Hand-Made Drawer Pulls

17 Dec

I’ve got a thing for hand-made drawer pulls.  I really enjoy working with small fiddly things I guess.  Or maybe it’s because when I wholly wreck one it’s only a little scrap of wood that’s up in smoke.  Hard to say.

I like to think I’ve acquired a certain amount of wisdom on the matter, but lest I forget it, I want write down the process so that you and me both can remember to do it right next time.

The Project


It’s hard to see from the picture, but the drawer fronts are concave on the left and convex on the right.  I decided to make drawer pulls to match.


I think when it comes to construction, drilling the holes is far and away the most critical step.  You want to make sure to include the holes in your sketchup plans for both the drawers and the pulls (if you take your Sketchup that far).

Making smooth, 3d curving shapes in Sketchup is hard work, and I don’t know that it’s worth the effort to make full-fidelity drawer pulls in Sketchup.  This is the plan I used for my pulls – just a block shape with a sketch on it:


I made a printout of the visible faces here, and that was good enough.  One more thing – make your plan such that it’s actually about 1/8” of an inch or so taller than you actually intend.  As you’re carving, there’s just no avoiding nicking a corner of the stands, so just build in the idea of sanding off that bad 1/8” after you’re all done with final sanding.

Before you start, make sure you’ve got the screws you’re going to use in the final piece, so you know exactly how big to make your screw holes.  If you’re using brass screws, be sure and have steel copies of the exact same size as well – brass is soft, and stripping a screw would be a tragedy here.  (The idea is to drive in the steel screws to ease the way for the softer brass screws.)


So, getting back to the plan, the next thing to do is to cut out some blanks.  While you’re at it, cut an extra scrap to the same base dimensions (though maybe not as thick) and precisely drill the holes at the drill press.  (Use a punch or something to help your drill bit start dead on your hole.)

Next you want to drill the holes in the blanks – before you do any kind of shaping.  Clamp the template to each blank and drill to depth with a hand-drill or with the drill press.  Just make sure that the holes are a dead match for the template.

Next you want to use that template to drill the holes in your drawer fronts.  You want to place the template on the outside of the drawer, just in case the bit wanders a bit inside.  You really cannot count on a drill bit tracking straight through wood.

Carefully measure out the position of the template on the drawer front, clamp it down tightly, and measure one more time.  Then drill just little starter holes on both sides and then drill on through – again, to counter any wandering in the bit.

It’s a really good idea at this point to double check that you can screw through the drawer front into the blanks at this point.  At this point, a lot of work has gone into ensuring that everything will go together neatly, but if they don’t, you want to find out now, before you sink even more work into it.

It’s also a good idea to go ahead and drive the screws into the blank to the correct depth now (while they still have plenty of wood around them to keep it from splitting).

Roughing It Out

I took my SketchUp model and printed it out – in several copies, and then glued them on to my blanks.  Printing in Sketchup is tricky.  Here’s my tips on the matter:

  1. Make sure the thing you’re printing is square to the axis of the model – e.g. it needs to be right on the plane formed by the colored lines.  That’s pretty easy to achieve.
  2. Set the camera to a “Standard View” with “Parallel Projection” clicked on.
  3. The size of your on-screen viewpoint determines how much paper it’s going to try to use, so try to get your window sized down just enough to see the thing you’re trying to print.  (If you have your view at full screen and the thing you’re trying to print is a tiny pinprick, Sketchup will attempt to print a sheaf of blank paper.)
  4. File->Print Preview…   NEVER go for File-Print.  That’s a recipe for pain.
  5. Clear the “fit to page” and “use model extents” checkboxes.
  6. Make sure the boxes say “In the print out 1 inches / In SketchUp 1 inches”  If they don’t, jack with it until they do.

Phase 2 is sticking the paper onto your blank and whacking it out.  I use spray adhesive, because it’s what I’ve got handy.  Izzy Swan has some strong arguments for using Glue Stick.  And a lot of good ideas on carving too.

I chopped this out with the band saw:


Next I whacked some more off with a coping saw:


(Here’s where we lament not having a better vice.)

Then I got after it with a rasp:


as you can see, I broke it a bit.  That’s because I failed to rasp in the direction of the grain on one stroke.  Bad.  That’s what that extra 1/8” is for.

I also made a sketchup of the oval shape of the top, I tacked that on and hacked it off with a coping saw:



I rounded it out through a combination of stationary sander, hand-held sander, and hand-sanding.  I’m sure there’s a better set of tools, but in real life, the best tools are the ones you’ve actually got.  Some are faster than others, but some of those fast ones might also be great at chewing away wood that you would rather have kept.  Whatever gets it done.

Here’s this one after an encounter with the belt sander:


and after progressing through the grits to 150:


Again I don’t need to be concerned about the rounded tips because I’m going to belt-sand that off anyway.

I think the biggest deal when making one of these is the “Sand the sequence” mantra.  You need to make sure that each tool has removed all the scratches from the previous tool before you move on.

In Summation

I guess it took me about an hour per pull.  I enjoyed it too.  I guess the only regret I have is not using some nicer wood for this.  Like I said in the beginning, one of the charms is that if you completely wreck a piece, you’ve blown around 4/100ths of a board foot of lumber.  It’s a good excuse to pick up a few gems out of Woodcraft’s scrap bucket.


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