Video: Three Ways to Build Professional Quality Drawers
Michael Alm makes three different kinds of drawers. Ones with wood slides, ones with side mounted metal slides, and ones with undermount drawer slides.
You can find more great projects and techniques from Michael Alm at his website.
Michael Alm: When I first started woodworking, I remember the most intimidating thing was building drawers. I thought it was impossible to get them to fit right and measured correctly, but I've learned a lot of tricks over the years and that's what I'm going to cover right now. I've got three different styles of drawers on this workbench. There's the wooden slides, the side-mounted slides and the under-mounted slides. These are all great things to know if you're going to build furniture, if you're going to build shop furniture. Let's get into the details of how these drawers were made.
We're going to start off building the top three drawers, which are the ones that are going to use the wooden drawer slides. I've chosen wooden drawer slides for a few different reasons. I like that they're removable, it's really easy to just pull them in and out so that Ashley can use them for storing parts, and then she can set them on top of the workbench. It's also a great option if you just don't want to go out and buy drawer slides.
These can be made out of the same material as the drawer itself, and it's super handy and super affordable. I'm going to start off by measuring everything out. I like to do little drawings inside of my sketchbook so I can track exactly where all the measurements are that I have in my head, and I'm going to lay out all the different spacing. I have two inches is the depth that I want in my drawer, I'm going to have a quarter-inch bottom, and then three-quarter inches for the runners.
I add all of that up and then I also drew a drawing of the drawer itself and the joinery, just little details. Really all I'm trying to get is a cut list so that I know exactly how many pieces that I need to cut and what thickness. Over the table saw I can set up my depth of cut, in this case it's going to be two inches. These are going to make up the sides, back and front of all the drawers. I don't have a stop block on my chop saw.
I know this is barbaric, but what I do is I just screw a block of wood down to my tabletop. It works for now, I think down the road I'll probably install some T-Track or something. This first setup is to cut the sides of the drawers, and then I'm going to use those drawer sides to measure out for the drawer faces. The drawer sides are made out of half-inch plywood and I'm going to be cutting a quarter-inch rabbet into each one.
With that quarter inch rabbet doubled, it equals half an inch, I can use that half-inch plywood to measure my mark for the faces and the backs. Once I cut that mark, I want to cut it a little bit small because I want to have some play inside the cabinet so that the drawer box doesn't bind. This will make a lot more sense once it's assembled. For now, I've got the fronts all cut and it's time to set up to make that rabbet.
A rabbet is just a fancy term for a notch at the end of your workpiece, and all I want is to remove a half an inch, which is the thickness of my plywood, and have that at the depth of a quarter inch. I'm just setting this up on my cross-cut sled. It's really easy to do this with a stop block. I'll make the first cut and then I'll just hog out the rest of the material. You may have noticed that I was cutting the initial rabbet on a piece of scrap. It was intentional.
I actually made two scrap cuts and tested the fit just to make sure that everything's lining up properly. Make sure that my blades are the correct depth and that I have enough of a gap on the sides of the drawer to make sure it'll run smoothly. Once I've confirmed that, I can go through the six sides of the three drawers and cut out all my rabbets. I've only cut these rabbets on one edge because this will be the face.
For the back, I want to inset that rabbet which- an inset rabbet is called a dado and I'm going to be using another stop lock plus added scrap piece of plywood that I have the exact thickness of the plywood. Now if I slid it over and cut it exactly against the stop block, I would add an eighth of an inch from my saw blade. I offset that with an eighth-inch spacer and then that should give me the exact same width as my plywood.
The reason I'm going to the trouble of insetting this as opposed to putting a rabbet on the other side is that there's no physical stop in this drawer. I want it to be removable, but there's no stop. If you were to pull the drawer all the way out and you get to the end of the drawer, you'd probably just dump things on the floor. By setting it in by three inches, it gives you three inches worth of space to just make sure you can access all the contents but you don't accidentally pull the drawer all the way out.
