The Society of American Period Furniture Makers

Tools and Techniques => Period design and construction => Topic started by: donstephan on May 10, 2010, 08:26:10 PM

Title: Drawer Slips
Post by: donstephan on May 10, 2010, 08:26:10 PM
My only info to date on drawer slips has been current writings.  Apparently there were two basic types, "flush" approx 3/4" x 3/4" and "quadrant" that was taller than it was wide, with the inside upper corner coved, beveled, or rounded over.  (Don't know if "quadrant" applied to all three edge treatments or just the latter.)  But again that was from recent sources.

I can't recall seeing any pictures of antique drawers with slips and I don't have any heritage woodworking texts that might describe their design and use.  Can anyone provide some historical info to satisfy my curiosity?  Thanks.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Mark Arnold on May 12, 2010, 06:50:00 PM
Since I have never used slips, I hoped that someone else would have responded to your question. On his blog, Chris Swarz gives some benefits of slips, but having read them, I'm not sold. He states, "In some accounts, drawer slips are a mark of quality work. David Denning in The Art and Craft of Cabinet-making (Pitman, page 186) says that joiners typically grooved their drawer sides. Cabinetmakers typically used slips." If this is true, then I don't know any cabinetmakers, only joiners. As discussed in a thread elsewhere on this forum, the distinction between a joiner and a cabinetmaker doesn't appear to be the techniques used to join their work, but rather the use of veneer (cabinetmaker), and possibly semantics. Chris points out that the use of slips can avoid the need for a half tail at the bottom of each drawer side. I've always located the groove at the bottom of a full tail--about 1/2"-5/8" from the drawer bottom. I do see his point about fishing objects out of the bottom of a drawer, but this hardly seems a sufficient reason to start using slips. I wonder if it is a construct used more where softwood drawer sides may wear prematurely. The slip could provide additional bearing surface...just wondering. Anybody else have any thoughts?
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: msiemsen on May 12, 2010, 07:56:31 PM
In the last Popular Woodworking magazine Glen Huey comments that slips are uncommon in American furniture though they were used on the dressing table he copies for a recent article. I have never used them myself and don't recall seeing any on American period pieces. May be some others will chime in.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: millcrek on May 12, 2010, 09:07:54 PM
I have used slips of a sort in the process of repairing  extremely worn drawers with very thin sides, but not in new construction. To the best of my memory I don't remember ever having a piece come in the shop for repair that used slips.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Bob Rozaieski on May 13, 2010, 08:34:48 AM
I've heard/read, though I really can't remember where, that slips were more commonly found in English furniture, but the practice of using them wasn't really adopted in the colonies so we don't frequently see them in American pieces.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: rdare on May 13, 2010, 09:20:38 PM
S;ips are common in British furniture even to this day. The few American pieces with slips seem to have been made by recent immigrants from Britan.

Anecdotaly, drawer slips seem to have arisen during a period when drawer sides were of oak and makers used fine (London pattern) dovetail pins. In order to visually balance construction, the sides were made quite thin, onthe order of 5/16" to3/8". This creates a couple of problems. The sides are too thin to groove for bottoms and the narrow sides eat into the runners. Drawer slips solve both of these problems by housing the bottom and trebeling the contact area of the sides thereby substantially reducing wear.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: donstephan on May 15, 2010, 05:56:02 PM
Thanks everyone for your input.  I have been following the comments daily with great interest
Thinner drawer sides I find more pleasing, and wider bearing surfaces much more long lasting, so I hope to incorporate drawer slips in most drawers.  Just wish I could find examples of the tall slips that are referenced in modern writings, to see how they were actually proportioned and shaped.
Again, much thanks.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Adam Cherubini on May 17, 2010, 04:20:26 AM

I don't get it.  Are we talking about the strips glued onto the bottoms of drawers?  If so, these are very typical of 18th c case furniture. 

The responses you've gotten tell me I'm missing something.  Will someone please clue me in?  I'm thinking theat slips are applied to drawer bottoms to improve fit and or wear.  Kickers are installed in the case above the drawer sides to stop drawers from tipping when opened.  Do I have my defintions right?

Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Bob Rozaieski on May 17, 2010, 09:22:40 AM
Adam, I think of slips as strips that were glued to the thin drawer sides, and occasionally the front. they were used as an alternative to plowing a groove in the drawer sides/front to house the drawer bottom. The groove was plowed in the slips, rather than the drawer sides/front. So the slips are visible on the bottom of the drawer, as well as on the inside of the drawer. Nothing was glued to the drawer bottom in this case. The drawer bottom was made in the same way as it would be if the drawer sides had the groove (albeit slightly narrower) and still slid into the groove in the slips from the back of the drawer.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Adam Cherubini on May 17, 2010, 11:53:09 AM
Ok.  Thanks Bob.  That's what Chris Schwarz described and I've never seen that. 

