Sliding Dovetails for Drawer Fronts

In trying to come up with a design that will insure my drawer dimensions (I haven't quite mastered my Keller yet; my dovetails fit fine, but drawer dimensions are only approximate when I use it) for my drawer slides, I decided to go with a sliding dovetail.
Seems easy enough when you get the pin (tail? the part that will slide into the slot) sussed out. But I did notice some caveats from a number of the google hits. To wit:
1. These joints may not be the choice for drawers that carry heavy loads. I assume that the use of ball bearing slides alleviates this concern, as the drawer will open easy no matter what.
2. These joints should not be made with ply as the structure of plywood is too weak. Really? Even given my use of the ball bearing slides?
3. Most sliding dovetails are tapered on the pages I found. If I make the fit slightly loose (very slightly) and use a gorilla glue type product, will that be sufficient?
Thanks,
D'ohBoy
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IIRC also known as a French DT...

Heavy loads cause excess strain on the joint because of the orientation/direction of the force on the joint, as you have probably surmised. Ball bearing slides will help relieve the strain when opening the drawer BUT if the case that the drawer fits into is the limiter of travel when closing the drawer rather than the limits of the slides being the limit of travel the excess ease of the heavy drawer slamming shut could knock the drawer front off.

Probably.
These joints are tapered so that you can actually slide them together. With out a taper It would be difficult to glue and slide them together. Tapering leaves every thing relative loose until they are completely closed. You can make straight slightly loose but too loose would be likely. Use of Gorilla Glue, you did not mention which Gorilla Glue you would be using would not be helpful. Although some Gorilla Glues foam and fill voids this filling in has very very little strength, it is mostly dried bubbles not a solid bond.
I would say forget this style joint unless you make it correctly. DT's are not simple and do require practice. I would suggest you figure out what it would take to make your jig make accurate sized boxes and go with the traditional through or HB DT joint.
It has been my experience that store bought manufactured furniture that has the sliding DT joint in the drawers tends to be cheaply made, IMHO it is a cost cutter joint. I would be more likely to use a rabbet joint over a sliding DT joint for drawers.
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D'ohBoy wrote:

Sides or slides? I'm assuming "sides"... ___________

I would think so. Even without slides I'd think it would be fine.
I have a tool storage table with lots of drawers. Drawer sides are rabbeted - not dovetailed - into the fronts, glued and pinned with 2-3 1/8" dowels. Wood slides. Some of the drawers are quite heavy - wrenches, sockets, etc. - and none have failed since I made them 17 years ago. Solid wood but I'd not hesitate to do the same with ply. _________________

See above but solid wood is much nicer. ________________

I almost always make sliding dovetails nowadays. Not tapered, never had the need. As long as you can get them on (and off) by hand - perhaps with a light smack - they will be fine with woodworker's glue (Gorilla Glue sucks).
FWIW, I use overlay fronts a lot. That means the side is narrower than the front which means the dovetail pin in the side is shorter than the socket in the front. I make extra pins and fill the void with same.
--

dadiOH
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Some tips on the whole Megillah. ************************************************************************************* http://www.dewalt.com/us/articles/article.asp?Site=woodworking&ID=511 *********************************************************************************************

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*************************************************************************************http://www.dewalt.com/us/articles/article.asp?Site=woodworking&IDQ1
*********************************************************************************************
Interesting. There is as much diversity of opinion here as on the larger web.
Anyhoo, despite Leon's negativity on this idea, I'm gonna do it. Will post my efforts on lumberjocks.
Thanks to all for their input.
D'ohBoy
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I've done this once. See here:
http://www.garagewoodworks.com/Walnut_Bedside_Tables_C.php
I would do it again in a second. Very easy to make the dovetailed slides and easy to install.

Correct.
Probably too weak. Never tried with ply.

Needs clarification here.

