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Woodworking tips and tricks Drawer sides


Drawers have been my nemesis, my enemy, and my frustration.   I used to cut all the material for a job at one time, and that included the drawers.  I would then build the cabinet and build the drawers and, oh, no, the cabinet is 1/16″ smaller than my layout shows.  And 1/16″ might as well be 12 inches when it comes to full extension guides.

So here are some things I have done to make my drawer making experience not so frustrating and actually now user friendly.

Don’t cut the drawers to size until AFTER the cabinet is made.  You can cut rough sizes but don’t cut the fronts and backs until you know exactly what the inside measurement will be.

When you cut drawer sides, always cut so the bow is inwards, never outwards.  This outward bow will create some really clearance problems with the drawer guides and rubbing inside the guide will be the result.  It only takes 1/32″ bow per drawer over 22″ length to add up to 1/16″ too big of a drawer that now won’t slide smoothly.  If you bow the sides inward, the bottom, if fit correctly, will push the sides out  parallel (if the sides are grooved).  I have found that drawers work better if made smaller than larger than the net size the  guides call for.  There seems to be no plus in the clearance, only minus and this can be as much as 1/16″.  You get more than that and the drawer starts to bind again, and will eventually pop out of the track.  If this is the case, you can shim the guide on the cabinet side with the cardboard shims I mentioned in a previous post.

When making the drawers, don’t assume the sides are any particular thickness, like 1/2″ thick.  If you are making them from Baltic birch or any plywood, it will be way less than that.  And 1/2″ melamine, it can be net to a bit oversize.  So put the 2 drawers sides together and measure the total.  Then subtract that from the OD of the drawer and that will be the front and back.

Most full-extension guides require 1″ total side clearance.   I have been making my drawers 1/32″ smaller than this 1″ side clearance and have been very happy with the results.  So if the opening for the drawer is 14″, the the drawer front will be minus 1″ for the guides, and minus another 1″ plus or minus for the drawers sides (depending on the actual thickness of the drawer material) minus an extra 1/32″ clearance.  Without this extra clearance, I have never had a drawer be undersized, always oversize…for some reason stuff adds up.  So when the drawer is finally built, it will be 1/32″ under-size, in the above case, 14″ cabinet size minus 1-1/32″ equals, 12-31/31″.

If for some reason the guides are binding because of bowing out of the sides or your drawer is a hair too big, if you are using plywood, you can groove out a very narrow slot for the drawer guide.  You can’t go too deep because the cabinet guide member will start rubbing on the drawer, unless you make the slot wider that the total of the whole guide.  I have had to do this with melamine and its not pretty….  If you are using solid wood, then you can plane (jointer?) down the whole side to get the guides to finally work.

I know without pictures and drawings this post might not make sense, but the main thing I wanted to get across was when using full extension guides, always make the drawer 1/32″ smaller than the net clearance of 1″.  Full extension guides can be pretty forgiving when the drawer is too small but never when too wide.   Build towards this end.

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