There are a hundred ways to build a drawer. But all you need to know is one.
I’m going to show you exactly how I build a drawer every time, whether it’s for a china hutch, a computer desk, or a shop workbench.
My method is easy, quick, and the drawer comes out very solid, stable, and square, every time. I’ll be building a computer desk drawer for this guide.
The tools and materials I use to build a drawer are:
- 1/2″ birch plywood for sides, front, and back
- 1/4″ mdf for the base
- 3/4″ solid wood for drawer face
- Table Saw
- Miter Saw
- Brad nailer and nails
- Drawer pull
The overall process viewed from 30,000 feet goes like this:
- Rip the drawer front, back, sides, and face on the table saw
- Cut rabbets at both ends of the 2 sides
- Cut grooves on the front, back, and sides to fit the base
- Glue and brad-nail the sides to the back
- Complete the base, then glue and nail the front
- Install the drawer pull, then attach the drawer face
That’s it, the six basic steps to building a drawer. At this point, you’ll be ready to mount drawer slides and install the drawer in its cabinet. So now we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty.
It Starts With A Plan
Before you start cutting, you’ll want to sketch out a plan of the completed drawer and individual components. This will allow you mark up your lengths of each board and keep your rabbets in line so you don’t make a mistake while cutting.
The plan does not need to be to scale, it just needs some basic details. Here are my plans for the desk drawer I’m building:
Table Saw Cuts Needed To Build A Drawer
As for the 1/2″ plywood, you can start with some rough length-cuts, just add 2 inches to the final length.
If you’re dealing with a full sheet, the initial cuts made on the plywood can be done with circular saw or jig saw if you don’t have a large table saw that can handle it.
But once you get them cut down close to right size, go ahead and rip them to the final width on the table saw. Trim just a bit off on the first cut so you have a good straight edge. Then flip it over and make the final width cut.
The drawer face (from solid wood of your choice) also needs to be ripped down to size. Just like with the plywood, you’ll have to crosscut roughly 2 inches longer than your final length.
If you plan on running the face board through a planer, you’ll want to add 4 inches to the final length. This allows for making your final cuts that can remove the 2″ of snipe at each end produced by the planer.
I had 4 pieces of scrap 1/2″ plywood laying around, so I cut mine down to the final width, and the lengths are all different. That’s fine too, as there’s plenty of excess board I can cut off to make the final length in the next step.
I’ll wait to cut the drawer base until I get the sides done and partially attached. Then I can make my final measurements to get the base just perfect.
Miter Saw Cuts To Build A Drawer
With the sides ripped to width, now you can cut them down to length on the miter saw.
If you’re looking for a good miter saw to do these basic furniture projects, I would suggest a 10″ sliding saw. You can read my reviews on them here.
So first you want to trim one edge from all four pieces, to square them up really well. I like to do this in one pass.
Then you’ll have 2 pairs to cut, 2 sides, and the front and back.
I also cut these 2 at a time since the sides are the same, and the front and back are the same.
So by cutting 1/2″ rabbets at the ends of the side pieces, you can easily and securely line up your boards when gluing and nailing. Here’s how the boards look after these rabbets are cut, dry fit together:
If you can tell, the rabbets help align the corners just right, and this gets the frame nice and square.
So the process I use for small rabbets like this is on the miter saw. My particular saw is the Craftsman 10″ sliding compound saw, which I review in detail here.
With this model, you can set up the adjustable stop so the blade only drops down a certain amount, without passing all the way thru the board.
With this set just right, now I mark 1/2″ from each end, and by making a series of cuts to remove all the material from the line to the edge, the rabbets will be complete.
You’ll also want to set up a backer board like I did here. Clamp it down to the cut bed. Go ahead and run your blade partially thru it so you can tell right where to line up your rabbet cuts.
Now The Grooves For The Drawer Base
When cutting grooves, it’s very important to keep the material firmly pressed down against the table saw. If the board raises at any point, it can make it difficult to properly set the base of the drawer.
Do accomplish this, I like to use my extra-tall sacrificial fence. Not for the sacrificial ability, but because it gives me something to clamp my feather-board to.
As you can see here, I position the feather-board right over the blade, as this is where I need even pressure on the plywood pieces:
The grooves are cut from 3/8″ from the bottom inside of each piece, and up 1/4″ (just enough to snugly fit the drawer base material).
My grooves will be just shy of a 1/4″ deep. So first make your initial groove cuts in each piece, like this:
Now slide the fence over just enough to get a good snug 1/4″ wide groove. It’s better to be too small here, as you can always take away just a bit more if your first attempt is too tight.
Here’s my drawer side with a perfect groove, just tight enough to hold itself on the base material.
Putting The Drawer Together
The joinery I use for these drawers is glue and brad nails. I’ll be using the Tool Shop 18ga brad nailer I picked up from Menards a couple years ago. I haven’t completed my review on this nailer yet, but when I do I’ll link to it here.
So now set the side and the back together on your work bench at 90 degrees. Have your nailer ready.
Put some glue on the joint and push the pieces together, holding them nice and tight where you want them.
Nail in 3 brads. I use enough glue to make quite a bit of squeeze out, just because I think it helps make the finished drawer more stable.
And then go ahead and glue and nail the other side board, to the other end of the back piece. Be sure to keep the lower nail above the grooves you cut, so you don’t get into the space for the drawer base.
Back to the base
Now measure the space between the sides, and add 3/8″ to allow for the grooves. This will be the final width of the base.
Go ahead and cut your 1/4″ base on the table saw. Most drawers are not nearly as wide as the one I’m making, so this first cut can easily be done along the table saw fence. When making this type of cut, be very careful and make sure you’re confident in the cut you’re making. Shop safety is very important and the last thing you want is a kickback, as that can cause serious injury.
After this width is cut, I slide it into the grooves, all the way down until it seats in the groove on the back piece:
And from here I make a cut mark on the base that allows for the final piece and its groove:
So now you just need to take the base over to the table saw for the crosscut, or even the miter saw if the drawer is narrow enough.
Now Close It All In
Once the base is cut down and inserted back into the grooves, you can glue in and brad nail the front to each side:
Build A Drawer – Complete The Face
This is when I like to make my final crosscuts on the drawer face, to get it just the right length for the box I just built.
Ultimately, the bottom of the drawer will be flush with the bottom of the drawer face. That’s how I’m doing this drawer, but you can offset the face lower if you want to. Just set the drawer on spacers while you attach the face.
But first you can drill countersunk clearance holes on the drawer front (not the face), from the inside of the box:
Now attach the drawer pull to the drawer face. I’m using a single point pull, so I just have to find the center point and drill a clearance hole. I’ll use a Forstner bit to countersink the back side so the bolt head doesn’t get in the way of the face mounting to the drawer front.
How to install drawer pulls
Now align the face to the drawer front, and clamp them together really well.
Take a drill bit and drilling through your clearance holes, make pilot holes in the drawer face on its backside.
And for this type of build, I just use 1/4″ drywall screws to attach the face.
Alternatively, if you prefer not to see screw heads within the drawer, you can glue the face to the drawer. However, if you do this, you may want to drill a large clearance hole in the middle of the drawer front, so you can access the bolt for the drawer pull later on if it needs to be tightened.
The Drawer Is Built
Now the drawer is put together, and it’s time to attach the drawer slides.
I’ll be using a Kreg jig for this operation, and I’ll walk you through setting it up and getting the drawer installed.
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