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AW Extra - Stickley Style Chest of Drawers


Build a masterpiece with handsome quartersawn oak.


by Randy Johnson






This striking chest of drawers is closely modeled after one of Gustav Stickley’s most famous designs. Both bold and graceful, the wide overhanging top, slightly bowed legs and arched apron of Stickley’s chest show the strong influence of his brilliant associate Harvey Ellis. My version is nearly identical in appearance, but I’ve modified its joinery to strengthen the case and improve the drawers’ operation.


Building nine drawers is a big part of making this chest. I’ve used a sliding dovetail joint popular in Stickley’s time. The drawers run on center-mounted wooden guides, a recent innovation 100 years ago when the original chest was built. Center guides help wide drawers track well, even when they’re pushed or pulled with only one hand. I’ve added web frames to strengthen the chest. They also make the guides easier to install.


Stickley built most of his Mission-style furniture from quartersawn white oak. I used quartersawn red oak. It generally has less pronounced figure, but I was able to find some beautiful boards. I used quartersawn oak for everything except a couple of leg parts. I used the best-looking boards for the outside of the chest and the plainer-looking boards, which were more rift-sawn in appearance, for interior parts. Lumber that is quartersawn or rift-sawn is very stable and is a good choice for drawers and related parts. 


I used heavy solid copper hardware with a hammered texture and antique finish. It cost an eye-popping $350. Less-expensive Mission-style hardware is widely available, but I love the heavy feel and authentic appearance this hardware adds to my chest. If you’re up to a real challenge, you can make your own hardware (see “Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware").


Gustav Stickley considered his life’s mission to promote the values of fine workmanship. He named his magazine and his line of furniture The Craftsman. When you build this chest and hammer out the hardware, you’ll certainly be a craftsman, too! 







Build the Sides


1. Machine the stiles (A, K) rails (B, L), and drawer dividers (N, P, Q and R) to final size. Cut the mortise-and-tenon joints in these parts (Photo 1; Fig. A, below). I used the Leigh frame-and-mortise jig and a Bosch 3-1/4-hp plunge router (see Sources, below), but you can cut the same joints many other ways as well. 


2. Rout grooves in the rails and stiles for the side panels (C), (Photo 2; Figs. B and C, below). Note that the grooves in the stiles do not extend to the end of the boards but stop at the mortises. Rout similar grooves for the back panel (M, Fig. G, below) and dust panels (V, X, Fig. A).


3. Resaw boards for the side panels and glue them together. Plane them to final thickness.


4. Sand and stain the panels (Photo 3). Sand and stain the rails’ and stiles’ inner edges. A one-step oil finish works well or, for a more advanced finish that really makes quartersawn figure pop, see “4 Proven Finishes for Oak”. 


5. Assemble the sides and back (Photo 4).





Make the Legs


6. Saw 1/4-in.-thick quartersawn veneer for the leg faces (E). Glue these strips to the leg centers (D, Photo 5). Make the faces and centers 1/2 in. overlong. Plane the legs to final thickness, which will reduce the veneers to 1/16 in. thick. (This is far easier than making 1/16-in.-thick veneer.) Joint and plane the legs to 2-3/16 in. wide, which is 1/16 in. oversize. This extra 1/16 in. will be removed after you taper the legs. Cut the legs to final length.


7. Mark tapers on the legs’ faces (Fig. B). You can bandsaw and joint the tapers or do all the cutting on the jointer (Photo 6). With your jointer set for a 1/16-in. cut, the top taper should take four passes and the bottom taper 11 passes. Be sure to prevent the leg from moving backward when you lower it on the cutterhead. Hold it with a push pad. The jointer will cut a small, sniped depression at the small end of the tapers. Sand off the sniped area after jointing. Sanding this sniped area will remove the extra 1/16-in. width that you kept on the leg in Step 6. After sanding, the leg should be very close to a final width of 2-1/8 in. at its widest spot.


