Four Good Ways to Build Drawers

Christopher Schwarz & David Thiel offer simple, strong and fast ways to make this important furniture component.

From the October 2004 issue #143
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In woodworking magazines, books and plans there’s almost always an omission that’s big enough to drive a truck through: How to build the drawers for the project.

Usually the woodworking author (always well-intended, I can assure you) writes instructions such as: “Build the drawers using your method of choice.”

Well that’s all well and good unless you’re like a lot of woodworkers who have never actually chosen a method of drawer-making. To remedy this problem, we’ve come up with four good techniques for building drawers that our editors have refined after years of shop work.

Each method has its pros and cons. But based on your skill level and your particular set of tools, there is likely something here you can use for your woodworking. Before we discuss the differences of each method, here are the similarities.

Drawer Basics
When designing a drawer and coming up with a cutting list, here are some rules we follow.

In general, the drawer front should be 3⁄4″ thick – unless it’s a drawer with a “false front.” False-front drawers are a simple drawer box with the front screwed to the box. It’s a handy way to fit drawer fronts in projects where the drawers run on metal slides.

The sides and back of the drawer should be 1⁄2″ or 5⁄8″ thick. Use thinner stock for smaller drawers and thicker stock for big ones.

The bottom is usually 1⁄4″-thick plywood for small drawers or 1⁄2″-thick material for bigger drawers, or drawers that will hold heavy objects.

The bottom should slide into the drawer in 1⁄4″ x 1⁄4″ grooves milled in the sides and drawer front. If the bottom is thicker than 1⁄4″ you’ll need to cut a bevel or rabbet on its edges. The back of the drawer should be 1⁄2″ narrower than the sides to allow the bottom to slide into place at the rear.

Sliding Dovetails
This tricky technique uses only two setups on your router table to cut very strong drawers that are perfect for a project that uses drawer slides. That’s because it automatically creates a 1⁄2″ space for side-mount drawer slides.

The drawers go together like a puzzle, and the interlocking nature of the joint ensures their longevity. The downside to the technique is that you need to be very persnickety in setting up your tools; sliding dovetails do not suffer fools lightly.

The thickness of your materials must be dead on (check it with a dial caliper) and you must make a couple more test runs on scrap with this technique than the others. But once you master it, watch out. You’ll use it all the time.