Help! Best hardwood species for drawer boxes?

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Forum topic by dakotawood posted 01-12-2015 01:26 AM 3974 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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211 posts in 2779 days

01-12-2015 01:26 AM

Topic tags/keywords: drawer stock ash elm drawer components species for drawers drawer box material basswood drawer thickness drawer box thickness

I’m very curious what the best hardwood is for making drawer components – sides, back, bottom. I am not interested in plywood options. I am planning on making quite a bit of drawers over the span of 2 kids’ rooms over the next couple of years. I’ll be using cherry as the primary species. Here’s my questions:

Is closed grain lumber better than open grain?

Is lighter colored lumber better than amber/reddish?

Is dense lumber less desirable?

Does the weight of the lumber matter?

I’m trying to find the best, usable, affordable species for the task. More specifically…

Anyone ever try elm (I have a cheap source of this)? Ash? Is ash brittle for cutting dovetails? Other most affordable hardwood? Is basswood possible (it’s cheap and light weight). Better to bite the bullet and go with maple? (not the cheapest, but isn’t too bad)

Also, what thickness for drawer box components? 1/2” or 3/8”? Do you resaw your drawer sides from 5/4 material?

I don’t have the cheapest poplar selection where I live. Ash I believe will be about as cheap as it comes most likely – due to the ash borer in neighboring states.

Thanks in advance!

-- Travis, South Dakota

16 replies so far

View AlaskaGuy's profile


4127 posts in 2305 days

#1 posted 01-12-2015 01:37 AM

You want solid wood for the bottoms also? What you using for drawer slides?

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View jdh122's profile


1008 posts in 2813 days

#2 posted 01-12-2015 01:51 AM

I’ve made drawers out of maple and ash and both work well. But I often use eastern white pine for drawer sides and backs, which is pretty traditional in North America as a secondary wood. While it’s weaker than hardwoods it’s very dimensionnally stable. There’s probably no single “best” wood for this.
All the species you suggest would work, though I might tend toward elm, ash or maple rather than basswood (though I have little experience with it other than for carving, and looking at strength numbers it’s no weaker than the pine I already mentioned). If ash is cheap go for it – it’s extremely strong and generally fairly easy to work.
As for the thickness of the sides, if I had 5/4 wood I’d resaw it, but if I had 3/4 inch thick stock I’d just use it as is rather than planing it down.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View dakotawood's profile


211 posts in 2779 days

#3 posted 01-12-2015 01:57 AM

I THINK I’ll do solid for the bottoms. We’ll see…

I’m planning on no slides. Just a piston fit on a web frame.

-- Travis, South Dakota

View dakotawood's profile


211 posts in 2779 days

#4 posted 01-12-2015 02:02 AM

Thanks Jeremy – I do like the wood and sentiment of white pine. I know my local sawmill has pine – what if it’s yellow pine? Is this alright? I feel like if the pine gets a couple dings on the inside drawer components – it just adds to the character.

Ash is an open pore wood is it not? If so, does this pose any problems in regards to looks or function?

Thanks guys

-- Travis, South Dakota

View dakotawood's profile


211 posts in 2779 days

#5 posted 01-12-2015 02:03 AM

Also, does the soft, fuzzy pine pose problems or make it more difficult when cutting joinery?

-- Travis, South Dakota

View WDHLT15's profile


1741 posts in 2472 days

#6 posted 01-12-2015 02:05 AM

Personally, I like yellow poplar. I make my drawer sides 5/8” thick. 3/4 looks wrong to me.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View Buckethead's profile


3194 posts in 1865 days

#7 posted 01-12-2015 02:18 AM

I would steer away from yellow pine unless it’s old growth and quarter sawn. Plain sawn young growth SYP is noted for twisting, bowing, and warping.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View summerfi's profile


3921 posts in 1683 days

#8 posted 01-12-2015 02:29 AM

I’ve seen drawer sides made of maple, ash, poplar, pine, and probably other woods. The British, I believe, traditionally used oak. Pine would probably be my last choice due to it’s softness. If I understand the technique you plan to use, the drawer bottoms will ride on a wooden rail. That would be another reason to avoid pine, because a soft wood will wear faster. There is no reason to avoid an open grain wood like ash. Thickness of the sides depends somewhat on the size of the drawers, but 1/2” seems to be a standard thickness for dresser-sized drawers. I would re-think using solid wood on the bottoms. Thin plywood is easier and more stable.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works

View TheFridge's profile


9449 posts in 1482 days

#9 posted 01-12-2015 02:34 AM

If you use solid bottoms make sure they float and aren’t glued in place.

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

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3659 days

#10 posted 01-12-2015 02:38 AM

I’m another fan of maple for drawer boxes … I have used 1/2” hard maple and like the way it finishes.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View jdh122's profile


1008 posts in 2813 days

#11 posted 01-12-2015 11:35 AM

There’s no problem at all in using solid wood for the bottoms, been done for centuries. Just make sure that, as TheFridge mentioned, they float, plus that the grain is oriented so that the bottoms expand and contract from front to back of the drawer (in other words, the grain on the bottom runs from side-to-side). The back of the drawer should be shorter than the front, so that the drawer bottom can slide in from the back. There should be a short slot in the bottom that gets a screw into the back piece.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View Redoak49's profile (online now)


3242 posts in 1984 days

#12 posted 01-12-2015 02:33 PM

I use Ash for my drawer sides…It is relatively cheap and work easily.

If I was making furniture that was going to be heritage quality, I would make solid wood bottoms.

For kids rooms which will get hard use, I might use Baltic Birch for drawers bottoms.I might also use a harder wood for the outside like oak or maple.

View bondogaposis's profile


4725 posts in 2347 days

#13 posted 01-12-2015 02:48 PM

I like poplar for drawer sides. I think in most situations 1/2” drawer sides are about right, for larger drawers a 5/8” is good. Maple or birch iis another good choice although more costly. Poplar is cheap and usually free of defects and machines well. I re-saw it from 4/4 stock. Although My BORG has poplar in 1/2” thickness, and sometimes I go that route if I am in a hurry, it is quite expensive that way. I usually use plywood for the bottoms because it is fast and cheap and and I don’t have to make wide glue ups and really no one cares what their drawer bottoms are made of as long as they are functional. That is unless I am making reproduction furniture. I have never used ash for drawer sides, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View RogerM's profile


792 posts in 2395 days

#14 posted 01-12-2015 02:57 PM

I have used poplar, elm. pecan, and maple for drawer sides and backs. Never pine. All of these have performed well.

I am inclined to say you are worrying too much over something that is not that critical.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10479 posts in 3424 days

#15 posted 01-12-2015 03:17 PM

Poplar or maple. 1/2” or 3/8”.
I use 1/4” Baltic Birch for bottoms and they are loose.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

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