Does The World Really Need a Piston Fit Drawer?

Jamie Bradley student dovetail detail shot made from Padauk and Maple

Ah, the piston-fit drawer. These days, there aren’t many things that can’t be done by a really clever machine. And as the cost of these machines falls each year, so their ability to encroach into the world of handmade furniture increases. It used to be that a machine would have to make thirty or more units of a component or product to be worth the time spent programming it. Now a particularly complicated item can be more easily cut by a five axis CNC machine than by hand. Which is really annoying!

Fortunately, there are two things that such machines are particularly useless at. One is the evergreen fine dovetail. This is for the simple reason that cutters cannot be economically made with a fine enough neck or shank. Happy days.

The second thing is the piston-fit drawer. The basic premise of a piston-fit drawer is that it has to be made to incredibly fine tolerances. It must glide in and out out of its box without racking or sticking. It moves without any of the slop normally associated with a mass produced drawer.

Pin Sharp

Close up detail of dovetails for a students writing desk

Only a cabinetmaker trained to the very highest levels has the skills necessary to make a piston-fit drawer economically. It takes a hell of a lot of practice. You might find it hard to believe but the difference between a sticky drawer and a rattly one might be just two plane shavings on one side of the drawer.

So yes, of course the world needs piston-fit drawers. The alternative is mediocrity.

Lakshmi Bhaskaran, 2017.

Lakshmi studied at the Rowden Atelier in 2008, following on from a successful career as a design writer and author. It was at Rowden that she met her husband and business partner, Jonathan Walter. The pair set up Bark Furniture in 2010 and now run a successful furniture business, based in Cornwall, with clients all around the world. Lakshmi has written for renowned publications including Wallpaper and has authored five books in the design area.