As of today I’ve built a grand total of (7) drawers in my woodworking “career”. Feel free to take a moment and let the magnitude of that number fully sink in. OK, I know that is pretty damn pitiful, but it speaks volumes as to my experience with case and cabinet work. To be honest, drawers use to intimidate me. So I avoided building projects that called for them. Most publications talked about drawer construction as if it was the most complicated and difficult task a woodworker could possibly undertake. As a beginner woodworker you would have a better chance saddle breaking a unicorn than building a functional drawer. Which is total bullshit by the way. Anyone can build a solid and functional drawer. I’ve got (7) to prove it. Of course there will be varying degrees of success and “pretty”. But, like with all woodworking tasks, quantity leads to quality. The more drawers you build, the better you will be at it. Trust me though, it takes more than (7) to become proficient at it.
From what I have been able to discover, the Japanese method of drawer construction is quite different from that of the European tradition. In the European tradition, thou shalt join the front to the sides with half blind (lapped) dovetails. Thou shalt install the back to the sides with thru dovetails or install the back into a housing dado. The bottom is to be installed into a groove that runs along the front and down the sides and it is to be nailed or screwed to the back piece. Not so much in the Japanese tradition.
The Japanese tradition seems to be that the front is joined to the sides with a pegged rebate joint. The back is joined to the sides with a pegged finger joint. Then the front is rebated to receive the bottom which is then glued and pegged to the drawer assembly. No dovetails and no grooves. At first glance this seems like poor construction. On closer inspection I think that this method makes for a very strong drawer. With the pegged joints and the bottom glued and pegged to all the members, I would imagine that this type of drawer is very rigid indeed. Which may be the drawback. Several of the antique examples that I’ve seen photos of, have splits in their bottoms. No allowance for wood movement. The rest of joints seem to stand the test of time though. Here are a couple of links to videos that show master craftsman building drawers in the Japanese style. Here and here.
So what about drawer #7? Drawer #7 is an amalgamation, or bastardization, depending on how you view it, of several bits of information that I have come across. I joined the front to the sides with half blind dovetails and the back was joined to the sides with thru dovetails. The bottom is installed into a groove that runs along the front and down the sides. Nothing controversial so far. As a nod to Japanese craftsmen I pegged my dovetails and also pegged the bottom to the rear of the drawer with wooden pegs that I made. These shop made pegs worked OK but I think I’m going to try using bamboo skewers on the next drawer. Pinned dovetails is nothing new and Paul Sellers wrote a blog entry about them a while back. You can read that entry here.
All in all I’m happy with the way my drawer turned out. The dovetails are nothing to get excited about, but the drawer is solid and square. My biggest concern was the fitting of the drawer to the opening. This is my main reason for building just one drawer. I wanted to verify that my sizes would give me just enough meat for the fitting. They did.