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Building Drawer Boxes

by Lorenz Prem
published on June 30 2011 8:16 pm

Building drawers begins with building the box. The box consists of the front, the back, two sides, and the bottom.

The bottom is usually made from thinner material than the other pieces. We chose to use the same material for all components of the drawer to simplify material management.

The pieces that form the walls of the box are joined together using one of many joint styles.

Simple butt joints are found on budget drawers. High end drawers typically use dovetail joints. Rabbets are typically used for the back. The choice of joint primarily affects the esthetics of the drawer. Strength is a minor consideration. Simple butt joints reinforced with nails are plenty strong enough for typical use in kitchen or home setting.


  • table saw or circular saw
  • router with slot cutter or table saw with dado blade
  • clamps
  • nail gun with finish nails (optional)


  • 1/2" plywood


The very handy drawer calculator makes creating the cut list a snap. Enter the desired dimension, choose the joint type, and press go. The drawer calculator creates the proper dimensions for the front and back, the sides, and the bottom.

The blum drawer calculator further simplifies the design by creating a drawer from the dimensions of the opening and the blum drawer slides used. You can get help with using either one using the Help link in the calculator.

Making the cuts

Cut the pieces from a sheet of plywood with your table saw. The calculator will produce exact measurements for you.If you are using hardwood, take special care to use only straight boards. Warped boards can make the drawer bind when it is installed. Plywood, being more stable than hardwood, is the preferred material.

Next route a channel for the bottom into the four pieces that form the wall of the drawer. This channel will accept the bottom when the drawer is assembled.

Install a dado bit in your router table. Alternatively you can use a dado blade in your table saw. The rip fence of the table saw is a great help with this operation. Try to cut all pieces of a drawer with the same setup. That way the drawer bottom will fit even if the fence is set incorrectly. All pieces will have the same error.

If you encounter tear out during this operation, try to feed the stock through in the direction of the grain. Even plywood has grain, which typically flows along the long edge of the sheet. Your blade or cutter will leave a much cleaner edge when cutting with the grain.

At this point the wall pieces are ready for joint cutting. Use whatever method is necessary to create the joint of your choosing. If you opt for butt joints, no further machining is necessary. The pieces can be assembled immediately.

If you plan to use undermount drawer slides, you must make a relief cut in the back for the slides (see picture above). The instruction that come with your slides spec out the dimensions of this cut. Two quick cuts on the table saw complete the bulk of the operation. Finish with a handsaw. If you have a band saw, you can use it for at least one of these cuts.


Assemble the drawer with glue, and brads, if you are using butt joints. By default the cabinet calculator creates a tight fitting bottom. This is the correct option for plywood. If you are using hardwood, the bottom should have an expansion gap all around and be left to float.

The choice of using a tight fitting bottom made from plywood makes it simple the square the drawer. Draw all joints tight with clamps. If the bottom is square, the drawer will automatically be square as well.

Drawers must be as square as possible, if not perfect. If a drawer is out of square by even a little bit, it will bind when opened and closed. Take special care to check for square when building hardwood drawers. The most vital measurement to get right is the squareness of the drawer's bottom piece.

Drawer Slides

After the a few hours in the clamps the drawer is ready for installation. If you are using undermount slides, install the clips and drill the pin hole in the back. The drawer is done.

Drawer construction can be streamlined. It's best to make several drawers at once. If you build just one drawer, machine setup time will be most of your time. If you build drawers in bulk, you can spread the setup time across drawers. The job will get done faster overall.

Built-In Closet Series

About the Author
"Lorenz is the founder of Hingmy. When he is not reviewing power tools or improving the site, he is building things in his workshop or playing hockey."