A Short History Of Drawer Construction: The good, the bad, and the ugly!

There are many ways to make a drawer, however, not all drawers are created equal.

Drawer Joints in order of Strength

The very best drawers are made with English Dovetails front and back. There are two types of dovetail joints. First, classic English, visible from side of drawer dovetails second, hidden also known as blind French Dovetails (slide up from bottom”. What distinguishes this joint is when pulling pressure is applied to drawer front it tends to get tighter because the male part of joint fitted into drawer front is not parallel and gets tighter with pressure.

Box Joints
Can be a very effect joint when made with care to use close tolerances. Similar in appearance to the dovetail except the sides of the joint is parallel.

Tongue and Groove
Similar to a Blind French dovetail but open on one side. This joint is easier to make, however not as strong as the above type of joints.

Butt Joint
The Butt joint is simply the drawer side lined up with the drawer front and backs and fastened in some manner of glue, nails, staples, screws, or cam fasteners (Ikea type self assembly). Not generally considered a good joint unless securely assembled with glue and pressure applied while glue sets. Many pieced considered folk art or primitive pieces use this simple method of drawer construction.

Glue makes the Difference

Proper use of the right kind and appropriate application of glue can mitigate many joint shortcomings. Today’s glues are far stronger and longer lasting than old-fashioned adhesives. Most glue needs consistent pressure of some clamping method for glued joints to achieve maximum strength. Without that pressure, 90% of strength can be lost. That pressure can be achieved using either clamps or stables to hold joint firm until the glue has set. Staples alone are essentially no joints at all.

Drawer Systems
Oh My God, Thousands of different systems to open and close a drawer!

Before the 1940’s, virtually all drawers no matter what quality were simply slid into an opening in a supporting structure. That supporting structure or case sometimes had a panel between the drawers to prevent dust from being drawn into the cabinet from the suction created by opening the drawer or dust created by the action of wood rubbing against wood. This is a very difficult way to fit a drawer requiring hand fitting of the drawer box into the case, and often resulting in sticking in wet weather.

To save time in production a wood center guide system was invented. Better quality production would use the bottom of the drawer above to keep the drawer from dropping and some hand fitting was still required get a smoothly opening drawer. The center guide system allows a gap between the drawer box and case side and centering of the gap. This reduces the labor by a large factor.

In the 1960’s a new system was invented that put a plastic clip on the back of the drawer to keep the from dropping down. The plastic would slide smoothly but it had one big problem. The problem was the plastic would deteriorate and with time, any downward pressure would snap the glide.

The next innovation was the European style side capturing roller systems. These systems have a lot of advantages. When properly installed, they will give years of trouble free operation. They work with a double nylon wheel system that interlocks and rolls in a track. The innovation that speeds installation production is the wheel is captured in the track only on one side giving a leeway of about 1/8” on the other side.

About the same time, the “Ball Bearing Systems” came on line. These are the best type of slide with weight capacities of up to 100’s of pounds. Upgrades available on these types of slides include earthquake stops, full pull out up to 110%, side or hidden under mount, and soft or self-closing drawers.

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