Dresser: Glue-up

The feet were the start of the avalanche. It was time to make the rest of this project three-dimensional. Six pieces would be glued to each other, and two would float in captured grooves.

I had thought through the process at every stage of planning and construction to this point. Then I drew a diagram, and redrew it, and then briefly considered other methods as I started. In the end, the right answer was to borrow an extra pair of hands, so that multiple joints could be managed at once.

That is, referring to the diagram above, 1-3 got me to this point:

The rest of the plan might have worked if I had a large enough space to lay the dresser down on its face. Instead, I had to prepare 4-6 together:

And then fit 1-3 with it:

This is where my choice of glue became important. In previous projects, I’ve stuck with standard PVA wood glue. This has generally been a good choice, but it has a relatively short time between application and setting. With so many joints going together at once, I needed lots of extra time to apply the glue to each surface and then to get all the surfaces into their final position. So for this portion of the project, I switched to liquid hide glue. In addition to a basic long open time, hide glue can also be readjusted by warming it to temperature, so even if I got stuck (sorry!) I would have a second chance.

I warmed the bottle to about 130°F in a water bath, and then applied it to the joint surfaces, using a paint brush to ensure an even spread without too much mess. Fortunately, mess is another benefit of hide glue – in an experiment, it blended into the finish much better than the PVA I would have used otherwise:

With my wife’s assistance, we got everything lined up and pushed together. The dovetails slid together nice and tightly with just a bit of clamping pressure. One more round of glue application, and the top followed.

It turned out that the square clamps were not truly necessary. The case stood square on its own. I attached them anyway, in case the glue created uneven pressure while curing.

Except for shaving the overhanging edges of the dovetails flush, the case is now complete. On to drawers!

Dresser: Feet

While I could leave the case of this dresser flat on the ground, elevating it slightly has some advantages, like being able to pull out the bottom drawer without it running into my foot. How it is elevated offers different tradeoffs. If elevated with a skirt that spans the front, then dust gets hidden away, and the base gains some rigidity. If elevated with feet, a small additional storage space is gained.

I think inch-thick solid cherry shouldn’t need much extra rigidity, and I can’t argue with a place to kick my slippers. So, I’m going with feet, and aiming for a “modern” look.

I do think this dresser is going to be heavy, so I want a wide footpad to distribute the pressure. I started by glueing two inch-thick scraps together, to form a short two-inch thick board.

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I kept the design basic otherwise. The foot is basically rectangular, with front and back parallel. The sides are leaned in the same direction, with the outside edge closer to 90º than the inside edge. The base of the foot is a square, and the sides taper up to a slightly elongated rectangular top.

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I oriented the grain of the wood to be inline with the outside of the foot. This helps avoid an easy shear line that could chip off the acute outer edge. I also eased all the exposed edges with a sanding block at 45º as an additional precaution.

I glued and screwed the feet onto the bottom of the dresser. It’s an endgrain-to-long-grain joint, so not the strongest. Most of the time the strength of the joint won’t matter, because the stress on the feet will just be the weight of the dresser pushing on them. Securing the feet in this manner is mostly insurance against knocking them off while moving.

Normally for a glue-up like this, I would clamp the piece in position and pre-drill screw holes. Starting the screws through one piece then helps align everything once the glue is in place. This method was too awkward for this piece, though, so I fell back on a similar trick using wire brads. First I nailed two brads about halfway into the feet. I used wire snips to clip the exposed end of the nail to a point about a quarter inch above the top of each foot. I then placed the feet where I wanted them and pressed those “pins” into the base board. Pulling the pins out of the base board again was easy. Once I had glue spread over the mating faces, I located the pins back into the holes they made, and squeezed on the clamps without worrying about the glue making things slippery.

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Once the glue had dried, I drilled and counter-sunk holes for screws. I used a sliding bevel set to my target angle to align my drill by eye. The screws are canted in opposing directions, with the idea that this would better support a knock in any direction.

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Now the feet are permanently attached. I’ve done this before glueing the case together, because it’s going to be difficult to access the bottom of this dresser in my tiny shop after glue-up. This will also reduce the area that I need to protect from the cement floor.

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Dresser: Internals

Before glueing the outer case together, I had a few things to prepare. I wanted the back of the dresser to be closed with a panel in a routed groove. I needed internal structure separating the drawers from the cabinet. And, I had a few things in mind for the internals of the cabinet.

The starting point was the back panel. The location of the groove would define where other internal components would align. I used a straight bit in my router, with a fence attached to the base to cut the groove.

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The only tricky bit was that the groove aligned with the half-pin on the top and bottom edges of the sides of the case. I needed to be careful not to route all the way through the end of that pin, or the groove would be visible on the corner. But, I also needed to route a little ways into the pin, to account for the depth of the groove in the overlapping portion of the top and bottom of the case.

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With the groove in place, I could align the internal structure that separates the drawers from the cabinet. That was a shelf about a third of the way from the bottom, and a wall about a third of the way from the right. I used blind mortises and tenons, as a strong yet simple solution.

I cut the tenons first, using a dovetail saw to cut the shoulders, then a coping saw to rough out waste, and finally a chisel to clean up. This is basically the same process I used for my dovetails. You might even call it a 0º dovetail.

I then transferred the dimensions of my tenons onto the boards to be mortised. A forstner bit made quick work of most of the mortise waste. The same chisel technique I used to clean up the hinge mortises on my box project worked well for cleaning up these mortises as well.

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With all pieces fitting together, I moved on to the extra features of the cabinet. I’m going to set it up for one or two movable shelves, plus some small internal drawers. The space for the internal drawers is defined by one fixed shelf. I’m making that shelf about half the thickness of the rest of the pieces of the dresser. It does not span a large space, and will not need to support a great deal of weight. To make the shelf, I resawed some of the inch-plus scraps I’ve accumulated, resulting in just under half an inch of thickness.

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I transferred the fixed shelf’s dimensions to the facing sides of the right side of the case and the internal wall, and then made a groove for it with my router. I also routed grooves for runners on which the drawers that will fit underneath the shelf can run.

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Finally, I made a template and drilled holes for shelf support pins every two inches along those same faces. I’ll come back and make the adjustable shelves later, once I have more scrap that is large enough for them.

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The only remaining internal work is the drawer and cabinet hardware. It would be nice to do that while everything is open and easy to access, but I think most of these spaces won’t be too hard to reach into, and alignment will probably be better when everything is together.