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I am planning to replace two cupboard units of my old IKEA kitchen with one unit with three drawers. I have most of the parts planned, except for the attachment of the drawer fronts.

On the existing kitchen unit, the front of the drawer extends past the sides of the drawer. The front of the drawer is approx 1.2cm (~3/8") thick.

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I am going to make wooden drawers. My first idea was to use a dovetail joint, but to do that, as far as I understand I need to use a piece of wood approximately twice as thick as the present front and cut out parts on the side, so the drawer front would be something like this:

enter image description here

This could be doable, I know how to do a hidden dovetail joint, but in my opinion, it would not look good.

So I go around looking at other furniture I have in the house, an on a really old chest of drawers, I see joints like this:

enter image description here

I also found the same joint on some drawers made by a carpenter in the early '80s. The principle seems just to be a dado in the front and a fitting end on the side, like this:

enter image description here

Is there something to this joint that I do not understand? As far as I can see, I can make a cut in the front, about half the depth and 3-4 mm wide and make a fitting end on the side. I am pretty sure this is not as strong as a dovetail, the drawers will take kitchen utensils and I am planning to mount rails to make them silde easily.

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    A friend has a workbench drawer built from thin pine, put together with glued butt joints reinforced with nothing more than bamboo skewers used as dowels and it has held up perfectly over the years. Which is to say, you don't really need to overthink the construction of drawers. Drawer boxes, unless very stiff in their openings (which should be rectified) or extremely heavily loaded, are subject to no real stress. The pull of the front away from the drawer box is really the only thing we need concern ourselves with, and again, only of major concern if the drawer will hold serious weight.
    – Graphus
    Feb 15 at 8:22

2 Answers 2

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An easier way to approach this is to build the drawer box using any number of strong corners such as dovetails, finger joints, biscuits or spline attached corners without the front face panel. Set the depth of the drawer box so that it comes flush with the face of the cabinet face where the drawer face would make contact. Then create a separate drawer face, as plain or decorative as you wish, of the correct height and width allowing for a gap between drawers. This face can then be screwed to the drawer box from behind. The advantage here is that you can adjust its position so that the face panel is perfectly aligned with the cabinet where it might not properly align if it was made before the drawer box is installed. You can hold the face to the drawer box using double sided tape while adjusting its position.

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  • @MortenSickle Using this approach, you could even re-use the original drawer fronts, if they're in good shape, for an exact match.
    – gnicko
    Feb 15 at 23:39
  • @gnicko, if I'm reading right there wouldn't be enough of them.
    – Graphus
    Feb 16 at 9:27
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My first idea was to use a dovetail joint, but to do that, as far as I understand I need to use a piece of wood approximately twice as thick as the present front and cut out parts on the side...

Yes that's a standard way to do half-blind dovetails that are set back from ends.

It's worth noting that you can 'cheat' to make your job easier doing half-blind dovetails and simply glue on a face after standard through-dovetailing. If you are careful with your grain matching (e.g. if you resaw a thick face board and simply glue it back together) nobody will be able to tell.

Some consider the end result faux half-blind dovetails, and it is often referred to as faking the joint, but really it's just another way to skin this particular cat — the joint is about the result, not the method.

This could be doable, I know how to do a hidden dovetail joint, but in my opinion, it would not look good.

This cuts to the heart of how subjective aesthetics are! Most people consider dovetails one of the most, if not the most, attractive joint there is.

I also found the same joint on some drawers made by a carpenter in the early '80s. The principle seems just to be a dado in the front and a fitting end on the side...
Is there something to this joint that I do not understand?

No it is pretty much exactly what it looks like. A couple of us talked about this in the Comments a while ago but I can't find the relevant Q. And while this is obviously not a really good way (there's no best) to make drawers, it certainly does work.

I have an old factory-made chest of drawers where the drawers are constructed in exactly this way. Every single drawer is still solid as a rock, after at least 40 years and it might even date from the late 60s or early 70s.

I am pretty sure this is not as strong as a dovetail

While this is probably a fair assumption as I say above in my Comment it's not necessary for us to overthink drawer construction (as we tend to, cos we're woodworkers). Except in unusual use-cases even drawers made "weakly" can hold up just fine, especially with modern drawer slides to provide permanent easy sliding.

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