Drawer Construction

Choosing an efficient method over farming out the work. June 4, 2004

For those of us who still make our own drawers, what is the preferred method used for a medium priced kitchen? I've got about 40 drawers to make. I'm debating farming them out, but I like the personal touch of building them myself. Does anyone use drawer lock bits? Price range for the kitchen is 11k.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
I build my cabinet boxes from 3/4" pre-finished birch ply so my drawers are made from fall off material with 1/4" bottoms. I run a 3/8" x 3/8" dado set back 3/8" on all the sides and a matching tongue on all the fronts and backs. Then a 1/4" x 3/8" dado 1/2" up from all the bottoms. Glue and clamp all five pieces together, then band the tops with pre-finished birch tape. No finishing needed, but I have to change the pull screws to 1 3/4" due to the thicker box. For kitchens I can make the drawers in a morning, but there never were forty drawers.

From contributor E:
With ash face frame kitchens, I like to make the drawers with the same ash thicknessed to 15mm. I make false front drawers and use Blum undermount sliders, so the front and back of the drawer box are the same, and the birch ply base fits into grooves in the drawer sides, and is pinned top the bottom edge of the front and back.

I use biscuits for the joints, reinforced with pocket screws (hidden by the false front at the front and behind the back of the drawer at the rear).

One coat of Danish oil to bring out the grain, and a couple of coats of matte water-based varnish. These drawers look terrific from the sides when they glide open, and no one has ever noticed the lack of dovetails. If they did, I would need to buy a dovetail jig. This might be a bit fancier than you had in mind, but still quite quick to do.

From contributor B:

I just loaded a kitchen in the truck that has 60 drawers, all Tandem undermount with Blue Motion. I used solid maple for the sides and banded plywood for the fronts and backs. (I got tired of gluing up drawer stock, so used the plywood instead.) I drilled the drawer boxes for dowels and lacquered all the parts, now to assemble them.... My norm is Meta-Box, so this is an extreme amount of work. The up charge was $100.00 per drawer.

From contributor R:
Forget the drawer lock bit! I used it years ago and some of the drawers didn't hold up. I dovetail the front of the drawer and dado the back into the sides, all solid wood.

From the original questioner:
I've always considered dovetailed drawers the strongest and most pleasing to the eye. I also think it's the most time-consuming method.

To contributor B: Metabox doesn't fit the market around here, nor do high prices. 60 drawers! How many hours do you think you have in them? 100.00 is a good upcharge if you can compete! I'd like to see a picture of your job and/or setup.

Dovetail the front and dado the back is the way I think I'll go. Thanks for all the advice.

From contributor M:
You could buy 1/2" thick pre-finished maple ply drawer stock blanks that come available with a pre-finished taped edge. They are available in 4", 8", 10", 12" by 8 feet long. One length would do a medium sized drawer and would cost about $12-$20 depending on height. I rabbet, glue and pin my sides onto the fronts and backs and staple my bottoms on for bottom mount Blum slides. It is super quick and efficient and no need for additional finishing. Any other method such as doweled or solid dovetailed sides with Blum tandem slides, it's better to farm them out. It is just not cost-efficient to make a more complex drawer when they can be ordered for $25-$45 a piece and can be marked up to $90-$100 and still be very competitive. DBS makes nice drawer boxes in So.CA. Cheap and 5 day turnaround. Will ship cross country.

From contributor K:
You guys might think this crazy, but I have devised a way to use my Porter Cable dovetail jig in combo with a plunge router to dowel my boxes together with pre-glued dowels. My boxes are melamine, but I don't see why you can't do it with any other material. I can tell you how if you are interested.

I just sub out my drawers now. It's way more cost-effective if you don't have the manpower, production equipment, space, etc. Try DBS. Great service and lead time.

From contributor D:
For what it's worth, we buy a 5/8" x 36" x 48" solid alder glue-up panel (per our spec) through one of our suppliers. This size optimizes well and can be processed like standard sheet goods. We had our local saw shop make up a 7/32" dado blade so 1/4" birch ply can be used for the bottoms. We construct with a butt-joint and use the new Miller dowel (small) for joinery. We 1/4" roundover the edges and finish with pre-cat lacquer. This makes a beautiful box and processes fairly quickly.

From contributor P:
I usually do my own drawer boxes instead of subbing them out. I did a full kitchen last year that had 20 drawers and 24 pull out trays and still did them myself. It only took two days for everything start-to-finish.

1/2" Finnish birch ply for the box sides and 1/4" ply for the bottoms. Get the good 1/2" as it'll have fewer voids and only costs $1 more per sheet. Rip and crosscut on the tablesaw (don't use a combo blade for the crosscuts - change to a fine tooth blade instead so you won't get splintering). Run a groove for the bottoms with a dado stack, and finger joint (box joint) the corners as the last operation. Then sand everything while it's just parts. You get into a rhythm after a bit and it goes fast. Assembly is just as quick with dots of glue in the fingers and a glue line in the bottom groove. A couple brads through the drawer bottom and up into the sides holds the drawer square while drying without clamps. Sand the overhanging fingers and edges after it's dry and skip the edgebanding. Router a roundover profile after the box is assembled if that's your preference for edge treatment. That way you don't get that obnoxious looking dip in the corners.

If your customer wants the edgeband, do that after ripping but before other milling operations. Maple edgeband is virtually indistinguishable on birch ply.

I don't charge extra for drawers since they're in the original bid/plan. I just bid the job with the drawers as part of the std price. I usually charge about $45 per. The box joint corners are a big selling point.

From contributor O:
For an attractive, durable and inexpensive drawer box, you can use maple print melamine board - 5/8" thickness is good - and screw, nail or staple the box together. Use a dab of melamine glue if nailing or stapling. Then get a roll of Dovetape by 2M corporation which has end-grain dovetail patterns on a transparent self-stick mylar backer (available in mock unfinished end grain for the look of kit drawers or pre-finished end grain to look like you did it yourself). Apply the Dovetape to the front and back edges of the drawer box and there it is. Be sure to locate the nail/staple/screwheads so the mock dovetails cover them.

From contributor N:
Don't you think that you are deceiving your customers? You are making them think they are getting real wood drawers with dovetail joints. It's like putting Ferrari emblems on a Yugo.

From contributor O:
Only the very best kind of customer would be allowed to purchase the chimerical dovetape drawers.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I use 3/4" pre-finished/edgebanded maple ply for the sides and 1/4" pre-finished maple ply for the drawer bottoms. I dado all four sides 3/8" from the bottom and drill pocket screw holes on the outside of the fronts and backs. The back and two sides are pocket screwed together, the bottom inserted, and then the front is pocket screwed on. I square up the box and toe 5/8" brads in the bottom. I drill 5/16" holes through the front and use washer head screws to attach the actual drawer front.