What I've seen are the little filler strips glued to the bottoms of drawers.  They are very typical of pieces I've looked at (18th c Philadelphia, London, seen some 18th c N.E. pieces with them but enough to say they were typical).  I looked at Goddard's drawers...what?......they were a bit different.  He beveled the edge of the drawer bottom and applied a beveled filler/slip whatever you call it.  Not exactly sure why, except that it DOES increases the volume of the drawer by the height of the slip. I guess it also helps with the layout of the dts in that the normal way, you have to take into account the thickness of the bottom and the thickness of the applied strip to locate the drawer side on the front.  The way Goddard did it, it seems like he neglected the strip and then just beveled the bottom and applied the strip to fill in the bevel.  If you get my drift.  That shop did funny things though.  And their drawers are funny. 


Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: jacon4 on May 18, 2010, 05:17:48 AM
Here's Glen's video of a QA lowboy he built that used drawer slips. I myself have never seen this done on American period pieces but since this is a copy of an American piece,  obviously it did happen sometimes.

Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: jacon4 on May 18, 2010, 05:53:37 AM
"Not exactly sure why, except that it DOES increases the volume of the drawer by the height of the slip."

I think Glenn is correct in that drawer slips give more material for the drawer to ride on  plus on very wide drawers that center strip gives a much more rigid drawer bottom, very clever those English.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: rdare on May 18, 2010, 09:23:06 PM
On page 245 of Alan Peters revision of Joyce's Encyclopedia of Furniture Making are drawings of high and flush slips.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Jack Plane on June 06, 2010, 06:23:44 PM
Drawer slips were a product of industrialised Britain, visible in any Victorian chest.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Chuck Bender on August 19, 2010, 03:07:40 PM
I know I'm late to this party but I've never seen drawer slips on an American piece. The original dressing table Glen copied for the magazine did not have slips. The photos I sent to him were misinterpreted to be drawer slips. In fact, there were glue blocks attached to the drawer bottom and drawer side but the bottom was set into a dado in the drawer sides.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: jacon4 on August 20, 2010, 05:07:40 AM
OK, i am throughly confused now. Glue blocks on the drawer bottom? I dont get it.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: gvforster on August 20, 2010, 09:50:16 AM
glue blocks on drawer bottoms- see John Seymour furniture
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Chuck Bender on August 21, 2010, 03:16:55 PM
To help clear up the confusion a bit, I've posted pics of the drawer bottom construction. These are the photos I took of the original piece that Glen copied for the article.

In the first picture, you can see that the drawer bottom is beveled on the edges and the glue blocks fasten the bottom to the rabbeted drawer sides. In the second photo you can see how the glue blocks run the length of the drawer. The drawer bottom on this particular piece is nailed into the drawer front but I've also seen the front beveled and glue blocked as well. If this still doesn't make sense, let me know and I'll see if I can post something that's clearer. ( (
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Adam Cherubini on August 21, 2010, 04:31:34 PM
Thanks Chuck.  That's a huge help.

What I'm seeing looks like standard Philly/London drawer construction to me.  Only difference between this piece and others I've described is the rabbeted drawer sides.

Don't mean to sound snarky in any way- I don't understand what the reluctance is to recognize this as true period construction.  So many of my friends insist drawer bottoms were let into grooves plowed in the drawer sides and that just isn't so.  I'm sure somebody did that in the 18th c, but I don't think I've ever seen it.  Nailed up bottoms seem quite typical.  Secondly, when shown this sort of construction, I don't understand why guys don't reproduce it.  I think guys have decided these nailed up bottoms are a terrible idea and therefore never existed.  What's funny about this is every one of these I've seen is in as good shape as this one.

Thanks for clearly this up for us Chuck. You rock.

Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: jacon4 on August 22, 2010, 07:30:05 AM
Neat, thanks for taking the time to provide pic's, it's alot easier to understand when one can see a photo as opposed to text only when describing a construction detail. Although i am not familar with Philly/London drawer construction, if Adam says it is typical, thats good enough for me.

I have seen & own 18th century period pieces with drawer bottoms both  nailed on directly to drawer sides and with a slot cut into the drawer side to accept the drawer bottom. I think  construction details depended mainly on where the immigrant was trained, there were differences in joinery technique between England & Germany for instance.

I didnt know that many of todays woodworkers deny that nails were used to attach drawer bottoms, maybe it's like paint decoration, many dont like it either so it NEVER HAPPENED! LOL
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Jack Plane on September 07, 2010, 09:44:02 PM
I concur; from the early eighteenth century, drawer sides had shallow rebates (rabbets to you) in the lower internal edges to accommodate the drawer bottoms and drawer runners which were glued into the rebate. The front edges of the drawer bottoms were let into a groove ploughed into the inside bottom face of the drawer fronts and the back of the drawer bottoms were nailed to the under side of the drawer back.

Incidentally, I have also seen the drawer runners made up with short (presumably scrap) pieces of wood.

Drawer slips didn't appear until the early nineteenth century.
Title: Re: Drawer Slips
Post by: Chuck Bender on September 09, 2010, 07:41:55 AM
The short blocks is the usual way I see this type of drawer construction. The photos I posted were, in my opinion, odd construction using only a single block up each side. Sometimes the front was rabbeted as well and the drawer bottom blocked as it is along the sides.