Introduction: Pull-Out Drawers for Cabinets

About: I work in TV/broadcast and film, but I like to do some welding and woodworking in my "free time." Check out my blog for more camera-specific things:

When we bought our first house, having a full kitchen was at the very top of the list. After a great kitchen in our first apartment, and a middling galley-style in our second, we wanted to have room to make meals for the ever-growing family, as well as have capacity to have family and friends over (in numbers larger than two.)

The kitchen we got came with beautiful cabinets, but no pantry. That's okay, though, right? We don't need a pantry--just another place for unused food to spoil. But you do need a place to store ingredients, and we had that in the form of a large cabinet just to the left of our sink. I didn't realise, however, that the depth was going to be a major problem. Even with my long arms (I'm 6'4") I have trouble reaching into the back of the cabinets on the top or bottom. My wife is shorter, even, but that's not the biggest issue.

With our ingredients arranged the way they have been, it is nigh impossible to reach past the front two or three rows to access any ingredients, and more importantly, hard to see back there. I just found three boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, and I haven't the faintest idea when we bought them. Lord knows we've probably bought doubles of tomatoes or other canned goods because we can't see that we already have them.

The solution: pull-out drawers!

After some research, the nuggets I pulled were simple: go into with intention. Design at heights that can be maintained, and have specific ideas for what you want. For me, that was making sure we had (a) a shelf that could hold vegetable oil and some tall liqueur bottles height-wise, (b) a design that could hold cans and not sag over time, and (c) something that would be nice-looking, for if/when we move out. I also have two other specific shelves in mind--one to hold our "panini press" and the multiple plates that go with it (grill, griddle, waffle), and one to hold a particularly large box of clingwrap that I bought in error.

Step 1: Design!

I do a lot of work in SketchUp, but since this is all custom stuff, I'm not going to upload the SketchUp file--it'll just be easier for you to start your own. And this would be a good project in which to learn SketchUp--all Rectangle and Push-Pull tools.

I started by "building" the cabinet, focusing on the interior measurements. Be sure to include the amount of overlap from the cabinet front, because you don't want your hardware to not slide out. In my case, the inside walls had a 7/8" overlap with the front, so I'll have to cut some 7/8" spacers to get the hardware flush.

Armed with the interior dimensions, I created my spacers, then another set of rectangle cubes to represent the sliders. I used the manufacturer's dimensions, because I ordered them online and they hadn't come in yet. I also decided to use 1/2" plywood, for cost and for size.

Once I had a width within which to work, I figured out what I wanted my frame to be. Some reconfiguring happened, because I wanted the front to be solid piece, instead of seeing the seams, which meant my dividers wouldn't be the same height (and hence, another ripping depth would be required.) Once I had a single shelf built, I grouped them together and copy/pasted to figure out how many I could fit.

At this point, I also built some rough approximations of items I wanted in the cabinet. In particular: a "tall alcohol" bottle (for the one or two liquers we have), the container in which I keep my flour, a tall spice jar, and the aforementioned panini press with plates, as well as the plastic wrap box. Once I had all of these things, I started to configure the approximate heights for the different shelves. The only requirements I had were that the panini press go on the bottom, and the plastic wrap go at the top of the bottom cabinet.

I can't tell you what your cabinets are, but don't think any measurement can be skipped over. I've been bitten enough by that already on different projects.

The final step I like to do is put out a 4x8' sheet of plywood, "disassemble" the shelf, and then see how much material I'll need, as well as what rips will need to be made. Check Step 4 for that image.

Step 2: Assemble the Team!

First, I decided to try doing some biscuit joinery on this project, which I've not done before. Second, due to my particular tool set, I cut each of the rips with an extra 1/2" using a circular saw, then ripped them down to width on my Shopsmith (which doesn't have a particularly robust table for its saw.)


  • Plywood
    • I used 19/32" because I wanted some heft, but not the weight that 3/4" or 23/32" has. It's not exactly 1/2", but I couldn't find any 1/2" at the store that wasn't primed on one side. This is over 1/8" bigger, but at this point, I'm just interested in getting these pull-outs made.
  • Drawer Slides
    • You can search eBay for drawer slides in the size you need. My cabinet is 22 3/4" deep, so I bought 22" slides. Since I'm making six or seven, with the possibility of making more for different cabinets later, I bought a 10-pack for $67 (free shipping) because it was much more cost effective. If you're only making one or two, going to Lowe's or Home Depot would probably be fine.
  • Finishing material
    • I bought a "golden pecan" Minwax stain and some polyurethane. The polyurethane increase the time-table for the project, but I've seen what happens to nasty cupboards and how hard they can be to clean. The existing shelves in the cabinet are laminated chipboard.
  • Wood glue
    • It needs to be water-based glue, because the biscuits in the joint use the water to expand.


