Dresser – Rails and Runners

Slow and shaky work continues on the dresser.  Here are some highlights from the next stage of the build – fitting the internal parts (rails and runners).


Here is the goal for this step; a nicely fitted rail into the case side.  How do you get here?  It starts with a saw.

Drawer_runner-2 Drawer_runner-3

By now you should know how to size boards and prep them for joinery (4 square).  Saw one end of your rail square and “shoot” it to perfection, if you like.  I like my Lee Valley Bevel Up Jack Plane for this purpose.  That is about the only time I use this plane, because I generally prefer bevel down.


Using the end of the rail that you just made square, trial fit the rail into the dado.  Don’t expect all of the dados to be the same size, because they were cut by hand. Fit each rail into it’s home (dado) and keep up with the correct location and orientation of each piece.


If the rail is too thick to fit, I use a fine set plane to knock the end off until it fits.  Use this method if you are off less than 1/16 inch; if you are off more than that, consider sawing something (the board or the dado).  To me, this is easier than opening up the dado.

Drawer_runner-5 Drawer_runner-6

Once the first end fits into it’s dado, slide it in and mark the correct length of the rail on the other end.  Notice I’m marking the end from inside the case. That makes line #1 in the picture above.  I don’t saw to that line, because that is too risky.  I make the rail a little longer and saw to that length (line 2).  I then “shoot” the rail to the perfect length, checking the fit every few passes.  The shooting plane allows very fine adjustments, which makes it easier to get a perfect (fingers crossed) fit.


Plowing a groove in a runner to accept a dust panel.  The panel is optional, but it’s a nice touch.

Behind the rails go the runners.  Those are the pieces that “run” from the front to back of the case and are the slides for the drawers.  My runners are quarter-sawn white oak.  There is no need to buy QS stock; I bought a flat-sawn 8/4 (2 inch thick) board and made my own QS runners with my bandsaw.

Fit the runners into the dados by the same process as the rails.  Remember to leave the runners long enough to have a tenon on each end that will go into a shallow mortise in the front and back rails.


Sawing the shoulders for the tenon on a rail.

Feeling lucky?  Here is a fun way to make tenons for the runners.  When the tenon is relatively short and the board has fairly straight grain, you can chop it out with a chisel faster than sawing.  First, saw the shoulders with a crosscut saw.

Drawer_runner-10 Drawer_runner-11

No need for a rip saw.  Once you saw the shoulders, the tenons can quickly be freed with a chisel and a mallet.  Examine the grain direction to avoid removing your tenon – the split created by the chisel will follow the grain!  A wide chisel is nice to have for this step.


Trial fit the runner into the rail.  The groove for the dust panel is only 1/4 inch deep, and the mortise in the rail (inline with the groove) 1/2 deep, so the runner is constrained and will not slide in the groove.

My back rails are cypress.  This swamp tree is perfect for a non-wear surface that does not show because it is relatively cheap, easily worked, and easy to find (in Memphis).  It is my secondary wood of choice when wear resistance is not needed.

Drawer_runner-14 Drawer_runner-13

Before you glue up the insides, counterbore and drill holes through the sub-top for the screws that will eventually be used to secure the top.  I like these little cup washers from Lee Valley.  They “convert” a regular countersunk screw into one having a flat behind the head.  I think it is less likely to split the wood and should allow wood movement with less resistance.  At least that is what I tell myself.


Check the fit of all rails and runners before applying glue.  I glued the front rails to the case sides, not the back rails because the sides of the case need room to move.  Sorry, I forgot to take pictures with the clamps on.  Yes, I used 1/4 inch plywood (gasp) for the panels.  I don’t care that it is not traditional.  As a panel, plywood is an excellent use of materials and saves time.  Feel free to make solid wood panels for your hidden components that are not structural.

Next up, the frame and panel back (and a little more plywood).

Bob Jones

5 thoughts on “Dresser – Rails and Runners

  1. Pingback: A back for a not-so-square case | The Christian Tool Cabinet

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