This handsome little cabinet just might solve the universal problem
of never having enough drawer space.
Small enough to tuck under a desk, it’s
also designed to stand on its own, and
its wide top can easily accommodate a
printer or a fax machine.
You can build this cabinet in a
weekend or two, because it’s made
with simple joinery. The case assembles
with biscuits and pocket screws,
and the drawers go together with lock
rabbet joints. There’s no fussy drawer
hardware to install, just cut-in hand
grips and screwed-on hardwood runners
to guide the drawers.
Despite its simple joinery, this
cabinet is very sturdy, and it can be
easily altered. Make it taller. Change
the drawer sizes. Add doors. And don’t
let the “office” designation fool you—
switch to MDF or Baltic birch to build a
great shop cabinet.
Square and flat
Both the cabinet and the drawers
must be perfectly square to allow
the drawers to glide freely without
binding. Make sure that your lumber
is milled flat; ditto for your glued-up
top and sides. Draw accurate layout
lines and verify that your tool set-ups
Build the cabinet
1. Milling and gluing solid wood
for the sides and top does take a fair
amount of time, so keep in mind that
you can substitute edge-banded
hardwood plywood for these parts,
without compromising the integrity of
2. Joint and plane your stock to
thickness. Then select and cut boards
for the top (A, Fig. A) and the sides (B).
3. Glue the panels together. To
keep the board faces flush, I glue the
joints one at a time (Photo 1).
4. Trim the glued-up panels to final
size. After trimming, stack the two
sides, to make sure they’re identical in
width, length and squareness.
5. Cut the side arches. Then finishsand
the sides and the top.
6. Locate the sides on the bottom
of the top (Photo 2). Make sure your
layout lines are square to the front
edge and parallel to one another.
7. To locate the biscuit slots on the
top and sides, clamp each side outsideface
up to top’s bottom face (Photo 3).
Align the side’s inside top edge with
the layout line and make sure the back edges are flush. Cut the slots into the
sides. Then stand the biscuit joiner on
edge and butt it against the cabinet side
to cut the slots into the top. Complete
the other side in the same manner.
8. Drill pocket holes in the inside
faces of each side, as shown in Fig A.
The locations aren’t specific; center
them between the slots and keep
them at least an inch away from the
outer edges. Drill pocket holes in the
stretchers (C) at this time as well.
9. To assemble each joint, glue
biscuits in the slots in the top,
spread glue into the slots in the
side pieces, and screw the pocket
screws through the sides into the
top (Photo 4). Use a large square to
make sure the sides remain square
to the top as you drive the screws.
10. Flip the cabinet over onto a
flat surface and position 2-7/8" wide
spacers on the inside (Photo 5). Set
the stretchers onto the spacers. Locate
the front stretcher 1-1/8" back from
the front of the cabinet, and the back
stretcher 1/4" away from the back.
Clamp the sides to the stretchers and
then drive in the pocket screws.
Build the drawers
11. Rip the drawer fronts, sides and
backs (D through J) to width and then
cut them to length.
12. Install a drawer lock bit (see
Sources, below) in your router
table and make test cuts in scrap
stock to correctly adjust the bit’s
height. (For complete how-to on
using drawer lock router bits, see “Lock Rabbet
Drawer Joinery,” AW #92, Feb ‘02,
page 60). Rout the ends of the drawer
sides first (Photo 6). Then change the
fence and rout the ends of the drawer
fronts and backs (Photo 7).
13. Cut 1-1/8" by 5-1/8" hand grips
in the drawer fronts and smooth the
curves by sanding.
14. Cut a groove for the drawer
bottom (K) in each drawer piece, starting
3/8" from the bottom edge. These
grooves always go on the routed face.
Match the groove’s width to the thickness
of your drawer bottom material.
Cut six drawer bottoms to final size.
15. Install a dado blade in your
table saw and cut a 3/8" deep by 3/4"
wide runner slot in the outside face of
each drawer side, starting 1-1/2" from
the bottom edge (Photo 8).
Using the same setup, cut notches
through the ends of all the drawer
backs, so that the runner slots and
notches align when the drawers are
assembled. Install a tall auxiliary fence
on your miter gauge to support the
drawer backs when sawing these end
grain notches. DO NOT cut notches in
the drawer fronts.
