square G, their shank is terminated by a built-in point or by one added to the shank with a threaded screw, which is the same, as long as this point is made of hard steel and tempered, especially when one uses it for metals.
As I said above, page 810, Cabinetmakers use the same saws as other Joiners. However, for the works under question here, it is good that these saws, if they are the same, be made with a bit more care, and that their blades be tempered, so that they better withstand working hard woods. Since tempered saws require extreme stiffness, one would do well, instead of a cord/rope [to tighten the bow saw], to put there a rod of iron threaded at one end, to receive a winged nut by means of which on can tighten [tension] the saw blade to the degree that one judges appropriate. See Figs. 7, 11, 13 & 14.
It is necessary to take care that the bottom of this rod (whether of iron or of copper) be of a squared form, as well as the top section found immediately after the threading, so that it does not turn when tightening the winged nut. It is even good to fit the end of the arm of the saw, Fig. 11, with an iron plate which is pierced with a square hole through which passes the rod, as one can see in this figure.
Figure 6 represents a saw named the English Saw, of which the bow or frame is all iron. This saw is banded by means of a handle, which holds the end of the locking anvil H, which is held there by means of a screw I, a bit like the same manner as the marquetry saw of which is made the description on page 843. These sorts of saws work not only for all the little works, but also for cutting soft metals, like copper, tin, etc., as for the other materials that one uses in cabinetmaking. That is why it is always necessary that their blades be tempered.
Figure 8 represents a tool named a sawing Knife [keyhole saw], which differs from the hand saw (of which I spoke in the first part of my work, page 190) only by the size of the blade and the shape of its handle. This saw is very convenient for the small parts [and places] where one cannot use ordinary saws, and it is good that they are constructed like that represented in Fig. 8, so that one can change the blades when one judges appropriate.
Figures 9 & 15 represent another type of saw with a handle and a fence/shoulder, which cuts to only the depth that one judges appropriate [established by adjusting the fence/shoulder], and forms consequently, in many works, cuts of an equal depth. This saw is made of an ordinary blade, with a chassis or frame of iron, divided in two in its thickness, and where one of the parts enters in notches by its two ends in the part that is fixed and which, consequently, enters in the handle in a manner that they appear to be one part, the two parts are held together by means of three screws threaded in the fixed part of the frame, in the middle of which the saw is placed, being pierced itself by three corresponding slots and of a width equal to the diameter of the screw, in a way that one can lower or raise the blade as much as can be permitted by the length of the slots. Afterwards, one tightens the screw in order to hold the saw in place. See Fig. 9, where I removed the middle part of the frame, so that one can see the mortise of the blade, and consequently the results that can be had.
Figure 10 represents another type of saw with a guide/fence, where the frame is configured in a manner that one can adapt to it one or two saw blades, that is to say, one on each side. The frame of this saw enters into the first cut of the saw made previously in the work piece, and it can, as with the preceding one, serve not only to cut different pieces of the work, but also to make grooves of different depths or widths according to the thickness of the saws, in place of which one can use Floats, if one desires, especially for working hard woods, ivory, shell or other materials with which one wishes to make embellishments, by reason of which one will construct the tools you will need. Being content with the two examples that I just gave, which are, it seems to me, sufficient to help in composing the others, whether of a similar form, or laid out like tools with stock/body.
Figure 12 represents a Piercing tool. It is nothing but a point with a flattened shape, of which the exterior ridges are sharp and cutting [very similar to a die-maker’s scraper or a bird-cage awl]. This point serves to pierce little holes in pieces of thin wood, observing to position the widest part of the piercing tool perpendicular the grain line, so that these being cut present hardly any resistance to the point which is forced into the wood, which therefore diminishes the risk of splitting. The other small holes are pierced with an ordinary bit. When one fears that the pieces be too frail to tolerate the force of the latter, one pierces them with a Drill Bit, as I will explain here in speaking of the appropriate tools for piercing metals.
The tools that I just described (an abstraction made of those of Turning and Locksmithing of which I am going to speak later, and in general of all the tools of the Joiner of which I spoke in the course of this Work, which can work equally for the construction of cabinetry, which is the question here), are nearly always those which are the most useful. There are still many others that each worker makes for his own use, according to his talent and the different occasions which he has for using them with more or less success. Since most of these tools are little different from those of which I spoke in the description of the different types of Joiners, I believed to be able to dispense with entering into each detail on this subject, this information being otherwise inexhaustible.
