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What lumber size do you start with for drawer sides?

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Forum topic by Thorbjorn88 posted 01-27-2020 03:15 PM 658 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Thorbjorn88

109 posts in 773 days


01-27-2020 03:15 PM

I’m new to furniture building and dimensioning lumber to anything but 3/4”.

I’m building my first dresser and had a frustrating experience milling the wood for the drawer sides and backs. I wanted them to be between 1/2” and 5/8”. I bought 2 6/4 red oak boards and after milling them resawed them in half. The wood form one of them turned out great. The resawn halves from the other bowed and cupped so much I think that once I get them milled square they’ll be about 3/8” thick. The board that was the problem was more cupped than the other in the first place. Is that an indicator of how it will be to resaw?

So my question is what thickness wood do you start with to get 1/2” or 5/8” lumber? Is it best just to get 4/4 and plane it down?

-- Dave


16 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5969 posts in 3124 days


#1 posted 01-27-2020 04:44 PM

I almost always use 5/8”, mostly polar but sometimes hard maple. I start with 4/4 and plane it down. At first the 5/8 was just so I wouldn’t have to plane so much, but I found I likes the thicker sides on all drawers except the very smallest ones. I’m not so sure it costs anymore to do this than to buy thicker wood and resaw. The thicker wood is a little more expensive to start with so while I haven’t actually doodled out a cost comparison I don’t think it’s as much as one might believe. It does bother me to waste the wood, and to dispose of the increased amount of shavings….but it’s still the easiest way for me.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View CWWoodworking's profile

CWWoodworking

609 posts in 810 days


#2 posted 01-27-2020 04:58 PM

Just use 3/4”. Easy to find no extra milling. Use any type of joinery.

Only draw back to 3/4” I can think of is some types if under mount slides do not work with 3/4”.

View Manitario's profile

Manitario

2804 posts in 3514 days


#3 posted 01-27-2020 05:09 PM

I’ve slowly decreased the thickness of wood that I use for most of my case work; when I started I would use as thick as possible for everything eg. 7/8 if I started with rough 4/4 wood. Now 3/4 is for most carcasses, although in cases that aren’t particularly structural or going to have heavy drawers, I go with 5/8.

Drawers; I can’t think of any reason to ever go with 3/4 unless the drawer is absolutely massive and/or will have a large amount of weight in it. Even the drawers for my filing cabinet are only 1/2 sided and 5/8 front and back. Smaller drawers I’ll use 3/8.

Full disclosure though; all my drawers are dovetailed ie. if a drawer “fails” it will be at the corners, ie. at the joinery, even a 3/8” thick drawer is unlikely to suddenly split along its length. Dovetailing the drawer gives me a bit better of a mechanical joint at the place where it would fail and allows me to feel comfortable with thinner material.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View therealSteveN's profile

therealSteveN

4857 posts in 1205 days


#4 posted 01-27-2020 05:26 PM

Depends.

A shop drawer I’ll likely use 1/2 plywood, cheap, easy to use, and ready to go in 1/2” ply (15/32”) or for drawers I know will be heavy item storage 3/4” (23/32”).

Drawers for show will be sized according to overall size of the drawer box, and the size of the project itself. A too thick drawer can easily weigh down a piece, and make it look clunky. So anywhere from a 1/4” to 3/4” depending.

For 1/4” I’d resaw off a 4/4 billet something near 3/8” and work it down. Sometimes making 2 thicknesses from each piece of wood, sometimes leaving a 3/8” piece for doing something else with.

Sometimes near 1/2” I’ll also leave a thin piece after resawing off 5/8” to work down to 1/2”. Thicker than 1/2” and working off of 4/4 stock it’s usually hard to leave much at all. At best on a 5/8” drawer you may get a thin veneer, but drawer stock is usually plain, so it isn’t a big win, and I think here Fred’s cost analysis is correct, it sux to burn up the wood, but to do so isn’t a terrible expense.

Beside plywood, I like Poplar, and soft Maple for drawer boxes, both readily available here, and cost wise can be quite cheap, even more so if you don’t specify all white. Some brown to gray Maple is often cheaper than plywood, Poplar is strange, what is considered ugly off color varies, the really off color stuff often goes for more than all white. Purple, and bright greens, fuggedaboutit. Browns, almost free for the taking.

-- Think safe, be safe

View EarlS's profile

EarlS

3481 posts in 2979 days


#5 posted 01-27-2020 05:38 PM

I am building 6 built-in closet cabinets with 5 drawers in each one for our new house. I started with 4/4 maple and planed it down to 3/4” for the drawer boxes. The main reason I went with 3/4” was simply because I saw no good reason to spend the additional time to plane another 1/8” off the 240 BF of lumber used for the drawer boxes. All of my corners are 1/2 blind dovetails, made on the Leigh D4R. 1/2 blind dovetails also allowed me to make both the pins and tails in the same cut, saving time as well.

The carcass of the cabinet is 3/4 cherry plywood with a solid cherry face and solid cherry drawer fronts.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View CWWoodworking's profile

CWWoodworking

609 posts in 810 days


#6 posted 01-27-2020 06:56 PM


Drawers; I can t think of any reason to ever go with 3/4 unless the drawer is absolutely massive and/or will have a large amount of weight in it. Even the drawers for my filing cabinet are only 1/2 sided and 5/8 front and back. Smaller drawers I ll use 3/8.

