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The ULTIMATE Guide to DIY Drawers: The Easiest Way to Make and Install Drawers

I’m Zoe.
My mission is to teach you to  confidently build magazine-worthy DIYs. I used to be terrified of power tools, which is why I'm a firm believer that ANYONE can DIY.
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When it comes to DIY furniture projects, few things scare people away more than drawers. Making and installing drawers usually get a bad rap for being extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, making and installing drawers can actually be pretty simple if you have a system. Over the years we’ve tried a handful of different methods, some easier than others, and in this post, you’ll find our favorite method for making drawer boxes and attaching drawer slides.

Once we figured out these methods, drawers felt simple. I hope this post leaves you feeling the same way!

In this post we’ll discuss:

Let’s dive in.

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How to Make a Drawer

Before we jump into building a drawer box, let’s answer the question: “what wood should you use to build a drawer?”

Typically, we like to use plywood because it’s cost-effective, it’s pretty stable and doesn’t expand and contract a lot based on temperature, and we typically have a bunch laying around. Most people will build their drawer boxes out of 1/2″ plywood for the sides and then use 1/4″ plywood for the bottom.

For the method we’re using, you’ll need to use plywood or wood that is at least 1/2″ thick for both the sides and the bottom.

In the example photos that we’ll use in this post, we used 3/4″ plywood for our entire box. 1/2″ plywood is plenty strong enough for most drawer boxes, but we generally use 3/4″ just because it’s what we have on hand.

To sum up, you can either wood (like poplar or pine) or plywood to build a drawer box. Most drawer boxes will use 1/2″ plywood, but you can also use 3/4″ plywood if you already have that on hand.

Alright, now that we have our wood choice out of the way, let’s build a drawer box!

STEP 1: DETERMINE THE SIZE OF YOUR DRAWER BOX

Before we make anything, we need to determine the size of our drawer box. For this tutorial, we’ll be using ball-bearing side mount drawer slides.

To Determine the Drawer Slide Length and Drawer Box Depth:

To determine the depth of our drawer boxes, we first want to know the depth of our drawer slides.

For inset drawers, measure the depth of your opening and then subtract 1/2″ and the thickness of your drawer front. Round down to the nearest inch. This will be the drawer slide size you need.

For overlay drawers, you’ll measure the depth of your opening and subtract 1/2″. Then round down to the nearest inch to get the drawer slide size you need.

Now that you have your drawer slide length, add 3/16 – 1/4″ to get the total depth of the drawer box.

Note: you want to add an additional 3/16″ or more to your drawer slide length because most ball-bearing drawer slides will require a setback on the drawer box itself.

To Determine the Width:

Measure the width of your opening and then subtract 1″. This is pretty standard, but double-check the instructions that come with your drawer slides.

To Determine the Height:

I generally like to make my drawer boxes 2-3″ shorter than the height of my opening, but the height is pretty flexible–just make sure that they are smaller than the opening.

STEP 2: CUT YOUR PIECES

Now that you know how big your drawer box should be, we can start cutting our wood.

You’ll need to make a front, a back, two sides, and a bottom for each drawer. You’ll also want to cut 2-4 spacers. The following are how you will cut the sizes (x = thickness of wood):

  • Sides = Drawer Slide Length + 3/16″
  • Front / Back = Width – 2(x)
  • Bottom = one side will be the same measurement as the front/back, the other measurement = Sides – 2(x)
  • Spacers = Height of sides – x

STEP 3: DRILL POCKET HOLES

The thickness of your wood will determine which Kreg Jig settings you use. If using 1/2″ plywood, use the 1/2″ settings. If using 3/4″ plywood, use the 3/4″ settings.

Drill two pocket holes on both ends of the front and back pieces. Then drill 2-3 pocket holes on each edge of the bottom.

