Introduction: Patchwork Plywood and Ebonized Oak Dresser

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

This dresser is made entirely from plywood, plus some reclaimed oak for the frame. Plywood is always a pain in the butt to haul though, so I decided to make the entire dresser with only 2'x4' handy panels that I could get shipped to my house (Purebond plywood). This also gave me the ability to play with some really cool species of plywood that I can't get locally in small quantities. I took full advantage of this by making the different species into a cool patchwork pattern. This pattern is actually continuous across all of the drawer faces and even wraps around the sides of the dresser. The frame of the dresser is made from ebonized oak which was done by charring the surface with a MAP gas torch and then sealing it in with tung oil.

Plans with additional details and dimensions are available here if you're a glutton for punishment like myself:

Step 1: Materials & Tools

Materials & Hardware:

2'x4' plywood project panels:

(4) 1/2" aromatic cedar & (3) 1/4" aromatic cedar

(2) 1/4" red oak

(1) 3/4" walnut

(1) 3/4" hickory

(1) 3/4" mahogany

(1) 3/4" alder

Misc reclaimed oak boards

Wood glue

Waterlox tung oil finish

Dowel pins


16" drawer slides

Drawer pulls

Tools (not all of these are 100% necessary, but this is what I used:

ISOtunes bluetooth hearing protection

Jointing sled

Table saw

Miter saw

Feather boards


Glue applicator bottle

Screw clamps (6" and 12")

Thickness planer

Rockler Bar clamps

Bead lock tenon jig

Pocket hole jig

Drill and driver


Rockler dowel jig

Biscuit jointer

MAP gas torch

Rockler dovetail jig

Rubber mallet

Wood rule

Rockler drawer front installation jigs

Step 2: Milling Oak Material

I start by milling down the reclaimed oak into some usable material. A jointing sled is used to put a straight edge on everything and then all of those pieces are ripped to width on the table saw using the fence. Pieces are also cut to length, but on the miter saw. Some of them aren't long enough though for what I need (story of my life), but I have a solution for that.

Reclaimed wood always lends itself to a cool finished product, but you have to get creative to make what you need out of it. The longest boards I had were around 3' and I needed a few pieces that were a little over 4' long so I resawed them on the bandsaw, cutting them down the middle, and then attached them back together using lap joints to essentially stretch them out.

Step 3: Lap Joints and Refining Material Dimensions

I just cut the pieces to total the length I need while staggering the joints. Glue is applied, and approximately 493,482 clamps are applied as well to hold everything in place while it dries.

The pieces are left a little oversized for the glue-up and then after the glue is dry, I take them out of the clamps and run them through the planner to bring them down to a consistent thickness. The pieces are then cut to width on the table saw and cut to length on the miter saw.

Step 4: Beadlock Loose Tenons

With everything cut down to size, it's time to start joining everything together! The main frame of the dresser is made up of 1.5" square pieces. These are all connected using beadlock loose tenons. These are just mortises you can create with this jig using just your drill and tenons that fit that hole.

I cut the mortises and dry fit each of the frames together and set them aside to work on the face frames.

Step 5: Face Frames

There are 2 face frames for the dresser, the one on the front is divided up to hold the drawers and the one on the rear is divided up to just hold a couple of panels to close up the back. For both of them, I lay them out and fasten them together with glue and pocket hole screws on the rear of the face frame. These assemblies can then be set aside as well.

Step 6: Leg Dados

The patchwork panels are held in place by just sitting in some dados along the perimeter of the frame, so I pull apart the leg frame and cut those out on the router table. Way too many finger boards make sure that I can't screw this up.

The top pieces can all have through dados, so I just run them straight through the router table, but the legs have to have stopped dados where I stop short of each end so the cut doesn't extend out the end of the leg where it will be visible. Because the router leaves behind a curved cut on the ends, I just have to square those off with a chisel.

Step 7: Dowel Connections to the Legs

With all of the sub-assemblies taken care of, I can now start the process of fastening them together to each other. The face frames are both held in place using glue and dowels, so I temporarily clamp the legs in place to mark them for layout and then use my dowel jig to drill out the holes.