The tools you'll need depend on the type of joints you use. I used biscuit joints for strength over time, but if you're doing box joints or, Heaven forbid, dovetails...then you're probably a better carpenter than I am already, so I'm not sure why you're reading this.

  • Saws
    • A table saw is the only way to get multiple repeated cuts with any accuracy.
    • A miter saw for cutting the 3" and 3-1/2" rips.
    • I ended up using a circular saw to trim some bits (mostly because partway-through, my table saw/Shopsmith broke a belt and became unusable.)
  • Biscuit joiner
    • I borrowed a Ryobi from a friend. I don't plan on doing much more biscuit joinery, so I didn't want to invest in one.
  • Biscuits
    • I bought a 125-pack and used almost all of them. Mine were #10's--probably could've gone to a #0, but I think I'll be fine in the long run.
  • General marking tools
  • Clamps
  • Router + flush-cut bit (just make sure it's big enough for whatever size of wood you'll use--otherwise you'll have to make multiple passes at different depths.)
  • Sandpaper
    • Multiple grits for multiple passes. The roughest I used was 30, the finest 220.

Step 3: Rip 'em and Cut 'em!

For my number of shelves and sizes, I made two 14" rips, two 3-1/2" rips, and four 3" rips. I try and leave as much wood left over as I can, both as spares for this project, and scraps to have lying around for other projects. (If you look closely, you'll realise I left out three sets of side pieces on my diagram, so I ended up having to cut down most of my spare plywood for that.)

Once rips were made, I used the table saw to cut the 20-3/4" pieces (from the 14" and 3" rips) so they would be consistent in length. I continued using the table saw to cut the 14" pieces, just 'cause I was already set up for it, but I would have used the miter saw in any other situation.

As far as dividers go: I would recommend at least one per shelf. This gives the plywood bottom something to grip on to, and will help in the long term with sagging. I assume, anyway--perhaps this thick plywood wouldn't be bothered, but I figure cans and flour are heavy, and being stationary for a long time will definitely affect support, over time.

Step 4: Mark 'em!

I first laid out the bottom and sides, figuring out which faces I wanted to see or not see. Because of the location of the cabinet, the door will totally block at least one face of each cabinet, so where I had nasty knots or strange markings, I'd make sure they ended up on the door side. The more marks you make, the easier it is for you as you keep moving the box around, but the more difficult it is at the finishing stage--you'll have to erase or sand down everything.

The marks determine the center of the biscuit joint, but be cognizant of which face will need to be cut into. For my design, the front and back were solid faces, so the joints all happened on the inside face. However, the walls sit on top of the bottom piece, so their joints will be on the face of the bottom and in the sides of the walls. If you do your design differently (i.e., the bottom is enclosed by four equal-height walls,) then your joints will be different.

The reason that's important is you may need to move the mark to another face/side in order to see it with the joiner. I used my speed square when transferring these marks around the corner.

It's at this stage that I started bringing stuff out from the kitchen to the garage, in order to determine where my dividers would go. I put cans, spices, flour, and especially the panini press and plastic wrap in the roughed-in box, to determine where I would put my dividers. Set the divider in, hold it in place, and lightly mark it with a pencil. Remove the cans/spices/et al., and mark for the biscuit joints. Doesn't have to be perfectly centered. You'll also want to make sure you mark the walls that the divider will be touching and joint those for extra strength and stability.

Step 5: Joint 'em, Glue 'em, and Clamp 'em!

The first thing to do is set the depth of your joiner. You want your cuts to be somewhere in the middle of the piece, so use a scrap piece of plywood and raise/lower the gate until the red mark on the bottom is roughly in the center. You can make a couple of test plunges on scrap to see where it is. Do not change the depth until otherwise noted!

The cutting goes pretty quickly, since everything is marked. Again, remember which face/side you're cutting!

One thing I ran into: when cutting into the face of a front/back (a 3-1/2" rip,) the joiner's gate was too wide, and the joiner cut at the wrong depth. To get around this, I clamped the piece-to-be-cut to the bottom piece of plywood, making sure the edges where flush. This let the gate sit on the bottom piece's side for the gate to work. If that doesn't make sense, I'll try and explain it better in the notes on the pictures.

Once all of your joints in the sides/back/front are cut, cut the divider accordingly. Once you've cut the divider joints, flip the gate back up to 90°. If your joiner's like the one I used, and you're using plywood under 1" thick, the depth gets changed when the gate flips up. It will be a pain to get it set exactly right again, so it's imperative that you get all of your depth-required cuts done first (which is every cut except the face cuts for the divider.)

I found that the marks I made for the divider weren't quite adequate the first time around. I placed the joiner up on the marked line and cut, but the divider ended up being almost 1/2" off from where I wanted it. To combat this on the next one, I marked both sides of the plywood on the face, then lined up my jointer with the back line (the unmarked one.) That probably makes no sense to you, so that may be a mistake you have to make and figure out on your own.