The pocket holes are strategically placed on the front and back pieces of the drawer box for two reasons: 1: you will never see them. The holes are the back will be facing the back and the holes on the front will be covered by the drawer front. 2: It’s stronger. Since the pocket holes are going into the sides, you won’t accidentally rip off the front of the drawer box when you pull it open.

STEP 4: APPLY EDGE BANDING

If you’re building your drawers out of plywood, we highly recommend adding edge banding to the top of each of the front, back, and side pieces. This will give your drawer boxes a more complete and polished look.

For a full tutorial on how to apply edge banding, check out this post.

If you’re using solid wood on your drawers, you can skip this step and move right along to step 5.

STEP 5: ASSEMBLE THE DRAWER BOX

We’ll assemble the drawer box using wood glue and Kreg screws. If you’re using 1/2″ plywood, use 1″ Kreg screws. If using 3/4″ plywood, use 1.25″ Kreg screws.

First attach the front to the first side, making sure the pocket holes are facing out towards you. You don’t want any pocket holes to face inward.

Then attach the front to the second side.

Next, flip the drawer box up so that it is sitting on the table in the same direction it will sit as a drawer.

Slide the bottom between the two sides and then place the back. Clamp the back in place and screw it in.

The reason we place the bottom in before adding the back is to make sure that everything is square and fits well. We wouldn’t want to screw in the back and then find out it was too tight to squeeze in the bottom.

Now that we have a frame, we’ll place our spacers close to each corner. If the bottom is snug, that’s great, just flip the box and set it on top of the spacers. If the back isn’t snug, set the back on the spacers. The spacers are there to hold the bottom up while you screw it in.

Now that we’ve built the drawer box, it’s time to actually install the drawer slides.

How to Install Drawer Slides

For this tutorial, we’ll use side-mounted ball-bearing drawer slides. I recommend getting full extension so that you have easy access to your full drawer. You can also get them in a soft close option.

In this tutorial, we’ll also assume you do not have a face frame. If you do, you’ll need to attach something to the sides of your opening so that the drawer slides are bumped out and lined up with the face frame.

When using ball-bearing drawer slides, the slides consist of two pieces: the piece that attaches to the drawer box and the piece that attaches to the side of your cabinet or furniture.

The smaller inside piece is what attaches to the drawer box itself.

To attach the drawer slides, we’ll be using 1/2″ truss screws. Some drawer slides will come with screws and others won’t so be sure to check before you leave the store.

STEP 1: ATTACH DRAWER SLIDES TO DRAWER BOX

I like to attach the drawer slide to the bottom edge of the drawer. This helps me to keep things nice and straight without additional measuring.

The key for installing drawer boxes is making sure that everything stays nice and straight and lined up. If things are crooked, especially if just on one side, your drawers won’t want to slide.

Before installing the drawer slides, push your drawer slides so that they start to slide easily and so that you can tell which way is the front.

On the side of your drawer box, mark 3/16″ from the front (double-check with your drawer slide instructions that your particular drawer slides should be set back 3/16″). I like to use my multi-mark tool for this for consistent and easy measuring.

Now line the front of your drawer slide up with your mark and line the bottom of the full drawer slide up with the bottom of the drawer. I recommend pressing a square or ruler up against the bottom of your drawer box to make sure that the drawer slide is nice and flush.

Once in position, screw your drawer slide to the drawer. There will likely be three hole options that you can screw into. Two of the holes are more of an oval shape and allow you to make adjustments easier if you need to later.

With this method, you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments, so you can screw into any of the holes. Just be consistent with which one you screw into as you work your way down the drawer box. There will be 3 screws on each drawer slide.

As you’re screwing in, double-check that your slides are still lined up flush with the bottom of your drawer box.

Once you have the first slide in, flip your drawer box over and repeat with the second side. Double-check that your drawer slide is lined up with the bottom and that the front is facing the same direction as the one you just installed.

Once you have both the slides in, you can remove the part of the drawer slide that will be attached to the cabinet. To remove it, there is a black tab. Press it in and then pull the slide out.

