Nightstands v2: Making Drawer Bottoms

It’s been so long since I talked about the second nightstand project that I sometimes wonder if I’m making any progress. So I looked back at that last post and realized that since then, I’ve done the following:

  • Made the rest of the cabinet components.
  • Glued up the cabinets.
  • Made all of the drawer sides, fronts, and backs.
  • Resawed and milled the pieces for the drawer bottoms.
  • Milled half of the tops and roughed out the other half.

The drawer sides and backs were a pain because for some bizarre reason, I chose birch to be my secondary wood. Don’t do this. Use yellow-poplar, pine, or something that people who should know better would use. The stock I had a ridiculous number of grain reversals, leading to a lot of tearout when planing, so milling this stuff took forever. It also dulled my plane blades quickly, so I was constantly resharpening. But even after I milled it, the dovetails took longer than they should have because it seemed like I needed to sharpen my chisels after every couple of swipes.

So it took forever, but I finished, and that left the drawer bottoms. I haven’t really talked much about how I’ve been making drawer bottoms, though I did one particular post that kind of touched on panels in the tool cabinet. So I figure I could post something on that.

First, I mill the wood to thickness, preferably a little thicker than the grooves that they’ll fit in. I always need to glue them together.

Next, I saw the glued-up panel to rough depth–about a half-inch wider than it will eventually be. In the following photo, I ran out of wood in one board of western redcedar and had to use another very differently-colored board for the last little bit at the end. The rip panel saw that I use is on top.

Now I plane the top of the panel to remove excess glue and get a finished surface. I do this after trimming the depth because I often use the cutoff somewhere else, so I want that cutoff to be as thick as possible to start.

I used a Taiwanese plane for this because it was sharp and the blade is nice and wide.

With the surface planing done, I trim one of the sides square to the front with a plane. I used a Milllers Falls #11 (this is like a Stanley 5 1/4) because it’s easy to control (and its blade happened to be sharp).

Then I take the drawer front and mark off the width:

I mark this side square to the front as well, and after verifying that it is in fact square, I trim it off as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the panels are typically a little thicker than the grooves that will house them. I don’t measure them because I care only about the face side being reasonably flat. Now it’s time to get three of the edges to fit into the grooves.

To do this, I make a rabbet. I was thrilled to be able to use my new Taiwanese rabbet plane so soon:

I start with the sides, going across the grain. Every so often, I check the thickness by seeing if the rabbeted edge fits in the groove that I’ve plowed in the drawer side. When going across the grain, it definitely helps to take out a little bit of the end of the rabbet with a chisel so that you don’t blow out the grain.

I then make an identical rabbet on the other side, and then do it for the front edge, this time checking against the groove in the front drawer.

Now it’s time to trim the panel/bottom to final depth. I assemble the drawer front and sides without the back, and slip the panel in. (This is also a good time to verify that the panel isn’t too long.) I make sure that the panel goes all the way into the groove on the drawer front. Then, I mark off where I think I should cut the panel:

I make marks on both sides, draw a line between them, and then saw and/or plane to that line. Then I test-fit the panel into the 3/4 assembly again, and measure the depth with my double square:

With the square set, I drop this end into the groove on the rear of the drawer to see how close I am to the bottom:

You can see the gap; you want a gap so that the panel has room to expand in the groove. I usually go for somewhere around 1/16″-3/32″, but it’s never exact, just the kind of thing you know when you see it.

With the final depth trimmed with a plane, I rabbet the underside of the rear panel edge like I did earlier for the sides and front.

Then, the final test-fit comes; here’s the view inside showing the face surface:

and here’s the underside that no one sees, with the rabbets and the saw marks that I’m too lazy to clean up:

So there are the drawer bottoms. I have two done and I’ll do the other two when I get back from the ski trip I’m on now.

I’m also making some progress with the tops. Here are the pieces that will form the tops. I had to do a lot of sawing around defects to get to this point:


Yearly Tool Haul 2012: Japan and Taiwan

This year’s annual transpacific trip included Japan as well as Taiwan. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see too much in the way of wood/woodworking stuff; there was just too much on the agenda.

However, I did get to go to the Meiji Jingu shrine, and the second gate (torii) on the path there is one of the largest wooden ones around, and happens to be made of Taiwan Yellow Cypress:

(The sign says “hinoki from Taiwan”–They consider the wood to be interchangeable.)

I didn’t have enough time to research tool shops in Japan, much less visit them, so I limited tool-buying to the home center-style stuff. To be honest, little odds and ends are all I really need right now. That’s a lucky thing, too, because the tools you get at the home center there are about a million times better than the ones you get in the US. Here’s the first batch:

At the top, a small mallet (wanted to see what it would do as a plane adjuster, plus I break the Thagomizer on a regular basis now–need to make another). Then there’s one of those milled-tooth files, that I’m going to try out as a half-round complement to the Shinto saw rasp that I like so much. Next is a diamond feather-edge file, because it looked like it might come in handy. And on the bottom is a general-purpose knife that I’m going to try out in my seemingly endless search for a marking knife that I like. That knife is nothing special, just the kind that a schoolkid might have used for sharpening pencils as described in Odate’s book.

Next is a couple of small squares:

The 4″ Lee Valley double square is at the top for size comparison. The 10x5cm square seemed like a handy size to me, and the tiny try square (made in Sanjo City) was too cute to resist. Note that even though these tools were not bought from a specialty shop, their accuracy is still guaranteed, and indeed, both are right on. You just can’t get that kind of thing from a home center in the US, and the price of these squares really isn’t excessive. We’re talking about $10 here.

I wish I could have gotten one of those larger framing squares that have the beveled face, but it would have not survived the airport baggage-handling gorillas. I suppose I can get those here, anyway.

Next up is a couple of sharpening implements:

I really have no idea what that thing on the top is, but it was cheap and it’s really coarse, so I figured that if nothing else, it could maybe be used to rough up the surface of my Sigma Power #120. I got the diamond plate on the bottom primarily for conditioning my waterstones.

Oh yeah, I got some shoji paper, too.

After leaving Japan, I went to the now-familiar tool shop in Taipei, and it turned out that I wasn’t quite done with Japan yet. I decided to buy my first Japanese chisel there for the hell of it (and to make Wilbur Pan gloat or something):

And I was looking for a smallish/medium smoothing plane, and got this typical Japanese-blade/Taiwanese body hybrid:

Annoyingly, the face of the blade on this thing was not flat when I got it–it had a very (very) slight convexity on one half of the edge. For those of you familiar with this kind of steel, though, you know that lapping it away is basically an exercise in futility, and it took me an embarrasingly long time to remember this.

So I tapped it out. I’d never done that before, and it was as nerve-wracking as everyone says it is, but I have to say that it worked like a charm.

Finally, the tool I was most looking forward to buying was a plain-jane Taiwanese-made rabbet plane:

Why? Because I’m fed up with my Stanley #78–a torturer of left hands since 1885. The one here doesn’t have a depth stop, though I could make one or clamp one on. And it seems that the convexity demon from the blade on the preceding plane infected this one, too. So I tapped out this one, too, this time with a little more confidence. Yay!

The maybe-not-so-strange thing about this plane is that it’s designed to be used left-to-right. I’m not sure it’s going to make much of a difference, but it might give me an excuse to buy an antique Western rabbet plane to complement it.