Now I can dry fit the drawer and make sure everything looks right and measure out for the drawer bottom. I'm making the bottom out of quarter-inch plywood. These are just going to be glued directly onto to the base and for that, I just need to cut them exactly the same width and depth as the size of the drawer. Since this is a two-inch deep drawer, it's not going to take a lot of weight and I'm not too concerned about this. As we get into other drawer construction options, further on in this video I'm going to show you how to do a captured bottom that will be quite a bit stronger.
If you're going to have a lot of weight in your drawer, this might not be the best method. If you don't have a brad nailer in your shop, that's fine. You can glue and clamp this. I do recommend reinforcing the base with nails or screws. Just because I think over time, especially with cheaper plywoods, the quarter-inch can kind of pull it pull apart. You totally don't need an air compressor in order to build drawers, it just speeds things up.
To deal with the squeeze-out inside the drawer I like to just use a regular drinking straw and pick up the excess glue. While I wait for the drawers to dry, I can start making the runners, and I'm going to be making these out of three-quarter-inch plywood. This is Baltic Birch plywood. If you're using a lower grade plywood, you may want to make this actually out of hardwood.
I'm going to be pre-drilling the holes to attach it to the cabinet and I'm drilling through the plies, this will help to strengthen that plywood, prevent it from delaminating over time. I can then flip the cabinet upside down and insert the first drawer. This will eventually be the top drawer. I use Handi-Shims, which you guys know that I love. These are the 16th-inch Handi-Shims and they just give you enough space so that the drawer has room to move. I use those pre-drilled holes to connect the runners to the sides of the cabinet and then I can repeat the process for the rest of the drawers.
With the drawers fully installed, you can now see how that false back works. It allows me to fully extend the drawer without pulling it all the way out of the cabinet. The first three drawers are done and they're working great. They still need drawer fronts, but before I do that, I want to build the lower drawers. These three drawers are going to take a little more weight and they also don't need to be removable. For them, I'm going to use metal drawer slides.
This is the type of drawer slide that you can find in pretty much any big box store. These I purchased the soft close variety. The first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to stack both of them against each other and I'm going to measure out the width and measure out the height. Again, I'm going to go back to my sketchbook and make some drawings. The purpose of this drawing is to make sure that I have all the spacing correctly so I can figure out what drawers go and where.
Essentially I just divide up the cabinet into its excess spaces and what I found out was I needed one eight-inch drawer and two four-inch drawers. That's what I'm doing here. You'll notice that I switch to three-quarter-inch plywood. I'm doing that because I want to show how to build drawers with a pocket hole construction. I don't generally build this style of drawers with client builds, with proper furniture, but I do this a lot when I need to make drawers for shop furniture. If you need to bang out a bunch of drawers for your shop, this is a great way to go.
Once again, I've cut the sides first and now I'm going to measure up for the front. We're not using the rabbet on this one. It's just a straight measurement. The only thing is I don't want it super tight. There's actually flexibility in this style runner. you want a little bit of space once again so that it doesn't bind up. I cut a test piece to make sure that it fits really nicely, and then I go through and cut my actual pieces to length.
Another difference with this drawer construction is that we're going to do a captured bottom, and so I need a dado track in there to receive the bottom. I set my table saw fence at a quarter-inch and the depth of cut at a quarter-inch that and run all my pieces through. Now, this dado track is only an eighth-inch wide since my table saw blade is only an eighth-inch. In order to double that up, I'll move my table saw fence over an eighth-inch and then I'll cut the track again to give me a quarter-inch.
With the dado tracks cut and all the pieces, I can now figure out how big of a drawer bottom to use. I like to use this method where just take a drawer face, lay it on a side and trace it out, trace out where the dado stops and I get really close measurement. If I just trust my measurements from before, there's a good chance it's not going to line up perfectly. You also want to cut these drawer bottoms a little bit short.
Measurements that I'm finding on the tape measure from the mock-up, I might shave off a 32nd of an inch, just to make sure that it doesn't bind up during glue up. Now, it's time to add in the pocket holes. I get out my pocket hole jig kit here. I just drill two per side on the four-inch drawers, and I did three per side on the eight-inch drawers.