As to the construction of solid cabinetry, it is the same thing as for the other types of joinery. The different parts which compose it are always tied one to the other by means of grooves and tongues, tenons, mortises and other assemblages [joinery]. The only difference is that of these different assemblages as well as all the rest of the construction of this joinery be made with all the perfection possible, that the fashioning of the wood, the joints and especially the assemblages, be made with the [best] precision, without being diminished in any manner so that when working on the joints they do not open/appear. I will not speak here of the quality of the wood, which should be perfect and dry as is possible; without which, whatever care one takes, one cannot do excellent work.
The third edition of “Make a Chair from a Tree” (MACFAT), which has been in the works for seven years, will be going to the printer later this month – and I’m not qualifying that statement with a “should,” “we hope” or “if.”
As Christopher Schwarz wrote in 2018 when he first announced this project, he and Jennie Alexander butted heads over getting this book done from 2014 (when she agreed to write it) until just weeks before her death in July of 2018. Jennie was working on it until right up until the end (with the indispensable help of chairmaker and friend Larry Barrett, and Jennie Boyd, who cared for Jennie Alexander in her final years).
“Don’t you want to see your book published and see it influence a whole new generation of woodworkers?” Chris asked Jennie? “You and Larry will do that after I’m gone,” she replied. With the help of Peter Follansbee and a host of others, they have.
While the chair in this book looks much the same as the one from the 1978 first edition (Taunton Press), Jennie’s methods were refined over 40 years, much like the chair itself. The book is the culmination of everything Jennie learned about “greenwoodworking” through her years of building chairs and teaching others to do the same, and her endless curiosity and experimentation.
But we wanted to share a bit more of Jennie than just her chair. So each chapter begins with a short story from a friend or from Jennie herself, either through a remembered conversation or her journals (which are now in a collection at Winterthur Library). Here are just a few of those to whet your appetite.
Sometimes when you’re in the thick of things, you can’t even see them. I made chairs from the original 1978 edition, then met JA and Drew [Langsner] and plodded along over the years. By the time I worked with Alexander on the afterword to the 1994 MACFAT edition for Astragal Press, some techniques were so embedded that I forgot they were “new.” Steambending the posts, for instance. But after JA’s death, Geli Courpas, Nathaniel Krause and I were among the group sorting the contents of the house. We represented the beginning, the middle and the end of some of JA’s closest assistants. As we walked a line of 15-20 chairs, we took turns talking about what was happening at each different stage. And Geli drove home a point I should have known, but clearly forgot. “We had no steambox,” he told me, “we bent the posts green.” In the original edition, JA says to bend the posts green, or boil them, but doesn’t say how – because they didn’t do it. It was Dave Sawyer who introduced the best post-bending jigs and the steam box to Drew Langsner at Country Workshops in 1981; they were adopted by JA from there. And we never looked back.
— Peter Follansbee
November 1978. Woodcraft Supply invites me to do a country woodcraft slide presentation in Massachusetts. Perhaps I can make a stop going north in Baltimore to meet JA in person. JA enthusiastically agrees to meet a kindred soul. An over-nighter seems appropriate, except that the Alexanders will also have two other house guests for the weekend. (Somehow, Joyce Alexander agrees!) The other guests are Richard Starr, a junior-high woodworking teacher, and John Kelsey, the first editor of Fine Woodworking magazine and also editor of “Make a Chair From a Tree.” Alexander meets me at the airport, a little guy with lots of big guy energy. JA talks full time during the drive home, and I then meet JA’s wife, Joyce, a slight woman who is gracious and very friendly. Starr and Kelsey are also there, busy talking about MC (moisture content) of chair joints. There’s also a teenage neighbor, Geli Courpas, who is introduced as JA’s apprentice.
