Making Modern Drawer Handles With Wood

Deciding on the handle style for the mid century dresser wasn’t easy.  I knew that I did not want metal hardware – there are certainly some styles that go with the design, but it just seemed too easy to bolt them on to the front of piece and call it done.  I briefly entertained the idea of buying pre-made wooden pulls that would require insetting, but since there was no way I would find them in avodire I would have to settle for a different species (likely maple) and hope they would finish up in the same color.  With as much effort as I put into the construction of the piece, it was easy to decide that this was not an option.  It was clear that I needed to make the handles – but I did not want them to look “homemade”.  If that makes any sense!
Searched for ideas and found a style that looked agreeable with the design.  I made a mock up in poplar; the dimensions were a bit undersized and the top grip was a little thin, but I loved the way they looked.  So I proceeded with the real versions, making these minor adjustments on the fly.  Final dimensions ended at 4  3/4″ x 1  5/8″ x  5/8″  Here is how they were made:
  1. Rip 3″ strips of 3/4″ thick stock.  To keep workpieces large enough to work safely on power tools, I made 4-5 handles per length of board.  Center waste is removed before cutting into individual handles.
  2. Run a cove down the center using a 1 1/2″ diameter core box bit on the router table (multiple passes for safety!)thumb_IMG_0224_1024
  3. Mark the ends of each center void with a square. I flexed a business card to carry the lines inside the coves.thumb_IMG_0226_1024
  4. Use a 3/4″ Forstner bit to remove most of the waste on a drill press. Note, the void is not centered in the cove, it is about 1/8″ or so from one edge of where the cove starts – this is the top of the handle. Use a back stop to ensure the drill path is straight.thumb_IMG_0229_1024
  5.  Use a chisel to pare away remaining stock in the void.  To prevent long-grain tearout, pare very thin slivers.  Do not chop directly to the line! Experience….thumb_IMG_0230_1024
  6. Rasps and sandpaper finished the interior shaping.  My Moxon vice worked great for holding the work in position.thumb_IMG_0238_1024
  7. Cut to final height on the table saw. The top cut is actually a 7 degree angle, leaving a comfortable wedge shape grip to the handle – it gets thicker the closer it is to the drawer front.  Round over the handle grip and knock down the bottom lip of the cove with a block plane (the top of the handle protrudes a bit further than the bottom.thumb_IMG_0279_1024
  8.  Cut the long pieces into individual handles. For consistent width, I just made some marks on my cross-cut sled for reference.thumb_IMG_0275_1024
  9. Make a handle template in MDF to exact dimension desired.  Affix each handle to this template with double-sided tape and shape to size on a belt sander. Could also use a bearing guided router bit, but I was concerned about tearout.  With the sander method there is no guide or stop, so had to be careful not to hit the template and end up with differently shaped handles. (I did eat into it a bit here and there, but I won’t admit it if you ask.  Don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough!)thumb_IMG_0281_1024
  10.  Finally, more rasping and sanding to to get to final shape and finish.

When it came to installation the next trick was to get the handles glued to the same spot on each drawer, parallel with the horizontal lines of the piece.  I knew the glue would cause them to float around a bit if I tried to just clamp in place, so to accomplish this:

  1. I made a couple templates from MDF – one for the left side of the drawers, the other for the right (and marked accordingly).  Rather than trying to cut a perfectly size void in the middle of a single piece of MDF, templates were made to the exact size of the top drawer fronts using four pieces each, carefully cutting the center strip to the width of the handles, then gluing together using one of the handles to space the void properly.
  2. Made a couple of cauls from scrap blocks of wood.  I just used a block plane to mimic the cove in the handles, which nested into the handles with precision (almost like I planned it!).  With the flat side up, I could clamp to the drawer face with good, even pressure.   thumb_IMG_0458_1024
  3. Clamped the templates to the drawers, carefully aligned.thumb_IMG_0457_1024
  4. From there simply applied glue to the handles and placed into template, dropped in the cauls, and clamped.  I needed a fair amount of throat clearance to get to the cauls, so a couple old school wooden twin twists did the trick.thumb_IMG_0469_1024

With two templates I was able to making quick work of the process.  I am glad I decided to make these, they enhance the dresser very well.

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