Now the glue is applied to the perimeter of the face frames and dowels are inserted and everything is clamped together to hold it while it dries. Having the open frame is super convenient because I can just clamp everything together with some short clamps.

Step 8: Cutting Plywood Down to Size

With the frames all drying, I can finally start playing around with the plywood, the eye catching piece of this whole puzzle. Since I wanted to make this whole build out of just partial sheets of plywood, the big panels that I need are going to be achieved with yet another glue-up. I took advantage of this by using a mix of mahogany, walnut, hickory, and alder plywood. Each of the 2'x4' sheets is ripped down into strips which are a mix of 3", 2.5", and 2".

The pieces are then cut down to random length using my table saw sled. I use my workbench to layout the pieces in a random combination totaling the length I need for each panel. On the left side here is each species organized by width and on the right is each row of the panel stacked up.

They must do something weird in the manufacturing process of this plywood because it seems to know what's going on.

Step 9: Plywood Panel Preparation

Each of the panels is laid out and clamped together temporarily so I can mark for biscuits. Both sides of each end of each piece is marked, this will both help reinforce the joints and also keep everything aligned in what will likely be a fairly hectic glue-up (can you sense the foreshadowing?). I think if I ever had to do this again, I would just use long splines along the length of the joint instead of individual biscuits.

So the biscuits are cut with my biscuit joiner, I raid my supply of biscuits, and then it's time for the glue-up.

Step 10: Panel Glue-up

The first panel I glue together is the top panel and this proved to be quite a task, more so than I was expecting. Glue is applied to both edges and the ends of he board and biscuits are put in place before the board is installed in it's location. By the time I got to the last piece, the glue was already starting to set-up.

To clamp up the panel, I used some bar clamps across the width and then I used one of my giant bar clamps to pull all of the joints tight along the length of the panel before doing the final tightening of the other clamps.

Now this is the big-boy panel. Yeah... so this one was a beast. I'm glad I started with the smaller panel because I learned a few things during that process and all of those things were the fact that I was way too overconfident. So the big panel was done a little differently, I glued it up in 4 small sections and then glued those small sections together. The reason this one is so big is because it is all of the drawer front and also both side panels. I wanted continuous grain wrapping around the entire dresser and this was the way to do it... it was just barely worth it.

Step 11: Cutting Panels to Size and Sanding

After a couple of days to recover from that traumatic experience, I can pull the panels out of the clamps and cut them down to size. I cut them to rough size by hand with my circular saw to get them to a manageable size to cut on my table saw.

Each of the panels is then carefully sanded smooth. The veneer on plywood is always super thin, so I make sure that I remove the glue, but don't be so aggressive that I go through the veneer. The back side of the panels doesn't matter so much though, so I just go to town on those with a belt sander. Now I can set the panels aside for installation later and get back to working on the frame.

Step 12: Burning and Finishing Frame

The frame is now fully assembled except the short side pieces are just dry fit in place for now with their loose tenons. I want to darken the oak on the entire frame to a charred black color and I need to do this prior to final assembly because I don't want the plywood panels to get the same treatment. The oak is burnt to the point just before it's set on fire in order to char the surface, but the grain is so aggressive that it's still visible even when black.

To seal in all the soot, I cover the entire frame with some Waterlox tung oil. Once cured, this finish will seal in the soot so that it doesn't rub off onto the plywood panels.

Step 13: Assembling the Frame

With that all dried, I can proceed to the final assembly of the cabinet. Glue is applied to all of the joints, the loose tenons are inserted, and the panels are installed into place.

Me and my buddy then just clamp this up at each end of the panels and set it aside to dry while I start playing with my drawers...

Step 14: Preparing Material for Drawers

All of the drawers for the dresser are going to be made out of this aromatic cedar plywood. Even with just a thin layer of veneer on the plywood, it still makes my shop smell incredible. Sticking with tradition for this build, all of the drawer parts are cut out from 2'x4' sheets as well.

The sides of the drawers are going to be attached together entirely with dovetails, so I lay each drawer out and mark the corners to help me with getting them into the jig with the right orientation.

