How to Build a Dresser

Bedroom and Dresser

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 6 - 8 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 days
  • Yield: Dresser 30 inches wide by 30 inches high
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Estimated Cost: $250 to $500

Dressers are simple pieces of furniture. Plywood forms the dresser box. Softwood or plywood comprise the drawers and drawer fronts. Metal drawer slides ease the drawers in and out. Fixtures add the finishing touch. If you've ever assembled a store-bought flat-packed dresser, you know how basic the construction is.

Building a dresser from a kit and building one from scratch aren't all that different. The main advantage of the kit dresser is that it offers pre-cut, pre-drilled materials. When building from scratch, you will use the same types of materials—sometimes, even better quality materials—but you will cut and drill them yourself. This project keeps everything simple by helping you learn how to build a drawer with basic materials and techniques. 

Before You Begin

Every dresser has two major components: the cabinet box and the drawers. This dresser's box is 30 inches wide by 30 inches high, minus legs. It has three drawers.

Building the Cabinet Box

The cabinet box is made of 3/4-inch cabinet-grade veneered plywood. Birch, red oak, and maple are common plywood veneers. Two vertical side pieces and a top and a bottom form the box. A board on back holds the box in square, plus it allows you to anchor the dresser to the wall. 

Building the Drawers

Woodworkers rely on techniques like cutting dados and dovetails when building a drawer. To keep this project simple, a thin cleat around the inside of the drawer holds the drawer bottom—not dadoes. The cleat is made from 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch square dowel. Make sure that you buy square dowel, not round dowel.

The drawer boxes are made from one-by-eight softwood (common board), with true dimensions of 3/4-inch thick by 7-1/4-inch wide. The drawer fronts are made from one-by-ten wood (3/4-inch thick by 9-1/4-inch wide). With both, that's the exact width needed for this dresser, so board-ripping is kept to a minimum.

Tip

If you're planning on staining the dresser, the plywood veneer for the box and the wood for the drawer fronts should be the same wood. You should then switch out the softwood drawer fronts for a matching hardwood since stain accentuates the type of wood species. If you're planning on painting the dresser, the wood does not need to match.

Safety Considerations

Table saws account for tens of thousands of injuries each year. Wear safety glasses and hearing protection. Use the saw's safety guard. Use a push stick to keep hands away from the table saw blade. Make sure that the blade is sharp and that you are pushing the wood straight into the blade. Angling the wood may result in kickback. Adding an optional device called a splitter to the table saw helps to eliminate or minimize kickback. Do not wear loose clothing. Gloves are usually a safety hazard, not a help, when working with table saws.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 electric drill
  • 1 table saw
  • 1 electric miter saw
  • 1 electric or compressed air nailer
  • 1 tape measure
  • 1 square
  • 1 pencil
  • 1 pocket hole jig
  • 4 bar clamps
  • 1 clothes iron
  • 1 utility knife

Materials

  • 2 sheets 3/4-inch plywood
  • 1 sheet 1/4-inch plywood
  • 12 rods 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch by 36-inch softwood square dowel
  • 4 pieces one-by-eight by 8-foot softwood common board
  • 1 piece one-by-ten by 8-foot softwood common board or hardwood
  • 3 pairs soft-close drawer slides, 18-inch
  • 4 wood furniture legs
  • 4 metal furniture leg mounts
  • 3 drawer pulls
  • 1 roll hardwood veneer banding, matching
  • 1 box 1-1/4-inch pocket hole screws
  • 1 box 1-inch screws
  • 1 box 1-1/2-inch brads (for nailer)
  • 1 box 3/4-inch brads (for nailer)
  • 1 tube wood glue

Instructions

Wood Cut List

 Material Size Quantity Location ID
 3/4-inch plywood  19 inches by 28-1/2 inches  2  Cabinet box sides  A
 3/4-inch plywood  19 inches by 30 inches  2  Cabinet box top and bottom  B
 1/4-inch plywood  30 inches by 30 inches  1  Cabinet box back  C
 One-by-eight softwood  17-1/2 inches  6  Drawer box sides  D
 One-by-eight softwood  27-1/2 inches  6  Drawer box front and back  E
 1/4-inch square dowel  Cut to size later on  12  Drawer cleats  F
 1/4-inch plywood  17-1/2 inches by 26 inches  3 Drawer bottoms   G
 One-by-ten softwood or hardwood  30 inches  3  Drawer fronts  H

How to Build the Dresser Cabinet

  1. Drill Pocket Holes on the Side Panels

    The two vertical side panels (A) will be placed between the horizontal top and bottom pieces (B). Set the pocket hole jig for 3/4-inch-thick material. Create four evenly spaced pocket holes along the shorter (19-inch) side of one of the side panels. Repeat on the other side of the panel (do not turn the panel over). When one side panel is finished, repeat with the other side panel.

  2. Attach the Side Panels to the Bottom

    Place the bottom panel (B) on the work surface with the finished surface facing down. Run a thin bead of wood glue along a shorter 19-inch edge of one of the side panels. Rest the side panel on top of the bottom piece so that they form an L-shape. Run pocket hole screws through the pocket holes. Repeat on the opposite side with the other side panel.

