Dresser: Finished

I’ve pushed off writing about progress in the past few weeks, for the practical reason of spending that time in the shop, and for the vain reason of keeping secrets before a big reveal. Last night it became possible to dispense with both reasons at once.

It’s finished! It’s in place. Drawers are filled. The shop can move on to its next project. But before that happens, let’s catch you all up on the intermediate progress.


If you missed the first several steps, these posts will catch you up:


Picking up where I left off, I mounted the drawers on ball-bearing slides. The drawers are just short of 18 inches deep, so I used 16 inch full-extension slides. The small overhang of the drawer above feels natural, like the bit of drawer left inside in a traditional design.

I used Rockler’s slide-mounting jig to ease installation. The only complication I had was matching the flush alignment on the internal dividers to the set-back on the external walls. The top four drawers are essentially inset on the left and overlay on the right. To manage this, I cut a small block to the depth of the inset, and then placed that in the jig ahead of the slide.



With every project, there are intermediate points where things actually look pretty good, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t continue with the rest of the plan. At this point, I kind of liked the highlight of the birch next to the cherry. Maybe I didn’t need to continue making faces. A friend even remarked that the blue tape temporary pulls matched well. Continue, I did, though.

The simple face solution would have been to run a plank horizontally across each drawer. I though this would break up the appearance too much, though. It wouldn’t be the simple solution for the cabinet door, either. Instead, I chose to run planks top-to-bottom.

My initial plan had been to glue up this whole panel, and then cut each drawer and cabinet face from it. But, with the assembled dresser taking up space, and the need to keep a path clear for laundry, there just wasn’t room. Instead, I very carefully labeled and cut each piece for each section, and glued each drawer face together individually.

This required some extra attention to alignment along multiple axes while clamping, but I think you’ll see that it all worked out.


I delayed any choice on handles for a long time. Cherry or an accent wood dovetailed into the edge? Leather loops, especially after seeing how the temporary tape pulls fit? I ultimately fell back on my second favorite project material: slate.

Four-inch long, near-square rectangular prisms: one-half inch top and back, Five-eighths inch front, and an approximate ten degree bevel connecting front to back on the underside. I drilled holes an inch to either side of center, into which I gorilla-glued insert nuts.

I used a flagstone sealer to give them a richer tone, and a smoother feel. It’s the same sealer that I used on my coffee table a few years ago, and it has held up well there.


I chose “dark antique” brass butt hinges for the cabinet door. Only a small portion of the hinge is visible, but the dark finish matches the slate well.


Mortising hinges is the second technique I practiced with my box project last spring. The process here was the same: use a marking gauge to layout the cut, cross-chop and clear waste, and lay in the hinge.

To keep the door closed, I embedded a magnet in the door, and a matching one in a small block installed in the case. A one-half inch forstner bit made a perfect hole for neodymium magnets, tacked in place with a dab of Old Brown Glue.



I’ve learned that for eight years, the note about the simple mineral oil and beeswax finish that I used on my bed has had the ratio reversed. If the way is was written, one part oil to four or five parts wax, is correct, then I didn’t pack the wax into the tablespoon at all. I think it’s more likely that the correct ratio is four parts oil to one part wax. That mixup is likely what caused so much trouble finishing those toy blocks last year.

Since I didn’t realize the error until mixing a large batch at the wrong ratio, I had limited options to recover. So, this project’s finish is a two-to-one ratio of oil-to-wax. It took a little more elbow grease to smear on again, but it did smear this time.

In preparation for wax, I first sanded everything to 220. After that, I ran a damp cloth over the wood to raise the grain. When it dried out, I lightly sanded to 320 grit. At this point, I applied a light coat of straight mineral oil. My thinking here was to get the saturation started in the wood, so that fewer coats of oil with wax would be needed. When the oil had soaked in, I lightly sanded to 400 grit. Finally, I applied two coats of oil and wax finish over an eight to twelve hour period, and then buffed off the excess with clean microfiber towels.