16. Assemble the drawers (Photo
9). Apply glue to each lock joint and
run a bead of glue in the grooves
to secure the bottom. Gluing in the
bottom helps to keep the drawer
solid and square. I find that it works
best to glue and nail one joint, seat
the drawer bottom into this corner
assembly, and then add the remaining
parts. I check to make sure the drawer
is square, and then nail the remaining
three joints. Brad nails effectively
clamp the joints while the glue dries,
but if you don’t have a brad nailer,
simply clamp the drawers and
make sure they're square before
setting them aside to dry.
Build and install
the drawer runners
17. The drawers slide on runners
(L) installed inside the cabinet. For the
drawers to operate smoothly, these
runners must be correctly located and
is to make
(M) that will
of these supports
on each side,
at the back),
to allow for the solid wood’s seasonal
movement. Start with a 6" x 22-5/8"
board (it should fit snugly inside the
cabinet, between the bottom stretcher and the top). Using the dimensions in Fig. B, and measuring from the bottom to the top, lay out the six 3/4" dadoes that will house the runners. Raise the dado set to 13/32" and cut the dadoes, using your miter gauge.
18. Rip the dadoed board into three or four 1-1/4" wide pieces to create the runner supports. Mark the bottom end of each piece, for reference.
19. Mill the drawer runners and test their fit in the drawers’ runner slots—the runners must slide freely. If the fit is too tight, shave a bit from the runners’ width.
20. Tip the cabinet on its side and clamp a 3/4" wide spacer flush with the front edge (Photo 10). This spacer positions the runners so the drawers will be slightly recessed inside the cabinet.
21. Position a pair of runner supports between the cabinet top and the stretchers. Fasten the rear support to the cabinet side, 1/4" inside the back edge (flush with the stretcher), to allow room for the cabinet back (N). Slide the runners through the supports’ dadoes and butt them against the front spacer. Fasten the front end of each runner with two countersunk screws. Then remove the front runner support. The back ends of the runners are held in position by the permanently installed support. Tip the cabinet onto its other side and install the remaining runners.
22. Cut and fit the front apron (P). Drill pocket holes in the back and cut the arch at the bottom. Glue and clamp the apron to the front stretcher and install the pocket screws.
23. Test fit the drawers (Photo 11). A tight fit is good, because it’s pretty easy to make the runners thinner. If the fit is too loose, you’ll have to make new runners or glue strips of veneer into the drawers’ runner slots.
24. Once you like the fit, it’s easy to make the drawers slide “like buttah” (Photo 12).
25. Install the top cleat (Q) 1/4" inside the back edge, so it’s flush with the runner supports. Cut, fit and install the cabinet back.
26. Apply your favorite finish. I like an oil/varnish blend, such as MinWax Antique Oil.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Drawer Runners and Supports
Fig. C: Drawer
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Glue up the panels for the sides and top. Work on a flat surface
and glue the joints one at a time.
2. Mark the location of the sides’ inside edges on the top’s bottom
face. Use a large square for accuracy.
3. Cut biscuit slots in the top and sides. Then drill holes for pocket
screws on the inside face of each side.
4. Fasten the sides to the top with glue, biscuits and screws. Clamp
a fence to the outside edge of the top, to hold the side in position
as you drive in the pocket screws.
5. Use spacers and clamps to accurately position the stretchers,
so you can drive the pocket screws. Frequently check the cabinet
during assembly, to make sure it remains square.
6. Use a drawer lock bit to create the drawer joints. First, rout both
ends of each drawer side. A shopmade jig stabilizes the workpiece,
holds it against the fence, and prevents blowout on the
7. Reposition the fence to shape the ends of drawer fronts and
backs. Set the fence so the depth of the cut matches the thickness
of the drawer sides.
8. Saw the runner slot in the outside face of each drawer side.
These slots will be used to mount the assembled drawer in the
cabinet. Always orient the bottom edge of the workpiece against
9. Assemble the drawers with glue and brad nails. Check each joint
to make sure the drawer is square.
10. Use supports and a spacer to accurately position the drawer
runners for fastening. Make the supports by cutting dadoes in a
wide board and then ripping it. The spacer establishes the drawers’
setback at the front.
11. Check the fit. If the drawer is too tight, remove both runners and
shave a bit of thickness from each one. Reinstall the runners and try
again. Keep removing and shaving until the drawers slide freely.
12. To make the drawers slide effortlessly, brush a coat of shellac
into the runner slots and onto the runners. Let the shellac dry and
then sand lightly.