I’ve been a subscriber for over two years now and have been very pleased with your magazine. I plan on building a Craftsman style dresser using all solid wood and traditional joinery. I also plan on hand cutting the dovetail drawers. Needless to say, this project will take quite a while for me, and I want it to be as functional as it is beautiful. I like the smoothness of ball bearing slides, but I don’t want see metal slides when I open a drawer. My question is: How did they make drawers slide smoothly back then? How can I do it now while maintaining the traditional look?- Shane
Tim Inman: Shane, the way they made those drawers slide easily was by quality construction, and fitting them properly! When I was learning how to build drawers, my instructor’s standard was the “one-finger push” rule. It worked like this: When I was ready to be graded, he pulled the drawer out to one-third of its length. Then, using only one finger, he pushed the drawer back into place until it rested correctly against its stops — all the way around the opening. The trick was that his finger pushed at all four corners of the drawer, in turn, pushing the drawer back into place. First, he’d push on the top right corner. If that worked, he’d try again and push on the bottom right corner; then top left, bottom left, and I’d get a grade. Any resistance or binding, and I got a ‘”do-over” and a scowl!
If the drawer fits too tightly, it will bind. If the drawer has too much play, it will also cock off to one side, and bind. I discovered that a piece of cardboard from the back of a yellow legal pad gave me about the right clearance. So, that cardboard ‘”feeler gauge” became my best friend as I constructed drawers. When I had that much space between the drawer and the sides of the cabinet guides, and when the drawer was properly waxed with a candle or beeswax, it worked every time.
How can you do it? My recommendations: Plan A: Do it just like the old masters did. Build the cabinet well, and fit the drawer properly. Plan B: there are metal ball bearing guides that fit underneath the drawer invisibly. Plan C: There are a number of polymer glides and tracking materials available that will improve the drawer operation. See Option A.
Chris Marshall: I agree with Tim. There’s a lot of original Stickley furniture with drawers still being put to good use. Think of how proud you’ll be to build a set of drawers with traditional supports and have them work as well as Tim points out. I would give it a “go” to build your dresser as traditionally as you can. But, if practicality is the primary motivator—and that’s sometimes the wisest choice—I’d try undermount drawer slide hardware.