Monday, May 2, 2016

Q&A - Drawer Slips vs. Grooves

I'm gonna call this Round 1 of Brady Kirkwood's Q&A for the Jewelry Armoire/Lingerie Chest build he's going to undertake.  He graciously agreed to let me publish his questions alongside my answers in case anyone else finds use in them.

From Brady: 

I am very much looking forward to getting started, it might be in a few weeks that we kick this project off.  I do have a few design/build questions for you:

  1. Why drawer slips instead of integral dados cut for the drawer bottom?
  2. If making the project again, would you put the panels in all the web frames between drawers or just keep them open? (you might be able to tell, I am trying to cut down the sheer number of piece parts in this project)
  3. What would you do differently, either in the making or the design? What would you do to make the assembly easier?
Thanks again for all the support! 

My Responses:

Question #1 - Why did I use drawer slips instead of just plowing a groove on the inside of the drawer sides?

Much of my reasoning and justification for choosing drawer slips can be found in this conversation, compiled by Derek Cohen.

Point #1 - Grooves in thin drawer sides weaken the drawer sides too much

My drawer sides are only 3/8" thick.  Cutting a 1/4" or 3/16" deep groove into 3/8" thick stock would leave so little wood that it would weaken the drawer side too much, and it would weaken it right where the weight of the contents of the drawer are bearing down. Antiques with grooved, thin drawers have had their sides fracture off over time.

Point #2 - Drawer slips are the "finer" approach (my opinion)

Historically, grooves in the sides of drawers are very common in both European and American furniture from the 1700's thru modern day, whereas drawer slips are much more common in British furniture making.  I thought I had read somewhere that the groove method originated in a factory production setting as a way to speed up drawer box joinery, that it was mainly used for shop drawers, kitchen drawers, or more practical pieces where the finest approach wasn't necessary; the implication being that they were trying to keep costs down.  As I re-read about the topic now, it seems to mainly be a difference between the British approach, and everybody else's.  In any case, I liked it.
[From the same conversation linked above, emphasis is mine] 
Richard JonesDrawer slips were in common usage in high quality British furniture in the 1700s... or at least that is what I've found in the restorations I've done over the years. Country furniture and lower quality stuff all the way through to modern work often uses a groove in a thick drawer side... which is the same as in most American furniture, even the antique American furniture that's highly rated by those that are supposed to be in the know.  
Contemporary British furniture makers almost exclusively use drawer slips in high quality work. They are common [...] drawer parts around here. Drawers without drawer slips, except in the smallest drawers, are generally considered of inferior quality suitable for workaday furniture, kitchens, workshop drawers, that kind of thing. As long as the side is thick enough it will handle a groove. The problem with thick drawer sides is reckoned to be their inherent ugliness. I have always found it a bit odd that truly attractive American cabinet furniture, whether new or old, usually had within it some drawers with thick drawer sides, 1/2" or more sometimes-- they almost always look heavy and out of proportion to my eyes, but I guess that's just me.
My goal with this project was to research and identify the "best" and most "fine" approaches possible and to push myself to reach for the standard of the master woodworkers of the past, if only to prove to myself that I can build to that level of precision and quality.  From my research, I found that the "finest" drawers were made with slips, so that's what I built.  

Interesting side note regarding another difference between modern and historical joinery methods: Evidence from antiques suggests that modern woodworkers' obsession with perfect dovetails is not something woodworkers of the 1700's and 1800's concerned themselves with overmuch -- that their dovetails were slapdash and quickly done, even on high end furniture, and that precision wasn't that important to them.  Reason being: a gappy or variably angled dovetail still holds perfectly well, and has proven to do so for hundreds of years.  That being said, I consider precision-fit dovetails to be a beautiful thing, and as I'm creating an object of function and beauty, I chose to be fussy with my dovetails.  :-)

So long story short: If you make your drawer sides 1/2" thick, you can do grooves if you want to, and they will serve perfectly well for the life of the piece.  I was aiming for delicate and feminine in my proportions and I thought 1/2" thick drawer sides would have looked and felt too thick and bulky, so I opted for thinner drawer sides, which led me to drawer slips as my best option for mounting the drawer bottoms.  

Point #3 - Drawer slips improve the wearing life of the drawer

Drawer slips increase the wearing surface that the drawer runs on.  Instead of riding on a 3/8" thick drawer side, the drawer box rides on a 3/8" + 3/4" wide surface.  Over many years, thin drawer sides will wear down, and thin drawer sides made of hard wood may create tracks in the front drawer blade if the drawer blade is made of softer wood.

Increasing the durability of your drawer sides by choosing a harder wood like maple, and increasing the wearing surface, will prolong the working life of the drawer and minimize any wear on the front drawer blade.  I consider this detail as important as maintaining the strength in thin drawer sides.

// End of Question 1.  phew!  This post is already too long, so I'll break the questions out into 3 separate posts.  Stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment