How to Build a Small Dresser




Introduction: How to Build a Small Dresser

About: Hi I'm Linn and on my Youtube Channel I have lots of great videos about building, construction and fun projects. You can also check out my site @

This is a great looking small dresser which would be great to use as a nightstand, or wherever you need some more storage.

It features three drawers and a beautiful wooden top. The base and the drawers are built with framing lumber and plywood, and painted white. This is a great example of a very useful piece of furniture which is really fun to build yourself, and which you could customize to fit the size of your space perfectly

Step 1: Wood for the Top

The fundamental design of this dresser is basic, clean base with contrasting wood on top. For the wood on top, you could use anything. I decided to go with a piece of nice CVG douglas fir, however whatever you have on hand would be great, you could even stain plywood or pine for a nice contrasting look!

I'm starting to work on the top because that's going to take the most amount of time to cure and set up, since I want to finish it really nicely.

I'm using 1" x 8" wood, which I need to double up in order to get the size I need.

So the final measurement of the top will be 24 x 16 inches, so I cut two 8 inch pieces a little bit longer than 16 inches, so I have some room to trim to size later.

Step 2: Building the Top

In order to laminate the two pieces of wood together, I decided to use dowels. I have a small doweling jig which makes it really easy to line up the dowels, however another option would be pocket screws, or simply gluing and clamping the boards together.

I put in four dowels spaced out to connect the two boards. I glued the dowels in, connected the two boards and clamped them together while the glue was drying, making sure to also clamp down across the two pieces, so the board won't bow up.

Once the glue was dry and I basically had one board, I made the final measurements and cut to size using the circular saw so the top measured 24 x 16 inches.

Next, I thought it would be nice with a round edge on the top, so I used a router to accomplish that.

After that I did a fair amount of sanding to get the whole piece nice and smooth.

Step 3: Staining & Finishing Top

To give it a little bit of color I decided to go with a mahogany red gel stain. I really like using gel stains because they don't splatter and it's easier to control the color. I started with the bottom, and then I turned it around and covered the top.

Once that dried, I put on a coat of polyurethane. Again, I started with the bottom and then I continued with the top. The key here is to really take your time, apply the finish slowly with a good brush so as to avoid bubbles and without using too much product to avoid drips. So that was the first coat, one of many coats to come. So while that's drying, let's move on to the base.

Step 4: Wood for the Base

Next up cut up a piece of 2 x 10 framing lumber for the posts and the rails, however you could use any framing lumber you have around.

For the sides I cut up some 3/4 inch plywood and I used left-over plywood scraps for the drawers. To connect everything together I used pocket screws. Now as long as you have your pocket screw jig clamped down, it's really easy to use to connect the holes and then you connect everything together.

So when connecting the sides to the posts, I first put down a thin piece of wood under the plywood to raise it up a bit. This is so I can get a bit of a reveal so the side boards don't sit flush with the sides.

I glued the sides of the plywood on to the posts, and then connected with pocket screws.So the rails in the back are one length, however the rails for the front I cut a little bit longer. Because the front ones I'm going to place inside the posts, and not in the middle of them. That way I can hide the front rails and cover them with the drawer fronts. That way it will look like the drawers cover the whole front.

Before I get any further building the base, I have to think about how I'm going to connect the top, and I'm going to use pocket screws for that as well. So I drilled two pocket holes on each side in the plywood.

Next I'm connecting the rails to the posts with the pocket screws.

Step 5: Drawers

Next I'm going to have to divide the space for the drawers, because I'm going to add these rails for support. I'm not going to be using any mechanical drawer sliders, I'm making my own with wood rails instead. Good mechanical drawer sliders can be quite expensive, so this is an excellent way to go if you want to save money or if you don't have any sliders on hand.

So I spaced out evenly where each of my drawer sliders needed to be and I clamped down where each rail is. That way I can just screw them all in with the pocket screws.

For the drawers, I just used 3/4 inch plywood boards that I screwed and nailed together. I nailed in hardboard pieces for the bottom.

