Although hand-hammered copper is often thought of as the definitive handle on a Stickley drawer, wood pulls were common on original pieces, often in a pyramid shape. I’ve seen people jump through all kinds of hoops to make these with machines, and I’ve tried that myself.
The big problem with any machine technique is holding the work safely, and the time it takes to set the machinery up. There is a curve where the number of pieces you need to make balances out the time it takes for setup. If you only need a few pulls, or prefer working by hand here is a method I use. It isn’t that fussy, and it doesn’t take that long.
Start with a simple layout on two sides of a block large enough for a pull at each end. The layout doesn’t need to be too precise, the important thing is to define the areas that remain flat, and the angle at the top. Please don’t ask “how many degrees is that angle?”, just draw a line from the center of the top to the edge of the flat.
And don’t worry about the radius of the cove cut either. Define the places where the arc begins and ends, and sketch the curve roughly, the exact shape of the curve will come from the tools used to finish the job.
I cut the blank with the bandsaw, and the reason for putting two pulls to a blank should be obvious-you need some room to hold the wood safely as you cut. I make sure that there is wood between my hand and the blade so that I’m not in danger when the cut ends. I move slowly and gently, and I’m pulling with the hand that is behind the blade as much as I’m pushing with my other hand.
If this makes you nervous, or if you don’t have a bandsaw, you can cut the curves with a coping saw, and cut the flats with a backsaw. If you have a miter box, this is a good place to put it to work. Cut both sides of one face, tape the scraps back in place, then complete the cuts on the adjacent face.
With the cuts complete, the pull is ready for the next phase, refining the shape. At this point, I cut the blank in half. This leaves some extra material at the bottom of the pull, useful for holding it while the shaping takes place.
It is safer to make this cut with the bandsaw, or with a backsaw. You may be tempted to head to the chop saw or the table saw, but this is a very small piece. Think about where your hands will be and what could happen if the offcut goes flying. It isn’t worth the risk and it doesn’t need to be a great cut at this point, the last step will be to cut the pull to final length and flatten the bottom.
To hold the piece during shaping, I take a good old wooden hand screw clamp, and put it in my vise. That raises the work up to a comfortable level. To shape the flats, I pinch the bottom of the pull between the ends of the clamp. With the pull in this position, you can look down and see all four sides. My weapon of choice is a hand-cut rasp. It makes quick work of removing the saw marks, and I switch to a finer cut rasp to remove the marks from the first.
It’s relatively easy to keep the facets of the pyramid even. Work each face down to the level of the previous one and concentrate on keeping the tool flat. That’s easier than trying to measure and layout these shapes as you work. One of the secrets of this kind of work is that your eye will be the best judge, and the rasp gives you a good deal of control. As you near the end, a stroke or two will keep the facets and the flat band even.
When the top is in good shape, I reclamp the pull so that one of the curves is up. Here is where the shape of the tool used to make the cut defines the shape of the cut. I make strokes across the grain, and stop when the tool is in contact with the wood across the entire arc. You can see a bit of space between the rasp and the pull, indicating that I have another stroke or two to go.
When the shape is defined, I switch to a finer rasp. Two steps is usually enough if I start with a medium cut. Rasps leave a series of hills and valleys, and a finer tool removes the hills left behind by the coarser tool used first. This may look raggedy as you work, but have faith, this is easy to refine to a nice finished surface.
The secret to getting a great finish with a rasp is to follow it with a card scraper. All the scraper has to do is remove the hills left by the rasp, it takes half the effort to scrape after the rasp than it would take to scrape an untouched piece of wood. It doesn’t take long at all to go from the bandsawn surface to one that is ready to finish. After scraping, I break the edges with some #150 or #180 grit sandpaper.
When it all looks presentable, trim the bottom to the finished length, and remove the saw marks with a file or by rubbing the cut edge on a piece of coarse sandpaper glued to a flat block.
I attach the finished pull to the drawer front with a single screw. The pan head screws sold for pocket hole joints work well, they have a coarse thread that gets a good bite. The screw head may need to be retightened after a while, if the wood in the drawer front shrinks. An alternative would be to drill a hole in the bottom of the pull and use a dowel, glued in a hole drilled in the drawer front.
Shaped parts like this can seem intimidating at first, but they aren’t that difficult and they don’t take that long. After you’ve made a few, you will be able to turn them out efficiently and consistently. It’s a nice finishing touch to Craftsman furniture.