The strongest way to make plywood drawers?

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Forum topic by RichNew posted 08-11-2016 12:59 PM 1413 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3 posts in 76 days

08-11-2016 12:59 PM

Hi All!

The names Rich, im an electrical engineer by trade and pretty handy with metalwork and maching, but woodworkig is something a bit foerign to me and thats something i really want to change!

Im in the middle of quite a big project. Im building an expedition camper based on a Nissan Navara pick up truck. The rear is a large aluminium box, inside its going to have one large pull out drawer and one large pull out kitchen. The drawer is my main concern as im not going to have huge weight in the kitchen system.

The drawer is going to be 1.2M long, 750mm wide and 200mm deep. The drawer slides im using are rated to 250kg per pair, i’d like the drawer to be able to take somewhere near that, even if in reality i will never get that much in there. With it being quite a tough application, with drawers full of tools and recovery equipment that will be bouncing about as i drive, im planning on using phenolic plywood, i was thinking 19mm for the sides and 12mm for the base? Do you think that would have enough strength?

My main quesion is what would be the the strongest method for making these drawers? I like the idea of pocket screws as they seem quick and easy and i should be able to make them look neat enough. Should i dado/groove the sides to accept the base or will simply sitting it flush and putting in lots of pocket screws be strong enough?

My thoughts are that whilst its a lot of weight, its also a lot of edges, so there will be plenty of support for the base.


26 replies so far

View jmartel's profile (online now)


6474 posts in 1572 days

#1 posted 08-11-2016 02:11 PM

Pocket screws would not be the correct application here. I would do rabbets going into dados. Additionally, 1.2m is a long span. Even with a 200mm deep drawer, I would still expect some sagging over time with that much weight. If you can, break that up into 2 drawers.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View RichNew's profile


3 posts in 76 days

#2 posted 08-11-2016 02:19 PM

So you’re suggesting the below method? I assume i would then glue and screw the joints? I see some people saying the base should be left floating in the dado’s though, which doesn’t sound as strong to me?

———- The photo isn’t resizing for some reason, but my right clicking and opening in a new tab you can see it all———-

I would, but with the drawer slides costing £120 per slide, i’d rather not add a 3rd drawer.

Not sure i have got my dimensional terms right either, so going by the photo below, the dimensions are;

Depth – 1200mm
Width – 750mm
Height – 200mm

Thanks for the help

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1824 posts in 1411 days

#3 posted 08-11-2016 03:04 PM

That is one huge drawer!! I would use 18 mm Baltic Birch plywood with rabbet corner joints. I also would reinforce the corners with blocks on the inside and 18 mm plywood for the bottom I would glue and screw it in place.

Good luck with it.

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


2302 posts in 1831 days

#4 posted 08-11-2016 03:07 PM

The drawer you wish to make is HUGE, the weight you expect it to handle is on the high side. Pocket screws alone are not going to bear the weight load you wish to achieve. Most mechanics toolbox drawers made by the likes of Snap-ON and MAC can handle 45-65kg of weight. These are made of metal. But your measurements are much bigger than the average toolbox drawer. My suggestion would be to make a wood / aluminum hybrid drawer. Use hardwood for the drawer frame and a piece of aluminum minimum 3mm thick for the bottom. Put a brace in the middle to help with stability and weight distribution. Attach from the bottom with 50mm screws spaced 100mm apart. Or have a custom aluminum or steel drawer built to your specifications and go from that point forward.

A second approach might be to break down this into a series of 2 or 3 smaller drawers bringing the weight per drawer down to allow for drawers that can easily handle 45-65kg. The advantage would be more organized drawers with less chance of a blow out of the bottoms. The disadvantage is more drawers equals more space used for drawer slides and support which also means less available storage space.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View jbay's profile


706 posts in 321 days

#5 posted 08-11-2016 03:47 PM

I wouldn’t over think it.
I would use 3/4 plywood for the sides and the bottom.
Butt joints, use glue and screws.
Slap a bottom on with glue and screws.
Maybe even adding a divider or 2 to would help with strength.

-- Many times my “MO” involves Judging others, playing God, acting as LJs law enforcement, and never admitting any of my ideas could possibly wrong or anyone else's idea could possibly be correct.--

View RichNew's profile


3 posts in 76 days

#6 posted 08-12-2016 07:42 AM

Interesting, so varying opinions then!

Yep, putting in dividers i a good idea as surely that has to add a lot of strength?

Will just screwing a base to the bottom be strong enough?!

Thanks again

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


2302 posts in 1831 days

#7 posted 08-12-2016 01:32 PM

Two lines of thought on attachment of the base.

1.Yes you can screw it to the bottom and any additional support you put in the middle. Advantage is that if something happens you can take it back apart and repair with relative ease.

2.Screw and Glue it for the maximum amount of strength possible. Downside, you will not be taking this apart with any kind of ease and most likely will damage it badly.

Hope this was helpful.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View Dabcan's profile


250 posts in 2093 days

#8 posted 08-12-2016 01:47 PM

Few thoughts from me:

- that drawer alone is going to weigh at least 20kg, maybe more.

- adding dividers will strengthen it significantly, especially if you screw up from the bottom into them, will eliminate sag over time. Also, it will stop some tool from rolling all the way to the back of the drawer when you are trying to find it, so much better organization.

- 12mm is plenty for the bottom, especially if there are dividers, the rest can be 18mm

-if the slides are bottom mount, this will increase the strength as well

- lastly, since you have some metal work ability, why not glue and screw the drawer using butt joints, then take some aluminum angle iron and reinforce the corners? This would add a ton of strength and some durability as well.

Sounds like a fun project, do post some pics along the way!

-- @craftcollectif ,,

View jdh122's profile


878 posts in 2240 days

#9 posted 08-12-2016 01:57 PM

Plywood bottoms screwed and glued are plenty strong. Check out Mathias Wandel’s testing video on the subject:

Like Dabcan just mentioned, if you get slides that are bottom mount then there is very little stress on the side to bottom joint anyway.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

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5678 posts in 908 days

#10 posted 08-12-2016 02:05 PM

Box joints

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

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396 posts in 198 days

#11 posted 08-12-2016 02:11 PM

Dip it in molten steel

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3892 posts in 2665 days

#12 posted 08-12-2016 05:09 PM

I’m guessing you are located in Africa. Obviously you will be obtaining your materials locally. Like others, I would recommend Baltic Birch plywood, but I don’t know if it would be available where you are. Here is an idea that costs less than drawer slides.

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


2302 posts in 1831 days

#13 posted 08-13-2016 03:51 AM

Dip it in molten steel

- gargey


-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View TheFridge's profile


5678 posts in 908 days

#14 posted 08-13-2016 03:55 AM

Dip it in molten steel

- gargey


- woodbutcherbynight

Most of the time I don’t like him, but that was pretty good.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View JIMMIEM's profile


39 posts in 264 days

#15 posted 08-13-2016 12:22 PM

Corner joints glued and screwed will be good. With good ball bearing slides there won’t be that much strain on them. I’d do a fully captured drawer bottom i.e. insert into grooves and dados on front, back, and both sides. I would increase the thickness of the drawer bottom.

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