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This is me again. I forgot to change accounts again. I ended up with two gmail accounts somehow.
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On Wed, 13 Jan 2010 10:28:26 -0800 (PST), the infamous Brian Grella

Simple. It appears that he'll use the gap-filling quality of Gorilla glue to, um, glue his drawers in? ;) I think he should use Gorilla Epoxy for this, myself.
-- What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient, but restless mind, of sacrificing one's ease or vanity, of uniting a love of detail to foresight, and of passing through hard times bravely and cheerfully. -- Charles Victor Cherbuliez
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wrote:

I thought maybe he didn't own a safe and wanted to lock something in the drawers. Maybe someone keeps stealing his goods? :^| <mumbles to self and slowly walks away>

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Uhh. Nevermind. You meant drawer "side", not drawer "slide"/guide.

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On 1/13/2010 12:42 PM, GarageWoodworks wrote:

Thought the same thing the first time I looked at it. :)
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On Wed, 13 Jan 2010 05:44:43 -0800 (PST), "D'ohBoy"

Sliding dovetails are not ideal for drawers. There can be a lot of force against the front and back, even with roller glides. The force exerted depends on how the drawer might be used (or abused).

Not sure. Really depends on the ply quality and today that can vary. I can see some force exerted directly on the glue plane inside the dovetail.

Your sliding dovetail should be snug, not loose, but not too tight either. Yellow carpenters glue (Elmers, Titebond, etc) is best. For a sliding dovetail you can put the glue just in the first inch or so and it will spread as the joint is pressed together.
You might want to rethink your choice of joinery. Consider traditional dovetails or a lock joint. You can make a lock joint with a router bit or table saw.
I might use a quality ply for a shop drawer, but certainly not for "fine furniture." Poplar, pine, or other secondary 1/2" thick wood is often used for drawer sides. Do you have a surface planer?
I have grown to prefer handcut dovetails because I enjoy making them. The skill is fairly easy to learn with some practice (took me about 10 days).

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You can do it, but except in certain circumstances it's a poor construction method.
If the drawer face overlays the carcase, you'll see the dovetail slot - so that's out.
If it's an inset drawer with sides at the full width of the front, the dovetail groove will be very close to the end of the door front. That's pretty weak, and will split out easily. Don't even think about a tapered dovetail. Tapered dovetails are good only when the groove is well away from a board's end.
If it's an inset drawer with a front that overhangs the sides by quite a bit - as when you are using mechanical slides on the drawer sides - it will be structurally sound. You'll still see the joint at the top edge of the drawer, though.
Whatever the style, you have to put it together - and you will not be able to house the drawer bottom in all four pieces if you use sliding dovetails at all four corners.
Master your dovetail jig, or learn to cut them by hand.
John Martin
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WOW! You guys are full of something! Anyhoo, to put a few things to rest:
1. These are for a shop cart, and will be edge-banded so I *won't* see the joint at the top of the drawer.
2. These are inset drawers with slides (sides will be 1/2" from ends), and I don't plan to dovetail the back end.
3. John, your final admonishment is well taken. But I need to get this cart done. The materials are scrap, the cart is in the shop, and if it all fails next week, then I just make some fresh drawers using other techniques.
As for "cutting them by hand", gimme a freakin' break. It's mostly retired duuds who live in their shop/lucky guys have time for that.
Again, thanks to all for their very special individual take on this question ;-)
D'ohBoy
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John Martin wrote:

Not necessarily, see below. _____________

If seeing the joint bothers one it is no big deal to "stop" the socket cut; result, no joint visible. If the front is an overlay, you will have a bit of empty socket at the bottom rear of the front; an easy solution is to make some extra pins, cut off a portion and use it to fill the void. _______________

Time was that it was pretty normal for the drawer back to be on top of the bottom.
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Agreed. Time was. Drawer bottoms were solid wood - fairly thick but with fielded edges to fit into the grooves in the drawer front and sides. They were not attached at the back and since the grain of the bottom went crossways that allowed the bottom to expand and contract. Sometimes a screw or two in the middle with the bottom floating in the groove in the door front.
Today, with plywood used for most drawer bottoms, there is no expansion problem. And with thin plywood, a groove in the drawer back provides support - which is why some prefer it.
Without a full-height grooved back there is no way to have air pressure pop one drawer as you close another, which is something I happen to like....
John Martin
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Glue strength is best in shear. Strength will be excellent no matter what glue you use. Joint fit is more important for looks.
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