Once your cuts are all made, you're ready for glue! Put glue everywhere except on the biscuit itself. It will get all its glue from the glue inside the cuts you've made, and will soak up the water in order to fill the kerf. When assembling, I would start with the front, then the door side wall, then the divider, then the other wall, and finally the back. The divider is the only thing that sort of gives pause when putting on the second wall--you'll have three directions of biscuit joints. Don't worry about jimmying things around while the glue is wet--it's a lot easier to clean up glue than it is to glue it crooked.

I used my band clamp on all four corners as the first stage. Once it was tight, I added the four Irwin clamps on the walls, then would add one for the divider. These I left for the glue's recommended 30-minutes, then removed and let it all dry overnight. If you're thinking about your timeframe, here's what I did, "assembly-line" style: I marked, cut, glued, and clamped one unit, setting it aside to dry. While it was drying, I would mark and cut my next piece, and every time that would take 40-50 minutes, so I would remove the clamps from the first piece, and glue/clamp the next piece. While it's drying, do the third shelf, and so on and so forth.

Step 6: Sand 'em and Stain 'em!

Once your glue is dry, you can begin the finishing touches. The first thing I did was go over each side with a flush-cut router bit, getting rid of unsightly overhangs. I also ran some drawers back through a table saw, with the gate set so the sides would all be the same height, but if you got everything right on the first go-round, you're probably fine. I seem to have a problem keeping exact measurements in everything I do.

Using a small chisel and a soft touch, remove every bit of extra glue you can see; use an eraser for stray pencil marks. Heavy grit sandpaper will help with some things that don't come off easily--if you used cheap plywood (as I did) you'll probably have some stamps in some areas that are nigh impossible to get out. As long as they're on the bottom or door-side of the drawer, there shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Hit every surface possible with multiple passes of sandpaper. This helps a lot with the appearance of plywood, as well as the general smoothness of the piece. I used 30, 60, and 120 grits with a sandpaper holder, but a palm/orbital sander would make the outside go much quicker.

From there, I applied one coat of Minwax stain and two coats of polyurethane. I didn't wipe the stain off after I applied it, and the "golden pecan" took almost a day to really set in--you'll see in the next step's pictures that it's much darker than it looked at first. It's also worth noting that the ply sections in the middle of the plywood stained darker, too.

Give your polyurethane and stains enough time to dry. This cannot be rushed--you don't want sticky shelves. Follow any instructions on the polyurethane can--in my case, it included a pass with 220-grit sandpaper once dry to take care of impurities.

Step 7: Mount 'em!

Now that everything is stained and protected, you can start mounting them. I used the full-extension, side-mount slides that I ordered, so that's how I'll proceed, but if you have different slides, feel free to skip this step and forge ahead on your own. (Or look up a YouTube video on how to do whatever you have.) I also had to have spacers in place, because the cabinet is built with some depth around the sides.

I went back into SketchUp and figured out the depth from the cabinet front to the top of the spacer, and marked each one. Due to the space in which I had to work, I didn't bother with drawing that line all the way back, and you'll see why in a moment. If you don't have to deal with spacers, I recommend figuring out where you want the top of your shelf to be, and then add whatever half of your drawer height is.

Separate your slides--the ones I have had small black releases that pushed down to separate. I marked the middle of the spacers with my speed square and a pencil (3/4") and lined the bracket up with the center, making the front flush with the spacer. For the first, I drilled pilot holes while holding the bracket on, but the next time 'round, just marked the centers with a pencil and then drilled holes after.

At this point, I put my spacers in the cabinet to drill some pilot holes for the screws that would hold spacers in. I used two folded up pieces of duct tape as a third hand. I lined up the spacer with the mark on the cabinet, and used a bullet level to make sure the spacer was straight across the way. Once it was level, I drilled two pilot holes through the spacer and into the cabinet wall. I removed the spacer, countersunk those holes (so that the bracket would mount flush), and put 1-3/8" screws through the spacer 'til the points were out. I found the pilot holes again, and screwed the spacer into the cabinet wall.

Next, the brackets. Find your pilot holes previously drilled, and attach the bracket, using whatever screw will go through your spacer and a decent amount of cabinet wall.

Mark the center of the the pullout drawer with a speed square or carpenter's square. Follow the same steps as before, except using even smaller screws that won't poke through the walls of your drawer. Make sure that the front of the bracket is flush (or is recessed enough--whichever you're doing for your particular setup.)

Mount the drawer piece by gently pushing it back into the bracket. Make sure you're clear of everything (I found out at this point that my slides actually connected with the drawer, so I'm adding some shims to the door-side of things.) If it's not quite level, or not easily sliding in and out, just be patient and go over every inch to see where the issue is.

I hope everything works out for you, and that your pull-out drawers benefit you as greatly as ours did us! Please ask any questions, and I will answer them if I can. I will also add more pictures when I get more of the pull-outs done.

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