8. Mark each leg to indicate in which corner it goes on the chest. Select the legs with the best faces for the front. Put the less attractive sides of the other two legs facing the chest’s back.


9. Cut stopped rabbets in the rear legs using a dado set or router. Use a chisel to square the stopped ends of the rabbets (Fig. B). Lay out and machine the mortises in the front legs. Cut biscuit slots in the legs and the side panels. 


10. Sand the stiles on the sides and the inside faces of the legs. These parts form inside corners, which are hard to sand after assembly. Glue and clamp the legs to the sides (Photo 7).





Assemble the Case


11. Make the horizontal drawer dividers (N) and vertical drawer dividers (P). Glue quartersawn edging (N1, P1) to their fronts (Figs. D and E, below). Lay out and cut bridle joints on the vertical drawer dividers and two of the horizontal drawer dividers (Photo 8, Fig. D).


12. Machine all the web frames’ parts (S, T, U, V, X). Assemble the vertical and horizontal drawer dividers and web frames as a unit (Photo 9). Bandsaw the curve in the arched rail (R) and glue it to the bottom web frame. 


13. Cut biscuits slots in the sides of the web frames and the leg and panel assemblies (Figs. A and B). 


14. Dry-fit the web frames into the sides (Photo 10). With this many mortise-and-tenon joints you may have to plane, scrape or sand to get things to go together smoothly.


15. It’s time for the big glue-up. Glue and clamping the six web frames to the sides involves a lot of parts and will take a while to accomplish. If you’ve got an experienced helper, you can glue the case with regular yellow wood glue. If you’re working alone, use a glue with an extended open time (see Sources, below).





Assemble and Install the Drawers


16. Build the drawers using sliding dovetails (see "Sliding Dovetail Drawers"). All the part dimensions are given in the Cutting List, below, and in Fig. H, below. Note that the sides and back of the top two drawers are narrower than their fronts, unlike the other drawers. These narrow parts are necessary for the drawer to slide under the screw cleats (J) attached to the top (F). Add bottom guides (HH) to the bottoms of the drawers (Photo 11).


17. Glue wear strips (Y) to the web frames (Photo 12; Fig. A). The strips are made from plastic laminate, so you must use contact cement or epoxy. These strips serve several important functions. First, they provide a very slick, durable surface for a heavy drawer to slide on. Second, they prevent the drawers from wearing unsightly grooves on top of the front rails. Third, they raise the drawer 1/16 in. above the rails, resulting in the gaps below the drawers matching those at the drawer’s top and sides.


18. Add center guides (GG) to the web frames (Photo 12). The guides are set back from the front rail by 13/16 in., the thickness of a drawer front. The front of the guide stops each drawer so the drawer is flush with the front rail. 


19. Drill the drawer fronts for the pulls (Photo 13).





Add the Top and Back


20. Glue a piece of quartersawn edging (G) to the front edge of the top (F, Fig. F, below). Because the top is made from quartersawn wood, its front edge will have ordinary-looking plainsawn figure. Quartersawn edging here and on the drawer dividers makes the whole case’s look harmonious. 


21. Make the backsplash (H). It has a tapered top edge you can make on the jointer, like the legs. Attach the backsplash 1/2 in. in from the back edge of the top.


22. Make the screw cleats (J) that go under the top. Drill shallow holes in two cleats for figure-eight tabletop fasteners (Fig. F). Drill oversize screw holes in all the cleats for fastening them to the top. Attach the cleats to the top with washer-head screws, which allow the top to freely expand and contract (see Sources, page 47). Attach the cleats and top to the sides (Photo 14).


23. Install the back (Photo 15).







24. Stain the rest of the chest, but leave the drawer boxes natural. Light-colored drawer boxes contrast nicely with the dark case. 




Photo 1: Stout mortise-and-tenon joinery make this chest strong enough to withstand many years of heavy use. I used the router-based Leigh frame-and-mortise jig to cut all the joints because it’s quick and super-accurate, but many other joint-making methods will work as well.






