How to Build a Basic DIY Drawer

top view of empty open DIY drawer
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Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 12 hrs - 1 day
  • Yield: 1 drawer box
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20 to $40

Building a DIY drawer box may seem complicated, but it doesn't have to be. While carpenters and DIY woodworking enthusiasts seem to come up with more elaborate, complex joinery every day, it isn't necessary to master dovetails or finger joints to build a strong drawer box. In fact, some common woodworking tools, wood glue, clamps, and nails or screws will do the trick.

Before You Begin

Before you start, determine the desired strength of your drawer based on what you plan to store in it. We chose 1/2-inch plywood sides and a 1/4-inch bottom for a standard drawer, but you could opt for thicker material to store something heavy, like tools in a workbench. Simply adjust the dimension to accommodate your chosen material thickness.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Table saw
  • Miter saw
  • Tape measure
  • Drill and bits
  • Hammer or brad nailer
  • Clamps
  • Pencil
  • Speed square
  • Orbital sander and paper
  • Level

Materials

  • 1/2-inch sanded plywood
  • 1/4-inch sanded plywood
  • 1/2-inch drawer slides and hardware
  • Wood glue
  • Brad nails
  • Prefabricated drawer front (optional)

Pocket Hole Joinery

  • Pocket hole jig kit
  • Pocket hole screws

Instructions

For demonstration purposes, our drawer slot's dimensions are 12 inches wide by 15 inches deep, with a height of 6 inches. However, these instructions can easily be modified to fit any size drawer slot.

  1. Measure Drawer Slot

    Start measuring your drawer slot's interior and jotting down the exact measurement of the depth, width, and height. With some slight adjustments to account for certain components, these will be the approximate dimensions of your drawer box.

  2. Find Drawer Box Height

    Because the bottom of the drawer will fasten directly to the frame, the total height of the front, back, and sides should be the drawer slot height minus the depth of your drawer bottom. We chose 1/4-inch plywood for the bottom, but this could be adjusted to thicker plywood for a heavier-duty drawer. Therefore, because our slot's height was 6 inches total, the height of the boards should be 5 3/4 inches.

  3. Rip Boards With Table Saw

    Use a table saw to rip the boards for the front, back, and side pieces to 5 3/4 inches.

  4. Measure and Cut Side Pieces

    The side pieces will layer over the front and back pieces to hide the end grain and the drawer will sit flush with the outside of the cabinet, so the length of the side pieces will be the full length of the drawer slot. For ours, this measurement is 15 inches. Cut the two side pieces to length using a miter saw.

    Tip

    If you don't plan to add a drawer front after construction of your box, swap the layout around so the front and back pieces layer over the ends of the side pieces, creating a seamless, flat board front when the drawer is closed.

  5. Measure and Cut Front and Back Pieces

    Finding the dimensions of the front and back pieces is a little trickier, but fairly simple nonetheless. To find this number, take the full width of the drawer slot and subtract the width of the drawer slides and the drawer sides. For example, our width is 12 inches, the drawer slides are half an inch each (1 inch total), and the sides are half an inch each (1 inch total). So, the width of the front and back pieces is 10 inches. Cut the pieces to length using a miter saw.

Joining With Nails and Glue

The quickest way to join the front, back, and side pieces is by using wood glue and brad nails. However, if the drawer is meant to house heavier items, skip ahead to the alternative pocket hole screw instructions.

  1. Glue and Nail Together

    As stated before, the front and back pieces will sit inside the side pieces. To securely join the pieces, apply an even layer of wood glue to each side of the joint and nail in place using either a brad nail gun or brad nails and a hammer.

  2. Clamp and Check Square

    To ensure the drawer box dries square, clamp in place and check for square. Adjust as needed and allow the glue to dry according to the instructions on the label.

Joining With Pocket Hole Screws

For a more secure drawer that can handle more weight, pocket hole screws and glue are the better joinery option.

  1. Determine Position of Pocket Holes

    To hide the pocket holes, position them on the front if you plan to add a drawer front and on the side if not. We plan to add a drawer front, so we positioned our pocket holes on the front and back pieces.

  2. Drill Pocket Holes

    Slide the front piece into the pocket hole jig and screw four evenly spaced holes. Turn it around to the other end and repeat this process. Once complete, move on to the back piece and repeat the process.

    Tip

    While you may be tempted to position the holes inside the drawer to hide them, refrain from doing this, as coming from the outside provides more meat for the screws to grab, resulting in a stronger joint.

  3. Glue and Screw Together

    Apply an even layer of wood glue to each side of each joint and clamp the box together using multiple clamps. Carefully screw the pocket hole screws into each hole.

  4. Check for Square

    Check for square and allow to dry in place according to the glue's specified dry times.

Add the Drawer Bottom

  1. Find Drawer Bottom Dimensions

    The dimensions of the drawer bottom will exactly match the width and length of the box. Cut the 1/4-inch plywood to size using a table saw.

  2. Glue and Join Bottom to Frame

    Turn your drawer frame upside down and apply an even layer of wood glue across the entirety of the bottom of the frame. Repeat this process on the edges of the bottom piece and lay the piece on the frame.

  3. Nail Drawer Bottom in Place

    Once you've ensured the piece is precisely positioned, securely nail it in place using a brad nailer or brad nails and a hammer.

  4. Sand Edges

    Should there be any splintered edges or imperfect alignment, sand smooth with an orbital sander.

Mount Drawer

  1. Mount Slides

    Start by mounting the drawer slides on each slide of the slot, positioned near the bottom. Ensure the slides are level before screwing in place.

  2. Attach Drawer to Slides

    Slide the drawer into place, then back out slightly, bringing the slides out with it. Screw the slides into the drawer sides using the provided hardware.

  3. Adjust Slides

    Adjust the slides according to the manufacturer's instructions as needed.

Add Optional Drawer Front

  1. Attach Drawer Front

    Add an optional prefabricated drawer front or make your own. To attach, simply position the drawer front in place, open the drawer, and screw the pieces together from inside the drawer.

    Warning

    To ensure screws don't puncture through to the front of the drawer front, ensure you are using the correct length of screw beforehand.