I had been a little worried about these dovetails. They’re good, but not perfect. With the wood dry and pale, the gaps were kind of obvious. Oil and wax swelled, darkened, and filled everything. I’m quite happy with them.

In place

We moved it in and transferred my clothes as some final touches were curing. It felt enormous in my garage, and it feels large in comparison to the small dresser it’s replacing. But, I think it does fit the space.

I’m not a great photographer, but I think that some of the curl can be seen catching the sunlight from the window here.

Many of the edges also have a beautiful ray flake that gleams as you pass by.

My sweaters now have a home, instead of piling up on an ottoman nearby. I worked in two small drawers for accessories, including one protected by a lock. These were my chance to include classic techniques as well: horizontal grain orientation (still matched across faces), and wood-on-wood slides.

My first picture in this project’s album, of the wood loaded in a trailer ready to take home, was taken on April 5, 2019. I officially said there was nothing left to do on March 11, 2020. Just over eleven months to complete this project broke down as roughly four hours per week (half of one weekend day) for the first nine months, followed by six hours a day, five days a week for the last two months. That comes out to nearly 400 hours of work. I think it was worth it.


Evolving Notes

In a decade where it was hard to escape news about how fast technology was advancing, I experienced stability. Wherever I went I carried a laptop. Emacs was always open on that laptop.

This stability led to me finally adopting a journaling system that I could stick with. I just kept a file open in an Emacs buffer, and dropped notes about what I was doing in there as I went about my day. Exact details changed as years past, but mainly:

  1. Plain text, mostly Markdown-ish in syntax.
  2. One file per month.
  3. Start the day by typing day name and date on the next empty line.
  4. Commit the file and push to a remote git repo to backup.

Yes, there are a hundred other tools I could have used. These were the low-energy entry points that meant I kept using it.

That stability has ended, though, and Mac-plus-Emacs is no longer ever-present for me. Now I’m as likely to have only my iPhone or iPad at hand. I still depend too much on digital media and communications to move to a paper notebook, as my father has always carried, no matter how nice Moleskines look.

I’ve tried a new solution for a month now, and I think it’s going to stick: Bear. Other apps came close, but Bear pulled a few important things together in one place: export, sync, price, and usability.

Almost every note-taking application supports note export in some form. Even Apple’s Notes exports to PDF. Bear exports to many formats, and documents doing so in a way to leads me to believe this is a feature they care about. Export to Markdown means that I can maintain my git-repo backup habit for now, and will make it easy to fall back on Emacs if necessary.

Syncing is equally ubiquitous. Bear syncs via iCloud. (CloudKit in particular, which is a bonus point of pride for me.) I love that this means I don’t have to sign up for yet another service, that this service isn’t going to go away if the Bear team does, and I don’t have to think about what data Bear could mine from my notes.

The features I need in Bear are not free. Gaining access to them is $15 per year. But, that price covers Bear on all of my devices. Separate charges for desktop and mobile apps, I understand, helps teams justify the development of each. From my consumer perspective though, I bought access to Bear and now get to use it everywhere, and that’s great.

There are many nice touches in Bear’s usability (two-finger swipe to go to the top or bottom of a note, or automatically pulling a URL from the clipboard when adding a link to a note, to name a couple). But the most important to me is that it doesn’t replace the standard Mac keybindings. My Emacs muscle memory appreciates the basic cursor movement shortcuts supported by all standard Mac text fields.

Bear is working great for me. So much so that I’ve begun to expand usage beyond my journal. The last two blog posts here were written in Bear – the export to WordPress on iOS is smooth. I’m experimenting with archiving recipes, using nested tags.

There are a few places I think Bear has an opportunity to improve, including a bug or two. But they’ve done such a nice job with the fundamentals, and sprinkled just enough extras on top, that it’s already app I’m happy to use. Here’s hoping I get another period of tech stability out of it.