A lot of grown men ask me about my drawers. And though it should make me uncomfortable, I am happy to chat about my unusual-looking tail. Where did it come from? What’s it good for?
At the front of the drawer I use a half-tail at the bottom edge of the drawer side. Then I lay out and cut full tails above this half tail. And I always use a full tail at the top of the drawer.
I didn’t make this arrangement up. It’s a layout I’ve found on many English chests I’ve seen while hunting in antique stores for the last 20 years. The asymmetrical layout gives you some advantages, and it reduces the risk of things blowing up on you when you assemble your drawer. The only disadvantage? The layout is a tiny bit more complex – something I don’t even notice anymore.
The primary advantage is that you get a little more space in your drawer. By putting a half-tail at the bottom, you can sink a groove in that tail that will put your drawers bottom at the very bottom of the assembled drawer.
Yes, you can place the bottom’s groove at the bottom of the drawer if you put a full tail very near the bottom of the drawer. I’ve found that when I do this there’s a good chance that the half pin at the bottom will break out, especially if I’m going for a tight fit with my dovetails or working with woods that don’t compress much.
Another approach is to use full tails on the drawer – no half-tails – and then insert the bottom using drawer slips, which are little grooved strips of wood glued inside the drawer. That solution adds steps to the process and at least two extra parts to your assembly. Don’t get me wrong, I like drawer slips.
One more note: This half tail can also have a flat slope and look like a finger joint instead of a dovetail. That’s historically correct as well.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the quick tour of my drawers. Gift shop is to the left.
— Christopher Schwarz