It takes a little fussing to getting the jig dialed in 100%, but once it's there, the process really flies. The long front/back pieces are held in place on the top of the jig and the shorter left'right pieces are held in place on the front of the jig. I then use a dovetail bit in my router and follow pattern established by the jig. I actually take a light pass of the entire front of the piece first to keep it front tearing out and then cut the dovetails. The hardest part here is just making sure each piece is installed in the jig correctly.

Step 15: Adding Drawer Bottoms

With all of the joints good to go, I cut a dado near the bottom of the inside face of each piece. The only thing I need to do is make sure that it lines up with one of the sockets so that it won't be visible from the outside of the drawer. I take multiple passes over the table saw until I get the exact width to match the thickness of my 1/4" plywood drawer bottoms.

One of my favorite tools that I don't see many woodworkers using these days is a wood rule. It lets you take super accurate measurements since you don't have to worry about the slop in the end of your tap measure being perfect. It's great for operations like this too where I need to measure the width and length inside the groove of the drawer. I measure both dimensions this way and cut the drawer bottoms down to size.

Last step prior to assembly is always to sand the inside faces of everything since those faces won't be accessible once everything is put together.

Step 16: Assembling Drawers

There are a lot of pieces for these drawers, so I enlist me and my army to put the drawers together.

I put glue in all of the sockets and then hammer the tails home to complete the assembly. A problem with using plywood for this is that the plys will want to separate and chip out during assembly, so I make sure to use a scrap piece of wood and hit against that so that the pressure is spread out evenly and nothing will chip out.

Each of the drawers is also measured for square by measuring the diagonals to make sure that they match up perfectly. If they don't, then I use a clamp over the longer dimension to pull it in until the 2 measurements are the same.

Last step is just sanding the outside of the drawers smooth to get that sweet smooth look to the dovetails. (I actually really like the look of the exposed plys mixed in with the traditional grain of the wood so I decided to embrace that across the entire build.)

Step 17: Installing Drawers

The last step to prepare the frame for the drawers is to install some blocking where the drawer slides will attach to. These are just held in place with some pocket hole screws. The front is clamped in place while it's screwed into the front face frame and then the back piece is held square and is centered with 2 temporary blocks while I screw it into place.

My slides are then attached into this blocking by screwing it in place flush with the bottom of the blocking and flush with the front of the face frame.

The drawers are then fastened in place using a similar procedure, but centered in the opening with some 1/2" blocks underneath the drawer. The drawer is centered left to right because each of the drawer slides is 1/2" wide. I start by screwing the front of the drawer in place and then open it, keeping the spacer blocks in place, and fasten the back of the drawer too.

Step 18: Installing Drawer Faces

I predrill holes in the face of each of the drawers and then the drawer fronts are then installed on all of the drawers. These handy metal jigs clamp onto the drawer from the inside and then hold the drawer front in place while you fine-tune the location of it. I use a 3/4" space around the sides to space it perfectly, then clamp it tight and open the drawer and screw it into place.

Step 19: Applying Finish

Finally! It's the moment we have all been waiting for, and by we I mean me. For finished, I decided to use form Waterlox tung oil on the entire thing (other than the drawers, those were left raw). The tung oil always does an awesome job of pulling the color out of cool woods like this and also leaves a subtle shine on the wood that doesn't look to plasticy.

I let the first coat cure for the night and then rub the whole thing down with some steel wool to remove any dust and apply 2 more coats of finish to the cabinet and drawer fronts.

Step 20: Adding Drawer Pulls and Final Assembly

With the finish cured, all that is left is to reassemble everything and install the drawer pulls on the drawer faces. I measure out the location on each drawer and pre-drill holes and screw them in place. (that's the back of the panel, you see what I meant by "go to town with the belt sander"!).

Each of the drawer faces can then be installed into place. I marked the back of them when I took them off to I could return them to the same location in order to restore grain continuity.

Step 21: Glamour Shots

Photoshoot session... #sexsymbol.

Thanks for checking out the build! Be sure to check out the build video too for the full experience:

Thirsty for more? You can also find me in other places on the interwebs!

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