26 July 2015

Drawer Dilema.

I've been to several very well known and highly esteemed training schools in the last couple of years, where young (or even not so young) makers were encouraged to produce so called 'piston fit' drawers.
There's nothing inherently wrong with the practise as it encourages absolute precision in the making and fitting of parts. A drawer thus made and fitted, by anyone, is an achievement to be naturally chuffed about...and quite rightly so.

But I've always been faced by a slight niggle about this sort of thing, for example, I saw a well made piece recently where one drawer was just about sliding in and out, but the other one by it's side had seized solid!

The one that moved was obviously a perfectly fitted drawer...but is it a good drawer?

A 'piston' fit drawer will only ever be a piston fit on the day it's fitted or on a day when the weather conditions are identical. Even the slightest change in the temperature or humidity on any of the  following days, weeks or months will play havoc with the fit. Moving a piece from the workshop to the house...

...as I did with this bow fronted cabinet was enough to jam the drawers and...

... I had to return to it at least six times with a block plane to ease them before they fitted comfortably.

The late Edward Barnsley is reputed to have toured the country with a block plane in his jacket pocket to see clients with similar afflictions. If a piece were ever to go to the West Indies, then a 'piston fit' drawer would be on a hiding to nothing.

A drawer can be classified as a perfect fit (not necessarily a 'piston' fit) when it slides smoothly in and out, with the minimum of finger pressure, under all atmospheric conditions.

And that's probably even harder to do.

As one very good maker replied to my question some years ago about fitting drawers...

"Make 'em baggy, Rob...make the bloody things baggy!" which makes perfect commercial sense.

I rest my case, M'Lud.


Ralph J Boumenot said...

I like watching piston fit but I agree and do baggy.

sam r said...

I was pondering this very thing last night. Krenov (apt, given the cabinet design pictured!) writes about it too - I think in A Cabinet Makers Notebook - that students would be spending all night before the examination making sure doors and drawers were just so, but that really these sorts or tolerances are more suitable to metal engineering than cabinet making. Really, the whole piston-fit things seems to stem from those selling training courses - it is an impressive trick - with a "look, you could do this too" marketing line. I think there are many courses that are not aimed at aspiring professional cabinet makers who want to make a living, more the "gentlemen woodworker" looking for a pleasing pastime. Which is not to say that it is not valid, but the perspectives are wildly different.