Dovetails for Front Only?

How about if we dovetail just the front joints of a drawer box, and just staple the back? Cabinetmakers kick the suggestion around. July 9, 2007

Would it be fine to use 1/2" Baltic birch with dovetails in the front of the drawer and just stapled in the back when I use 3/4 extension undermount drawer slides? I am looking at a way to cut down production time when I don't order my drawers. I use an Omnijig for half blind dovetails and am considering doing this on occasion. Does anyone have any input?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
It doesn't take much to run the dovetails once the jig is set up. Even with 10 drawers, I can't imagine saving more than 45 minutes to an hour, but that would also have to be offset by using two assembly methods. One of the nice things about dovetailing is, it's usually easy to come out with a square box (assuming your parts are accurate). Anyway, I would suggest doing a quick time study on it. Have you and/or one of your employees make one using each method. Interesting idea, though... capitalizing on the 3/4" extension as opposed to full extensionů Kudos on the creativity.

From contributor F:
The problem I see with that logic is that it seems to indicate that the dovetails are merely cosmetic to you. If you can't see 'em, you don't need 'em? Maybe we can just use dovetail decals and really save some time! Just kidding. Might take just as long to keep track of which ends not to machine as to just machine them all.

From contributor B:
If you are building dovetail drawers in response to customer demand, then it would be dishonest to eliminate that joint from the back of the box. If they are not asking/don't care, then why build them? Glue and staple the Baltic birch with butt joints or rabbets and see how strong that is. I think you will find that it is very strong.

From contributor O:
Not a bad idea. All the stress is at that point in a drawer, and not in the back. It's for show and does add strength. Great idea! Days gone by when there were only wooden drawer frames, you needed dovetails to hold a drawer together over time. I've seen 50 year old nailed together drawer boxes with lousy guides hold up very well. It's all showmanship and a selling point, plus some extra strength. The questioner's drawers should last 100 years.

From contributor P:
I like to dovetail front and back. To me, it eliminates one more process or setup and as others said, it doesn't take much more to just switch them around instead of messing around with another setup. And it's easier I think to glue up square without clamps. Sometimes a brad will hold them steady long enough to dry.

From the original questioner:
Really the reason not to dovetail the backs are for the notches for undermount hardware. What I did here was dado 1/2" up on all four pieces, then rip the back piece where the dado is so I have a slide in for the drawer bottom with no need to notch. I tried this with dovetailing front and back, then ripping for the slide in for the bottom, but that left me with one tail on the bottom that stood alone. What I did on this try was just dovetail the front (where most of the strength is needed), then butt joint the back on and staple. The front and back are the same length which makes it easier. I definitely wouldn't try to fool anyone and that is why I posted this. This would be only for paint grade kitchens I believe, and for people who don't know the difference or want to save money. If money is no object I would just order the drawers because I find little pleasure in making drawers.

From contributor B:
While it's an extra step, you could always dado the sides at the rear for your back. Certainly stronger than stapling. The only drawback I've noticed is since BB can vary a good .020" from sheet to sheet, it can make it difficult to square and the blank for the back has to crosscut to a different length than the front.