How to make a sliding drawer

Written by patrick gleeson, ph. d., registered investment adv
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How to make a sliding drawer
The metal slides of a drawer attach to both the drawer and the inside of the cabinet. (mentaldisorder/iStock/Getty Images)

Begin a sliding-drawer project by selecting the sliding mechanism (the "slides") because the type of slide selected determines the dimensions of the drawer box. Once you have selected the slide and measured the cabinet opening, you can determine the drawer box dimensions, buy an appropriate drawer box, mount the slides and install the drawer.

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Things you need

  • Sliding-drawer mechanism, either side mount or undermount.
  • Drawer box
  • Material for drawer front
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver

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  1. 1

    Measure the width and height of your drawer opening. If you are building a flush-mount drawer, these measurements -- less another 4.5 mm (3/16 inch) in each dimension so the drawer and cabinet don't bind) determine the width and height of the face of the drawer. A flush-mount drawer slides into the cabinet case and is flush with the cabinet face. If you are building an overlay drawer, the width and height of the drawer face will be slightly larger than the drawer opening -- about 6 mm (1/4 inch) on each of the four edges. The face of an overlay drawer lays over and in front of the cabinet case.

  2. 2

    Measure the distance from one side of the case opening to the other. Side-mount slides take up from 1.2 cm to 1.8 cm (1/2 inch to 3/4 inch) on either side of the drawer box. Read the manufacturer's instructions to find out how much space your side-mount slides requires. Subtract that distance from the side to side distance of the case opening. This is the required width of your drawer box.

  3. 3

    Measure from the face of the cabinet opening to the inside back of the cabinet case. Subtract an inch or more from this measurement; this is the required depth of the drawer box. If you are building a flush-mount drawer, also subtract the thickness of the drawer face. A side-mount slide should be an inch or more shorter than the drawer box. Slides are available in 5 cm (2 inch) increments. For the correct length of the undermount slide, read the manufacturer's instructions.

  4. 4

    Install the drawer slides using the screw sizes recommended or provided by the manufacturer and according to the detailed instructions slide manufacturers provide. Screw the drawer face to your drawer box from the inside of the drawer box, being particularly careful if it is a flush-mount drawer front to leave a minimum 4.5 mm (1/16 inch) gap between each of the four sides of the drawer front and the cabinet opening.

Tips and warnings

  • Select the right slides for your budget and the anticipated load. Undermount slides are less expensive than side-mount slides and operate a little less smoothly. Side-mount slides are also available in heavy-duty versions that will carry loads up to 113 kg (250 lb). Both side-mount slides and undermount slides are available in "soft-close" systems that reduce velocity of drawer travel over the 2.5 to 5 cm (1 or 2 inches) of closure. A heavy-duty soft-close side-mount slide, particularly from one of the high-end German manufacturers, can cost 10 or 20 times as much as an inexpensive undermount slide. Select a slide depth -- they usually come in 5 cm (2 inch increments -- less than the depth of the cabinet.
  • Drawer box companies offer boxes made of either solid wood or thin-form plywood (thin-form is a high-end plywood with 2-3 times more layers). Buy less expensive drawers that are butt-joined or dadoed (a dado is basically a slot into which another element fits) or buy more expensive drawers with box joints or dovetails. A box joint is simply a series of square cutouts on two joining elements -- lace your fingers together and you'll have the idea. A dovetail joint is similar, but the notches taper, forming a stronger lock.
  • Unless you are a skilled worker with access to a cabinet shop, you are better off buying your drawer box than trying to build it; these days even custom cabinetmakers buy their drawer boxes. It is labour-intensive.

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