How To Build A Drawer For Beginners

This is a complete beginner’s guide on how to build a drawer. Learn three beginner-friendly techniques to build and install the perfect drawers every time.

3 drawers in a cabinet built perfectly functional

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Building drawers are almost like a rite of passage for woodworkers.

The very first time I built a drawer was for this X-leg accent table and literally made a box in a box and didn’t even bother with drawer slides.

The next build with drawers was the Clara bedside table. It took me forever and 3 versions of the drawer box to finally get one drawer square and working!

When I built the Emerson buffet, I was extra careful from the very beginning and focused on keeping everything square and it worked!! The very first time!!

Open Drawer in a brown cabinet

Since then, I have built many many drawers and I no longer fear a drawer in my build. In fact, I love building them.

Let’s dive into everything you need to know to build drawers with confidence.

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How to build furniture with drawers

The ONE key thing to remember when building drawers is:

Square – this is the most important thing when building anything with drawers.

You want to make sure that the box where your drawer is installed is square AND the drawer box is square.

Not sure what “making it square” means? Here is how to check for square and how to fix it.

This means that your preparation for a drawer starts from the very beginning of the build. You want to make sure all the boards are

  • Straight and flat
  • Cut accurately
  • Attached precisely and at a right angle.

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Basics of drawer design

When you are designing a piece of furniture with drawers, there are a few things to consider.

What is the overall look of the drawer?

Is the drawer inset or overlay? This will determine the dimensions of your drawer front and how you attach the drawer slides.

Personally, I love making inset drawers but overlay drawers are great in situations like in a kitchen or just depending on the look of the furniture.

I used overlay drawers on the cane nightstand and inset drawers on this simple nightstand.

What is the best wood to make drawers out of?

Dimensional boards of solid wood and plywood are both great options for drawers.
1/2″ and 3/4″ materials can both be used to build the drawers.

I usually use 3/4″ because I use them for my projects and usually have enough for the drawers.

What are the best drawer slides to use?

There are many options for drawer slides.

My favorite is the ball-bearing full-extension drawer slides. These are durable and easy to install and the full extension makes the drawers easy to use. These are also available in soft-close versions.

Let’s dive into how to figure out the actual dimensions of the drawer you need for your project.

How to calculate the size of the drawer box

  • Width of the drawer box: Take into account the thickness of the drawer slides and decide the width of the drawers accordingly. The drawer slide should come with information on that.
    • The ball-bearing slides that I use are usually 1/2″ on each side. Therefore, my drawer box width is 1″ smaller than the opening.
  • Depth of the drawer box. This will depend on if the drawer front is inset or overlay.
    • With an overlay, you can use almost the entire depth of the opening for the box.
    • With the inset, you have to subtract the thickness of the drawer front.
  • Dimension of the drawer front
    • If making an inset drawer, you want to leave a 1/8″ gap all around the drawer front to help in movement.
    • For overlay drawers, the dimensions will depend on your overall project.
schematic of cabinet with drawer showing dimensions.

How to build the drawer box

There are many ways to build drawer boxes – from using basic joinery to dovetails.

Here I am sharing three of the simplest ways to make drawer boxes that are perfect for beginners.

Technique #1: How do you make a simple drawer

The simplest way to build a drawer is with simple nails or screws and glue.

After all, it is just a box 🙂

What you need

How to build

Step 1: Make the cuts

  • Make all the cuts you need for the drawer box.

The key is to make sure that the two opposite sides are EXACTLY the same length. This will help keep the drawer square. Even a difference of 1/16″ can cause problems later.

Step 2: Attach the sides

  • Apply wood glue on the edge of the front and back and attach to the side pieces using countersunk wood screws or trim head screws.
  • Make sure to align the pieces to 90 degrees using a square. This is very important.
Attaching drawers using finish nailer

This is the perfect time to check for square and make any adjustments if needed.

Step 3: Attach the bottom

  • Apply glue on the bottom and attach the bottom using wood glue and nails. Staples are recommended but nails work too. You can even use the trim head screws.
Attaching base of the drawer using brad nailer

Be sure to check for square at this point as well.

And that is the simplest possible DIY drawer.