    Tip

    To prevent the side panel from moving, rest a scrap piece of two-by-four on the opposite side of the panel. Have an assistant stand on the two-by-four as well as hold the top edge of the side panel steady.

  3. Attach the Top to the Side Panels

    Place the dresser top panel (B) on the work surface with the finished surface facing down. Use a towel or cardboard underneath to prevent scratching the wood. As with attaching the bottom earlier, drive pocket screws through the pocket holes. Be sure to use wood glue before driving the screws. Wipe off excess glue with a cloth.

  4. Attach the Back to the Cabinet

    Turn the cabinet upside-down so that its eventual back is facing upward. Square out the cabinet by measuring diagonally in both directions. Each measurement should match. If not, push the cabinet into square. Have an assistant hold the cabinet square while you attach the back panel (C). Pre-drill pilot holes and keep the drill bit vertical while driving. Attach the back panel with 1-inch screws.

How to Build the Dresser Drawers

  1. Dry-Fit the Drawer Pieces

    Lay out the drawer sides (D) and drawer front and back (E) for one drawer. Lay the pieces on edge. The two side panels pieces will be placed between and perpendicular to the front and back pieces. This will form the sides of the drawer box, minus the bottom and supporting cleats for now.

    Tip

    Drawers are usually one inch narrower than the inside of the cabinet to allow for the cabinet slides. So, if you change the dimensions of the dresser or drawers, always keep that one inch gap in mind.

  2. Join the Drawer Pieces

    Run wood glue on the ends of the drawer pieces. Hold the assembly together with two bar clamps. Tack the pieces together with the nailer. Leave the clamps on for at least an hour to let the glue achieve full strength.

  3. Cut the Drawer Cleats

    After removing the bar clamps, hold the square dowels against the drawer to mark off the cut lengths. There should be two dowels that run from front to back and two dowels that run from side to side. Cut the cleats (F) to size on the electric miter saw.

  4. Add the Drawer Cleats

    Attach the drawer cleats (F) to the bottom of the drawer, so that they are flush with the bottom edges of the side pieces. Switch to 3/4-inch brads when attaching the cleats. Use wood glue. There is no need to clamp the cleats.

  5. Add the Drawer Bottom

    Rest the drawer bottom on top of the cleats. It does not need to be attached.

  6. Attach the Drawer Fronts

    Attach the drawer front (H) to the front of the drawer. Screw in from the back. Keep the bottom of the drawer front flush with the bottom of the drawer. The drawer front will extend 2 inches above the top of the drawer sides.

    Tip

    If you'd like to minimize the drawer front's top extension, rip the drawer front 1 inch. Do not slide the drawer front down to minimize the upward projection. This extends the drawer front downward, making it more difficult to set the drawer slides.

  7. Build the Remaining Drawers

    Repeat the drawer building process for the other two drawers.

How to Add Drawers to the Dresser

  1. Attach the Slides to the Drawers

    Press the release lever on one of the slides to separate the drawer side of the slide from the cabinet side. Measure up 1-1/4 inches from the bottom of the drawer. Attach the drawer slide to the drawer, aligning the top of the slide with the mark. Keep the slide level. Complete both sides of the drawer. Then, add slides to the other two drawers.

    Tip

    Drawer slides come in different dimensions, so always check the instructions for exact measurements.

  2. Install the Drawer Slides in the Cabinet

    Starting at the top, push a drawer into the dresser cabinet and mark its position on the side of the cabinet. Be sure to allow enough space (about 1/8-inch) at top for the drawer front to clear the dresser top. Mark both sides of the cabinet. Install the cabinet-side slides at these positions.

  3. Complete the Other Two Drawers

    Slide the top drawer into place and close it. Close the previous process with the other two drawers, working downward.

Finish Building the Dresser

  1. Attach the Legs to the Dresser

    Remove all drawers. With an assistant, turn the dresser upside-down on a protective surface. Using the electric drill, screw the four triangular metal leg mounts to each of the four bottom corners of the dresser. By hand, screw the furniture legs into the mounts.

  2. Add Veneer Banding to the Dresser

    Heat up the clothes iron on the "dry" setting. Turn the dresser upright again. Unroll the veneer banding and cut six sections with a utility knife to cover the raw edges of the plywood on the front of the dresser. Run the two vertical side bands all the way from top to bottom. Run the four horizontal bands between the side bands.

  3. Stain or Paint the Dresser

    Be sure to stain and add protective coating or paint the dresser at this point before you add the fixtures.

  4. Install the Drawer Pulls

    Install the drawer pulls to the drawer fronts. Drill holes for the pulls' machine screws. Insert the screws from the back. Turn the screws also from the back, using the drill.

When to Call a Professional

If you don't have a table saw—or even if you do own one but don't like ripping wood—have the lumberyard rip the 3/4-inch plywood for the cabinet box. Some online wood suppliers will pre-cut wood to the required dimensions, as well.

Article Sources
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  1. Survey of Injuries Involving Stationary Saws. Consumer Product Safety Commission

  2. Hand and Power Tools. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.