Building a Deal Dresser (In a Hurry): Part 1

The following series of posts is courtesy of a guest blogger: my wife.  She built a dresser this spring, and I’d like to share the progress with you.  Here’s the spoiler. The dresser did get built, though it wasn’t quite finished by the deadline.

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May 2012

Being married to a woodworker means that I’ve never had the need to do a major woodworking project myself before, but this time, I did. My husband was deep in the middle of building both a toolbox (thanks, Chris Schwarz) AND a joint stool (thanks, Alexander & Follansbee), and I needed a dresser of specific dimensions for our upcoming 4th child ASAP. Did I mention I’m now 8 months pregnant, (I was 5 months pregnant when I started the project), on a strict budget, and I hate shopping? So just going out and buying one was out of the question.

I started with stock selection at one of our local big box stores, and was able to find some passable variety of white pine for my carcase. (2 – 1”x8”x8’ & 2 – 1”x10”x8’) Until this project, I had cut fewer than 10 dovetails, but was determined to dovetail the carcase myself. There are 36 dovetails in this carcase. Can we say glutton for punishment? Suffice it to say, they did not fit together straight off the saw. But at least I was consistent. All of my pins were a little too fat. (I did tails first.) And I’m going to be putting in an awful lot of shims to fill gaps where the wood smushed due to careless chisel control. And maybe a bit of contrasting trim to cover my mistakes?

I have not yet planed or shimmed these dovetails yet, so the finished dresser should look better than this.

What I’ve learned thus far:
1. I need to get a few more tools of my own.
2. sharpening tools is MUCH harder than it looks.
3. my husband’s workbench is really too tall for me.
(Now where on earth could we fit a 2nd workbench?)

After a second run to the big box store for drawer materials, I’ve come to two very important conclusions:
1. A minivan with 3 children, all in carseats, is not the ideal vehicle for lumber transport. Now I’m looking for a full-sized van or a truck.
2. Friday night is not the best time to get lumber at a big box store because it’s already been pretty picked over by weekend woodworkers.

I’ve attached the back (sanded plywood) by plowing a rabbet and then nailing it. This was my first time using a plow plane. I know, a plow plane is probably not the first plane most woodworkers reach for when rabbeting a board, but that’s what I had available. I also had my first experience trying to saw plywood without power tools. I don’t think plywood was designed to be used with hand tools. Ugh! My saw kept getting pinched, which didn’t help my amateur attempts to saw to the line. Suffice it to say, I am not entirely satisfied with the results. Lesson learned? Don’t let my kids watch me attempt to saw. “Mama, you don’t saw as straight as Papa.”

Perhaps I should have just gone ahead and gotten the drawer runners at the store instead of letting my husband talk me into making them out of white oak. 4 pairs of runners took me longer to make and install than it did for me to cut and fit 18 of the dovetails. That’s the polite way of saying that I fought with my marking gauge, growled at my vise, and was tempted to throw one of the runners out the window when I still couldn’t get it square after working at it for what seemed like an hour. Anyway, when I went to run a groove in the runner, I found that my plow plane fence hung down too low so I learned how to set up a sticking board.

(Thanks, dear.) So I finally managed to ran a groove in each runner for the dust-panels and then nailed them to my carcase. White oak is a lot more difficult to work than pine, and even with pilot holes, I bent so many nails I’m seriously wondering if I’m really just that bad at hammering nails or if it’s the nails themselves. Maybe I should rethink that whole nailing-the-drawers-together plan.

Anyway, now that I’ve got my stock, I need to find the nicest bits to use for drawer fronts. My plan is to make the drawers different heights, with the tallest drawer at the bottom and the shortest drawer at the top. Because I am lousy at resawing lumber, these drawers are going to be 3/4” stock all the way around.

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8 Responses to Building a Deal Dresser (In a Hurry): Part 1

  1. arzea says:

    This is amazing! Great job!

  2. meeteyorites says:

    I like the fact that I don’t need a woodworking glossary to hearr you out. Of course I’m still pretty lost but the pix are great, uh, “tools”…

  3. Pete Chast says:

    Nice work. Soft pine is harder to cut with a chisel than hard wood.

  4. Thanks for sharing your build. Your dovetails look respectable in the last photo. If your husband’s bench is too high, would it be more practical to make a platform to raise the “floor” rather than build a shorter bench?


  5. handmadeinwood says:

    We’ve all crunched a bit of timber – especially with softwood, it’s prone to it.
    Here’s an old fix I wrote about that will get most dents out, and for which you will need an iron and a tea towel.

    Good luck – it works and all the best with oyur valliant try at dovetailin in at the deep end.

    All best from sunny Wales

  6. Grace says:

    Thanks for all the kind words. I learned so much doing this project and thought it would be fun to try to tell the story of how I built it in language a non-specialist could understand. I think we will build a platform for the bench, especially since my oldest daughter is getting to tall to work at the sawbench as a workbench.

  7. Pingback: 2012 Woodworking Blog Awards « BreenBush Design

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