The strongest way to tie together the dividers between the drawers is a vertical partition with through double tenons or triple tenons. (The plan view drawing below is shown at the lower divider.)
wood in the doubler below the mortise to provide adequate strength; the doubler will still have plenty of wood above the mortise (see bottom left drawing, p. 45).
Whether you make the dividers wider or thicker, sizing them is a judgment call. Err on the side of overbuilt. If the table bounces, what are you going to do about it? If it's a bit sturdier than it needs to be, you'll never know, and you'll be none the worse for it.
A table with multiple drawers requires a partition tying together the dividers between each drawer and a complement of internal runners, kickers, and drawer guides. It makes sense to mill the partitions at the same time as the dividers; just be sure to leave the divider blanks long, and whack the ends off. There are your partitions, already at the proper width.
If you feel comfortable with the span of the dividers and you simply want two drawers for looks or functionality, then you can stop-dado a nonstructural partition into the dividers from behind. But if the dividers are really long—for example, 3 ft. or 4 ft.—the stopped-dadoed partition may pop out when the table deflects downward.
The easiest way to strengthen the joint between the partition and the divider is to use the same double-tenon arrangement used to join the lower divider to the legs. On my multidrawer demonstration table, the dividers are so wide, I used triple tenons (see photo and drawing, left), but the idea is the same. I usually run the tenons through the dividers and sometimes even wedge them. If you join a pair of 3-ft. dividers together with two partitions and join the whole assembly to the legs, then you've created a girder. It's amazing how stiff this system is.
So now that you have partitions between the dividers, how do you support the drawers in the middle of the table? You mill runners and kickers wide enough to support drawers on both sides of the partitions, tenon them to the dividers, and half-lap them to the ledger on the rear apron.
Treat these inner runners and kickers as you would the runners and kickers next to the doublers, with one big exception. You have to notch the middle of the tenons so they don't interfere with the vertical twin tenons of the partition. To keep the drawers from swimming around, take another square stick, and glue it onto the center of the runner, long grain to long grain, to serve as a drawer-side guide. Problem solved.
You could also dovetail the partition to the dividers. A dovetailed housing cut across the full width of the dividers could remove so much material that it would compromise the strength of the dividers, so use a stopped dovetail in the front to tie the dividers together, plus a shallow Vs-in. dado across the width of the dividers to keep the partition from twisting (see drawing, facing page).
Dovetailed partitions are easier to install than tenoned partitions because with dovetailed partitions, you can attach both dividers to the legs and then simply slip the partitions into place. The shallow dado allows you to slip the partition into the dividers and then scribe the tail onto the dividers before cutting its housing. It's possible to cut the dado narrower than the dovetail to hide it from the front, but now I'm getting into variations on variations.
The beauty of this approach to engineering a table with drawers is that it doesn't rely on the proportions or the style of the table. You can cut big legs or little legs; you can set the aprons flush to the legs or inset them; you can turn the legs or taper them; you can make the table long and low and turn it into a coffee table or tall and long and call it a writing desk.
What I hope I've constructed here is a conceptual framework onto which you can overlay your own design ideas. □
Will Neptune is a furniture maker in Acton, Mass., and a former woodworking instructor at North Bennet Street School in Boston.
Inner runner Square-dimensioned (or kicker) guide for drawer side
joining the runner (or kicker) to the divider to leave room for the vertical tenons of the partition.
Inner runner Square-dimensioned (or kicker) guide for drawer side joining the runner (or kicker) to the divider to leave room for the vertical tenons of the partition.
Notch the tenon
HEADBOARD Headboards vary in design and can be made from a single, solid board or be of frame-and-panel or post-and-rail construction.
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