The following is excerpted from Vol. II of “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Techniques.”
As editor of The Woodworker magazine from 1939 to 1967, Hayward oversaw the transformation of the craft from one that was almost entirely hand-tool based to a time where machines were common, inexpensive and had displaced the handplanes, chisels and backsaws of Hayward’s training and youth.
This massive project – five volumes in all – seeks to reprint a small part of the information Hayward published in The Woodworker during his time as editor in chief. This is information that hasn’t been seen or read in decades. No matter where you are in the craft, from a complete novice to a professional, you will find information here you cannot get anywhere else.
For good-class work a reliable system of dovetailed construction has been evolved over the years, though it may have to be varied to suit details of the job to which it is fitted, and in special circumstances may have to be replaced by an entirely different method. However, it is not always possible to use dovetails, possibly for reasons of economy, and we have therefore included the simpler methods as well as those of accepted cabinet practice.
A. B. Standard dovetails. The most reliable and neatest. The dovetails resist the pull as the drawer is opened. Dovetail slope is about 1/2 in. in 3 in., though in some trades it is less, and the pins at the front run nearly to a point (B). Bottom is held in a groove at the front, and it is essential that the bottom dovetail includes the groove as otherwise the latter shows as a gap. At the sides the bottom is held in grooved slips (R) and (S), and the back stands above the bottom. Consequently the bottom back dovetail is square at the lower side, and is in fact formed by the bottom edge of the back.
C. Drawer with cocked beads. Normal dovetailing is used (A) (B) except that the lap is made slightly wider to enable a rebate to be worked in which the cocked bead can fit. This rebate is continued along the bottom edge, but at the top the wood is removed for its whole width so that no joint is visible. This necessitates cutting the top bead to the special mitred and butted joint shown inset.
D. Overlapping drawer. Front projects and is rebated to fit in the opening. Sometimes bottom rebate is omitted. The pins in the front should be cut first as otherwise it is awkward to mark them from the dovetails if these are already cut.
E. F. Shallow drawer joints. Used for small drawers in which it is undesirable to raise the bottom and so reduce inside space. Front is rebated to receive bottom, and square member is cut at bottom to fill in what would otherwise be a gap.
G. Canted front drawer. Note that dovetails slope equally each side of the horizontal. Groove for bottom must be horizontal, not square with the front.
H. I. Shaped front drawers. These are alternative methods. That at (I) is the more economical in material, but, depending upon the shape, a vertical joint is sometimes preferable.
J. Drawer shaped in plan. This may be one of a pair of drawers, or may be a single bow-front drawer with both sides as shown to the left. As the side fits in square the front must be planed off square at the inside. Dovetailing is then normal (A) (B). Much the same applies to the right-hand side, but here the front has to be cut in square.
K. Shaped and projecting drawer. The front breaks forward boldly necessitating its being of the special shape shown. At the ends it is cut thick and finished to a curve inside.
L. Slot-dovetailed drawer. This is needed when the drawer sides have to stand in at the ends. Here the dovetail is shown running right through, but it is generally stopped at the top. Position of slot is important as it is difficult to reduce the sides after drawer is assembled. Best way is to fit back to opening, place on inner face of front, and mark the ends.
M. Central runner drawer. This is practicable only when the sides are thick enough to be grooved without being weakened unduly. One of the oldest methods of suspension, and is sometimes revived today as all stops are eliminated.
N. Machined dovetails. This is used particularly with the Arcoy dovetailer. To avoid having just part of a dovetail at one side the multi-pitch attachment should be used. As this device cuts only lap-dovetails it is not practicable for the back, which should be either grooved or slot dovetailed in.
O. Simple lap-jointed drawer. The front is rebated to take the sides, and the back fits in grooves. Glue and nails are used for assembling. Often the bottom is nailed or screwed on beneath, the front being rebated. A better construction is to groove it in. In either case the back stands above it. It is advisable to let the back stand down at the top.
P. Suspended drawer. Used for an isolated drawer beneath a top with no flanking sides or lower support. Often used on a bench. Construction is usually lapped, held together with glue and nails. The bearers can either be rebated as shown, or they can be in two separate pieces.
Q. R. S. T. Fixings for drawer bottoms. In most cases the front is grooved as it is thick enough not to be unduly weakened. An exception is in a shallow drawer in which it may be rebated. When sides are thick they may be grooved (Q). Usually drawer bottom slips are grooved (R), as the sides are not weakened and the bearing surface is increased. An alternative form is that at (S). For a shallow drawer (T) can be used. Sides and front are rebated, and for small light drawers the bottom can finish flush. Better working is secured by making the rebate slightly deep and adding thin strips to the underside as shown.
U. Bent plywood construction. Sometimes used today. The plywood can be either preformed, or two sheets of thin ply can be glued together around a former. Generally the front and back are rebated to take the plywood.