With that, all the parts are ready to go and they are ready for assembly. I'm not using any glue on these. I'm just using the screws. It makes for a really, really quick build.
Before I install the metal drawer slides into the cabinet, I like to cut a couple of jigs first. These are just simple plywood jigs that allow me to stack the drawer slide on top of them and get even spacing. The main thing is not that the spacing is that important, it's more that they're consistent. If you're making a bunch of these cabinets, you can have them consistent across an entire kitchen or you can also just make sure that they're parallel on both sides of the cabinet.
As you can see, I just stacked the drawer slide into place. You may need to pull the drawer slide apart just to get access to all the different holes. Then once that's done, I can remove those jigs and use them again on the other side, making sure that both sides are exactly the same. I set up the spacing on the drawers so that I had three-quarters of an inch between each one. I can just use these scrap pieces of three-quarter inch plywood to set the drawer on top of and then I can mark out for my holes.
Start from the front of the cabinet and work my way back, you can see I slide those spacer pieces, the three-quarter inch plywood out as I go, just to make sure it's fully supported. Make sure that it's parallel to the bottom of the cabinet. I found with these drawer slides that I needed to release this little catch mechanism to get all the way back to the back screw hole. The next drawer goes in exactly the same way, I use those same scrap pieces, put them into place and then slide in the drawer.
Real quick, I wanted to mention that the plans for this workbench are finished. They are available on my website at almfab.com/plans. I have them available in imperial as well as metric. I have a version of it that is just made out of wood. If you don't have a welder, you don't have to make the steel frames. There's an alternative to that as well. Go check out the plans. I've worked really hard on these to make them really comprehensive, easy to follow and a great entry-level build for your workshop.
Again, that's almfab.com/plans. With the six drawers built and installed, it's time to make some drawer fronts. For this. I'm just going to start at one drawer. I'm going to start with the bottom drawer, get that one lined up nicely and then work my way in from there. I find that if I try and cut all of the drawer fronts at once, I'm going to mess something up and not get the spacing just right.
I put a chamfered edge around the outside of the drawer front, just to give it a little bit more of a finished look. Then I could clamp it into place and screw it in from the back. The next easiest drawer to measure is the top drawer. Since the top drawer is exactly the same as the two drawers below it, and I gave that three quarter inch space, they should be exactly the same. I just made three drawer fronts exactly the same way, added a chamfer and then I can install those as well.
Now all that's left to measure is the two center drawers, and this is super simple. I stacked up three 16th-inch Handi-Shims because I'm doing a 16th-inch gap and there's three gaps. Then I measure between the two and then take that number and split it in half. I can already hear the comments from the metric users out there. I know, I literally have to look this up on a chart. It's ridiculous.
With those two drawer fronts cut, I can just set them up on a couple of Handi-Shims at 16th of an inch. Once again, Handi-Shims are coming through for the win. I'm not sponsored by Handi-Shims by the way. I just absolutely love the product and I find myself using them all the time. I will put a link down below. This cabinet is just about done but I do need to add some drawer pulls.
For that, I have this cabinet hardware jig from Kreg. This is super handy if you're going to do a bunch of these, especially if you're going to do an entire kitchen. It's got positive stops for the standard sizes of hardware. You can set the depth so that every cabinet comes out exactly the same. One thing that you might find if you do false fronts like this, is that the screws that come with the cabinet hardware are just not long enough.
An easy solution to that is to drill your hole and then go back with a Forstner bit and open it up so that you've got enough room for that screw head to sink inside. As you can see, I have the cabinet reinstalled and all the drawers are in. That section is done. I've also installed a couple blocks under here and here. Those are going to be for the third style of drawer slide and these are under mounted drawer slides. These are made by Blum. They're available on the Rockler website, and I love these style of drawer slides.
They are full extension, soft close feature, really strong. The coolest thing about them is that they completely conceal underneath the drawer when the drawer box is built. The only downside to these is that they have really confusing instructions. I'm at the point now where I just measure directly off of the cabinetry. I'm going to show you how to do that, so it'll make it way easier to install this style slide.
