How to Build a Drawer Box

The Basics of Building Drawer Boxes

There are several different ways to construct a drawer box and today, I’ll share the method I use to construct them. I used to dread making them because to me, I could never get them right. Through “practice” (and for me, I mean a lot of practice!) I think I have finally mastered the art – or at least my style – of how to build a drawer box. Whether they are being constructed for an existing space or for a new project, the process is the same although there are a few differences.

Anyway, let’s get on with this show. There are generally two types of drawer fronts – inset and overlay. The drawer box construction method is the same for each type except for the size of the drawer front.

Start by measuring the opening for the drawer boxes as well as the depth of the cabinet. It is okay to use most of the depth of the cabinet for the boxes but they don’t need to be so long they hit the back of the cabinet. Stick with even numbers for the depth (12″, 14″, 16″, etc.) as that is how drawer slides are sold.
How to Build a Drawer Box_Drawer Opening

 The only “rule” when planning drawer boxes is that when using drawer slides, the drawer boxes will always be 1″ narrower than the drawer opening. This allows for the drawer slide hardware to move freely. I’ve made the drawers too tight before and it is no fun to have to cut them down or worse – build another drawer box!

I prefer the flat, ball-bearing type of slides. They are easy to install and have a very smooth slide to them!

So now that the measurements have been taken, it is time to start cutting the pieces starting with the bottom. The measurements for the bottom will be 1-1/2″ narrower than the width (to allow for the sides) and 1-1/2″ shorter than the length (to allow for the front and back). Then cut the pieces for the sides, which will be 1-1/2″ shorter than the finished length of the drawer (to allow for the front and back). Drill pocket holes in all four edges of the bottom, and in each end of the sides. Attach the sides to the bottom using glue and pocket hole screws.

How to Build a Drawer Box_Drawer_FB

Now, cut the pieces for the front and back. If an inset drawer is being installed, the drawer front will be 3/8″ wider than the drawer box. This will keep the drawer slides from being visible when the drawer box is installed.

How to Build a Drawer Box_Inset Drawer_FB

When installing the drawer slides, they will need to be positioned 3/4″ back from the edge of the opening to allow for the front. Once the drawer is installed, there will be a 1/8″ gap around all sides of the front so it slides smoothly and looks nice in the opening.

How to Build a Drawer Box_Inset Drawer

If an overlay drawer is being installed, the drawer front will overlap the box by 3/4″ on the sides, and 3/8″ at the top and bottom.

How to Build a Drawer Box_Overlay Drawer_FB

The drawer slides will be  positioned at the edge of the opening.

How to Build a Drawer Box_Overlay Drawer

For an easy tutorial on installing drawer slides, I wrote a tutorial awhile back on How to Install Drawer Slides. There may need to be a few minor adjustments to the drawer slides but for the most part, they are usually right on the first try! Trust me!

Have any questions on how to build drawer boxes? Leave a comment below!

Originally posted 2013-01-17 08:00:28.


  • Jennifer Rinck says:

    For my kitchen drawers I am going to use the existing drawer fronts. On my drawer boxes I noticed that my existing drawer boxes are put together with a “tongue & groove” method (I think that is what it is called) – is this done instead of the pocket holes in your drawings?
    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this!!! I need the weather to warm up before I begin an outdoor sawing project (wish I could do this in our garage, but the nice cars are in there). I will make sure to share my success with you. 🙂

    • CherTexter says:

      If I’m understanding correctly, the drawer front has grooves on the back face where the drawer box fits in, is that correct? The fronts are probably attached with toenailed brad nails. They can be pried off and used in place of the fronts in the diagram. It should be pretty easy but if you run into any trouble, let me know!

  • […] is a great tutorial on building drawers. There are two types of drawer fronts… inset and […]

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