De-mystifying secret drawers #1: In the beginning...

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Blog entry by acanthuscarver posted 11-11-2009 04:31 PM 5634 reads 11 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of De-mystifying secret drawers series no next part

With the publication of my article entitled “It’s a Secret” (click here to read the article online) in the November issue of Popular Woodworking, I started getting lots of email with comments and questions about the subject. Evidently so did the magazine because they started forwarding the emails to me. All had a common theme…”we want more!”.

Well, last week I started a series of posts on my blog that will add to the article. This series is going to be ongoing (at least until folks tell me their sick of secret compartments). What I thought I’d do is start a blog series here as well. The posts here will either be a republication of a previous post from my blog or I may just throw in a special secret or two just for my fellow lumberjocks. If you’d like to read the first entry on my blog instead of here, then you’ll want to click this .

I’ve asked the readers of my blog to send me their pictures of their secret drawers. The intent is to add to my ever growing photographic library of secret compartments and hidden drawers. Eventually, most of the secrets will either be published through my personal blog, or this one, or in print. Since there’s so little written on the subject of secret drawers, I’d like to share my experience with as many people as possible. Considering the creative nature of all the Lumberjocks I’ve met in person or through this site, I figure you folks must have some great secrets to share with the world. If you’re so inclined, please email me the photos but please only do so if you have no objection to them being published in one form or another.

Without further delay I bring you, straight from my personal blog, the first installment of my secret drawers series. I hope you like it and find it inspriational.

Secret drawers opener
Let me begin by saying that the article was meant to be more of a primer, or introduction rather than a treatise on the subject. There’s only so much one can cover in a four or five page article that includes photographs.

I started researching secret drawers and hidden compartments about two years ago for a presentation at the sadly defunct WoodWorks shows. Once I began the research in earnest, it seemed logical to me to make the leap to writing the article for the magazine. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my interest was shared by so many people.

Really, like most woodworkers, I’ve had an interest is secret compartments for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’m doing restoration work there’s always the hope of discovering a compartment or hidden drawer that hasn’t been opened in decades (if not centuries). Sadly, that has yet to happen for me but seeking out pictures of secret compartments has turned into a discovery greater than any I might have found in a piece of furniture.

Consequently, I’d like to begin something today that will take shape over the next few months. I’m going to post some pictures of a secret drawer that will be the first in a string of posts showing some of the secrets I’ve discovered. Not all the secrets will be unique. In fact, some will be rather common but they will all be interesting. The reason for this series of posts is simple. The single most common theme amongst the folks who took the “Secret Drawers” seminar at WoodWorks and the readers of “It’s a Secret” in Popular Woodworking is they’d like to see more examples of where secret drawers and compartments can be included in furniture.

First off, the idea of showing every conceivable secret drawer is impossible and rather contrary to the notion of secret drawers in the first place. If you’ve read the article, the idea was to leave you wondering a bit. The whole idea behind secret drawers is for you to use your imagination and creativity. I realize there isn’t much information out there on the subject but, hopefully, this series will broaden your view of where secrets can be included in pieces. The goal is to stimulate your creativity so you can begin to find new, and unique ways to incorporate secrets in your own projects.

If you find yourself puzzling out a place to put a secret in your next project, please send me some photos. I’m building a rather large collection of photographs of secret drawers and hidden compartments. Who knows? If I can collect enough photographs, I may even try to publish the collection so everyone can learn from this adventure. With that in mind, please don’t send me photographs if you have objection to their publication either on the web or in print. The whole idea behind this project is to help educate and stimulate. That can’t be done if I can’t share what you send.

Tea Caddy front shot Without further adieu, I give you the first installment of “The de-mystification of Secret Drawers”.

Our story begins with a simple tea caddy. For those who are unfamilar with what a tea caddy is, long before Thomas Lipton began selling tea in bags we, the little people of the world, needed a place to keep our tea leaves. We tried keeping them in our pockets but that just got messy. There had to be a better way. Enter the tea caddy, a small chest designed to keep the tea fresh and dry and all the while looking good sitting in a place of honor.

This tea caddy is in the collection of a friend. It’s a great little piece that shows off some pretty spectacular mahogany. As you can see from the first two photographs, it’s just a simple little box or chest. Keep an eye out for additions to our class schedule for 2010 since we’re going to be adding this project to our Journeyman Level Classes.!

Tea Caddy Side view

The neatest thing about this little chest is the secret it contains. Sure, someone once kept tea in the two interior compartments but they’re noticeable as soon as you lift the lid. What’s not immediately apparent is that there’s a secret drawer. Even in such a small chest, the cabinet maker decided to show off a little and include a secret drawer. Without looking at the next photo, can you guess where the secret drawer might be? Go on, guess. I’ll give you five more seconds.






