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My 9 Best Tips for Installing Cabinet Drawers

Welcome April!

Winter is finally gone and here we are already starting the fourth month of the year.. Time's flying!
Anyhoo, my last post was all about the organization I gave that base cabinet in my office. It was a long post that also included a lot of other organization projects my blogging friends completed for the DIY challenge. You can go to that post right HERE.

I didn't give much details on how to install those drawers because I didn't want to make that post any longer. And well, here I am, with my very best nine tips for making the installation a little more bearable.

*This post contains affiliate links.

1. Know what type of cabinet you have - Face frame or frame-less cabinet?
Source: C&L Design Specialists
The picture above shows the clear difference between both types of cabinets. In the picture to the right, a frame was attached to the front face of the cabinet and that turned a frame-less cabinet into a framed one.

The frame-less cabinet can hold wider drawers - no frame means more space width-wise for your drawers.
The cabinet with a frame creates a smaller cabinet opening, thus, the width of  the drawers is determined by the face-frame, since the drawers have to get in and out of the cabinet throughout that frame.

2. Add a back support that's flush with the face frame

If your cabinet has a face frame, you need to install wooden supports on the back of the cabinet. These supports need to be on the same level line of the face frame, because the slides are going to be mounted (screwed) on both, support and face frame (both sides of cabinet).

My latest drawer install was done to a frame-less cabinet, but I had to install two supports on each side where the doors were located. Otherwise the drawers would get stuck with the door. Both supports needed to be out of the line of the door.

3. Get your slides before building the drawers

Full Extension Drawer Slide - 100 lb. Load Rating
There are many different types of cabinet drawer slides... side, center, under-mount slides... 3/4 extension, full extension, over travel extension... etc. etc.

The ones I use the most are side mounted, full extension drawer slides (which allows the drawer to open to the full length of the slide). And I usually buy them one inch shorter than the depth of the cabinet.

Keep in mind that this type of slide takes one inch clearance - 1/2" on each side of the drawer.

There is a great read on how to choose the right drawer slide right HERE.

4. The right measurements are essential 

Determine the size of your drawer.

The width of your drawers is determined by the width of the opening of your cabinet minus one inch (slides clearance).

There is no specific size for the height of a drawer, it all depends on your cabinet space and storage needs.

Length / Depth:
Measure the depth of your cabinet and subtract one inch from that measurement. I usually give the length of my drawers a one inch clearance.

Note: Pay attention to what type or drawer or door you have. Inset or overlay?  When closed, inset doors stay inside the cabinet, taking space from the length. Overlay doors hang on the outside of the cabinet, meaning you have the entire depth of the cabinet for your drawers.

5.  Build square drawers

Building drawers can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. In reality a drawer is a simple box.

I've built a few different types of drawers and they all have worked and are still working nicely. Many times it depends on what type of materials I have, or what tools I want to use that determine what type of drawer to build.

The material for these: 1/2" plywood bottom and 1 x 3 for the sides

In the left picture below, attached dowels held the 1/4" plywood bottom.
On the right, 1/2" plywood all around was the material used to build that drawer.

The type of material, or method you use is not as important as having a square drawer.

Having said that, I still considered myself a rooking in the drawer building department. My drawers and most of my builts aren't always square. But, that hasn't stopped me from building drawers for my home. Of course, cabinets that aren't square are always more trouble to install than those that are perfectly squared. But, I can tell you, those not so square drawers can work! :D

Note: I prefer to err on the smaller size. A drawer that is bigger than the size of the opening is not going to fit, no matter what.  Now, 1/8" in building a drawer is a big difference. You have to be precise!

6.  Don't skip the leveling

Don't assume that the bottom of your cabinet is level. Most of the time it isn't. :/
I like to set those bottom slides on Formica samples - Each sample is 1/8", I subtract or add samples on each side to make them level.

For the other drawers above, mark a level line.

7.  Install the slides on the drawer

Each person has a different approach on how to install the slides. - This is what I usually do:

I first place the slide (both components) on the lower side of the drawer, aligning it also to the front of the drawer. - fig. 1.
Then, I pull the top component of the slide backwards and mark the placement of the screw on the front part.
I bring both components together again and mark the placement of the back screw.

With the marks on the drawer, I separate the slide components, leaving only the one that's going to be installed on the drawer and drive the screws in place.

8.  Install the slides on cabinet 

The other part of the slide goes inside the cabinet. I place it above or below my level line and drive the screws onto the supports.

9.  Shims are a life saver!

For me, there's usually one set of slides or two that don't fit perfectly. And that's when I bring my stash of shims to the rescue. I first loosen the front screw on one side of the drawer, place the drawer back in place and push that front part of the slide towards the drawer. Then, I place the shim on the back of the slide, moving it to get a perfect fit, marking that location on the shim. Finally, I bring the drawer out, drive the screw with the shim on the back of the slide and done. I can bring the drawer back in place.

Well, this is the way I install drawers, every person has his own method and every project make us do things a little bit different. You just have to find the way that works best for you.

I hope that any of these tips can be of help when you tackle your next drawer install.
Those drawers are tricky, but we can conquer them one drawer at a time. ;)

For more DIY ideas check these out:

*This post contains affiliate links.

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