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Building A Hickory Dresser

Building A Hickory Dresser

Next up in the shop, I will build this custom-designed 9-drawer hickory dresser for a client. It will feature exposed dovetail joinery for the framework and dovetail drawers. It will stand 33” tall 48” wide, and 18” deep, and will feature a hand-brushed lacquer finish.

When I was picking out the lumber from my supplier, I paid special attention to the grain of each board. I aim to have the drawers cut sequentially so the grain follows through each drawer and flows from drawer to drawer. I also hope I can get the top to mimic the grain of the drawers.

Board Selection for Dresser Drawers

Now that I have finished building the frame for the Dresser, I am starting to lay out to construct drawers. On a dresser, the drawers are everything. It is the main function of the dresser and the main visual. When I was purchasing the lumber for this project, I paid special attention to selecting complementary colors and grain-shaped boards for the drawer fronts. I also paid special attention to be sure that the grain of each board had an interesting flow. I put the most figured board on the bottom and worked my way up the dresser to have the least figured board for the top drawers. Doing this adds a nice visual effect of the piece being grounded and not top-heavy. If I were to put the board with the most grain movement on the top, it might make the dresser feel top-heavy from a visual standpoint.

Once I have the boards oriented on how I want them, I first rough-cut them to a manageable size. I then custom-cut each drawer to fit each opening in the frame. By doing this, I ensured that each drawer would fit the dresser perfectly.

Follow the link if you want me to build you a custom hickory dresser.

dovetailed frame

I started out building the framework of the dresser using sliding dovetails on the exposed joinery. I felt it would be a nice touch instead of using standard dados. The sliding dovetails are stronger than dados and are considered to be a hallmark of fine handcrafted furniture. I also hope that it will make my craftsmanship stand out from the crowd; it is not a design element that one sees very often.

Cutting Dovetails for dresser drawers

I used a Leigh dovetail jig to cut the dovetails and paid special attention to be sure that each tail was the same size and that the top tail and bottom ½ tails were of equal size. I used Poplar for the sides of the drawers. Poplar is fairly inexpensive wood and mills well, which makes it a great choice as a secondary wood. I also liked the contrast in color between it and the darker end grain of the hickory. Once the dresser is constructed and finished with lacquer, I think the contrast will stand out nicely.

Sliding Dovetail Drawer glide

When constructing the dresser drawers, I applied a sliding dovetail drawer glide to the bottom of each drawer and applied the corresponding pin to the framework of the dresser. This replaces the need for mechanical drawer glides that can get bent, lose their ball bearings, and be just plain ugly. With this sliding dovetail option, there is nothing to get bent or out of a line, and visually it is unseen under the drawer. It also lends to a smooth drawer operation.


Building The Top


It is time to start the final phase of construction, to build the top of the dresser. This picture does not show the grain direction very well, but I tried to mimic the same grain shapes and flow on the top as I did on the drawers. I feel it will tie the whole design together.
Once I decided on the layout of the boards, I thickness-planed them and straightened their edges for glue-up. I used biscuits in the glue-up as an alignment tool rather than worrying about adding strength. I think the glue by itself is strong enough. I spaced the biscuits about 18” along the top length to help align the boards flush with each other. Although I have never experienced dips in table tops where biscuits are located, I have heard of it happening. So when I cut the slots for the biscuits, I always set the depth so it cuts the biscuit below the centerline or about two-thirds of the way down the thickness of the board. By doing this, I am maximizing the thickness of the top above the biscuit in hopes that the extra thickness will prevent a dip where the biscuit is located; so far, I have had good success with this technique.

Before attaching the top, I will use a sanding sealer and a coat of lacquer to seal the underside of the dresser top. By sealing the underside of the top, I hope to reduce the chance of warping and cracking due to the natural expansion and contraction of the wood with the changes in humidity. The theory is that the piece will expand and contract more equally if both sides are sealed up.

Follow the link if you want me to build you a custom hickory dresser.

Finishing Touches on the Hickory Dresser

Custom hickory dresser


Well, here is the finished product. A 9-drawer hickory dresser with a hand-brushed lacquer finish. The drawer faces, tops, and framework is made from solid hickory. The drawer sides are made using polar, which gives a nice contrast to the hickory drawer fronts once they are finished with lacquer. I used a sliding dovetail for the drawer glides and dust frames between each bank of drawers.

This project turned out really great, and the client loves her new hickory dresser. Upon completing this project, she moved to Scotland, so I am proud to say that my craftsmanship spans the globe.

Follow this link if you want me to build you a custom Hickory Dresser.

How-to plans for a similar dresser are available here.  How to Build an eight-drawer tall dresser. 

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.