Side Hung Drawer

Drawers have been a common feature on casework for almost as long as casework has been constructed.  The most prevalent style of drawer arrangement used in furniture today is based upon the style developed in the 18th century. Basically, a frame is constructed to divide the casework into sections and the drawers are constructed to fit the opening, and ride on top of the frame.

In the 17th century, however, most drawers were side hung, meaning that the drawers did not sit on top of a frame, but instead they hung by runners attached to the drawer sides. This was done in two different ways. The drawer could have small strips nailed to its side to form a groove, or a groove could be plowed directly into the drawer side. I wanted to add a small drawer to my workbench since I recently move my old standing desk out of the shop. So I decided to use the 17th century style drawer construction to do so.

Drawer runners made from 3/4" wide x 3/8" thick pine.
Drawer runners made from 3/4″ wide x 3/8″ thick pine.

I started with the drawer runners.  I ripped these out of a 3/4″ thick piece of pine.  They are both 3/8″ thick by 3/4″ wide and long enough to support the sides of the drawer for as deep as it will be.

Drawer runner glued and nailed to inside of workbench apron.
Drawer runner glued and nailed to inside of workbench apron.

The drawer runners were attached to the insides of the workbench aprons with glue and cut brads.  They are spaced down from the top of the drawer space so that they will sit approximately centered on the sides of the drawers when the drawer is mounted.

now THAT'S a dovetail.
Now THAT’S a dovetail.

To facilitate the groove on the side of the drawer for the drawer runner, 17th century drawers were often constructed using just a single wide dovetail. Using the wide dovetail allowed the wide groove for the drawer runner to be plowed only through the long grain of the drawer sides and not have to be cut through any end grain pins. I decided to follow that practice with these drawers.

The groove is wide and shallow.
The groove is wide and shallow.

The groove was started with a 1/4″ blade in a plow plane.  However, this didn’t plow the full width necessary.  So instead of resetting the fence and moving the plow plane over, I used a sash saw to saw the other side of the groove, then wasted away the remaining wood with a chisel and smoothed the bottom of the groove with a 1/2″ square rabbet plane.

Test fitting without the false front.
Test fitting without the false front.

With a minimal amount of trimming and planing, the drawer was fit into the opening under the bench top. The runners weren’t exactly centered on the drawer sides but instead ended up centered on the total drawer height.  I miscalculated when positioning the runners because I was using the full height of the false front rather than the reduced height of the drawer sides.  The height of the sides was reduced by 1/2″ because the drawer bottom is attached by nailing it to the sides front and back.  C’est la vie.  It still works fine, even if the drawer runners aren’t centered on the dovetail.

The last thing to do was to attach a false front to cover everything up.

The false front is glued and nailed in place from the inside.
The false front is glued and nailed in place from the inside.
Drawer closed.
Drawer closed.
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7 thoughts on “Side Hung Drawer

  1. Interesting – thanks for the post.

    I have some late 20th century factory made furniture using the same method, but with the groove lined with plastic! Excessive clearance makes the drawers less than smooth running (racking). An expanded post, one day, on the various drawer runner methods (hardwood runners, bottom vs side rails etc) would be very welcome.

  2. Well done!! Thanks for the good info. That big dovetail looked cool. A shame to cover it up. However the drawer looks really nice in the end of your bench.

  3. On my last clock order I made I used a single dovetail option where it housed the movement. In your case it wasn’t about aesthetics but practicality of executing the groove and it makes sense. Are you going to put a knob on it.

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