For the first time, I actually see several Alexander chairs. And of course sit on them. In real life these chairs look even better than the photos. And they are satisfyingly comfortable. Meanwhile the other guys are talking away about chairmaking technicalities. It’s new territory for me, so I’m mostly listening during the dinner conversation. In the morning after breakfast, Starr and Kelsey leave for the Winter Market. Conversation with JA turns to the possibility, and soon planning, for a chairmaking class at our place next summer. It’s a complicated undertaking. JA pretty much knows how to make the chair, but not how to teach making one to a class in five days. I’ll do my best to help. And he’ll bring Geli. We’ll need tools and shaving horses for up to 10 students. JA can supply some tools from his ever-growing collection. My biggest task is procuring a veneer-grade red oak log, pre-splitting some of it, and leaving some round for the students to split and work green wood.
That morning JA also wants to get me started with my first chair. He phones Geli to come over to help. The Alexanders have a tiny backyard that is crowded with chairmaking paraphernalia and a haphazard looking collection of hardwood logs. Some are still round; other logs have been split into halves, quarters, whatever. JA also has a small boat filled with water, to keep split logs wet. Geli shows up and we begin to split a perfect-looking straight hickory section into the required posts, rungs and slats for my first chair. We also do some rough drawknifing (and maybe axe hewing) to get the parts closer to their eventual size. The plan is that JA will keep the parts wet (in the boat) and bring them to the class next summer. After lunch I catch the plane to Boston. My chair-making career has begun.
— Drew Langsner
It fell off the truck, honest.
Years and years ago, a rough-sawn plank, 2″ x 6″ x 14′ long, fell off the back of a truck. Honest. I was driving the van to my shop with my apprentice, Geli Courpas. The truck in front of us hit the big bump right across from the Mount Royal Tavern, and the plank skittered across the street directly in front of us. I swerved, braked and honked. The anonymous (thank Heavens) truck sped off. The plank blocked the street. Good citizens, we cleared the hazard. Red oak! Goody, goody gumdrop! Give it a home.
“Geli, open the back door… jam it up under the front seat … get back there … sit on it!” The plank hung out. We hit each and every bump. Geli rode it to the shop. I now had a long and heavy board for a better shaving horse, but not wide enough to sit on. What to do?
There I was with the narrow board that tried to run me down. Not wide enough to sit on. I thought of the lathe’s parallel ways. There’s nothing new under the sun.
— Jennie Alexander
Since we started making tools at Lost Art Press under the Crucible name, I have avoided writing anything that could be considered a tool review, save for my annual Anarchist’s Gift Guide. It doesn’t seem fair for a toolmaker to pass judgment on other toolmakers.
However, during my research for “The Stick Chair Book,” I have been purchasing and using all manner of new-to-me chairmaking tools in order to understand different approaches to the craft. Some of them have been duds, of course. But some of them have opened my eyes.
Because a book is a terrible place to review a tool, I am going to publish my thoughts on many of these tools here on the blog. As always, I pay full price for all my tools. I don’t exchange reviews for anything. And I hope that this is one of the reasons you are still reading this ancient blog.
The first tool I’d like to talk about is the inshave made by blacksmith Lucian Avery.
Lucian Avery Inshave
For almost 20 years, I’ve used the same inshave/scorp from Barr Tools to saddle all my chairs. Barr Quarton doesn’t make this exact scorp anymore, though he makes a similar one called the Mike Dunbar-Style Scorp.
It’s a hell of a tool. Of all the hand tools I’ve owned in my life, I haven’t owned a tool that takes a better edge or keeps it longer. (Yes, even premium Japanese tools.)
Its handles are dark grey from my sweat and grime. If you own one of my chairs, this tool saddled its seat.
For “The Stick Chair Book,” I wanted to try a different style of inshave, which has a flat curve along most of the blade with tight-radius corners. I did a lot of homework and settled on an inshave from Lucian Avery that was designed with the help of George Sawyer (Dave Sawyer’s son).
I don’t make Windsor chairs, but I thought the flat curve of Avery’s inshave would help me achieve the shallow saddle found on stick chairs – with a lot less fussing.
As I mentioned, I’ve been using the Barr scorp for a long time, which has a tight-radius curve – 2-1/4”. It can hollow out a seat with incredible speed. The downside to this shape is that it’s easy to overdo it. An errant stroke or two adds a lot of work with the travisher later.
The Avery inshave is different in every respect. The tool is half the weight of the Barr (9 oz. vs. 18 oz). The handles are in a much lower working position (2-3/4” off the bevel as compared to 4-3/4” off the bevel). But the biggest difference is the shape of the blade. The shallow curve is not as aggressive, but it leaves a much flatter and smoother curve behind. Yet, the tight-radius curves at its edges allow you to carve along the spindle deck with confidence.
