A dresser for Hadley

My grand-daughter Hadley needed a new dresser. Her old one was “commandeered” to use for her baby brother. The dresser needed to fit a rather narrow space in her room. The height allowance was flexible so I went with 4 feet. She will be able to reach into the top drawer in a few years. Color is to match the sleigh bed that I made for Elyse a number of years ago as it will become Hadley’s bed in the future. Wood is Red Oak. I had been saving a large plank for several years to use for a set of dresser drawers. All of the drawer fronts came out of the single large (14′ long) quarter sawn red oak board.


The dresser sides are frame and panel construction. This is much like making cabinet doors. I have used this technique for other batches of dressers such as: https://bronkalla.com/blog/2017/02/26/dresser-project-legs-and-end-rails/

Dresser end panels being glued up

This is the first dresser that I have done where the cross rails, between the drawers are fastened with biscuits rather than sliding dovetails. Using the biscuits saves a large amount of set-up time and also avoids the tear out that is common with the dovetail sockets on the front of the frame. In order to be able to easily assemble the case in stages the biscuit slots are cut biased towards the interior of the case. This allows the cross rails to be slid in without forcing the sides apart.

Inside view of the biscuit joint showing the biscuit protruding inside of the case and the guide rail for the drawer notched to fit around the biscuit

The front and back cross rails are dadoed on the inside to allow tenons on the guide rails to slip into place. This is similar to what is commonly done for solid wood sides and dovetailed cross rails. However with the frame and panel sides, the tenons of the guide rails can be glued at both ends, not just the front end as would be required for solid sides.

Glue up of the cross pieces for a dresser is always tricky, whether using dovetails or biscuits. There are multiple joints to be put in place simultaneously and it is easy to knock them out of alignment when adding another piece. The end panels are also a bit unwieldy to clamp. I settled on starting with a few cross pieces in the front being permanently glued and a couple of cross pieces in back temporarily tacked into place with globs of hot melt glue (not in the joints).

Cross pieces being glued in place
Horizontal stretcher being glued to the top apron

One change I made from previous designs was to have the top and bottom vertical “apron” pieces full height and the stretchers glued inside of them. You can see them clamped in place with the small clamps in the photo above. The diagonal clamp is needed to square things up on the bottom. The top was square as-is. The assembly is set aside to dry. Then the balance of the cross pieces are installed.


With the case now basically complete, it is time to take the final opening measurements and start on the drawers. The drawers are graduated in height with the tallest on the bottom. No two are the same. Prior to cutting the dovetails, each drawer is carefully fitted to its opening. This must be exact. You really cant trim down the width of a drawer if it is a little to big.

The measurements and dovetail pin spacings are fed into the JointCam program. From this, the gcode files are output to feed to the CNC router. When cutting blind dovetails in the oak drawer fronts as well as the sides, I find it necessary to make 2 passes – one with a straight bit for roughing and a second with the dovetail bit.

Drawer front dovetails cut on CNC router

The sides need to be mounted vertically on the CNC router. An MDF backer board is needed to prevent “blowing out” the exterior side of the cuts. After each drawer is complete, the backer board has the cuts sawn off for a clean edge and it is re-mounted in place.

Side board with tails and backer board

The back of the drawer is held in place with a dado cut in the sides.

Cutting the dado for the back on the radial arm saw

The bottoms are held in place with dadoes in all four sides. I stack everything up mark the interior faces with green tape and double check that the dadoes will go on the correct face and edge of each piece. You don’t want to screw this up as it means making a new piece and redoing the dovetails. In this case, all of the drawers match as they are cut form a single large board and I had no spare pieces from which to cut another!

Drawer sides and fronts being prepared for the bottom dadoes

With close fitting dovetails, no clamps are necessary in the front and only one or two on the back when gluing up the drawers. I use a 1/4″ plywood bottom which is also glued in place. This helps prevent racking of the drawers over time.

Glue-up of the drawers


Once everything fits, the top is fitted and the trim / molding for under the top is cut, it is time for finishing.

Everything on the outside is sanded to 220 grit. The drawer sides and dovetail ends are done on the stationary belt sander. The drawer fronts are sanded with a random orbit sander but then that is followed up with a lot of hand sanding to remove any swirliques. All of the corner edges are lightly sanded / broken.

Finish schedule:

2 light coats medium brown Transtint dye in alcohol – sprayed with 1.2mm tip on HVLP gun

2 light coats dewaxed blonde shellac approx 1 lb cut

Scuff sand – full scratch with maroon scotchbrite and 320 grit sandpaper.

Minwax Rosewood gel stain. Brush / wipe on and rub off after 10-15 min. Allow this to dry for minimum of 4 days.

3 coats Sherwin Williams HiBild Precat Lacquer – sprayed with 1.4mm tip on HVLP gun. Make sure to have fresh respirator cartridges or use a supplied air respirator and review the MSDS if you consider using it. I only spray this finish outside due to the fire/ explosion hazard. This stuff is dangerous to work with. However, it is such a joy to spray on and have it dry to handle in 15 minutes.

Spraying the drawers and case outdoors on a calm day

Completed dresser
Hadley with her new dresser

Hadley rates this project a success!