Federal Work Table II [ dovetails and building drawers ]

In the first ”Work Table” post I built the carcass, top and legs of the piece. In this post I will show how I built drawers and talk about what I forgot to put in the first post. In the first post I didn’t talk about plans, that’s because I don’t have any. I also have not had a period example in the shop for repair, so I built the piece from photographs the way I thought it might have been built in the period and I was probably wrong, I’m sure I will be corrected and look forward to it.

I do know that I built the drawers more like a William and Mary drawer than a federal drawer, I did so to keep a little more depth by keeping the drawer bottom closer to the bottom of the sides. What I mean by a William and Mary drawer is that the bottom of the drawer is nailed into a shallow rebate in the sides and front instead of a grove cut into the sides and front, then strips are glued to the bottom for the drawer to ride on. One thing I can say about the federal drawers I have had in the shop is that they tend to have very narrow pins and are neat and clean compared to earlier examples.

bottom of drawer

I don’t do a lot of measuring with a ruler, I transfer the dimensions for the drawer from the case either directly or with dividers. Here I have set the marking gauge for the length of the tails by eye and marked the side stock and front for the half blind dovetails on a drawer front. The sides are poplar and the front is fir, bottom is pine.

front and sides

To lay out the dovetails I first set my dividers a little wider than the chisel I will use to do the parring. I use different chisels for different size stock, this is a 1/4″ ground to have sharper edges to pare into corners. With the dividers I mark the position of the wide part of the pin waste on the base line of the tail board. I do it by eye, I adjust the position of the half pins to leave adequate stock on the top and bottom of the drawer front, again by eye.

pins marked

I use a square to make a 90* line from the base line to the edge thru the waste, then I set a bevel using that line and the marks from the dividers and mark the tails with a marking knife.

tails marked

Next I do the sawing, the first cut is down the middle of the waste, this does two things, it gives the waste some clearance when it is chopped and it give a spot to start the saw when making the other two cuts for each tail.

saw cuts

This is the chisel I modified for cutting narrow spaces.


One chop on each side and most of the waste is loose. You can see that the saw kerf thru the center of the waste allows it to move away from the chisel without damaging the tails. Then I pare to the line with the same chisel.

chopping out the waste

The tails chopped and parred.

Finished tails

I next mark the front board using the tails and a thin marking knife. I got the knife at WIA when it was in IL., it’s long and thin and makes it easy to mark between the tails.

marking the front board

At this point I should have a picture of the front board cut and how I did it, but I forgot to take that picture, so here is a drawing I got from Wikipedia . Once the tails are transferred to the front board, I saw on the waste side of the line, I over saw into the back side of the front. On large tails I will remove some of the wast with a brace and bit or if doing a large number of joints a forstner bit in the drill press. The tail sockets are parred to the lines and adjusted to fit with skew chisels.

half blind dovetail

The finished joint, dry fit , you can see that the tails are not exactly the same size. You can also see that the half pin on the bottom is larger to leave room for the rebate for the bottom.


Here we see the bottom nailed into the rebate in the front and sides. The rebate was cut with a Stanley 90 after the sides were assembled. You can also see the strip of hard maple glued to the bottom of the drawer for it to ride on.

Drawer bottom

Here we see the back corner of the drawer, notice that the pin on the bottom of the side      [ top in the photo] is parallel to the drawer bottom, to make room for the rebate. Again you can see that the tails are not the same size.

Drawer bottom

About millcrek

This entry was posted in Tables, Wood Working and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s