In short, the shape of the Avery tool is much more suited for the type of saddle I carve. The saddle is much flatter, which cuts down on the time I spend with the travisher considerably.
As a bonus, the lower handles and reduced weight of the Avery make the tool less tiring to use.
I’m in love. It’s an extraordinary tool. Light, nimble and responsive. I look forward to using it as much as my travisher.
The current price is $263, which is a beyond-fair price for a blacksmith-made tool of this caliber. It also comes with a clever rawhide sheath that adds no bulk or real weight to the tool.
If you make stick chairs and need an inshave, this one is perfect.
— Christopher Schwarz
We have two new products in our store today, and we have been able to restock our supply of tools and some books that were sold out. All of the following products are in stock and ready to ship from our warehouse.
“The Workshop Book” by Scott Landis, with a new foreword by Roy Underhill
We are happy to announce the release of “The Workshop Book,” which is the definitive book on setting up shop. The book is the companion to “The Workbench Book,” also by Scott Landis, which we released last year.
If you are just setting up shop or wish to improve where you work, I cannot recommend a better text.
“The Workshop Book” is $38 and is printed in the USA to our usual high standards. The pages are a bright white, sewn for durability and bound between thick cotton-covered boards. The whole thing is wrapped with a tear-resistant dust jacket. You can read more about the book and download an excerpt here.
“Mechanic’s Companion” by Peter Nicholson
“Mechanic’s Companion” is one of the foundational English-language books on hand-tool woodworking. First published in 1812, “Mechanic’s Companion” was written by a trained cabinetmaker, and the methods discussed are relevant today for anyone who works with hand tools.
If you are interested in hand tools and history, this is an essential text. Our version is printed in the USA on offset presses – not print-on-demand. The pages are folded, sewn and glued, not simply cut and glued together. The pages are wrapped in hard boards that are covered with cotton cloth. This is a permanent book. Because we think all hand tool woodworkers should own it, we have kept the price at a reasonable $23.
Restock: “Door Making & Window-Making” by Anonymous
“Door Making & Window-Making” has been out of stock for a couple months, and we have just received a new shipment.
Restock: Crucible Bench Squares
We have also replenished our supply of Crucible Bench Squares. This handy square is an ideal little tool to keep on the bench – or hanging on a bench leg. It’s great for checking squareness while edge-jointing and marking 90° or 45° lines on your work. Read more about it here.
New 10th Anniversary “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” Hats
And finally, a reward for reading this far: We have a limited supply of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” Hats made by Ebbets Field in the USA. These are about the nicest ballcaps around. And they feature a stitched felt anarchist’s square on the front. We have only 144 of these, and we don’t expect them to last long in the store.
— Christopher Schwarz
The following is excerpted from “Ingenious Mechnicks,” by Christopher Schwarz.
I empathize with the early woodworker. My brain is wired to look for a simpler solution to a problem instead of creating complexity.
Example: Earlier this year, I spent a couple hours in the dentist’s chair and was force-fed several episodes of a home-improvement show focused on carving out storage from oddball places in a home. Some of the examples I remember over the whirring of the dental Dremel include:
• Hinge your steps to create trap doors on the landings of your stairs to make small bins in the wasted space between your stringers.
• Find stud walls that are chases for utilities and turn them into built-in chests of drawers.
• In attic spaces, create sliding racks on the interior of a high-pitched roof. You slide giant plastic bins into the racks – it’s a bit like a top-hanging drawer.
Through the entire program I wanted to puke (that was mostly because I have a sensitive gag reflex). But it was also because these “storage solution” programs neglect to mention the easiest way to control clutter:
Get rid of your excess crap.
No one should have so much stuff that they have to slave excessively to make a place to stow it. In the same way, no workbench needs vises on all four corners (I’ve built these for students and customers) to build fine furniture. You just don’t.
With this book, I hope to expose you to early and simple ways of holding your work. While many of these devices were used on low workbenches, most of them work on high workbenches as well. I use both sorts of benches – high and low – in my work for building all manner of things, from stud walls to Welsh stick chairs, dovetailed chests to nailed-together coffins.
