Options to Make Your Case: An Introduction


A woodworker “in the know” once said that as woodworkers we, “build a box, set a box on top of it and fit a box into it.” In his insightful definition, the first box – and the second, too, if you’re building a chest-on-chest – is the case in case construction. (The last box would be a drawer, if you were wondering.) So a case, at its basic existence, is essentially a box, or four sides joined together.

In this article we’re going to examine the box, beginning with the design of the four sides of the box, plus other parts joined to that box, including the drawer blades (horizontal pieces used to separate the front for drawer boxes) and the drawer runners and guides. With each of these topics, we’ll specifically look at the joinery used. While we’ll touch on many aspects of case construction, it is in no way exhaustive of the options available.

What’s Not a Case?

(Fig. 1) This Shaker Chest is not a case piece – it’s a post-and-panel project. Even so, there are many chest characteristics covered in building it.

To decide if a piece of furniture includes a case or not, an easy distinction is to look for the word chest in its title. Blanket chest, serpentine chest, chest-on-chest and block-front chest are all examples of furniture that begin as a case. But you also need to be careful. Not everything we toss into the “chest” category has a case.

Take, for example, a post-and-panel chest (Fig. 1). It has drawer openings divided by drawer blades, but it is not four pieces joined together to form a box. Legs at the corners kick it out of the chest category. In fact, it’s more like a table with aprons and legs – obviously a table is not case construction. It’s the legs that restrict its inclusion.

If you study a high chest of drawers, or highboys, it’s easy to determine that the top section of the piece is case construction. Making a call on the lower section is not as simple. Be careful. This is where you need to think before answering.

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4 thoughts on “Options to Make Your Case: An Introduction

  1. You left out one important step. To hold the panels together and keep them square, you need shelf brackets……OOPS….. I meant 3D SQUARES !

    1. Nice little shameless plug there, Robert. But, if you’re going to do it, do it right. http://www.jevonstoolco.com/

      1. Great article Guys .
        I read that the dust panel is used to hold the drawer runners in the shallow groove of the side.
        I know some woodworkers make the base separate from the solid walled case in order to make sure there is no restrictions on seasonal movement.

        1. Leo,

          You mean in place of a back rail? We cannot recall seeing that setup, but it would lock the runners against the case.

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