View Full Version : Drawer construction

gkc design
12-22-2003, 02:19 PM
I'm building some beds on a large boat. My clients want big drawers (20" deep, 20" wide, 10" tall) under the beds. They need a positve notch system. I have made smaller drawers before using the notcth in the drawer side right behind the drawer front with the drawer itself riding on wooden runners, but these are big drawers and this is a high end job. Does anyone out there have a solution to working with drawers this large with positve lock.

Alan D. Hyde
12-22-2003, 02:31 PM
We used to call an approximately 1" x 3" x 3/8" piece of hardwood that rotated around a screw in the center of it a "button." It was used to hold doors and drawers closed.

I have seen spring-loaded buttons that would rest in a mortised-out depression in the wood when in the open position, and then would rest in a perpendicular mortised-out depression when in use (closed position).

I don't see why this sort of thing wouldn't work for you. Perhaps someone here has a photo or a diagram. I haven't yet figured out how to draw on these posts...


[ 12-22-2003, 02:32 PM: Message edited by: Alan D. Hyde ]

Bob Smalser
12-22-2003, 03:10 PM
I've probably tried them all...of the mechanical ones, only two I am familiar with have merit.

There's this one available from Garret Wade (probably at Rockler now since Garret Wade went yuppie) with adjustable tension:


And this one I don't have a personal pic of...perhaps your better choice in case your clients store gold bullion bars in there, are the simple spring "elbow" latches activated thru a hole drilled in the drawer front.


Otherwise, of all the wooden buttons I've done, I like David Toner's Forstner-mortise design best...especially if one did them a bit thick in the style of a Perko Battery Switch and added a simple brass cabinet-door "bullet" catch to the underside of the wood latch that stopped in shallow mortises done with a drill bit. They won't come undone inadvertently that way.



[ 12-22-2003, 03:18 PM: Message edited by: Bob Smalser ]

Jack Heinlen
12-22-2003, 03:43 PM
I've never worked on a big boat's interior, so this is probably a foolish question, but does anyone make a ball bearing drawer slide for marine apps? Do you think drawers that large on a boat would benefit? I suppose it wouldn't be necessary for light items like clothes, but a tool drawer might benefit, eh?

gkc design
12-22-2003, 04:02 PM
Thanks everyone. The owners do not want the "reach through the hole unhook system". Since the drawers are going to be used for customers clothing and maybe a few blankets, the contents should not be as heavy as if tools were being stowed. I like the idea of a full extension ball bearing drawer glide for marine application. I have not been able to find one that would allow me to "lift and pull out". An unlatched ball bearing hinge could take someone's knee out at sea. I have thought about using a standard 3/4 extension glide...they have some play in them that would allow me to lift the drawer over a block mounted to the bottom of the drawer. It seems a little cheezy though. There must be a easy common sense solution.

Mike Vogdes
12-22-2003, 04:08 PM
My trawler had some large caliber drawers in the galley, the construction was as you describe you normally build for smaller drawers, a notch in the sides of the drawer that would require you to lift the drawer strait up befor pulling open. Mine also had a 1-1/2" hole drilled in the center of the drawer face, about 2" from the top to allow your index finger thru to access a finger latch similar to what Bob Smalser shows. This worked out pretty good.

12-22-2003, 04:27 PM
How about standard kitchen slides like these at Lee Valley.


They are painted. I don't know if the paint would be adequate to inhibit rust.

The back two inches of the slide has a downward bevel on it to keep the drawer closed. But I don't suspect it would be adequate to keep the drawer closed in any sort of sea.


Alan D. Hyde
12-22-2003, 04:28 PM
Welcome back, David.

By God, it's good to see you!

And, some good hardware on that site, too.


Jack Heinlen
12-22-2003, 04:34 PM

I wouldn't put a standard cabinet slide on a boat. I have no experience, but I'm sure they wouldn't last, at least on a boat for use in salt water.

And yes, good to see you back sir.

Bob Smalser
12-22-2003, 06:11 PM
I wouldn't use a hardware slide on a fine marine drawer...or any fine furniture, for that matter.

I'd dado the sides full-length and mount the drawers on cleats to serve as slides.

Between hardwood cleats, hardwood drawer slides, a proper tight fit (32nd on each side max) and a tad of hard parafin wax, there's no need for chintzy hardware in even the largest drawers.

With a 32nd clearance at each cleat(16th total), even if those drawers get wet they will still work providing there's 3/32" clearance top and bottom in the direction the solid sides and front will expand. I'd use quartersawn stock all around, too.

