Introduction: Making and Installing Box Joint Drawers

About: I like to make things and then make videos of making those things.

If you are one of my followers you might have seen my recent custom closet shelving unit. I wanted to make it even more functional, so I decided to add drawers. There are lots of different ways to make drawers, but in this instructables article I will be showing you how I made drawers using box joints.

One of the reasons I like box joints is because they are super strong. In my opinion, dovetail joints are the only stronger way to make drawers. The other reason I like box joints is the fact that the overlapping joints mean you do not have to account for material thickness. You simply cut all of the pieces to the total length/width of the drawer.

Don't forget to check out the video at the top of the page, and if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments below.


Below are links to tools and materials I used in this article. It is either the exact tool/supply or something very close.

Materials and supplies:

- 18mm birch plywood

- 6mm birch plywood

- Solid maple wood

- Titebond III wood glue

- Satin water based polyurethane

- Soft close drawer slides

- Cabinet handles


- Table saw

- Miter saw (optional as the table saw could be used instead)

- Random orbit sander

- Dado stack

- Flat tooth blade

- Clamps

- Silicone glue brush

- Drill/driver set

Note: The amazon links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at
no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Step 1: Cutting Plywood

I used 18mm Baltic birch plywood to construct the drawers. As an example, I have attached a PDF document that contains my cut list for these drawers. I used the cutlist optimizer app to make this document, you can find it on the app store or go to Any drawers you make will likely be different measurements, but as I mentioned earlier using box joints makes it easy to calculate. The fronts/backs are the total width of the drawer (don't forget to subtract if you are going to be using sliders) and the sides are the total depth of the drawer.

First I ripped down the plywood to the correct dimension for the height of my drawers. (in my case the drawers are 4" or 6")

I then used my simple stop block system (which you can find how to make it here) to make repeated cuts, following my cut list. You don't need to use this system, it just makes things more efficient. You could even get away with using your table saw, a circular saw or even a hand saw.

Step 2: Sanding and Marking Bottoms

After everything is cut to size, I gave the boards a quick sanding. This helped to remove any saw marks as well as any splintery edges.

I then inspected all of the boards and made a determination on which side would be the top and which side would be the bottom. The things I took into consideration were mainly: voids in the plywood and grain orientation. I then marked all of the bottoms for future reference.

Step 3: Cutting Box Joints in the Fronts and Backs

There are lots of different ways to cut box joints. I will be using a jig with a dado stack. The jig I have is based on the Inspire Woodcraft box joint jig. But there are simpler designs out there, like this box joint jig. If your country doesn't allow dado stacks, you can either use a router or take multiple passes with a single blade.

To set up the jig you need to raise the blade until it is exactly the same height as the material you are working with.

I cut both the front and backs at the same time by stacking them. You don't have to do this, but it makes things go about twice as fast. Just make sure you have them well lined up.

To cut on my box joint jig, you line up the boards up against the key. Make sure that the bottom of the board is always facing the key.

Make the cut by pushing the jig across the blade and pulling it back.

Lift the boards and place the bit that was just cut out onto the key. Repeat until you have cut all the way across the board.

Flip the board (so that the bottom is still facing the key) and repeat.

Note: You want to cut the fronts and backs first because when we add in the slot for the bottom, you can hide it with the front face (and not see it on the back)

Step 4: Cutting Box Joints in the Sides

Cutting the side pieces is very similar to the fronts and backs, but instead of lining the boards up against the key you need to place the front/back pieces into the key and line the boards up against them. Make sure that the bottoms of all of the boards are facing each other (as pictured)

After you have made the first cut, you can place the fronts/backs to the side and continue cutting the remainder of the board.

Step 5: Test Fitting

Before you put the jig away I always recommend test fitting the drawers. In one of the pieces (out of 96 pieces I cut) I wasn't holding it perfectly and the cut was not deep enough.

Because I had not put away the jig yet it was very simple to fix, I just had to re-cut those box joints.

Step 6: Changing Blades

I changed out the dado stack to a flat top full kerf blade. I set it to half the thickness of the material, ~9mm.

Step 7: Cutting the Groove for the Bottom

The material I am using for the bottom is approximately 6mm, which unfortunately is smaller than the thinnest setting on my dado stack. This just means I have to run the material through the saw twice. Once to make the initial cut and a second cut to widen it to the bottom material thickness.

Tip: Cut some scrap bits of wood. This way as you move the fence you can test if the bottom material will fit without wrecking any good pieces of wood.

Again I am using the reference mark on the bottom of the boards. If your plywood has a nice side and a not so nice side you will want to make sure the not so nice side is facing downwards.

All 96 boards went through the saw, then I moved the fence and ran them all through again. For the first cut I set my fence at ~1/4". The second cut I moved the fence until my bottom material slid nicely in the test pieces.

