Method for drawer construction and installation

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Forum topic by BB1 posted 03-26-2016 01:23 PM 1201 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1118 posts in 812 days

03-26-2016 01:23 PM

I have watched many (MANY) YouTube videos on drawer construction and feel like I have the basics BUT it seems like every project with drawers ends up a real challenge (insert “design features”). I’m interested in learning how others approach drawer construction. Do you use special joinery like dovetails? Do you use rabbits? Do you rely on glue and/or fasteners? Do plans always include metal drawer slides? Any comments and insights are greatly appreciated.

12 replies so far

View HokieKen's profile


4736 posts in 1102 days

#1 posted 03-26-2016 01:37 PM

I used half-blind dovetails to join the front and the sides and a glued dado to join the back to the sides. The bottom sits in a grove in the sides and front. This is my first piece if “fine” furniture so I am by no means an expert!

For the guides, I cut a groove in the sides and cut a hardwood guide to fit and used a kicker at the bottom of the drawers. There us a stop at the back (inset drawers) so they stop flush with the face frame and flip up stops at the front to prevent the drawers from coming all the way out. The stops are accessible and can be flipped down to remove drawers.

Can’t say how it will hold up over time but everything is solid and works well now. Construction and assembly were pretty straightforward too once I got the dovetail jig dialed in.

Hope that helps!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Jbay's profile


2227 posts in 863 days

#2 posted 03-26-2016 01:58 PM

Oops, wrong thread

View bearkatwood's profile


1541 posts in 975 days

#3 posted 03-26-2016 02:07 PM

I thought you were asking “boxers or briefs?” ;)
I like dovetails in the front and a dado rabbet on the back. For drawer slides it all depends on what case you have, a small jewelry cabinet will just get a friction fit, a small drawer in a side table might just have a wood batten slide. A large highboy will have framework in between each drawer with dust shield and a friction fit. If you want your drawer to fully extend out and still hold a good bit of weight then a drawer slide might be necessary, but most traditional handmade woodworking is without slides.
Oh, and boxers ;)

-- Brian Noel

View JBrow's profile


1346 posts in 884 days

#4 posted 03-26-2016 05:19 PM


I tend toward drawer design that features full or mostly partial overlay drawer fronts. Inset drawer fronts are nice, but I guess I just prefer the texture and dimensionality afforded by partial overlay drawer fronts.

Joinery of Drawer Boxes: I have made drawer boxes with screw reinforced butt joints and half-blind dovetail joints. I have not used a rabbet joint, though I have considered a locking rabbet joint. I prefer the half-blind dovetail joint cut with a dovetail jig & router because of the mechanical strength and tendency to self-square the box during assembly. All four corners get the half-blind dovetails.

I have made half-blind dovetails with a rabbeted drawer front rather than an applied drawer front. The rabbeted/dovetailed drawer reduces the apparent drawer front thickness when the drawer is closed and eliminates the need for a separately applied front to the drawer box. However, I personally prefer drawer fronts separate from the drawer box even though not a very elegant way of building drawers.

Fastening Methods: I always use glue to bond the drawer box corners. Only in the few cases, where I have built a butt jointed drawer box, did I reinforce the joint with screws. Glue plus the inherent mechanical strength of the dovetail result in an extremely strong joint. If there is enough long grain glue surface on both sides of a rabbeted joint, I would think glue alone is sufficient, though since I do not make drawer boxes with the rabbet joint, I have no experience on which to fall back. It is difficult to get a good glue bond on the end grain, so where little or no long grain on both work pieces exists, mechanical reinforcing is a good idea (screws, splines, or dowel come to mind).

Drawer Slides: I am not much of a purest and tend toward mechanical drawer slides. I prefer undermount slides where the hardware is unseen. Recently I have used the Knapp & Vogt MuV 34 series undermount drawer slides with a self-close, soft close mechanism. I want the drawer to always open and close easily and smoothly.

Mechanical drawer slides come at a design cost. The undermount slides require under the drawer space. Therefore the drawer bottom must be mounted a little higher than when no slides are used. Side mounted drawer slides allow inside drawer height to be maximized, but the width of the drawer box is reduced to provide space for the side mounted slides.

I have built projects without slides. I find getting the exact clearance to avoid binding and sticking, preventing the drawer from being inadvertently pulled out of the carcase, and have full access to the drawer a lot of work. Even with all these obstacles overcome, as the weight in the drawer increase, it becomes more difficult to operate. Occasional waxing or even applying UHMW “Slick Tape” to the runners can help. However, since I would rather avoid aggravating the wife, I mostly steer clear of projects that are for her without drawer glides.

View Woodknack's profile


11479 posts in 2344 days

#5 posted 03-27-2016 02:58 AM

Drawers for my shop are built like the pic below and they are the most abused drawers I own. 20 years old and still going strong. Blue arrow is where screws go.

-- Rick M,

View pintodeluxe's profile


5620 posts in 2777 days

#6 posted 03-27-2016 04:09 AM

One easy way to build drawers is with through dovetails on all 4 corners. They are easier to mill than half blind dovetails, and a false front nicely covers the joints at the front. This type of construction works with inset or overlay drawers, and with just about any type of slide.

