Choosing Materials

Stability, durability, workability, availability and looks all figure in when choosing material for drawers. The first four qualities are most important for sides, backs and bottoms. Looks usually outweigh the others when selecting fronts, sometimes with dire consequences.

Woods vary in how-much they expand and contract with changes in humidity. Cured from green to oven-dry, a flat-sawn piece of white oak 10 in. wide will shrink about 1 in. in width, while a similar piece of Eastern white pine will loose about5/* in. The wav the wood is cut will also w affect its movement. When sawn perpendicular to the growth rings (quar-tersawn), wood shrinks less— white oak about half as much, and the pine will shrink only a third as much. Bruce Hoadlcy s book, Understanding Wood (1980, The Taunton Press, 63 S. Main St., Newtown. CT 06470) lists shrinkage rates for more than 90 domestic and imported hardwoods and softwoods.

If stability were the only consideration. the pine would win hands down. But other factors weigh in. The soft pine sides won't wear as well as those made of the harder oak. You may be able to get the radially sawn oak but not pine, or the oak may look belter with your design.

In practice, I regularly use radially sawn white oak. mahogany and pine (It may wear down in 100 years, but ) Over the years I've seen fine pieces with drawer sides of radially sawn maple, cedar of Lebanon, walnut, teak, even ebony. The rule—if there is one—seems to be that vou can make acceptable drawer sides from manv modcratclv stable, moderatclv r r •*

durable woods as long as thev arc radially sawn or close to it (quartersawn, or live-sawn pieces selected from near the center of the tree.) The radial cut minimizes cupping as well as shrinkage. This is critical for drawers that have been fit snug from side to side.


Central rai reinforces wide, thin drawer bottoms (back removed).


(See AW. #21. for more on the different ways lumber is sawn.)

You can avoid all this muddle bv using high-quality plywoods such as Finply and Baltic birch. They don't move, they wear like iron and thev can be assembled with anv of w w the joints I've discussed. They're expensive, however, and you can't plane them thinner to fit an opening. But for built-ins, kitchens and

Join center rail to back back with half lap.

Join center rail to back back with half lap.

durable everyday furniture, they're hard to beat.

How Thick?

Beginners are likely to over-build things. If you're uncertain about joinery and materials, there's a great temptation to compensate by beefing everything up. Unfortunately bulk doesn't necessarily strengthen a poorly made piece.


Join center rai to front with Wind dovetai.


Stop catches drawer front, keeping it flush.

Pi-wot stop down after instating drawer. Stop wi engage back, presenting drawer from withdrawing comptefiely.


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