STEP 2: ATTACH DRAWER SLIDE TO CABINET

Now it’s time to attach the second part of the drawer slide to your cabinet or furniture.

First, we’ll cut a spacer that will help keep our drawer slide nice and straight and will help minimize measuring.

You can either cut a long piece that will span the entire depth of your drawer box or you can use a piece from something like a 1×3 or 1×4 that you can move as you install the drawer slide.

In the photo example, we used a 3/4″ piece of plywood as our spacer.

Now that we have our spacer, we need to determine the setback. If your drawers are inlaid, you’ll measure and mark 3/16″ + the thickness of the drawer front. If your drawers are overlay, you’ll just measure 3/16″ back from the front of the cabinet.

Place your spacer on the bottom of your cabinet and then line the drawer slide up with your set back mark. Screw your drawer slide into place.

If your spacer doesn’t span the whole depth of the drawer box, move the spacer to be underneath where each screw is as you go along.

STEP 3: SLIDE YOUR DRAWER INTO PLACE

Now it’s time to slide the drawer box into place! To slide it in, line up the drawer slides on either slide and push it in.

The first time you slide it in, it might not feel too smooth. Don’t worry — the tracks are just getting set and situated. It’ll get smoother as you pull it in and out a few times.

How to Install Drawer Fronts

STEP 1: GET THE RIGHT SPACING

Place your cabinet or furniture on its back so that you can set the drawer front in place without having to hold it up.

For inset drawers, to get consistent spacing, use a deck of cards. Place an equal amount of cards on the top and bottom of the drawer to center it height-wise and then repeat with both sides. Typically, you’ll use approximately 8-12 cards on each side.

Note: Place 1-2 pieces of painter’s tape on the top of your drawer front to help you open the drawer before the hardware is installed. We forgot so it’s not represented in our picture.

STEP 2: ATTACH DRAWER FRONT TO DRAWER BOX

Once you feel content with the spacing, gently attach your drawer front to the drawer boxes using #6 wood screws. You’ll drive the screw through the holes that you made for your hardware. Don’t tighten the screw all the way — we don’t want to accidentally drill too far and enlarge the hardware holes!

STEP 3: SECURE DRAWER FRONT TO DRAWER BOX

Next, carefully open the drawer, making sure not to bump the drawer front out of place.

Now we’ll clamp the drawer front in place and secure it through the inside of the drawer box. If your drawers are already painted or stained, place a piece of painter’s tape on your clamp to avoid messing up the finish.

If your drawers are deep, secure the drawer front in place through each corner of the drawer box front. If your drawers are shallow, you can secure it with just 2 screws.

Since our drawer box and drawer front were both .75″ thick, we used 1.25″ screws to secure our drawer box. Make sure your screw is not too long – you don’t want it to poke through the front!

Once you have the drawer front secured to the drawer box, you can remove the screws that you drilled through your hardware holes.

STEP 4: PRE-DRILL FOR HARDWARE

Yes, I know you already pre-drilled for your hardware, but now we need to pre-drill through the drawer front and all the way through the drawer box as well.

Note: if you’re using 3/4″ plywood for your drawer box, you’ll likely need to get an extra-long screw to attach your hardware, OR you can countersink the hardware holes in the drawer box. The standard screws that come with hardware will likely not be long enough to account for the 3/4″ drawer box and drawer front.

STEP 5: INSTALL THE HARDWARE

Insert the screws through the drawer box and tighten them on your hardware.

There you have it! Now you know how to build a drawer box, install drawer slides, and finish your project with a perfectly spaced drawer front.

Do you have any other questions about making and installing drawers? If so, put them in the comments below!

Projects With Drawers: DIY Shutter Sideboard | DIY Coffee Bar Cabinet | DIY Entryway Bench with Storage Drawers | The Ultimate Laundry Folding Station with Drying Rack Drawers

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