The workholding on these benches is truly ingenious and effective. Things change when you sit down to work. And I think you’ll be surprised what you can do on your bum: planing, chiseling, shaving and even dovetailing.
The low bench form might not be for everyone. But it might be right for you and you might not know it. Woodworkers with limited mobility use low benches because they can sit and work. Apartment woodworkers use low benches because they take up little space and do double-duty as seating or a coffee table. Curious woodworkers use them because – dammit – they are an interesting form to build and use. Many chairmakers already use a low bench (but they call it a shavehorse), as do many other specialty trades, including coopers and basketmakers. Oh, and a low bench is the best sawbench ever made – promise.
One more plug for these early benches: Using their lessons, you can make almost any surface into a worksurface. A couple drywall screws can turn a picnic table into an English-style workbench. A missing brick in a wall (and a pine wedge) can become a face vise. A shavehorse can be cobbled together with a rock and a scrap of wood strapped to your gut.
Even if you never build a low workbench and reject its appliances as “not whiz-bang-y” enough for your engineering mindset, you might enjoy the journey of discovery required to write this book. It involved trips to exotic Italy, Germany and Indianapolis. (And understanding the low bench might connect your work to Chinese benches.) In the process, we rescued oak slabs from a pallet factory. We flushed $1,000 down a metaphorical toilet to learn about the construction of the first modern workbench in 1505. We ate a ton of Neapolitan pizza.
Workbenches are at the heart of everything we do. So, let’s take a brief look at the history of Western workbenches and consider why it’s even worth looking at ancient benches.
Q: In making a drawer with half-blind dovetails for the front and through-dovetails for the back, what is your favorite way to incorporate and assemble a bottom? Through-grooves on the side pieces or slips added to sides? Stopped grooves on front/back pieces or through-grooves positioned to fall within the lowest tail?
A: As almost always, the answer is: it depends. Some projects call for a particular approach, for example, a reproduction of a high-end 18th-century English piece is likely going to call for drawer slips. As might any drawer that has delicate (read: thin) sides – slips can add enough extra thickness and thus strength only where it’s needed. Particularly nice slips (see above) are also an excellent way to showcase mad skills.
But around here, we’re not usually that fancy (or British) – both Chris and I typically make drawers with bottoms rabbetted to fit into grooves on the drawer sides and front; they are then nailed from underneath at the center of the (narrower) drawer back, or supported with a nail or screw through a slot. The grooves land in half tails at the bottom of the drawer sides. And I can’t speak for Chris, but I’ve never cut a stopped groove for a drawer bottom…that I can recall.
Now that we’ve shown you quite enough of our drawers, here’s an excerpt on drawers from “The Woodworker: The Charles Hayward Years,” Vol. II (Techniques).
“The Mark of a Well-made Drawer”
Perhaps there is nothing which so quickly reveals the quality of piece of woodwork as the fitting of its drawers. Properly made, a drawer will move in or out without jamming when held by one corner only, even when it is 3 ft. or more long. A poor one will drop badly when opened, it may be stiff in some positions even, although it may appear slack all round, it will most likely racket sideways and jam, and it may have unsightly gaps around its edges at the front. We deal with some of the problems and describe the procedure in making which experience has shown to be sound.
At the outset it should be realised that drawer making begins before the actual drawer itself is put in hand. It starts in the carcase or cupboard to which it is to be fitted. If this is out of square or is at fault in some other way the drawer will make a poor fit, even though it be faultlessly made — in fact its squareness and truth will be a source of trouble.
Carcase and Runners. Perhaps the most obvious point is that the carcase must be square in plan as otherwise a square drawer will not fit. (Squareness in elevation is not so important from the drawer-making angle because the front and back are fitted to the actual carcase, and if it is at all out the drawer itself will be out correspondingly.) If anything the carcase back should be a trifle wider than the front, and when guides are to be fitted some workers fix these so that they are about 1∕16 in. wider apart at the back than at the front. When there are no guides, the drawers running directly against the carcase ends, the top and bottom can be made a trifle full at the back to allow clearance.
Winding Runners. Quite clearly each runner must be parallel with that above it or be slightly wider apart at the back (this is easily managed by planing them a little thinner towards the rear), but, what is equally important, they must be free of winding. Unless this is the case the drawer will bind even though there appears to be sufficient depth when measured at each side. Take A, Fig. 2, for instance. Even though the distance X equals the drawer depth, the drawer is bound to bind because the runners wind.