Technique # 2: Building a drawer with pocket holes

Building a drawer box using pocket holes is very straightforward and easy. It is pretty much exactly like the simple box except that the joints are made using pocket holes.

The advantage of using pocket holes over countersunk screws or nails is that pocket holes are stronger and can make for heavy-duty drawers.

What you need

How to build

I am assuming you are using ¾” thick stock. Adjust the pocket hole jig settings and screws according to the thickness of your material.

Step 1: Make the cuts and pocket holes

  • Make the cuts required for the drawer box ensuring that the cuts are precise.
  • Make pocket holes on both ends of the front and back pieces.

Step 2: Build the box

  • Build the drawer box using wood glue and 1 ¼” pocket screws keeping all the sides square.
Attaching boards using pocket hole screws

Step 3: Attach the bottom

  • Glue and nail a ¼” plywood base cut to the size of the drawer box.
Attaching base of drawer using brad nailer

Ensure that the box is square and fix for square as needed.

That is it! That is a simple drawer using pocket hole screws.


Technique #3: Building a recessed bottom drawer using pocket holes

This is a little bit of an advanced technique and involves cutting a groove in the drawer fronts and sides.

I have recently started using this technique and although it needs a couple of extra steps, it is easy to make sure everything is square.

What you need

How to build

Step 1: Make the cuts and pocket holes

  • Make the cuts required for the drawer box. Make sure that the cuts are accurate.

Step 2: Make the grooves

This can be done using a table saw or a router table. Here is how I do it with a table saw and without a dado stack:

  • Set the blade height to 3/8″. This is about half the thickness of the plywood or board you are using for the drawer box.
setting up table saw blade height
  • Set the fence at 3/4″ from the blade. This is where the groove will be created.
  • Pass the board through the blade and make the cut. This will result in a groove. The groove is not wide enough for the 1/4″ plywood yet.
Making a groove in a plywood with table saw
  • Pass all the boards through to make sure you get the groove at the same distance from the fence.
  • Move the fence by 1/16″ towards the blade.
  • Pass the board through again. Check to see if the 1/4″ plywood fits.
  • If it doesn’t fit, move the fence 1/16″ towards the blade again and test.
  • Once the plywood fits, pass all the boards through and make the cut.

You should now have all the sides with a groove for a 1/4″ plywood.

Step 3: Make pocket holes

  • Make pocket holes on the front and back of the drawer box. The pocket holes are made with a 3/4″ setting and on the face that does not have the groove.

Step 4: Build the three sides

  • Assemble the three sides of the drawer box – the front and the two side pieces using wood glue and 1 ¼” pocket screws.
Attaching the sides of the drawer with pocket holes

Ensure that the grooves line up on the inside.

Aligned grooves in the drawer

Step 5: Attach the bottom of the drawer

  • Slide in the 1/4″ bottom panel.
  • You can add a little wood glue in the grooves to make the base stronger.
sliding in the bottom of the drawer

Step 6: Attach the last side

  • Add the back of the drawer box using pocket hole screws and wood glue.
Attaching the last side of the drawer box

This is the drawer box.

Since we made sure that the grooves were cut perfectly at the same places, it is very easy to get a square box.

There you have the 3 ways to build a drawer box. You can get started with technique #1 and work your way up to technique #3.

Stack of 3 drawers and a woman

How to attach drawer slides

Once the drawer box is ready, it is time to attach them.

I will be covering ball-bearing slides here since those are the ones I use 99% of the time.

Other types of slides can be attached using similar principles.

Step 1: Separate the drawer slide.

  • Squeeze the black tab to separate out the two parts of the drawer slide.

Step 2: Attach the frame side

Before attaching the slides to the frame, you want to decide if you have an overlay or inset drawer front.

  • For an inset drawer, you need to leave space for the drawer front on the inside of the frame.
  • For an overlay, you don’t have to leave any space.

For an inset drawer –

  • Mark the thickness of the drawer front on the side.
  • Use a drawer slide jig or a scrap board to support the drawer slide level on the frame.
    This is very important. The drawer slide needs to be perfectly level to be able to work smoothly. If not, it will stick.
  • Line up the drawer slide to the thickness mark.
Attaching drawer slide to the frame.
  • Attach the drawer slide using the screws provided with the drawer slide. Attach with at least 3 screws.