A simple rotating-hardwood button or sprung-ash tab afixed to the drawer back will keep them from sliding out if they break loose at the front catch.

I like traditional Eastern Red Cedar crossgrain raised panel drawer bottoms, too. Not that much more trouble than hardwood plywood as they are unfinished and only one surface is seen, and even less expense these days...and your clients will be reminded of your personal touch every time they open a drawer. Just give that solid bottom room to move without binding.


And I always bet on the bullion rather than the linen for which they are designed.

[ 12-22-2003, 10:50 PM: Message edited by: Bob Smalser ]

12-22-2003, 06:18 PM
Hmm... and if the bearing surface of the cleats had a stip of that ultra dense polyurathane stuff that's really slick, it would be like ball bearings and better than wax. Since it's out of sight, the poly shouldn't be too objectionable.

Jack Heinlen
12-22-2003, 06:25 PM
I wouldn't use a hardware slide on a fine marine drawer...or any fine furniture, for that matter.
Yes, all wooden construction is de riguer in fine work. I was thinking that for a large drawer, meant for a hundred pounds or so of tools, that it might make sense to use a ball bearing slide. But I'm just asking questions.

There are slides and then there are slides. The last time I worked in a fine cabinet shop we used top-class slides on the general cabinet work, and tradtional wood slides on the fine furniture.

I could see using a marinized ball bearing slide for particular applications, but I'm just imagining. I could be wrong. Usually am. smile.gif

John Blazy
12-22-2003, 07:17 PM
You're not imagining Jack. Accuride makes a white powder-coated slide with Nylon ball bearings. I'd say that is great for marine use. I used them all the time in fine cabinetry due to the quiet ride.
Use these in combo with the bullet catches that Bob refers (bottom photo on hi first post) to and that would work well.
The Accuride slides (full X) already have a positive lock, so in combo with the bullet catch - should be good.
Cabinet supply places should be able to get Accurides (top brand in slides).

gkc design
12-22-2003, 08:18 PM
Thanks everyone,
I'm still here listening.

Bob Smalser
12-22-2003, 09:51 PM
I'm sure you can spend significant bucks for drawer slides that will stand a salt water soaking or two and hold up for a while before they corrode away.

Lotsa folks use them. But not me. All my heavy file and tool drawers of traditional construction work just fine.

[ 12-22-2003, 09:53 PM: Message edited by: Bob Smalser ]

Jack Heinlen
12-22-2003, 10:19 PM
I hope no one thinks I'm advocating. I really am just asking questions, hoping to help gkc with his project.

It's hard to argue against well designed wooden slides on a boat. But if there is a well made stainless roller out there I could see it having application for a heavy drawer, I think. Again, I'm speculating. So I better just shut my uneducated yap. smile.gif

[ 12-22-2003, 10:19 PM: Message edited by: Jack Heinlen ]

Bob Cleek
12-22-2003, 10:28 PM
Any customer who wants "BEDS" built on his boat... well, you gotta see him coming! With DRAWERS underneath? Maybe he'd be better off staying at home or in a hotel ashore. Given that the customer is always right, if his money's green...

I'm guessing you're not a boatbuilder, but rather an accomplished cabinetmaker. Try to talk him out of the idea. It's really dumb.

The drawers are really way too big to be practical or seamanlike aboard a boat. There are reasons for this beyond the aesthetic.

1) The bigger the drawer, the more it will swell and shrink, making fitting problematic in the damp marine environment. Thus, the tolerances which must be allowed in a drawer this size are huge, relatively speaking.

2) A drawer that size will take up a tremendous amount of room when it is pulled out. Usually, there isn't that kind of room on a boat.

3) The bigger the drawer, the harder it is to handle, pulling it out, pushing it in, the weight of what's in it, etc, etc. In a seaway, a drawer like that can get away from you, perhaps causing injury. If a latch comes adrift, imagine a drawer that size flying across the cabin at you. Moreover, as you've already figured out, you are going to pay hell to find a latching mechanism that will SAFELY hold a drawer that large against the forces generated in a seaway.

4) Stuff rolls around in a big drawer and gets lost. (Remember that at sea it is always going to be moving.) Particularly small stuff, but even big stuff. The smaller the drawer, the less stuff gets lost in it, and, with a small drawer, you can pull the whole drawer out, chock it in your lap in rough water, and sort through it at your leisure.

These are some of the reasons why big drawers aren't found on boats, nor, really, even on proper ships. This is why you find lockers used so much more frequently. Drawers are appropriate only for little ditties like silverware and knick knacks.

