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Thread: How do you make drawers?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Columbus, Ohio, USA

    Question How do you make drawers?

    Embarrassed to ask this, but...

    How deep should the groove be?
    How tight should the bottom be?
    How thick should my sides be?

    I have been making drawers by creating a dovetailed rectangle carcass and then cutting a groove for the bottom.

    I usually use plywood for the bottom (1/4" or 1/2").

    Assume I make the groove 3/16" deep and the bottom 1/16" undersized. I can have 1/16" play on either side. Even if the board moves 1/16" to the side, i still have 1/8" in both grooves to support the bottom. Is this safe?

    So, if I make a 3/16" groove, then how thick must the sides be? If The board is not thick enough, might the drawer break along the groove?

    Are there any rules of thumb such as for a large dresser drawer, use sides that are at least 5/8" thick (or 1/2" thick) and cut a groove 1/4" thick. How about a small desk drawer. Anything from 4" to 19" wide and maybe 12" (or less) deep?

    When I start thinking that I want a drawer that might be 2" or less deep, then cutting a groove starts taking a bunch of the depth because I might loose about 1/2" just to making room for the bottom.... 1/4" ply bottom where the groove begins 1/4" from the bottom.

  2. #2
    If you are just making drawers on rare occasion then how you make them might not really matter as long as they will last.

    But if you make drawers on a good basis then you would want to get a system for yourself that you can just use over and over again. Using the same type and thickness of materials to make you life easier by having the materials questions already answered for you.

    In my case I use 5/8" thick Euro Maple plywood. It is an 9 ply plywood made from Maple (duh).

    I use a Reliant dovetail jig, I use 1/2 Maple plywood (3 ply) for the bottoms. I make a 5/16" wide groove that is 1/4" deep. I make a rabbet on the bottom so it fits in the groove snugle. After I sand the plywood bottom it fits in a bit easier. The bottom is undersized 1/16". I measure the ID of the drawer and add 7/16" (+1/2"-1/16"=7/16")

    I make the groove in the sides/front/back 5/16" because that is as wide as I can make it without it exiting the dovetail pin/tail. That way you don't see any holes in your drawers.
    Last edited by Leo Graywacz; 10-14-2012 at 10:10 PM.

  3. #3
    There is no one right way. I usually do half-blind dovetails front and back. 5/8" stock. 1/4" ply bottom. Groove is 5/16" deep into the stock, and 1/2" up from the bottom (because I often use Blum undermount blu-motion slides). Everything fits tightly together. Whether it's dressers, bedside tables, or kitchen cabinets, I do them all this way. I have varied these dimensions for various projects, but like I said, there is no one right way.


  4. #4
    I do it the same way as Clint.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Camas, Wa
    I use 1/2" stock(usually popular) for the sides. I use 1/4" plywood for the bottom. I cut a 1/4" x 1/4" grove 1/4" from the bottom. Slides usually determine the grove height for the bottom though. If the drawer is really big, I use 1/2" plywood and cut a 1/4" rabbit around the edge so it fits into the 1/4" grove. On good stuff I use dovetails. For quick stuff I use dado rabbit combo. I got a really good deal on a drawer lock bit I want to try sometime.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Columbus, Ohio, USA
    Any changes for "small" drawers. As an example, consider small drawers for things like pencils or jewellery. Do you still use a 1/2" drawer side? I made a bunch of drawers that are shallow enough that I could not even find drawer slides short enough. I was afraid to go too thin because then I could not easily cut a groove for the bottom. Did not think that even with a small drawer that it was prudent to simply glue plywood to the bottom. I also lost some good storage height leaving room for the groove and the area underneath it.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    As the others have said, there's a whole lot of ways to make drawers and none is necessarily better than another. Having made a lot of drawers I've revised my system several times and this is my setup now. I use either 5/8" or 3/4" drawer stock depending on the application. I use 3/8" veneered mdf for the drawer bottoms as I just don't like how thin and flexible the 1/4" material is especially on larger drawers. I make the groove for the drawer bottom as deep as the dovetail allows. Basically I run a front through the dado blade adjusting so the groove runs exactly down the inside of a dovetail recess, then I raise the blade up until it's just shy of the top of the recess. This way the groove disappears when you assemble the box. I also go one step further and rip the back groove of the box off. This way allows me to install the bottom after I assemble the drawers which make it much easier for me to finish and allows for removal of the bottom down the road if necessary.

    Now if your not using dovetails you can make your grooves any size you want, I don't see a reason to have them any exact size? And further if your not using undermount slides you can have as little material under the bottom as you feel practical. I think 1/4" in a maple drawer for instance would be fine.

    good luck,

  8. #8
    Shop drawers, I favor drawer-lock joints or even pocket-holes. G&G stuff gets the traditional exaggerated finger joints. Traditional stuff will get a hodgepodge of joinery as I see fit. My go-to joint for drawers is the drawer-lock as it is quick, self aligning and not unattractive. I see too many dovetails and tend to avoid them except for panels but, that's just me. They are a staple of any craftsman's efforts and revered by most; always a crowd pleaser.
    Happy family, pale applause, each to his revolving doors.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Monroe, MI
    Dimensionally that sounds a lot like what I do. Construction-wise:

    For cabinetry, I frequently do pocket-hole-screw drawers made from 5/8" baltic birch. Someone by me is making pre-made sides at a great price. Just need to cut them to length and sand. However for my kitchen, I bought pre-made, pre-finished dovetailed drawers in maple for about $40/drawer. I'll go that route in the future for cabinetry if I need more than a couple. If I hadn't already bought slides, they could have provided those too, and with the cost savings from their pricing, it would have been about break even vs the cost of materials and slides purchased on my own.

    For furniture, I've dovetailed with a jig, by hand, and used through-Dominos. On a couple very small drawers I've just done rabbets. Usually in 1/2" solid stock.

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