A chest of drawers is one of the most useful things in a workshop. It keeps the place tidy, and an organised workshop is vital for efficiency. Then you don't waste time hunting for things and clearing a space to work, and your time is more productive and enjoyable. If you can't find the tool you need, you can't use it!
You can make a chest of drawers. They are easy to put together using ply or mdf. And you can make them to fit neatly into the odd spaces in the shop. I am up to 85 drawers in my workshop now, most of which are homemade. They are all numbered, and I keep an inventory with the drawer location of each small item in the workshop.
If someone had suggested to me previously that I should make a chest of drawers, I would have thought it too difficult and time consuming. But they are easy. They don't need fancy woodwork with complicated joints, and they don't have to look like fine furniture. They just have to be strong and to fit the gaps that are waiting for them in your shop.
To make a chest, all you have to do is make some panels using just straight saw cuts, and then either trench cut them or lay on additional pieces to form trenches. Then you simply assemble the panels. Use 12mm ply (18 or 25mm for larger units) for the carcase sides and drawer sides, fronts and backs. Use 6mm ply for the carcase top, bottom and back, and the drawer bottoms. MDF works too, but is less durable. If you are building up the trenches, you could use 6mm board throughout. Birch ply is luxury, but cheaper stuff will do the job if you keep the voids away from critical areas.
The hardest part is cutting the trenches. There are several possible ways to do this. A router is best. It can also be done with several passes of a handheld circular saw, and this tool will also cut the panels to size. Some people would use a table saw, either making multiple cuts with the standard blade, or using a trenching (dado) cutter, but trenching requires you to remove the guard. If you are thinking of doing so, this video clip may change your mind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7sRrC2Jpp4&feature=fvwrel The table saw is very good for the through cuts and will make quick work of cutting the panels and drawer parts. You can avoid the trenching by laying on pieces with gaps between.
The drawers consist of an oversize 6mm bottom, (the edges of which run in the trenches in the side panels), with sides, back and front of 12mm ply. They need strong corner joints, and I use a router table to make interlocking joints, as shown below. Once set up, you can run all the pieces through very quickly. Dovetails would be considerably stronger and much better for a drawer that holds a lot of weight or may be subject to a lot of stress, but I have never had one of the simple interlocking joints fail. You could add corner glue blocks if you wish but I haven't found it necessary.
When all the component panels and drawer parts are done, just assemble using glue and pins and the job is done.
The carcase is made first. Let's say that the width of the gap in the workshop is A mm and its height is B mm and its depth is C mm, and that you will be cutting the trenches rather than building them up. First make sure that A, B and C are actually the smallest dimensions of the gap. Make sure the gap does not taper. Then take off say 2 mm from each dimension to allow for insertion. More, if you are not confident of the exact sizes. Otherwise you will need a hammer to get the chest in place. This gives you new dimensions of X, Y and Z mm, which are the width, height and depth of the finished chest.
Assuming you are using 12 and 6 mm ply throughout, the panels needed are:
- two 12 mm sides, each Y x Z mm
- Top and bottom, 6 mm, each (X - 12) mm x Z mm
- Back, 6 mm, (X - 12) x (Y - 12) mm.
Label each of these on their inner sides, marking which is the back.
Cut a 6 x 6 mm rebate on the top and bottom inner edges of the side pieces, and on the back inner edges of the top and bottom. The carcase will assemble into a box now, that should fit in the gap. But it still needs the trenches for the drawers to run in.
Lay out the intended contents and decide how deep the drawers are to be. The bottom one will slide on the floor of the carcase, so no trench is needed for that one. Work out the trench position for each of the higher drawers and mark them on the inner faces of the carcase sides, making sure they are the right way up. Each one will be 6 mm deep and 7 mm wide, the full width of the panels. 7 mm wide gives a little clearance so the drawers slide freely. It will need two passes if you have a 6 mm cutter. Now rout the grooves, making sure they are square.
Now assemble the box, using glue and pins, clamping up and letting it dry thoroughly.
The next job is to cut the drawer bottoms from 6 mm ply. They will be (X - 11) mm x (Z - 6) mm. They should slide nicely into the trenches. If they are tight, rub the edges with wax, or trim them a little.
The drawer sides are not jointed to the bottom, just glued and pinned. The sides, of 12 mm ply, will be (Z - 6) mm long x the height you want. Make them 1-2 mm less than the full height, to give clearance. The front and back are the same height as the sides, and their length will be (X - 14) mm. They have a tongue at each end that fits into a groove in the side. The finished width of the drawer should be about 2 mm less than the width of its opening, again for the sake of free movement.
All clearance margins are variable. If the ply is flat and you are confident that everything will be cut perfectly square and accurately sized, you may get away with less clearance. Otherwise, change the dimensions to allow more latitude. Tighter fits will make the whole thing more rigid and durable and the drawers will run straight without racking. Too tight and they will jam. A belt sander can be used to make adjustments if necessary.
The drawers are assembled with glue and pins, making sure that the back, front and side are squarely placed on the base. Temporary spacers may help position them.
The drawer handle can take any form. A rope handle is easy, or a plywood strip with spacers can be screwed to the front.
A coat of shellac will help to keep the surfaces clean, or it can be painted or finished with polyurethane.
If there are to be two columns of narrow drawers with a divider, make sure that the grooves either side of the dividing panel do not coincide if this will make the panel too thin. If the chest is tall, put in a horizontal panel half way up to brace the sides.
Many variations can be made on this design.
An example of a chest of drawers with slight variations. This one has sides of 18 mm MDF that extend below the bottom panel.
Detail of drawer corner joints - the same at each corner.
This corner joint is easily cut with a router table. If the width of the groove is half the thickness, ie. 6 mm, the same router setting will cut both parts, one with the side lying flat on the router table, the other with the back standing against the fence.