There are design alternatives. Under berth space need never be wasted. If possible, one good solution is to build a bin under the bunk. A pipe berth (with foam cushion, if you wish) is easily rigged to lift like a hatch, giving access to the space below, which can then be filled with sea bags and such, all readily accessible. If a solid base is required, you can even use those gas filled lifters like they put on car hatchbacks to counterbalance the bunk and hold it up while you scrounge around in the bin.

Bottom line, this isn't the place for a big drawer. Lockers would be a better solution, if no other suggests itself.

On Vacation
12-22-2003, 10:38 PM
Drawers are very common in pleasure craft, with little problem with sticking and warping. The locking in place is done by notches the width of the face fronts, done in the side panels, dropped in when closed, and allows for it to never lift out, underway. This gives it plenty of clearance for any swelling that may occur, under most any given weather related causes.

For any hard items carried in them, dividers are installed in the drawers. For any further problems with hard items rolling around, most of these items are just wrapped with the new rubberized non-skid padding, and is even used for wine and liquor bottles. to be carried flat in storage areas.

Jack Heinlen
12-22-2003, 10:48 PM
Bob's comments in abeyance(he's almost always spot on re nautical matters, though lots of boats this size have big drawers), assuming you can't talk your client out of drawers, here's what my small, idiot mind distills out of all this.

The drawers are for clothes, not anything heavy. Your client seems averse to mechanical latches. I think traditional wooden slides and the notch behind the drawer face that engages the apron/face frame is the way. It's simple, effective, and cheap. Elegant because. Given the size of the drawer, an oval shaped grip let into the face, rather than a finger hole. Make the slides and the sides out of something hard and worthy, like cherry, or white oak. My final two cents.

Right back where you started. HA! smile.gif

[ 12-22-2003, 10:58 PM: Message edited by: Jack Heinlen ]

12-23-2003, 12:42 AM
Self lubricating wood. I can't remember the reference but I remember that one of Birch, Aspen or Poplar was referred to as self lubricating and therefore ideal for use as drawer glides/sides.

Bob or someone else may be able to clear this one up.

For myself I like mechanical drawer slides. I like the smooth quiet ride. I like the ease of lift out and in. And I like the ease of construction.


gkc design
12-23-2003, 12:46 AM
There is nothing wrong with ending up right where you started.
Bob,you are right, I am primarily a custom cabinetmaker. I specialize in residental built-ins. I work on boats occasionally because I enjoy the challenge and feel the need to stretch my skills every so often to keep things fresh. The best solutions to design problems in boatwork seem to be the simple and practical ones.
I agree with Bob, these drawers are way too big, they really never made sense to me. But I always start the design process trying to give the customer what he/she wants.
Once again, thanks for all the input..I know there is an answer out there.

Bob Smalser
12-23-2003, 01:24 AM
Self lubricating wood... Lignum and other oily tropicals are all I can think of. Birch is fair...popple and Sweet Gum fair but too fuzzy...alder and poplar too soft. I like hard, smooth surfaces like cherry or maple...I'd probably want to use cherry heartwood in a boat. The parafin stays on there about forever, tho.

And my opinion is that 20 X 20 X 10 is an OK size for linen drawers...my preference would be 20-25 X 17 X 8 if I had the choice...and if the cabin is big enuf, I don't see much of a problem until the area floods some day, but I plan for that with q-sawn wood and adequate clearance. If it floods for long enuf that they swell shut, then put a space heater down there til they dry enuf to remove. No biggie if all hardware and fasteners are brass or bronze....usually a topcoat of wax or finish will make it all like new.

Lockers and bins are generally dirtier spots to store linens than lined drawers...she probably doesn't want to bag her linens for storage... and I wouldn't hesitate to give the lady of the family what she obviously wants.

[ 12-23-2003, 01:55 AM: Message edited by: Bob Smalser ]

12-23-2003, 02:47 AM
This is not intended to argue with anyone or start any kind of dispute, but, offhand, I can think of two experienced boat carpenters that say that drawers have no place in a boat. Fred Bingham is one, and Donald Street the other. Bingham was probably the more experienced boat carpenter, but Street seems to have had a pretty vast knowledge of the topic too. (FWIW, I've noticed that Bingham did in fact design drawers into one layout of his Allegra design, so it might be a matter of "do as I say, not as I do".) Come to think of it, I think Pardey might have had a negative word about drawers too.

Bingham's Boat Joinery & Cabinet Making Simplified (http://www.boatdesigns.com/cgi-bin/store/web_store.cgi?page=bkboatjoineryfred.html.html&&cart_id=673866_10978) might be of interest to someone new to boat cabinetry, as distinct from shore cabinetry.