I'm going to install the drawer slide right away. This way, I can just get direct measurements off of the cabinetry and make sure that I don't have any issues. One of the things that the instructions tell you to do is sort of plan out and add this and take away that, depending on your situation. I find it's much easier to just measure directly. One thing to note about these clips is that they sit about a 30'' wider than the runners.
You're going to want to take that into account when you measure the runners. You're going to add an extra 16th because there's two of these 30'', one on each side. The measurement that I just took is the width of the rails. Then I add that sixteenth, which is that 30'' on each side. That gets me the space in between the inside of the sides of the drawer. What I want is the outside, which means that I just have to double the thickness because I've got two sides.
Each one is a half an inch wide and so I end up with an extra inch wider. I started with 21 and 7/8, ended up with 22 and 7/8. The next measurement that you want to take is how much height you have? In this case, I don't have a lot. I'm going to go with an inch and three quarters just so I've got plenty of room above it. Then when it comes to the thickness, it's about a half an inch until it bottoms out on this little tab here. I'm going to do a profile.
I'll draw out all the elements and figure out how how tall I need these drawers to be. If that seemed a little bit confusing, I think it's going to make more sense once I put this together. I've cut it down to two and a quarter inches, which is going to be the height of my drawer. Then I'm going to cut the sides to 21 inches, which is the length of the runners. It's basically what it says on the package. I'm rabbeting both ends of this. Both sides will get two rabbets, one on each end.
I'm going to dado in the drawer bottoms on this one as well. The only difference is rather than doing a quarter-inch, I'm doing a half an inch. You need to do a half an inch on this style, so that there's enough room for the clips to sit underneath. The last thing to do is to take the back piece and actually trim off at the same width, because those runners need to go through the back, and some people just notch these out, I just cut the back off so it's a little bit shorter. I'll show you how it all assembles in a minute.
This is really a hybrid between the first two methods of drawer building, and this is really close to how I build drawers for high-end furniture, not a whole lot different. I might edge band them or I might do a little bit fancier joinery, but for the most part this can be a really nice drawer that can go in a fine piece of furniture. You can see that the bottom panel now sticks out all the way to the back edge, and that just allows for glue surface for this back piece to be glued on.
As you can see, the back piece lines up with those side pieces because it was cut using the same setup on the table saw. I've seen other people slide in the bottom panel at this stage which is a great way to do it as well. You can slide in the bottom panel, you can actually build these so the bottom panel is removable and replaceable, but I didn't think that was necessary in this case.
I just got this JIG IT undermount drill guide system from Rockler and it's a great little jig if you're going to be doing a bunch of undermounted drawer hardware. It's set up to drill the holes for the clips, as well as the little hole in the back, which we'll talk about in a minute. All you have to do is set up the stop collar, and then align your jig with the corner and it's set up to drill the holes in exactly the right position as well as the correct angle.
You drill those holes on both sides, and then you're ready to screw in the screws and attach the clips. There's a registration pin in the back of each undermounted drawer slide, and in order to accommodate for that you need to drill a hole in the back. The JIG IT drilling guide is also set up to drill that hole in exactly the right spot. I did find with my type of construction that I needed to put a little quarter-inch shim in the back corner to get it aligned correctly, but that wasn't a big deal.
After that, we are ready to install the drawer. It's super simple, these are easy to install as well as remove, and there are loads of adjustments on them as well, in case you just need to slide it to the left, to the right, up or down, you can see that nice soft close. The last thing to do is to attach the drawer front and once again I'm just using Handi-Shims, some clamps and I screwed in from the back side.
While I was working on the drawers I also made one of these, which is a mock-up side frame for this workbench. I have full build plans on my website for the workbench in both the steel and the wood, and imperial as well as metric, so make sure you go check those out. We're going to be wrapping up this project next week with the back panel, we'll organize that all out. I'll get it ready for Ashley to use and then it'll all be done. Make sure you hit that subscribe button, that notification bell and I'll catch you in the next one.