For the Baby and Beyond A Chest of Drawers Designed with Growing Up in Mind

This mahogany chest of drawers blends traditional lines with a modem day idea. The top is a dressing table for changing a baby’s diapers. Down below are convenient storage drawers. When diapers are outgrown, a miniature chest of drawers stands ready for a child’s use. Later, the piece can serve the next generation.

Interpreting an Early American design, craftsman Hugo van der Horst built the chest using post and panel construction. Subtle details like tapered legs and moulded edges give the sturdy structure a light and delicate feeling. These plans differ slightly from the piece in the photos in that the floating panel above the top drawer is now a one-piece apron.

The legs or «posts” (A) are perhaps the most critical members in the project. Nearly all the horizontal members relate to them in some way (see Figure 1). The easiest and most accurate way to lay out these pieces is Telling a Story

Choose a straight, square, and parallel piece of scrap wood that is at least 2″ wide and slightly longer than the finished length of the posts to use for your story pole. Identify the best end as the bottom, and. taking all your measurements from this end, mark out the locations of the horizontal members according to the dimensions shown in Figure 2. Use one edge of one face for marking the dimensions of the front rails and the other edge for the side rails. On the back face of your story pole, mark the locations for the back rails.

Now cut the posts to size, but don’t cut the tapers until after you’ve laid out and bored all the holes and completed any other machining. Mark all four sides of each piece in terms of its position in the cabinet (e.g.. front, left, inside surface, etc.), then transfer the layout lines from your story pole to the appropriate surface on each post. No two posts will be laid out the same, so take your time and think it all the way through.

Once the dowel locations are laid out on the posts, carefully lay out corresponding holes on the ends of the side rails (B and C), front rails (D), apron (E), and bottom front rail (F). Next, locate the centers of the side rails (B and C) and mark dowel holes at 1/2” to each side of center for the mullions (G).

You might as well do all your doweling simultaneously, so cut the top H-frame members (H, I, and J) to size and lay out their dowel holes as indicated in Figure 3.

When all the holes are drilled, set up your router with a 1/4″ straight bit. set to a depth of 3/8″. Use it to rout channels down the center of the inside edges of the side rails and both edges of each mullion. A router table with a fence is the best way to do this. With the fence set up 1/4″ away from the bit. just reference the outside face of each piece (including the posts) against it. To make the stopped grooves in the posts, mark starting and stopping points on the fence (as shown in Figure 4). Be sure to orient each piece according to its position in the cabinet; you’ll need two rails (D, E, and F) and posts. Glue the dowels into the ends of the rails First, then insert them into the two front posts and clamp this assembly, checking the drawer openings for square. Next, put together the side H-assemblies (B, C, and G) and the top H-frame (H. I, and J).

The leaf panels (M) and side panels (P) should be completely sanded and finished before they are installed. They should float freely within their frames to allow for expansion and contraction, so don’t get any glue on their edges or in the grooves they fit into. Fit the side panels into the H—assemblies, add the back posts, then apply the front assembly. Glue and screw the back rails (N and O) into their rabbets in the back posts.

When the top H-frame assembly is dry. apply the leaf runners (R) to the underside of the front and back members (H and I) to provide support for the leaves to slide on (see Figure 5). Attach the filler blocks (S) to the top side rails (B) to form the opening for the leaves.


Before attaching the top or the back, install the drawer rails (T) by pocket-screwing them flush to the inside edges of the posts. Screw your metal drawer guides directly to these rails. Study the manufacturers’ instructions to determine their proper positioning.

Cut the drawer fronts (U), sides (V), backs (W). and bottoms (X) to size according to the cutting list. (Make sure these dimensions will work with the type of drawer guides you use.) With a dovetail I router bit set up in your router table, cut sliding dovetail mortises centered 3/4″ from each end on the backs of the drawer fronts (U). Cut corresponding dovetail tenons on the front end of each drawer side (V). At the other end of the drawer sides cut a 3/8″ wide X 1/4″ deep dado 3/8″ from the end to accept the tongue of a 3/8″ X 3/8″ rabbet on the ends of the drawer backs (W). Cut a 1/4″ X 1/4″ groove 5-1/8″ from the top edge of the drawer sides and fronts to accept the bottoms (X) (see Figure 6). Be sure to stop this bottom groove when it enters the sliding dovetail mortise in the drawer fronts.

For final detailing on the drawer fronts, chamfer the back edges as shown in Figure 6, and use a 1/8″ round-over bit to trim the front edges. Assemble the drawer, then slide the bottom into its groove and drive a screw through it and into the drawer back.

Final Assembly

Once the drawer guides are all properly adjusted, install the top H-frame to the cabinet by gluing it to the inside surface of the apron (E) and the top back rail (N).

Cut the guard rails (Y and Z) to size and assemble them with through dovetails as shown in the photos, or make the back guard rail (Y) 1-1/2″ shorter than the cutting list suggests, and simply dowel it between the two side guard rails (Z). Clamp this guard rail assembly to the top and drive countersunk screws up through the top and into the back guard rail. Drive screws into the side guard rails too, but enlarge those holes in the top to allow for cross grain movement.

With the top upside down, position the chest upside down on top of it. Clamp it in place and drill screw holes through the H-frame and into the top. Make -slotted screw holes in the H-frame front 4 (H) and use round head screws with { washers to allow for wood movement. The screws through the H-frame back (I) j can be fixed securely.

Final Touches

Almost fully assembled, except for the back (AA), the chest is ready for finishing. Hugo prefers the durability of polymerized tung oil: he applies four coats of the finish, sanding lightly between coats. Fit the back into its rabbet and glue and screw it in place. Apply the drawer pulls of your choice and put 3/4″ diameter furniture glides on the bottom of each post. Finally, apply a coat of beeswax to the completed chest to give it a high shine.

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