How to Make an Expert-level Dresser

Make an Expert-level Dresser: The Arts and Crafts movement in America is best known for the rectangular, somewhat eccentric style of furniture produced at the end of the last century. These pieces were typically made from quartersawn white oak – a wood that shows a dramatic grain pattern, or flake – and stained dark brown. Design details include mortise and tenon joinery, hand-crafted hardware, and simple curved arches that soften the stark straight, parallel-sided shape.

Our dresser includes many of the visual elements characteristic of this popular style, but we’ve updated the construction with plate joinery in the case, vertical dovetails in the drawers, and full-extension drawer slides.

Solid wood parts range in thickness from 1/2 to 1-3/4 inches. If you don’t have a planer, contact your dealer or local cabinet shop for custom planning.

Dresser Making the Case

Begin construction by preparing 1-inch-thick edge-glued boards for the case sides and top, and 3/4-inch-thick stock for the case’s bottom panel.

Although simple glue-butt joints are strong enough, we added joining plates to keep the boards aligned during assembly.

After assembling the panels, use a cabinet scraper or razor-sharp plane to smooth the surfaces and remove any glue spots. Rip the panels to full width, and cut the top and bottom panels to length. Trim the top end of each side panel square and lay out the arched edge of the bottom of each one by placing a thin strip of wood between two clamps [1]. Use a saber saw to make curved cuts, and remove the saw marks with sandpaper or sponge.

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Match the case legs to the specified dimensions, cut plate slots in the legs and side panels, and attach the legs to the panels with plates and glue.

Lay the mortises on the sides of the case and cut them with the plunge router and edge guide. Finish each mortise in three or four light passes to avoid burning the bit or overloading the motor. Then square the mortise with a chisel.

Cut the joining plate slots on the bottom of the case and on the sides of the case for the drawer rails [2]. Place a straight board on the side to help position the plate joiner. Install a 1/4-in.-dia. Insert a straightedge into your router and cut a panel groove in each rear leg that extends between the top and bottom rail mortises [3].

Rip and cut 3/4-in.-thick stock for the front and back rails, drawer rails, and rear mullions. Before cutting the curved edges of the bottom rails, cut the tenons on your table saw. Fit the fence to match the length of the tenon and use a dado blade to cut the tenon cheeks [4]. Readjust the blade height and edge the rails to cut the shoulders on the top and bottom edges of each rail. Cut the tennis on the ends of the melons in the same way.

Mark the locations of the million mortises in the rear rails and route them with 3/8-in. Bit [5]. Clamp the two rails together to provide a more stable base for the rotor.

Use the dado blade in your table saw to cut the panel grooves into the back rails and mullion edges [6]. A feather board secured to the table will keep the stock tight against the rip fence and reduce the chance of dangerous kickback.

Cut 1/2-inch thick stock for the back panels and use a router table to cut rabbets around the inside face of each piece [7].

How to Make an Expert-level Dresser

Case assembly

First, carefully sand the case parts with 120- and 150-grit sandpaper. Next, spread the glue into the back rail mortises and onto the milion tens. Place the mullions in the mortises in the lower rail and slide the two center panels into place [8]. It is important to glue the panel grooves so that the panels are free to expand and contract. Then, add the top rail and clamp the assembly.

Cut the remaining joining plate slots except those for joining the top. Apply glue to the joint between the front rail and the bottom, and connect and clamp the parts [9]. Next, join the back bottom rail from the bottom. When the glue dries at this joint, attach the sub-assembly to one side. Remember to slide the appropriate back panel into position first. Add the drawer rails to the side assembly and clamp until the glue is set [10]. Then, slide the remaining back panel into position and glue the other case side in place.

While the glue is drying, cut out the joining plate slots under the case top. Route a 1/8-in. Chamfer the bottom of the top panel and around the top faces [11]. Then, glue the top to the sides and back.

Drawer building

Use an 8-degree dovetail bit to route the dovetail slots in the drawer faces [12]. Note that the slots in the drawer faces are lower than the top edge.

Transfer the dovetail bit to your router table and cut the male sections of each dovetail joint at the ends of the drawer sides and backs [13]. Clamp a guide block to the workpiece on the top edge of the rotor table fence. This prevents the leading edge of the work from falling into the table hole. Test these cuts on scrap lumber and make sure the dovetails slide together easily.

Use 1/4-in.-dia. A bit to route the slots in the sides of the drawer faces and the bottom of the drawer between the drawer faces. Then, cut the plywood for the bottom of the drawer.

Apply a little glue and attach the drawer sides to the faces, slide the backs into place and check that each drawer frame is square. When the glue dries, slide the bottoms out and fasten them with screws driven into the back.

Install the drawer slides into the case by pulling them to the sides [14]. Note that the slides sit directly under the case and on the drawer rails.

Temporarily install pulls and slide drawers. Adjust the slides, if necessary, so that the drawers work smoothly and there is an even gap between the drawer faces and the case.

Finishing

First, prepare the case and drawer by removing the hardware and finish sanding to 220 grit. Remove all dust with a vacuum. We stained our dresser with Behlen Solar-Lux stain, creating our color by mixing equal amounts of Van Dyke Brown and Medium Brown Walnut.

Solar-Lux stains are solvent-based and dry very quickly, so it’s best to add some Solar-Lux dye retarder to the mix to prevent streaks that can occur when staining with a brush or rag. Allow the stain to dry for at least 4 hours – overnight is best.

We finished our dresser with three coats of Watco Clear Wood Finish, a semigloss, fast-drying brush lacquer. Apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next coat.

Why is a dresser called a dresser?

Dressers usually have 6 drawers (or more) and are larger and deeper than chest drawers. Additionally, many dressers also come with a matching mirror that is mounted on the back. It enables a person to dress in front of him, hence why this piece is called a dresser.

What is a tall dresser called?

A media chest is usually as wide as a dresser but taller so you can rest your television at a comfortable viewing height. You can store clothes in drawers and closets or use these spaces to store movies, remotes, extra cords, and more.

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