Once I had all of the drawers created, I cut out face frames out of nicer 1/2 inch plywood. I decided to design the fronts, so there's not much of a gap in between each one.

Step 6: Finishing

When the base was finished it was time to prime it. I decided to paint my dresser using a spray gun because it's a lot faster, however you could certainly paint by hand. Once the primer had dried, I sprayed on two top coats of flat paint.

I also put on a top coat of water based polyurethane to protect the base.

The Top

Now while the base was drying, I worked some more on the top. The key to getting a really nice finish is to apply several coats of polyurethane, and sand finely in between. All together I put on five coats of polyurethane, and I sanded lightly with 320 grit sandpaper in between each coat.

Final Finish:

Once the top had time to dry for a week or so, I sanded the top using soapy steel 0000 wool to create a silky smooth finish. It's important you don't do that step until the polyurethane has had proper time to dry.
To finish the drawers off as well, I cut some thin strips of cedar wood and attached that to the edges of the drawers to create edge banding. It really adds a nice touch when you open up the drawers. I also applied wax polish on the slides and the bottom of the drawers for easier sliding.

Step 7: Hardware & Assemble


Next I measured for the hardware, and I drilled holes to put on some nice brushed nickel pulls.

Once the hardware was on I put the top on, using pocket screws in the pocket holes I drilled previously.

Step 8: ​Conclusion - Watch the Video

Make sure to watch the video for a much better perspective on the different steps!

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    Joanne Fitzmaier
    Joanne Fitzmaier

    Question 2 years ago on Step 1

    Where are the dimensions for the base of the cabinet? I see the top size but cannot see the rest of the cut sizes.

    Very nice. About the only change I would make is the source for the corner posts. For something this small, square balusters work nicely and you can save that nice piece of 2x10 for something else. Plus, when you rip a piece of wood that large down to something this small, you run the risk of the resulting pieces warping. With balusters, you know what you have from the beginning.

    Sorry, one more bit. I agree with the other poster who said not to paint the slides. The paint is going to wear off anyway, so I just wax those.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Sliding painted wood on painted wood will rub off the paint as very fine paint dust, in time - I know, that's how a drawer I have in the kitchen slides. To avoid this, you can glue some brass strips on either the soles of the drawer or the supports on which it slides (or screw it down, after having made some inset recess for the screw heads so they don't rub on the sole of the drawer). Have done this using some very thin brass sheet on four other drawers, works like a charm - no dust and much easier to draw and push back in.

    I do own a sparyer like the one you used for painting, but I prefer to use a brush. Painting is indeed much faster, but I find cleaning the thing painful, whereas with a brush it's really really easy and fast. And unless you paint large surfaces without holes and gaps you waste much of the paint. I only once used that tool, when I had to spray a ~ 1 1/3 gallons can of paint into a single layer.


    7 years ago on Step 8

    My Fiancee and I woke up this weekend and turned on PBS and watched something she had never seen before and something I've been watching since I was a little kid doing projects with my dad on the weekend; The Woodwright's Shop. I'm sure you're familiar with Roy Underhill. Anyways, I'm at work this morning with my head in the clouds and I noticed you made a new Instructable. Thank you for these. They're wonderful! You take great pictures, Give great instruction and help rekindle that makers fire we all have inside of us. I can't wait to move next year and have my own shop in the back where I can finally work. Keep up the great work!


    7 years ago on Step 8

    Great Job, TIP: try Min Wax PRE-STAIN before you stain your wood projects, I use a lot of Pine & Aspen, if I just stain all the Soft areas suck it up and make it dark, all Hard areas repel the stain, "knots". using Pre-stain makes to wood accept the stain equally, give it a try.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Your workshop looks so organised, i think i roughly have the same tools, but i'm sure to find that out i wil have to digg through pile sof sawdust, gather all my tools from various unforeseen locations, i think 2 days should do the trick.

    Great to see you really start from the ground up, saw everything yourself.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice! Once again, you are rockin' it!

    Thanks for sharing!


    7 years ago

    simple and beautiful... nice work.