Quaker Locks with a hidden twist

Secret trap door cut into the back of the bottom rail provides access to unlock the drawer by inserting a pin in the hole

I spent some time in the shop Saturday installing Quaker locks on a small reproduction chest of drawers. First let me say this project isn’t about something I designed, rather it’s an inside look at some historical construction details not often seen. I’m building this for a collector who owns the original piece built in the upper Ohio valley circa 1830. He asked me to make a copy as close as possible to the original. The exception in a strange way, is the Quaker locks which secures the drawers. My friend stated that in more than 30 years of collecting regional furniture he has examined over 500 chests of drawers. Of those, only 12 had Quaker locks and all of them had the locking mechanism broken off. That includes the chest I am reproducing. The original just had enough broken remains that we could use as a pattern to put locks on the new piece. These locks are a bit awkward and require that to open any drawer you must first unlock the bottom drawer and then sequentially unlock every drawer going up until you arrive at the one you want to open. You definitely do not want to put your 44 magnum in the top drawer to fend off an intruder. Anyway, I am recreating the Quaker locks and the new owner can bust them free once he gets tired of fumbling with them.

Drawer bottom has thin strip of oak which snaps behind the drawer divider when closed.

At its simplest a Quaker lock is a thin strip of oak let into the drawer bottom at a slight angle so that when the drawer closes the thin strip snaps behind the drawer divider preventing it from opening. To unlock you simply reach under the divider from the drawer below and press it up with your finger, releasing the drawer. What makes this special? This case has a dust bottom below the lowest drawer preventing access to the first lock. You can’t begin opening the drawers if you cannot unlock the bottom drawer. It has a small secret opening cut into the backside of the bottom rail allowing you to insert a pin to lift the bottom lock and start unlocking the drawers. If the construction looks a bit crude, it’s because it is made like the original. If anything it’s a little

Veiwed from the outside the secret compartment is hidden from the eye. It's cut into the backside of the decorative scroll.

less rough than the piece it’s a copy of. Also note another unusual construction feature. The chest is primarily frame and rail construction with four heavy corner posts mortised to accept the rails front, back and sides.

Here you can see a mortise chopped into the bottom rail for the lock to snap down into. Note also the hole so that a pin can release the lock from below.

To support the drawers a second set of rails is mortised into the inner edges of the corner posts and then drawer runners are nailed to the inner rails.

Inside veiw showing double set of rails to support drawers and runners nailed to inside rails.

That means this little chest had over 56 mortises to chop out to accept all the rails and drawer dividers. The corner posts looked like Swiss cheese before glue up.

 George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
This entry was posted in Design Basics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.