Tea Caddy secret exposed

That’s right, the right side slides up and reveals a secret drawer. Now, the next photo is a bit dark but hopefully you can see how the sliding side is constructed. Also, notice how the secret drawer is constructed. There’s no dovetail joinery here. It’s strictly a utilitarian drawer so it’s just nailed together. Lots of secret drawers lack the spectacular joinery techniques we’ve come to know and love. The practical nature of the makers took over in lots of these cases. The secret drawers were not going to be used by lots of people on a regular basis so why spend the time and effort making a dovetailed drawer?

Tea Caddy sliding side

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Join us next time for the further adventures of (in my best booming radio announcer voice)”De-Mystifying Secret Drawers”!

Be sure to email us all your photos of your favorite secret drawers and don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine!

-- Chuck Bender, period furniture maker, woodworking instructor

11 comments so far

View matt garcia's profile

matt garcia

1910 posts in 4181 days

#1 posted 11-11-2009 04:36 PM

Very nice, Chuck!! Thanks for the education!

-- Matt Garcia Wannabe Period Furniture Maker, Houston TX

View dustygirl's profile


862 posts in 4237 days

#2 posted 11-11-2009 04:38 PM

Wow nice box.Thanks for sharing your secret.

-- Dustygirl..Hastings,Ontario.. How much wood can 1 gal chuck if 1 gal can't cut wood?

View Derrek LeRouax's profile

Derrek LeRouax

129 posts in 3803 days

#3 posted 11-11-2009 04:52 PM

This is perfect timing as I have recently developed a HUGE interest in this topic. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us here!!

-- Derrek L.

View OhValleyWoodandWool's profile


970 posts in 3629 days

#4 posted 11-11-2009 07:17 PM

Can’t wait for the next installment

-- "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure." Mark Twain

View hardwoodflooring's profile


202 posts in 3706 days

#5 posted 11-11-2009 07:31 PM

very nice. Thanks for sharing the information. I learned alot of new stuff today.

-- hardwood, South Carolina,

View rcs47's profile


210 posts in 3638 days

#6 posted 11-11-2009 07:36 PM

Great information. I will be thinking where I can incorporate them into my design on future projects. I look forward to your next installment.

-- Doug - As my Dad taught me, you're not a cabinet maker until you can hide your mistakes.

View a1Jim's profile


117722 posts in 4086 days

#7 posted 11-11-2009 07:57 PM

Thanks Chuck that’s a great start to an intriguing subject. I really enjoy you writing style and look forward to you next installment of “De-Mystifying Secret Drawers”! Thanks so much for sharing.

View David's profile


211 posts in 4224 days

#8 posted 11-11-2009 09:43 PM

When I built my home, I put in some secret compartments in the built in cabinets. It was an old New England tradition to have someplace for safe keeping and I saw a few many years ago doing carpentry work. I find it a good place to hide Smith and Wesson.

One simple one is to have a cabinet back that is in a groove and slides up and down. The cabinet is tall enough that it has a fixed shelf about mid height which doubles as a good breaking place for the lower slidding back and the upper fixed back. The lower back is just enough deeper into the cabinet, that it slides up just behind the upper fixed back. It is also held down with a secret latch that only the owner knows how to unlock. Add a few adjustable shelves and one would never know that the upper and lower back do not quite line up.
Another one I use is to have a false back in a drawer. By reaching inside and releasing the latch, you can slide the drawer out farther making the rear compartment accessable.

-- [email protected]

View SteveMI's profile


1141 posts in 3803 days

#9 posted 11-11-2009 10:21 PM

A relative had a box about 4” tall by 4” deep by 9” long that inside would lift out and have about 1/4” space below it. The real outer walls of the box had 45 degree bevel going out. Inner sleeve had beveled lip going out, so there wasn’t any giveaway in the grain, they mated at the outside corner. All of the sides and sleeve bottom were thin with the bottom and lid being thicker.

Quite a while ago that I saw it and have checked a lot of boxes since then for the feature with no luck.


View lightweightladylefty's profile


3393 posts in 4221 days

#10 posted 11-12-2009 06:23 AM


We’ve been following your article and blog on the Popular Woodworking website. We’re glad you decided to share it here, too. I have a couple ideas for secret compartments in built-ins that I haven’t yet gotten around to completing so these articles are very helpful. I’m not certain if I’ll be sharing pictures of my secrets or not since we want to use them for secrets and then they wouldn’t be secrets anymore!

Thanks for sharing all these ideas.

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View captkerk's profile


170 posts in 3750 days

#11 posted 11-12-2009 07:33 AM

I just read your article in the mag a few days ago and thought it would be great for some jewelery boxes I plan to make for my girls. I’m definitely interested in more secret compartments so I can figure out something cool to add on my projects.

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