Inset Pulls

Four shop-made handles that lay low

What do you do when a typical cabinet handle or knob doesn’t suit an application because, for example, its projection prevents an adjacent door or drawer from opening fully? Another challenge arises when trying to suit pulls to a pocket door or perhaps shoji-style panels that slide past one another. In that case, projecting hardware impedes door travel. But you still need some way to grab the door to pull it sideways. And there are times when you just want a simple unobtrusive look and feel to your hardware. An inset, or flush, pull can solve all these problems.

In this article, I’ll share with you four cleverly made inset pulls: two by a couple of fellow furniture makers, and two of my own design. You’ll find that they’re not hard to make using some smart shop-made jigs to ensure repeatable accuracy. Best yet, they will let you adorn doors and drawers with handmade pulls that whisper “cool.”

Bisected pull

Architect and designer Ric Hanisch’s brass-and-wood pull offers a pleasing grasp for doors or drawers, and works well along the edge of a sliding or pocket door as long as the surface area is 2-1/2" or wider. Because the Forstner bit used to drill the blind hole leaves a divot, a circle of walnut veneer is glued to the hole bottom, which hides the divot and creates a nice visual contrast. Epoxying a strip of wood to the backside of the brass bar also dresses things up both visually and tactilely. 

Stopped flat. With the work clamped to the drill press table and a 2"-dia. Forstner-style bit located above the center line, bore the 5⁄8"-deep blind hole. 
Line the bottom. Lay out a circle on 1⁄32"-thick veneer, and cut it out with scissors, removing triangular sections at a time to avoid splintering. Then glue and clamp or weight, using a caul.
Screw, then trace. Center the brass bar over the hole, screw it to the surface, and trace its outline with a knife. Then chisel out the recess so the bar sits flush.
A nice touch. Scuff-sand the back of the brass bar, spread 5-minute epoxy onto it, and clamp a 1⁄8 × 1⁄2 × 2" strip of wood to its rear surface.

Narrow pull

Paul Anthony’s three-door liquor cabinet presented a challenge in that a projecting pull on a side door would prevent the center door from fully folding back against the front of the case. His solution was this sleek, slim, recessed pull that can be used on narrow frames as well as drawer fronts. 

A shallow pocket cut in the face of the stile leaves space for fingers, while a 1/8"-thick brass bar (see Buyer’s Guide, p. 69) inset atop the pocket provides grip for pulling the door outward. Construction is straightforward, but careful layout of the centerlines is key. Two shop-made jigs guide a plunge router outfitted with a guide bushing and a straight bit to cut the pocket and bar recess.

Slim design. This pull fits narrow frames while offering a brass touch of class.
Pocket-cutting setup. With centerlines laid out on both the template and door stile, set your router bit depth to 5⁄8" plus the jig thickness. Then clamp the jig atop the door with the centerlines aligned, and rout the pocket. 

Rout the bar recess. Align the bar recess jig with the layout lines on the stile, reset the bit, and rout the 3⁄32"-deep recess for the brass bar. Chisel the ends square afterward.

Stop that chamfer. Set a bearing-guided chamfer bit for a 3⁄16"-wide cut, and then rout a bevel around the three walls of the pocket, being careful to stop at each edge of the bar recess to avoid beveling this area.

Slightly proud. Lightly ease the upper edges of the brass bar using 400- and then 600-grit carborundum paper before screwing the bar into its recess. It should project about 1⁄32" above the surface of the door. 

Notched pull

My own version of an inset pull works well whenever you want to locate a pull on the edge of a door or drawer. When made in pairs to suit the juncture of two doors or drawers, the effect can be strikingly reminiscent of mid-century modern design. The pull is essentially an L-shaped recess that includes a mortised cavity that allows fingertip access for pulling the door outward. 

On the edge. This notched pull offers easy finger access from the edge of the door. Paired pulls display a rectangular design motif (above).

Notch first. To set up for the cut, outfit a plunge router as shown, and clamp the jig to the workpiece with the centerlines aligned. Then rout the 5⁄8"-deep notch (inset). 

Mortise second. Adjust a router edge guide to locate the bit perimeter flush to the bottom of the notch, and then rout the 3⁄4"-deep mortise in 1⁄4" increments.
Smooth for the hand. Use a chisel and fine sandpaper to smooth any irregularities left by routing and to soften all sharp edges for a nice touch. 

Pivot pull

Here’s a cool pull for sliding doors or a pocket door. Essentially a wooden lever recessed into the edge of the door, it sits demurely in waiting until a gentle push of the finger pivots it outward for grabbing. I make the lever from figured wood for a “wow” factor, and inlay a raised button of contrasting wood to serve as a fingertip target. A bamboo skewer from the supermarket serves as a pivot pin. 

Push n’ pull. This pivoting pull consists of a wooden lever fitted inside a mortise and hinged on a bamboo pin. Push the “button” with a finger, and out pops the pull. 
Drill and chisel. Using a hollow-chisel mortiser, plunge the ends first, then remove the remaining material with a series of overlapping cuts.
Angle one end. Set a bevel gauge to 15° as a visual aid, and use a stout chisel to chop an angle in the top end of the mortise.
Pin drilling. Clamp the shaped, sanded lever in its mortise with its edge 1⁄16" proud and parallel to the stile edge. Drill a 1⁄8"-dia. hole through both, insert the pin, and test the fit. Fix any binding by increasing the mortise angle or easing the top of the lever. 
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