For an overlay drawer –

Follow all the steps above except align the front of the side to the front of the frame.

Step 3: Attach slide to drawer

  • Add the other part of the slide back into the slides on the frame.
  • Support the drawer box in place. This can be done using scrap boards.
  • Pull out the drawer slides and align them with the front edge of the drawer box.
Alligning drawer slides to the drawer box
  • Attach slides using at least two screws.
  • Once the 2 screws are in place on both sides, pull out the drawer and add a third screw to the back.
Adding the slide to the drawer box

That’s it! Add the drawer back into the slides on the frame and done!


How to install the drawer front and hardware

The drawer box is built and installed!

Now for the finishing touches – the drawer front and the hardware.

There can be two situations-

  • You will be using hardware like cabinet knobs or pulls.
  • You will not be using hardware and will be going with cutouts.

Drawer front when using hardware:

Step 1: Make the holes for the hardware on the drawer front.

  • Measure, mark and make the holes for the hardware. I like using the Kreg hardware jig for this. But you could also do this by simply measuring with a tape measure and pencil.
Adding the drawer hardware holes using a jig

Step 2: Attach the drawer face to the box

  • Apply wood glue on the drawer front and place it on the drawer box (while it is installed in the frame).
  • Add shims to create a 1/8″ clearance all around. I like using these reusable plastic spacers.
  • Add temporary screws through the holes for the hardware into the drawer box. These can be pretty long screws.
Attaching the drawer front to the drawer
  • Once attached, open the drawer and add countersunk screws from the inside of the drawer box.
Adding countersunk screws on the inside of the drawer

Step 3: Add hardware

  • Remove the temporary screws from the front.
  • Make the hardware holes all the way through.
  • Attach the hardware.
Attaching hardware

When not using hardware:

  • Use hot glue and place the drawer front into its place. Hot glue gives you a little time to align the drawer front but cures quickly enough and holds the board in place.
Using hot glue to attach the drawer front
  • Open the drawer and add countersunk screws from the inside. You can also use a clamp at this time to make sure the drawer front is pulled in tight.

That is it!


I promise drawers are not that hard.

It is all about practice.

Once you get a hang of it, you will be building lots and lots of drawers. Because you can never have enough storage. Am I right?!

If this inspires you to build drawers, be sure to share it and tag me on social media or email it to me at hello@anikasdiylife.com. I can’t wait to see!

Projects for you to try your drawer-building skills:

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This is your complete guide on how to build a drawer. See all the tips and tricks you need to know to build perfect drawers every time - even for beginners!

How To Build A Drawer For Beginners

Yield: Perfectly Built Drawer
Active Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $20

How to build a drawer using Kreg Jig

Materials

  • Lumber as needed to build project
  • Drawer slides as needed by project. I like full extension ball bearing slides.

Instructions

    1. Decide the dimensions of the drawer box. You have to take into account the size of the drawer slides and decide the width accordingly. Check drawer slide packaging for this information.
    2. If using 3/4" stock, subtract 1½" from the width to come up with the size of wood to cute for the width. The depth of the drawer box will depend on the project.
    3. Cut opposite sides the same exact lengths. This is VERY important. Measure 4 times, cut once.
    4. Build the drawer box using wood glue and 1 ¼" pocket hole screws keeping all the sides square. Use a corner assembly square for this or a Corner clamp.
    5. Glue and nail a ¼" plywood base cut to size of the drawer box. This is the drawer box base.
    6. Attach the drawer slides to the drawer box and the cabinet frame. A drawer slide jig is really helpful to install the drawers quickly and level.
    7. Attach the drawer face leaving 1/8" gap on all sides using wood glue and finish nails and clamp it well. See the playing card trick above!

Notes

These instructions are based on using 3/4" stock.

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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13 Comments

  1. The only thing I would change, is your box layout.
    The sides of your drawer should alway go the full length. The front and back pieces should sit between the sides.
    This allows for an easier build (no need for the pocket screws this way).
    Also will not allow the front of your drawer to be pulled off after extended use.

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