As a rule it is impossible to look across the runners to test for winding, but the method at B can be followed. A strip of wood with parallel edges is placed across the runners at the back. Winding strips placed on this and the drawer rail then at once disclose any inaccuracy. When the runners fit in grooves this trouble is not likely to arise, assuming the workmanship to be accurate, but even so a test is desirable. Be sure, however, that the carcase is standing square. Otherwise if one corner is resting upon an irregularity the whole thing may be distorted.
Other causes of trouble are shown at C, Fig. 2. At the top the rail is not square. Consequently the whole weight and movement of the drawer is borne by the extreme front edge, causing rapid wear. In the middle example the rail is twisted the other way. Consequently there is an unsightly gap at the front edge which is difficult to avoid. The same result occurs at the bottom diagram and is due to the runner not being flush with the rail. In cheap, machine-made furniture the drawers are intentionally made a very slack fit so that all individual fitting is avoided. Each drawer goes straight into its carcase direct from the assembling shop, and, to mask what would otherwise be an unsightly gap around the edges, the drawer front is rebated all round, the projecting lap standing out from the surface as at D, Fig. 2. This means that all the drawers can be entered easily, but they are all a bad fit. It is largely because of this that in better quality machine-made furniture the drawers are still dovetailed and fitted by hand.
Normal Type Drawer. As a straightforward example of drawer-making take an ordinary chest of drawers such as that in Fig. 1. The fronts might be in 1 in. stuff, and the sides and back 3∕8 in. For the bottom 3∕16 in. stuff is about right for average sizes. It is common practice to use oak for sides and back even when the front is in another hardwood such as mahogany, and it should be realised that it is of little value to have a drawer in hardwood and then make the runners of softwood. The last named would wear very rapidly.
Prepare the front first, planing it to thickness and marking the outer surface as the face side and the bottom as the face edge. Plane the bottom edge straight and square, if anything making the inside slightly smaller than the outside. There should not be more than the thickness of a piece of newspaper difference. Try it in position on the rail. Theoretically it should fit, but if the rail should not be perfectly straight the edge should be planed to fit it. Now trim the right hand end to make a close fit with the cabinet as at E, Fig. 2, again making a very slightly tapered fit.
Mark the length at the bottom as shown inset, square across, and cut with the saw on the waste side. Plane the end grain until the inner edge just enters the space with a tight fit. There will probably be enough width to enable the upper corner to be chiselled off when planing the end grain, but be careful not to chisel away too much so that the corner of the actual drawer is taken off. Finally the width is marked and the top edge planed so that the complete front just enters the space as shown at the bottom at E, Fig. 2.
It is most important that the angle at which the edges are planed is not excessive. As already stated there should not be more than the thickness of a piece of newspaper difference between the two. One way is to plane the edge square, then pass the plane over to one side and take another shaving.
In this way the shaving is thicker at one side than at the other and this gives about the right angle. All fronts should be planed to fit, and, in the event of there being more than one drawer of the same size, each should be fitted individually and its position marked to give quick identification.
Back. Preparation of the backs is similar so far as the bottom and ends are concerned except that they are planed square. The width, however, is less because the back stands above the drawer bottom and is well down at the top to give clearance (see Fig. 3). It is therefore necessary to decide the position of the drawer bottom and the top clearance straightway. The former is generally fixed by the size of drawer bottom slip moulding being used. Top clearance can be 1∕4 to 3∕8 in.
Sides. To fix the length of the sides the lap on the front dovetails has to be allowed for. On 7∕8 in. wood the lap is about 3∕16 in. and the sides have to be short by this amount. At the rear the drawer should be short so that it does not quite reach the carcase back. Allowance has also to be made when the drawer bottom is of solid wood as distinct from plywood because it has to project anything up to 1∕2 in. in a large drawer to allow of its being pushed forward to take up shrinkage (see Fig. 3).
Plane the bottom edge straight and trim the front edge square with it. Mark the length and plane the back as well. Set a gauge to slightly more than the width, mark the wood and plane down to the line. It is then a matter of trying the side in position and removing fine shavings until it fits. There should be a hand-tight fit. Shavings are best removed on the shooting board. Mark the front bottom corner R or L for identification as at F Fig. 2.