Step 8: Cutting the Material for the Bottom

The bottoms are made from 6mm plywood. I first ripped the boards to the correct width. As I wanted the grain of the plywood to go width-wise on the bottom, they were all ripped to 15 1/4". The formula I used to figure out the dimension was total depth of drawer - (depth of drawer groove * 2). In this example it would be 16" - (3/8" * 2) = 15 1/4"

To cross cut the boards you can use a miter saw, but you will likely need to flip the board over as your miter saw probably cannot cut 15 1/4" deep.

Alternatively you can use your table saw or even a circular saw.

The formula for the cross cuts is total width of drawer - (depth of drawer groove * 2). In this example it would be 26" - (3/8" * 2) = 25 1/4"

Step 9: Assembling the Drawers

I used titebond III to assemble the drawers. The advantage of titebond III is that it has a longer open time and when you are dealing with this many joints you need all the time you can get!

I found it easiest to put the glue into a container and use a glue spreader to get the glue into the joints. I did this as quickly as possible and then slid the joints together. Before putting in the last side of the drawer make sure you put in the bottom. No need to add glue to the bottom as it is captured in the grooves.

With the glue starting to set up and potentially swelling the wood a bit it was sometimes difficult to get the box joints to slide together. I used a combination of a mallet and the clamps to get everything seated fully.

Next you need to to check square. If it is out of square you can use a clamp across the diagonal to get it back into square.

Lastly, make sure to remove as much of the glue as possible from the inside corners. I used a wet rag, but I have heard of other people having success with the tip of a straw. If you let the glue dry on the inside it can be very difficult to remove.

Step 10: Sanding and Finish

Using a random orbit sander, I sanded all of the glue residue off the outside pieces. I finally had a beautiful looking pile of drawers.

I then applied 3 coats of water based polyurethane with a light sanding between each coat.

Step 11: Installing Drawer Slides - Jigs/Templates

To install the drawer slides I made three jigs/templates out of scrap wood. I will call them spacers from now on because that is what they are designed to do.

I made the first out of material that was the same thickness as my drawer front (in my case 3/4"). This will allow me to offset the drawer slide from the front of the shelving unit.

The remaining two spacers were made from plywood. The first is a small piece that is used to get the spacing correct for the bottom drawer slide. The second is larger and sets the spacing between the drawer slides.

Step 12: Installing the Slides

To install the slides I placed the slide onto the template and offset it from the front using the scrap of 3/4" wood. Then I used a 1/8" drill bit to drill pilot holes. I then installed the screw using my impact driver. Note: It is really easy to overdo it with the impact driver. You can use a screwdriver instead and that will lessen your chances of stripping the hole.

Moving up I placed the larger template and again drilled and screwed in the draw slide. I repeated until I reached the top.

Step 13: Attaching Slides to the Middle Partition

To attach slides to the middle partition of the shelving unit you repeat the same procedure as the previous step, but make sure to offset the screws. There are 4 mounting locations on the drawer slides. On one side you can use holes #1 and #3 and on the other side you use holes #2 and #4.

Step 14: Attaching Drawers to Sliders

To attach the drawers to the sliders I drilled a pilot hole and then attached them with 3/4" screws. In order to get the spacing correct and consistent, I used some more bits of plywood to act as spacers between the drawers.

Step 15: Making the Drawer Fronts

The fronts of the drawers are made from 3/4" solid hardwood (in my case maple). I bought it from the local hardwood dealer already dressed on 4 sides (this means that it is already cut to a consistent thickness and width).

All I needed to do was rip it to the correct width, which I did on my table saw.

I then used my miter saw to cross cut the drawer fronts to the correct width. For each one I measured and then cut, tested to see if the spacing was good, and then cut again. I always find that I make less mistakes if I sneak up on the cut like this.

Step 16: Attaching the Drawer Fronts

To attach the drawer fronts I placed them on the front of the drawer and lightly clamped them in place. I then used some card stock to get the spacing correct and clamped them down tight. I drilled a pilot hole and counter sink and then screwed them in place with 1 1/4" wood screws.

For the top drawers where I couldn't get clamps in, I used double sided tape and was just very careful to get the drawer perfectly aligned.

Step 17: Adding Handles

I used a simple jig to help attach the handles. This jig is a piece of plywood with holes drilled into it that match the distance between holes for my handles. I added two perpendicular pieces at the top which help keep it aligned. It is also marked directly in the center.

I measured and marked the center of the drawer front. I placed the jig on the drawer and lined up the center marks. I was then able to drill the holes for the handle screws. I pushed the screws through from the back and fastened the handles to the drawer.

Step 18: Admiring Your Work

Before getting a chance to admire my work, I called in the inspector for the final approval. Luckily for me he gave it a passing grade. I was then able to admire all of the drawers I installed.

If you are anything like me, this will be the last time your closets look presentable, so make sure to take lots of pictures! (which is something I forgot to do, lol)

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If you make this project (or something inspired by this project) I would love to see some pictures! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments.

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