Plywood drawer questions - joinery, drawer slides

  • Advertise with us

« back to Designing Woodworking Projects forum

Forum topic by Jeremymcon posted 06-04-2017 06:30 PM 1036 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Jeremymcon's profile


414 posts in 1483 days

06-04-2017 06:30 PM

I’ve been showing my family my woodworking lately, and now everybody is coming to me with their woodworking needs! Most recently my grandfather asked me to complete a mahogany dresser that my aunt started building then never finished 30 years ago.

He already has all the lumber, the case is fully assembled. The drawer fronts and plywood drawer parts are cut to dimension. All I need to do is assemble the drawers, and install them in the dresser.

The example drawer that my grandfather showed me from another dresser she built has the drawer front rabbet all the way around, then the plywood sides are brad nailed into the drawer front. I could do this but I don’t own a table saw or a router table. I do have a router, but I really don’t like using it. I have a moving fillister plane that could cut all those rabbet, but that seems like a lot of work. I’m thinking I’d rather go buy some poplar to complete the drawer with, then attach the mahogany as a false drawer front.

The questions I have are: how can I best attach a poplar drawer part to a plywood drawer part? I have some cut headless brads that might do an ok job and not get in the way of the wooden drawer slides I’m planning to install. Glue or no glue with cut brads in a ply-to-hardwood connection?

I also considered doweling the plywood right to the front a doweling jig I own. Is there any precedent for that sort of thing? Do people do that? Would it hold up long term?

As for the the drawer slides – if I use Poplar or hard maple for the drawer slides, will the plywood slide ok? Or will the exposed end grain make a mess of things? I really don’t want to buy hardware – it’s a little outside of my comfort zone, and plus my grandfather seemed like he didn’t want to go to the expense. Should I be thinking about applying a strip of hardwood to the bottoms of the plywood sides to make sure they slide ok?

Lots of questions – thanks for your input in advance

6 replies so far

View MrRon's profile


5925 posts in 4047 days

#1 posted 06-04-2017 06:55 PM

There is a right way and a wrong way to build furniture. If you are trying to duplicate a piece of furniture that used traditional joinery work, that’s one thing, but a piece that represents modern day furniture making will use metal drawer slides and conform to accepted types of joinery. If you want to build something that uses modern techniques, the rabbeted drawer front and sides (3 sides only; not the back), you will need to use that router. I would recommend you get a router table; better yet, a table saw and dado set. I don’t see how you can do woodworking without some basic tools. BTW, use Baltic birch plywood, not the big box stuff; 1/4” for the bottom, 1/2” for the sides, front and back with a mahogany face.

View jerryminer's profile


960 posts in 2245 days

#2 posted 06-04-2017 07:09 PM

Lots of ways to build drawers, some traditional, some not. IIWM, I would follow Auntie’s original technique—It’s what Grandpa expects, and will keep the piece as Auntie intended.

If you are getting serious about woodworking, you are going to want a way to cut rabbets. Might as well start now. The router is good for this, as is a table saw. Hand tools can do it, too, of course, but can take some time. TS or router are pretty quick—-that’s why we use power tools—they make these tasks easier and quicker.

A basic router table can be just a piece of plywood with a hole in it for the router bit and some mounting holes for the router, sitting on some horses. A straight piece of lumber clamped in place will serve as a fence.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View Jeremymcon's profile


414 posts in 1483 days

#3 posted 06-04-2017 07:18 PM

Thanks Ron. I do have lots of tools! Lol. 14” bandsaw, circular saw, drill press, lunchbox planer, doweling jigs, chisels, hand saws, miter box, etc. Plenty of handplanes too. Jack, jointer, smoother, rabbet, plough, molding. The hybrid hand tool style of working has been working just fine for me, and keeps costs (all of my planes combined cost me about $300, and even if I owned a table saw I’d still want to own the planes) and noise/dust down, which is important to me. I built a cabinet and several tables this way already.

I’d love to own a table saw, but it’s not in the budget right now. Plus it wouldn’t fit in my shop! I’ll keep your comment in mind but I’d love to hear some more opinions before abandoning this project for lack of a table saw and router table.

View Robert's profile


3788 posts in 2284 days

#4 posted 06-04-2017 11:15 PM

You are a bit limited joinery-wise if using plywood for drawer sides. I think simple rabbets with glue and antique hardened nails are ok. You can do them quite easily with a saw, chisel and shoulder/rabbet plane.

You have all the tools, so you know you can’t avoid dovetails forever LOL, but not plywood.

I would definitely use wood slides in a piece like this. Matter of taste, but my feeling is metal extension slides in a piece of furniture like this is tacky and rather than augment the hand made aspect, detracts from it.

I can’t imagine functioning without a tablesaw. Hopefully you will be able to obtain one at a good price.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View Jeremymcon's profile


414 posts in 1483 days

#5 posted 06-15-2017 08:15 PM

I decided I was worrying about the rabbet for no reason! I tried my stanley rabbet plane on a piece of scrap, and found that mahogany is a very nice wood to work. I had hell of a time with cross grain rabbets in oak with this plane, but in mahogany turns out it was a piece of cake! I guess maybe that’s why it is such a highly regarded species for furniture.. So the build will continue as my aunt intended! Rabbets with the stanley, and the 1/4” groove with a record plough plane. Cut brads securing the plywood to the rabbet in the drawer front as in the drawers in the other dresser.

Some day I shall acquire a table saw. But today is not that day.

View jerryminer's profile


960 posts in 2245 days

#6 posted 06-15-2017 09:02 PM

Thanks for the update. Glad it worked out. I’m sure Auntie would be proud!

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics