Dadoes in Plywood for Drawer Runners?

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Forum topic by harriw posted 11-13-2015 04:19 AM 2965 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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129 posts in 2174 days

11-13-2015 04:19 AM

Topic tags/keywords: plywood drawer slides

Hi folks,

I’m drawing up a cutting table (for cutting fabric prior to sewing) for my wife, and have a question. I have a very limited space remaining that I’m trying to turn into thread storage. I’m thinking something similar to what I (and many others) did on my router table for bit storage – a vertical stack of “drawers” that’s are just a bottom with no sides, sliding on wood runners (holes are drilled in the drawer bottom, or in an insert that sits on the drawer bottom, and bits are inserted in the holes). In this particular case, I’ll glue dowels into the holes to hold the spools of thread.

In the past, I’ve built these by attaching wood drawer runners to the sides of the case, or just having the drawer bottom ride on a dust frame, which works perfectly. I usually add an “upper rail” as well to prevent the drawer from tipping as it’s pulled out.

In this case though, I’m extremely space constrained, and trying to shoe-horn this in. I can’t afford the vertical space eaten up by full-width dust frames, and would like to keep the drawer runners as narrow as possible. What if I eliminated the drawer runners altogether, and just had the drawer bottom ride in dadoes cut into the plywood case sides (cabinet-grade birch, 11- or 13-ply, depending on whether or not you count the veneer)?

My gut tells me that this is a bad idea, and that the drawer riding in that dado will tear up the exposed endrain in whatever layer of plywood is aligned vertically. But I’m wondering if anyone has ever tried this, and how it worked out? I may try this along with a very thin drawer rail glued flush with the dado to provide some extra support? All that thread can add up to more weight than you’d think by the way… Her box of thread weighs about the same as my drawer full of router bits.

Thanks a lot in advance for any insight you guys (and gals!) may have!

-Bill H

-- Bill - Western NY

10 replies so far

View jerryminer's profile


916 posts in 1408 days

#1 posted 11-13-2015 08:15 AM

When I out-fitted my work truck, I made drawers that slid into dados as pictured below. Drawer bottoms extend past drawer sides and ride in the dados. The drawer is just some 1/2” ply, butt-jointed, glued and nailed to the bottom (from the bottom up).

I used 1/4” ply, but you could use something heavier. I probably have ten pounds of miscellaneous tools in a couple of these——and 20 years later (yes I’m still driving that truck) they are holding up fine.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View harriw's profile


129 posts in 2174 days

#2 posted 11-13-2015 12:51 PM

Thanks jerryminer – that’s very similar to what I have in mind. Are your verticals (with the dados) plywood as well? That’s my main concern.


-- Bill - Western NY

View JeffP's profile


573 posts in 1358 days

#3 posted 11-13-2015 01:04 PM

I’m not sure I follow…

Is your vertical limitation somehow preventing the use of drawer slides?

Or is it that you wanted to save money by not using drawer slides, and the vertical limitation is preventing you from doing a “no hardware” solution in the way that you normally would have done it?

I think people have become somewhat “spoiled” by the fancy hardware that is “expected” in kitchens these days. Even though an old “wood on wood” style solution might be perfectly functional, it doesn’t have the smoothness of operation we have all become accustomed to.

I am not married, but let me go out on a limb here and suggest that you put in real drawer hardware and then just do some self promotion when you show it to your wife. “I could have gone with just a slot in the wood here, but I wanted nothing but the best for you…”

-- Last week I finally got my $*i# together. Unfortunately, it was in my shop, so I will probably never find it again.

View isotope's profile


170 posts in 1591 days

#4 posted 11-13-2015 01:58 PM

One possible way you could avoid having the drawer bottom sliding on the end grain is to install some hardwood in the dado. You could make a wider dado first, glue in a hardwood strip to fill the dado, then make a dado of appropriate with for the drawer runner. Just a thought.

View johnstoneb's profile


2869 posts in 2140 days

#5 posted 11-13-2015 03:29 PM

working with your constraints Jerry has a very good idea. Too address your concerns about the end grain you could go with isotopes idea or seal the dado with body filler then then sand smooth. once finish however you go wax the dado and drawer runners with a caranuba wax and those drawer will slide smoothly. I just finished a tool box using a wooden runner system and the drawers actually vibrate open when pulling it around.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View harriw's profile


129 posts in 2174 days

#6 posted 11-13-2015 05:03 PM

Thanks guys! isotope’s idea would be perfect!

Bruce – I’ll have to try the caranuba wax. I’ve used candle wax on wood drawer runners in the past with great success as well. Nothing fancy, just rubbed an old advent candle on the runners.

JeffP – I have nothing against ball-bearing slides – I’ve used them on other projects, and I agree they tend to spoil us :) But I’ve also been very happy with how wood drawer slides turned out on other projects as well. I’m actually using ball-bearing slides for the six main, normal-sized drawers on this project. The bottom 2 (side-by-side) need to be sized for hanging file folders though. With that fixed size constraint, and the overall width of the piece fixed (has to fit in the space she has for it), I have a very narrow space to fit these tiny drawer into. If I use ball-bearing slides here, I lose 1/2” on each side of the drawer, and can no longer fit 2 rows of thread spools in each drawer.

In the vertical direction, I need to fit a certain number of drawers in to fit all her thread. If I were to add dust frames, etc., I quickly exceed the vertical space available.

Again – thanks for the input guys – your suggestions should work nicely.

-- Bill - Western NY

View jerryminer's profile


916 posts in 1408 days

#7 posted 11-13-2015 06:05 PM

Thanks jerryminer – that s very similar to what I have in mind. Are your verticals (with the dados) plywood as well? That s my main concern.


- harriw

My sides are #2 pine lumber, so I’m riding on pine end-grain. I don’t know what the core material of your plywood is, but I would not be concerned.

One of the advantages for me with this method is that the drawers are easily removed and become “trays” that I can take to remote work area. May not matter in your case.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View niagarabuzzsaw's profile


5 posts in 55 days

#8 posted 02-28-2018 02:32 AM


I know that this is an older thread – I hope reviving it is appropriate.

I would like to make some simple shop storage. A plywood cabinet with drawers than run in a dado is a really appealing plan – simple, modular and inexpensive. I’ve had my eye on this type of construction after seeing it first in Matthew Teague’s “Projects for Your Shop” and more recently on YouTube in a work bench build by Jeremy Schmidt

I’m eager to start a build but I am concerned about the strength of 1/4” ply for the dimensions that I am considering. I have a particular spot in the shop in mind for this cabinet and would like it to end up 26”W x 18”D x 37”H. I’ll be cutting dadoes every 1.5” in the cabinet and plan on a combination of 1.5”, 3”, 4.5”, and 6” drawers. Drawers would all be glued and stapled. Smaller drawers would get bins and store hardware. Larger drawers would hold infrequently used hand tools i.e. biscuit joiner. I have considered 1/2” ply for the drawer bottoms. Ron Paulk uses 1/2” ply in his work trailer. Appropriate for a professional contractor but it seems overkill for my needs.

So – would 1/4” ply on a drawer measuring roughly 24”W x 17-1/2”D hold up? Especially since the 1/4” ply supports the drawers in the thin dadoes on the side.

Appreciate the help!

View Walker's profile


129 posts in 439 days

#9 posted 02-28-2018 05:14 AM

I doubt 1/4” would hold up to any significant weight over a 26” wide span. You could test it by placing the 1/4” ply on some 2×4s or something, put the tools on it which you intend to store in the drawer, and see if it bends.

I recently finished this saw stand with some built drawers. Drawers are 28” wide x 24 deep, heights are approximately 12, 10, and 4”. It’s all 1/2” ply and 1/2” mdf (because I had it laying around). Instead of dadoes in the side, the dadoes are in the horizontal pieces, like a miter slot, with low-friction tape in them (aka slick tape). Not as smooth as nice kitchen drawer slides, but pretty nice.

-- ~Walker

View niagarabuzzsaw's profile


5 posts in 55 days

#10 posted 02-28-2018 10:10 AM

Walker – Thanks for the post. I like the use of low friction tape in your bench. Something to think about.

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