Photo 2: Start with the sides. After cutting the joints, rout grooves in the rails and stiles using a slot cutter. The grooves hold the side’s quartersawn oak panels. The panels are solid wood, so the grooves must be deep enough to allow them to expand and contract.






Photo 3: Stain the panels before you assemble each side. Prestaining the entire width of a panel guarantees that no unfinished wood will show when the panel contracts in dry weather. Tip: Stain the edges of the stiles and rails, too. This removes the risk of getting stain lap marks on the center panel later when you stain the rest of the case. 






Photo 4: Glue and clamp the sides. The panel isn’t glued in the grooves, of course. It must be free to move. Be careful in applying glue to the joints. You don’t want any glue squeeze-out to make its way into the grooves and adhere to the panel. 






Photo 5: Make each leg from three pieces. Glue a plainsawn board between two thick strips of shop-made veneer. This classic trick makes a leg with four quartersawn faces. See “Quartersawn Oak” for more on how to rip a plainsawn board with a perfect quartersawn edge. 






Photo 6: Taper the legs on your jointer. The legs are bow-shaped, wide in the middle and narrower at the top and bottom. With the jointer running, carefully lower the leg on the cutterhead and push the leg through. Repeat this cut until you reach the taper’s layout line.






Photo 7: Glue the legs to the sides, using biscuits for alignment. Put tape next to the joints on the legs and on the sides, to catch glue squeeze-out. After clamping, pull off the tape to remove the excess glue.






Photo 8: Cut notches on the vertical drawer divider. These notches interlock with complementary notches in the two top horizontal drawer dividers. You can freehand these cuts if you’ve got a steady hand, or use a miter gauge.






Photo 9: Assemble the top three web frames as a unit. The top two web frames interlock with the vertical drawer divider. The third web frame is screwed to the bottom end of the vertical divider. 






Photo 10: Check the fit of the web frames. All must be glued at the same time, so you don’t want any surprises. For the actual glue-up, it’s a good idea to enlist a helper. 






Photo 11: Glue two bottom guides in the center of each drawer. Use an extra strip as a spacer, but remove it before the glue sets. Bricks supply sufficient pressure and are simple to use. 






Photo 12: Install drawer center guides from the back of the chest. To position each guide, fasten the front end first. Slide in the drawer and align the drawer front with the case. Finally, fasten the guide on the back rail. 






Photo 13: Drill holes for the drawer hardware. Apply masking tape on which you draw clearly visible layout lines. Marking on bare wood often requires a lot of erasing later on. Here, you simply peel off the tape. 






Photo 14: Fasten the top to the chest’s sides. There are four cleats under the top. The outer two serve as braces for screwing the top assembly to the sides with low-profile figure-eight fasteners. The drawer sides are inset, so they won’t hit the fasteners.






Photo 15: Screw on the back to complete the chest. The back adds the final rigidity to the case. Push it, lift it, slam the drawers—this beautiful chest is strong enough to last for generations.



















This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2005, issue #116.

Source information may have changed since the original publication date.







Woodworkers Hardware, (800) 383-0130,  Low-profile washer-head screws, #SCLP8x114, $4 per 100. Desktop fasteners, #KV1548, $5.20 per 20. Titebond-Extend wood glue, #F9104, $4.82 a pint. • Rockler, (800) 279-4441,  Dark copper Stickley V-drawer pulls, #62950, $35 each. • Leigh Industries, (800) 663-8932,  Frame-and-mortise jig, #FMT, $800 each. • Bosch, (877) 267-2499,  3.25 Plunge router, model# 1619EVS, $330 each (street price).





September 2005, issue #116

Purchase this back issue.






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Projects wrote Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware
on 11-03-2009 10:51 AM

By David Olson It’s a fact. Hardware doesn’t have to come from a catalog. You can make your

Projects wrote Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware
on 11-03-2009 10:55 AM

By David Olson It’s a fact. Hardware doesn’t have to come from a catalog. You can make your