Building Drawers: Understand Options for Drawer Joints, Mounting Methods and Fronts

There are three main elements to the anatomy of a drawer. Understanding them is the secret to building drawers that glide smoothly, hold their weight and never jam.

| August 21, 2012

  • Cabinet Construction: Straight Talk for Today's Woodworker
    “Cabinet Construction” by the editors at Skills Institute Press is a woodworking guide with all the technical information you need to succeed, written in language anyone can understand. 
    Cover Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Building Drawers
    Set off by the simplicity of a metallic single-pull handle, a solid wood drawer glides smoothly in and out of a frame-and-panel cabinet. Grooves routed into the drawer sides run along supports attached to the frame of the cabinet.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • False Front
    False Front Drawer: A separate front is nailed over the structural front; conceals end grain of drawer sides.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Anatomy of a Drawer
    Sized to fit between grooves cut in the sides of a drawer, a plywood bottom panel slides into position. The panel will bottom out in a groove in the front and be nailed to the back to secure it in place.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Lipped Front Drawer
    Lipped Front Drawer: A rabbeted front creates a lip that serves as an overhang; useful for concealing commercial runners when the drawer is closed; lip performs double duty as drawer stop.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Flush Front Drawer
    Flush Front Drawer: Allows the drawer to fit entirely within the cabinet; also known as an inset drawer.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Rabbet Joint
    Rabbet Joint: For back-to-side joints on most drawers; also strong enough for joining the front to the sides if reinforced with screws or nails; suitable for solid wood or plywood.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Through Dovetail
    Through Dovetail Joint: Strong, decorative joint for any drawer corner; end grain of drawer sides can be concealed with false front; appropriate for solid wood but not plywood.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Half-Blind Dovetail
    Half-Blind Dovetail Joint: The traditional joint for connecting the front to the sides; conceals end grain of sides; suitable only for solid wood.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Dado
    Dado Joint: Can be used to join the front to the sides and the back to the sides; for solid wood or plywood.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Double Dado
    Double Dado Joint: For any corner of small, light-duty drawer; conceals end grain of sides and front; suitable only for solid wood.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Side-Mounted Drawer
    Side-Mounted Drawer: Wooden slides screwed to carcase side panels run in grooves routed in drawer sides.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Commercial Slide Runner Drawers
    Commercial Slide Runner Drawer: Metal slides screwed to drawer sides mesh with runners screwed to carcase.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Bottom-Run Drawer
    Bottom-Run Drawer: Drawer slides on rail and runner assembly. Twin tenons at ends of rail are glued into double mortises cut into carcase panels; one edge of runners is rabbeted and fits into groove cut into panels.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing
  • Parts of a Set of Drawers
    1. Drawer Slide: Sits in groove routed in drawer side; screwed to carcase side panel. 2. Bottom Panel: Typically 1/4-inch plywood; fits in groove routed in drawer sides and front. 3. Drawer Side: Joined to front and back with any of a variety of joints; groove shown meshes with drawer slide. 4. Drawer Back. 5. Drawer Front: Typically thicker than sides, back and bottom; may be covered by a false front.
    Photo Courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing

  • Cabinet Construction: Straight Talk for Today's Woodworker
  • Building Drawers
  • False Front
  • Anatomy of a Drawer
  • Lipped Front Drawer
  • Flush Front Drawer
  • Rabbet Joint
  • Through Dovetail
  • Half-Blind Dovetail
  • Dado
  • Double Dado
  • Side-Mounted Drawer
  • Commercial Slide Runner Drawers
  • Bottom-Run Drawer
  • Parts of a Set of Drawers

The world is complicated enough; that’s why your woodworking information shouldn’t be. Cabinet Construction (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2011) by the editors at Skills Institute Press provides technical woodworking information in the plain-spoken language you would hear from a trusted friend or relative. The following excerpt on building drawers is taken from Chapter 3, “Drawers.” 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Cabinet Construction.

Building Drawers 

In essence, a drawer is nothing more than a box without a top—a front, a back, two sides and a bottom. Individual examples, however, belie this simplicity. They run the gamut from the modern kitchen drawer slamming shut on metal slides to the drawer of a well-made Victorian desk whispering home with a nearly airtight sigh. The former is often an anonymous, interchangeable unit with a false front. The latter may be a finicky individual precisely fit to an opening in a particular piece of furniture, its unique face blending beautifully with the grain of the wood surrounding it.

Pulled open, a drawer reveals more of its personality. Each of its five pieces may be cut from a different wood. The front, which shows most, is chosen for its species, color and grain; the thinner sides for long wear; the back for strength; the bottom for stability.



Not only is the front the most visible part of a drawer, it also takes the most abuse. Keeping it attached to the sides requires a durable, solid joint.

A drawer’s most basic function is to hold things. But it must also slip in and out of the piece of furniture housing it without jamming or chattering. As with joinery, mounting a drawer offers many choices. Every method must support the drawer, prevent it from tipping as it is pulled out and stop it as it slides home. The perfect drawer will glide nearly out, then hesitate a bit; drawer stops prevent the unit from being inadvertently pulled all the way out or pushed too far in.






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