Full disclosure though; all my drawers are dovetailed ie. if a drawer “fails” it will be at the corners, ie. at the joinery, even a 3/8” thick drawer is unlikely to suddenly split along its length. Dovetailing the drawer gives me a bit better of a mechanical joint at the place where it would fail and allows me to feel comfortable with thinner material.

- Manitario

I ageee. For me it’s definitely not about strength. I guess I’m just lazy and don’t wanna do the extra work to get less material.

View MikeUT's profile

MikeUT

200 posts in 1990 days


#7 posted 01-27-2020 07:27 PM

+1 on the comment above saying it depends on the joinery used. I use box joints and I usually plan on 3/8” thick unless the drawer is going to be holding a lot of weight. I had a similar issue with losing material a while ago when trying to end up with 3/8” stock drawers. I was getting around 5/16” thickness resawing and planing economically and would have used a lot more material sticking to 3/8”. I made a test drawer with the thin stock and it held up beautifully. The drawers were for nightstands and the 5/16”-ish thickness have been plenty sturdy and rigid with the box joints.

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

5637 posts in 2982 days


#8 posted 01-27-2020 07:42 PM

I use 4/4 stock re-saw to 5/8” and then plane them to 1/2”.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View SMP's profile

SMP

1736 posts in 536 days


#9 posted 01-27-2020 07:45 PM

I try to use 1/2ish. Handcut dovetails lately so I don’t really care about the exact size.

View Thorbjorn88's profile

Thorbjorn88

109 posts in 773 days


#10 posted 01-28-2020 02:57 PM

Thanks for the input everyone.

-- Dave

View Robert's profile

Robert

3626 posts in 2111 days


#11 posted 01-28-2020 03:04 PM

How did you handle your resawn boards?

Resawn planks need to immediately stickered and clamped with cauls, left for a few days. I usually orient inside faces toward each other..

I’ve had very good luck doing this. I do it with panels, too, especially thinner panels. Its no guarantee it will be perfectly flat, but it helps a lot.

To your question, it depends on what the drawers are made of, but I start with 1/4” over finish thickness to give me enough room for remilling and correcting any movement.

With cheap I just plane it down.

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

View Thorbjorn88's profile

Thorbjorn88

109 posts in 773 days


#12 posted 01-28-2020 03:10 PM

The excessive bowing happened instantly. Infact on a few of the sections I was resawing I had to put a wedge behind the blade because it was pinching the blade so hard it stopped.

But thanks for those instructions, I didn’t do that with the other boards resawed well. I’ll do that next time I resaw.

-- Dave

View Madmark2's profile

Madmark2

829 posts in 1219 days


#13 posted 01-28-2020 03:11 PM

12/4 that I plane down (with a hand block plane) to 3/8”. None of this fancy “resawing” stuff for me! (snork, chortle, chuckle)

Rockler (et al.) sells premade drawer sides out of 1/2” ply that are prefinished and even grooved for the drawer bottom.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View jmartel's profile

jmartel

8729 posts in 2781 days


#14 posted 01-28-2020 03:17 PM

If you are resawing boards, you need to be careful about the type of board you are using. Flat sawn boards (end grain showing arcs) will try to “flatten” the rings and is more likely to cup. Quartersawn (end grain being completely vertical) will not have that issue.

Drawer thickness, I like 1/2”. For me, I can buy 4/4 or already milled 1/2” poplar cheap enough that I don’t bother resawing.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View therealSteveN's profile

therealSteveN

4857 posts in 1205 days


#15 posted 01-30-2020 09:45 AM


The excessive bowing happened instantly.

- Thorbjorn88

Consider as a board dries it gets dry at the end grain first. It’s so porous it allows air to replace the water, so it goes quickly there.

Following that at a slower rate is the face/edge grain. so the outer portion of the board.

Last is always going to be the middle, and depending on species some wood takes what seems like forever. Remember the rule of thumb is one inch of thickness takes a year to dry. Sometimes even after a year, the inside isn’t as dry as the outside. This is borne out by the newest generation of mositure meters almost always include some form of dual depth readings, so you can see the surface, and close to it, and also at about 3/4” to 1” deep.

What I believe happened to you is as you opened the board up, you immediately created 2 levels of moisture. The outer, which was dry, and the new outer, which used to be an inner, which was wetter, and BINGO, you get instant movement.

Years ago that was always considered to be “reaction wood” which is, for ease of explanation, say instead of flat, evenly flowing grain through the board, imagine it was like a coil, all knotted up inside the wood, and at the moment you sawed it, BOING, it springs out at you. SURPRISE…...

Reaction wood does exist, it’s commonly found at “off angle” wood, so limbs, which we don’t use for lumber anyhow, and trees found to be growing on steep hillsides. Buckers often call them barber poles, and sometimes you can even see the spiral in the bark.

Instead of reaction wood, is the much more commonly found wood which doesn’t all dry poof, at once, so it leaves differing levels of moisture, and one of the quickest ways to find these differing levels is to open up the board. Sometimes you can actually see, and feel the wet, on the freshly cut side. Generally not an issue on a crosscut, because all that changes then is new end grain appears, and it’s already drying. You will see it on resaw, where a complete side of the board, is suddenly opened.

-- Think safe, be safe

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