[ 12-23-2003, 02:49 AM: Message edited by: Meerkat ]

Dave R
12-23-2003, 08:49 AM
gkc, if drawers it must be, I would also suggest a dado in the case side and a wooden (or maybe UHMW plastic) runner set into a dado in the drawer side. For the latch to hold the drawer closed you might go with a notch in the lwer edge of the case dados and a short piece of hardwood dowel in the drawer side. The dowel would mostly pass through the runner and form just a bump along the lower edge to drop into the notch in the case side. A similar dowel could be placed near the rear of the drawer and perhaps a second notch a little farther back from the first one to prevent the drawer from coming out accidently.

I would make the drawers like Bob Smalsers with the bottom slipped in from the back after the bx is built. The grain on the bottom panel should run parallel to the drawer front. This will force any expansion of this wide panel toward the back of the drawer rather thanpushing the drawer sides apart. Make the drawer front thicker than you would for a normal case piece used on land so that the groove plowed in the back for the bottom panel can be a little deeper than normal. Make sure you put a short slot in the bottom panel for the screw that holds it to the back so the panel doesn't try to push the back out of the drawer.

I don't know what you plan for drawer fronts but I would consider overlay fronts as opposed to flush fronts. That way you don't have worries about the gap around the drawer front being uneven or closing up altogether. (That would solve the problem of the drawers opeing by themselves, though. ;) )

Jack Heinlen
12-23-2003, 09:47 AM
A few last thoughts. I was assuming we were talking an overlay front all along. Rather than a single oval hand hold cut in the front think about two for these bigger drawers. How to make that look good is up to you. smile.gif You, obviously I guess, don't want anything jutting out.

Keep us posted how you decide, post some pics if that's in your vocabulary.

Good luck!

Ian Wright
12-23-2003, 04:02 PM
Under bunk drawers waste space.
Under bunk bins (lockers) should be lined to keep my underwear away from the hull.
Drawers bad, Bins good.


Alan D. Hyde
12-23-2003, 04:15 PM
Better ventilation is likely with a lined bin, too.


John Blazy
12-25-2003, 04:07 PM
I dunno. I always thought drawers were a wonderful invention. I never liked creeking my head and looking for something in a dark cavity, just to pull a neck muscle reaching back there ESPECIALLY UNDER A BED!!! Perhaps some like that.
With a good positive lock like a bullet catch, what the heck is wrong with what the client wants? Is it possible to traditionalize yourself retarded? If the money's there - whats the issue?

12-25-2003, 04:12 PM
Originally posted by Ian Wright:

Under bunk bins (lockers) should be lined to keep my underwear away from the hull.
Drawers bad, Bins good.

IanW.Hey Ian, if your own hull was ceiled, think of the laundry bills you'd save on ;)

BTW, do you find it easier to wear bins or drawers? ;) ;)

Bob Smalser
12-25-2003, 06:01 PM
Don't let anybody tell you you need ball bearing slides, either, for full extension...from today's discussion on a woodworking forum:

My largest, heaviest file drawers constructed traditionally can be pulled out within two inches of the back empty and 4 inches loaded...

...that's full enuf extension for spouse and clients I've built them for.

My argument is many seem to have the tyros reaching for hardware catalogs when they should be practicing joinery.

No real objection to any well-found choice, but for the majority of drawer applications...even heavy ones...this hardware is a totally unecessary expense.

I'm not talking about wooden slides...I'm talking about using smooth hardwood rails on top and bottom and a drawer fit that allows easy sliding...not too loose to it skews and binds...and not so tight that they stick in the wet season.

Exceptionally heavy drawers can be made with full-length dado'd sides riding on cleats.

Hard Maple or cherry properly fitted and lubed with paraffin wax slides just like ball bearings.

I don't think you can pick up a cabinetmaking book without a treatise on drawer construction and fit. Anything by Tage Frid or Frank Klausz would be excellent.

Here's a fully-loaded drawer that happens to be unencumbered with seasonal decorations this morning.

Pulled out and resting comfortably with the interior drawer back flush with the top rail.

Notice I left the side and back tops square and full thickness for maximum bearing surface on the top rail.

Traditional construction...no center rails...drawer sides bear on rails top and bottom only. Drawer does not use a stop, although that would be simple enuf to do.


Red Oak front attached with handcut blind dovetails. Sliding dovetail back with raised panel ERC crossgrain drawer bottom.


