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London half-blind dovetailed drawer

I am building a drawer for an end table. This will have London-style half-blind dovetails at the front, with through dovetails at the rear. The Jarrah drawer front is ½” thick and the side- and rear panels are ¼” thick Karri Pine.

The drawer bottom is also ¼” thick Karri Pine. It will be attached to the front panel with a groove and on the sides with slips. The rear is to be held with a single screw.

I had already begun building this drawer, with one pin board complete, when it occurred to me that I could be recording the steps. So below are the cut tail boards already, and I will walk you through the remainder.

London-style pins come to a sharp point. Marking these out and sawing them is probably easier than any other dovetail.

Time to transfer the pins to the tail board. This is where the fun begins!

The difficulty is that the kerf is very narrow (made especially so as I am using a .018” thick dovetail saw blade). This is too skinny for even one of my thin-bladed marking knives.

So the first strategy is to leave the pin waste intact …

and then use the saw blade to transfer the marks.

Do this lightly – you can then deepen the lines with a knife and your angle gauge (of course it helps that you have perfectly square material and your sawing has also been to the line).

When sawing dovetails you must have a gung-ho attitude! Saw to the line! Its only wood – if you screw up you can just redo it.

The only line that you need not get hung up on it the baseline below. Sawing at an angle is tricky. Make sure you do not overcut the outer boundary line as that will show. Overrunning the lower baseline will not.

Here’s a look at the matching pair prior to removal of the wastes …

This Jarrah is hard stuff, but it chops well with a sharp blade. This is where I prefer Japanese chisels.

I work side-on, which allows me to keep an eye on the vertical orientation of the chisel.

Below is the sequence involved in chopping out the waste …

I plan to take out about half the depth with each chop.

In #1 I start by removing about 1/3. In #2 this is continued across the board.

In #3 and #4 another 1/3 is removed …

At this point I place the board upright in the vise. You can see that I am safely away from the edges.

The plan is now to chop away the waste on the vertical, and take this to about 1/16” of the boundary line (#1 and #2).

In #3 I use my secret weapon. This is a flat blade that is hammered (ala Tage Frid) into the kerfs to deepen them. Do it gently or, if you fear that the wood might split, add a clamp at each end.

Time to return to the lower baseline. Scribe this as deeply as you can with a knife, and then undercut it with a chisel. This will make it really easy to ensure that the baselines remain straight and at the same height for all dovetails.

Return the board to the vertical once more.

At this point you must add a backer board to prevent any blowout.

Carefully chop to the line. Use as wide a chisel as possible.

And, yes, a fishtail chisel is a useful tool to clean out the corners.

One you are done, chamfer the inside edges of the matching tails. This will protect the edges of the pins.

OK, let’s deal with the dovetails at the other end of the drawer. This used to frustrate me no end as I struggled to visualise how to orientate the parts.

Why so? Well the end board is shortened to allow for the drawer bottom. This means that the dovetail positions need to be adjusted.

Below is the shortened rear board and matching side board. Essentially what needs to be done is to treat the shortened side board as if it were a regular board – just with a section missing.

I have tried to illustrate this below. Excuse the crudely (and hastily) drawn pin board.

Doubling up the boards makes it easily to cut square …

Remove the waste anyway you prefer. New Concepts fretsaw is another great tool …

Transfer the tails to the pin board … and again go for broke when you saw the latter ..

One more tip – when paring away the waste, score and undercut the baseline again …

Next on the list is a drawer bottom. This one is made from two re-sawn boards, jointed and glued together. Here they are being thicknessed …

Slips are formed from grooved Jarrah.

These will be attached at the sides as an alternative to grooving (since the boards are too thin).

Note that the grain on the drawer bottom runs across the drawer rather than down. Wood expands/moves across the grain more than with the grain. The bottom floats in the groove to allow for movement.

Attachment is via a single screw (in this case) at the back. The screw hole in the bottom is enlarged to permit expansion.

Sooooo …… what does the finished drawer look like?

Time to tidy up and move onto the next chapter – fitting the drawer.

Regards from Perth


January 2011