Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beveled Drawer Bottoms

Why bevel a drawer bottom? No one sees it, right?

Maybe not, but if they do, it can be an impressive discovery.

Beveled drawer bottoms that are fitted into grooves are found in some antique furniture, but I have also seen flat and beveled boards that were nailed or pegged to the bottom edges of the drawer sides.

I can think of 4 possible reasons why woodworkers might have beveled their drawer bottoms, but if you know for sure, please feel free to comment.

Beveled drawer bottoms:
1. Feel substantial. Rap on a thin drawer bottom and it sounds hollow, and may even rattle if it's fitted into grooves, but a beveled one feels and sounds solid.
2. Add an elegant and finished look.
3. Take less time to make than it would if you had to reduce the thickness of the board along its entire width with a handplane.
4. May have been a signature design element for some cabinetmakers.

Moreover, they are simple to make.

Begin by laying out pencil lines on the face of the board that indicate where the bevel will terminate (I use a combination square). If you use a marking gauge on the face, you'll create scratches, and pencil lines are more easily planed away. Use a marking gauge along the edges to mark the final thickness, which is determined by the width of the groove into which it must fit.

I always start with the long grain and plane away the area between the pencil and marking gauge lines . If you start with the cross grain, it's possible to create tearout on the long grain edge that can't easily be repaired.

Planing crossgrain toward the bevel you created along the length of the board avoids tearout. (photo #3)

I use two planes for this task. One has a more open throat and can take a bigger bite. Ironically, it's the smoother plane I made, but because it's applewood, which twists and shifts like a little kid during church service, I have had to flatten the sole enough times that the mouth is too wide for a fine shaving. I could patch it and reopen the throat, but it's beneficial to have a designated plane for faster stock removal.

My jack plane (maple) can produce thinner shavings, so once I'm close to the lines, I run it across the bevel a few times to leave a finished surface.

For the drawer itself, if you build it so that you can slide the drawer bottom in from the back after the drawer is assembled, you can use a drawer jig to clean up the outside, easily remove glue from the inside walls, and add finish to the drawer bottom before you slide it in place . A small brass screw at the back edge adds the finishing touch.

The last photo shows 2 drawers from my tool cabinet that was built almost 4 years ago. The back and bottom of the drawers (on the right, and made from cherry) never see light. And notice how much lighter in color they are compared to the drawer front. In just a few years, the drawer fronts (also cherry) are nearly as dark as the walnut sides, even though the drawer fronts themselves rarely see light since there are doors on my tool cabinet.

17 comments:

Woodbloke said...

Kari - I generally fit the drawer bottoms by using a rebate rather than a bevel and I usually use slips to give a bigger bearing surface. Just had a quick look at the Tool Cabinet which looks very tasty, but the shots of those chisels with sharp ends up was making me feel faint... - Rob

The Village Carpenter said...

Ha ha! I know what you mean, Rob. I felt the same way once I put the chisels in the holder—it was frightening!—so I promptly made some chisel booties to cover the business end.

What are slips?

Chris Schwarz said...

Kari,

I've been meaning to write about drawer slips myself. They are a grooved framework that holds the bottom. You groove these narrow pieces (instead of the drawer sides) and glue them to the inside of the drawer. Then you slip the bottom into the grooves.

They have a couple advantages. Dovetail layout is easier. Plus if you bevel the tops of the slips it makes the drawers easier to clean (if you do that sort of thing).

Denning's old book says that joiners groove drawer sides. Cabinet-makers use slips. Whatever.

Chris

Chris Schwarz said...

Kari,

I posted some photos of slips on my blog.

http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/About+Drawer+Slips.aspx

Chris

jimk said...

I like your idea about the beveled drawer bottoms. That's nice touch. I've just started to build a similar tool cabinet..."many year project". Well, I guess I won't plan on being done this month. Having built one.. any words of wisdom, suggestions or things to watch out for.
As always, I really enjoy your blog.
Jim K

Jake said...

Girl, the more I learn about you, the more impressed I become. Your work and blog are great.

I see what you mean, beveling the draw bottom does add a bit of class to the work.

Jake

Bill Satko said...

Kari,

Is that a slicing gauge you are using and is that a xacto blade in it? I like the look of it. Do mind telling me where you got it?

Bill

The Village Carpenter said...

Chris, thank you for explaining drawer slips! I'll look forward to reading your write up.

Jim, I have had two problems with my cabinet. One had to do with the orientation of the growth rings on one of the sides. They are arcing away from the cabinet so at one point the side board started to pull out of the dovetail joint. Nothing that re-gluing, clamping, and seating a very long screw couldn't fix! The other problem is that I used hardwood for the sides and plywood for the shelf. Can you guess what happened? Even though I left a 1/8" gap at the back edge of the shelf, there is only one season each year that the sides and the shelf are flush. Every other season, the sides shrink and the shelf stands proud about 1/8". Good luck with your cabinet!

Thanks, Jake. :o)

Bill, that is a slicing gauge I made in a class taught by Steve Latta on string inlay, and it does use an exacto blade. Lie-Nielsen sells a fancy version of this gauge if you want to get another look at it. Steve's version is his original design, and is pretty simple to make, but it is by far the best marking/slicing gauge I have ever used.

Gary said...

Kari... you forgot reason #5:

relieving the edge of the drawer bottom allows you to add depth to the drawer without weakening the bottom of the drawer side.

Anonymous said...

Reason #6: you lose less depth from the drawer than you would from a groove the full width of the bottom board. If you started with a 3/4" board and wanted the groove 1/2" from the bottom, that's 1-1/4" lost from the depth of the drawer rather than the 3/4" you lose with a bevel and 1/4" groove 1/2" from the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Kari,
Love the site and your woodworking. I was taught to have the grain going across the drawer, not front to back. Bevel three sides leaving the back full thickness with an elongated screw hole for seasonal expansion. I bevel the sides on the table saw and fit them with hand plane. Fit the front tight so all the movement occurs in the back with the elongated hole.

The Village Carpenter said...

Thank you for the additional suggestions! They make perfect sense. That's interesting about running the grain from side to side--I'll give that a try.

Shazza said...

I thought beveled drawer bottoms was about something else.

My mind is a waste of a terrible thing.

The Village Carpenter said...

You crack me up, Miss Shazza!

cabinets said...

nice furniture design! love it! tnx for sharing this...

Oliver Hart-Parr said...

I've always believed that the edges were beveled because, in addition to the reasons already listed, the bottom is less likely to rattle when it loosens up in drier conditions.

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