If I want a really traditional look sometimes I use half blinds at the front and through dovetails at the rear. This method works well with integral fronts and wooden runners. I don’t find this very practical for large or heavy drawers.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View BB1's profile


1118 posts in 812 days

#7 posted 03-27-2016 04:13 AM

Thanks for all the information. I just finished a couple drawers for a case related to my husband’s wood burning supplies. I did used locking rabbets in the front and butt joint in the back. No slides as these were only about 2.5 inches in height (and about 9 inches wide by 20 inches long). Friction fit which was a challange requiring some planing (planing might have been avoided with better planning!). Also added a magnetic catch to hold the drawer closed when the case is in carry mode.

A few followup questions if I might.

Kenny – for the flip up stops at the front. Are these on the drawer or the frame?

JBrow – I have used under mount slides a couple of times but found that I had to add some thickness to the drawer bottom to be able to attach the slide. What thickness of material do you use for drawer bottoms?

View oldnovice's profile


6759 posts in 3331 days

#8 posted 03-27-2016 05:05 AM

My basic drawer construction is identical to Rick’s in post #5 above, and probably all the other jocks on this site, and elsewhere.
However, in my case, the details depend on where the drawer will end up.
  1. on a simple construction job I use the drawer lock joint made with a bit similar to this from Freud.
  2. on a good piece, one meant for a close friend or family member, I use a dovetail to assemble the drawer carcase.
  3. similar for the bottoms, from hardboard to Baltic birch bottoms.

In either case I tend to use a “hardwood dress” front as shown in Rick post, #5 above. A dress front can be held on by the knobs, however, in some cases extra screws may be required and expansion/contraction need to be considered.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View JBrow's profile


1346 posts in 884 days

#9 posted 03-27-2016 03:08 PM


I use ¼” or ½” plywood for drawer box bottoms depending on the size or type of duty the drawer will see. Your question implies the drawer half of the slides you have used require mounting to the bottom of the drawer box. If I my understanding is correct, that suggests a poorly designed under mount slide, especially since we fight for as much interior drawer depth as possible. However the under mount slides I have used required a ½” lip (or recess) under the drawer bottom, but mount to the back, front and sides of the drawer box. Together with a bottom clearance required for the mechanism, perhaps 3/4” of interior drawer depth is sacrificed.

The first under mount slide I used, no longer made (Delta I think, but not sure), required slide rails mounted to the side of the case. The bottom of the drawer sides ran on a front wheel that was part of the case mounted slide rail. A separate wheel that mounted to the rear corners on the outside of the drawer box was secured to the side and back of the drawer box. This rear drawer box mounted wheel rode in the track mounted to the case. Nothing was secured through or into the drawer bottom.

The Knapp & Vogt under mount slides mount differently but without having to secure the drawer to the slide through the bottom of the drawer. The slide mechanism is one part that mounts to the case side. The drawer rests on a slide bar that extends past the back of the drawer box. The slide bar moves into and out of the case. A notch is cut in the bottom lip of the back of the drawer box (assuming the drawer bottom is captured by the back). A hole drilled partially into the outside of the drawer box back receives a metal tab that is part of the slide bar. A pair of locking clips is secured with screws to the front lip against the bottom of the drawer box at each front corner. The drawer is set on the slide bar and pushed back into the case until the front locking clips engage the front of the slide bar with a click. The drawer box is now captured by the slide bar, by the slide bar tab in the back and locking clips in the front.

Knapp & Vogt under mount slides are nicely engineered full extension drawer glides. However, probably like all under mount drawer glides, these require accurately built drawer box. My first effort in using these glides did not go so well. I ended up making two sets of drawers because the first set of boxes was not wide enough. Now that I have the hang of it, the slides are nice to install and work well.

I am sure there are other manufacturers whose designs avoid having to install the slides into the bottom of the drawer box. Other manufacturers of whom I am aware include Hafele, Accuride, and Blum and I am sure there are others. Since I have not used these products, I cannot say how their products mount to the drawer box.

View BB1's profile


1118 posts in 812 days

#10 posted 03-27-2016 05:09 PM

JBrow – I need to look into the system you describe. I may have been in error with mine. The ones I have used were center mount and based on the limited instructions (I guess the assumption is that if i bought them, i should know how to use them…not really!) it appeared they were to be mounted on the drawer bottom. If I had used 1/2 inch plywood I likely would have been fine but the 1/4 just wasn’t enough. Thanks much for the information. Maybe someday drawers won’t be such a challenge for me!

View oldnovice's profile


6759 posts in 3331 days

#11 posted 03-27-2016 05:21 PM

JBrow, I have used the KV slides, Accuride, and Fulterer and they are almost interchangeable with respect to mounting and even operation.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View JBrow's profile


1346 posts in 884 days

#12 posted 03-27-2016 08:21 PM


If you are like me, drawers will always be a challenge. But as you gain experience building them and settle on a construction method, building the boxes will become straightforward – and fairly quickly. The persistent challenge, at least for me, is getting the dimensions of the drawer box just right. And the instructions that come with the hardware leave something to be desired, especially when using the hardware for the first time.


Thanks. I will keep that in mind when I shop for slide on my next project. It does make sense that manufacturers have pretty much all found the best way to install and mount drawer slides and therefore their mounting methods would all be similar.

I did not list Fulterer because I could not think of them right off hand. I recalled the brand after you mentioned it because I was considering building a pantry cabinet. Fulterer pantry slides (if I am not confused) were quite impressive with a load rating of 450 pounds. However, the wife decided the pantry cabinet should be a china hutch instead, so I am building a china hutch. But Fulterer looks like really good hardware, at least from the specs.

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