Overall, easier and faster construction (with practice) than fussing with hardware.
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr /> I'm not trying for "one-ups-manship" here but......I have two drawers basically constructed as you describe that I use daily. I can not tell you the exact weight carrying capacity however the weight of tools & fasteners squats a 3/4 ton full sized pickup............
Not at all...you reinforce my point very nicely. Hardware...even when using traditional construction...often costs more than the price of the wood...and why add to that without necessity?

Moreover, why add to that already significant cost and have the added dough go towards a feature more suitable for a factory kitchen cabinet than something Chippendale or Heppelwhite would understand?



And it hardly takes a gifted or master joiner to construct sound, traditional drawers....or even months of practice for that matter.

The bottom file drawer now used for clothing has a simple drawer joint done on the tablesaw in mere minutes and pinned with wedged dowels...an attempt from 30 years ago to imitate (unsuccessfully) the look of "cove and pin" drawer joints in a suite of furniture based on an old London rolltop desk.

This one, like many of my pics, are the rejects...some of the best stuff went out the door without photography. Note the oak runner laid up to the popple side...popple not sliding as well in a heavy drawer as oak, maple or cherry.


Roy Underhill's hands are festooned with bandaids and his work habits and products often seem a bit awkward and crude. He does some of that on purpose, I suspect...along with the good humor...the message being, "If I can do this, then so can you."

Lotsa merit to that. I tell Nimrods that while it's OK to watch Norm...for every hour of Norm trying to adapt commercial "finish carpentry" techniques to joinery...they should also watch an hour of Roy doing real joinery.

And it hardly has to be done all with hand tools to be real joinery. </font>[/QUOTE]

12-25-2003, 06:40 PM
As usual Bob, thanks !

John Blazy
12-25-2003, 10:40 PM
Hey Bob,
you would have loved my training at RIT. My Profs were Tage Frid trained (Tage being professor Emeritus at RIT) and we had a test of a well fit drawer. We would push a drawer closed briskly and immediately remove our hand. A well fit drawer would pop out about an inch from air pressure (1/16" of clearance max - all dimensions, waxed like described above).

Just to identify with the quality of what your talking about. Most do not know how to do this.

Ron Williamson
12-26-2003, 08:24 AM
Do you ever leave the drawer sides lower than the front, or raise the rails inside the cabinet?This way, your gaps are equal and when the sides do eventually wear down,it takes much longer for the drawer face to snag the front of the cabinet.When I build furniture(rarely these days)it is something I generally forget,and books never mention it.

Bob Smalser
12-26-2003, 09:15 AM
Originally posted by Ron Williamson:
Do you ever leave the drawer sides lower than the front, or raise the rails inside the cabinet?This way, your gaps are equal and when the sides do eventually wear down,it takes much longer for the drawer face to snag the front of the cabinet.When I build furniture(rarely these days)it is something I generally forget,and books never mention it.
RI don't mess with rail fit, but I generally make drawers with between a 64th and 32nd clearance all around the front and sides (more with a drawer taller than 6") and a 16th from top to bottom on the sides.

I get that by cutting the drawer front and sides to fit tight...less than a 64th....and planing with shoulder plane after the drawer is made, usually trying to take a 64th off just the drawer front's bottom to provide a slight gap there, and a little more than that off the top. I leave a 32nd clearance on each side, but do it before the joints are cut...only because I think a totally-equal gap all around looks a little strange, as few drawers are made that way.


The 130-year-old drawer side below...a "cove and pin" joint from a rolltop...is made of soft secondary wood. If you look closely, you can see that I let in a strip the length of the drawer's bottom to repair the wear there...there's some parafin residue in part of the joint. As the front face rail separating the stacked drawers also had wear, there was no need to cut that repair strip a bit proud, but I easily could have.


Stephen Hutchins
12-26-2003, 12:29 PM
OK here's a just thought up solution that may be worth a try. You mentioned a ball bearing slide that would allow you to lift up the drawer (at the face) to unlock it from the stowed position. How about two cleats along the outside face of the bearing slide. The back cleat (at the back of the bearing slide) could serve as a pivot point, and the front cleat would be placed (in elevation) as to allow the bearing slide to ride on it. The front cleat would be very short so when the cabinet face is pushed in all the way, the ball bearing slide would fall off it and allow the draw notches to settle over the case front (or rail, depending on the construction method) Now that I've written it down, three cleats would be better: One as a pivot point, another fastened to the bearing slide which would ride on top of the third cleat, which is up front near the drawer face. Another method could be to use a simple washer in the back and a short cleat in the front. This would increase your draw width at the expense of making the case sides thicker. Lots of solutions to this one. I hope I've explained it clearly enough.