From Drawer to Shelf Unit




Introduction: From Drawer to Shelf Unit

About: Growing up in a rural area in the East of England I've always been interested in nature and trees and eventually found myself building things from the wood I could find. This has led me to follow my passion ...

With my shed being so small and my tools scattered all over the place I needed some storage and organisation for some of the smaller bits in the shed. I hadn't really thought of this until I was trying to find a place to put an old drawer in the shed, leaned it up against the wall to get it out of the way and then suddenly had a eureka moment.

Admittedly its not the greatest discovery made by man and I've seen many pics online of drawers made into shelves since but they're all different. So, here's my version, I hope you enjoy checking it out.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Tools :

- Pencil and rule

- Combination square

- Tenon saw Crosscut Saw and Rip Saw (or table saw)

- Mallet and chisel

- Clamps

- Brace and hand drill (or Power drill)

- 8mm bit and 6mm bit

- Shoulder plane/combination plane (or router perhaps)

- Flush cut saw

- Small hammer

- Screwdriver

- Smoothing Plane

Materials :

- Wood for shelves (however much is needed for the size of drawer)

- Wood for drawers and perhaps a contrasting wood for drawer fronts

- Thin plywood for bottom of drawers

- Various screws to fix shelves from back and drawer handles

- Sandpaper

- Wood finish

- 8 X 8mm dowels

- 8 X 6mm dowels

- Wood glue

- Small pins/nails

Step 2: Sourcing a Drawer and Cutting Shelves

I had this drawer left over from another upcycling project I did with an old battered chest of drawers. It had been sitting around in my shed waiting for something to happen to it. I didn't really want to take it apart as I thought it'd be nice to preserve the hand cut dovetails made by the original carpenter and so the shelf unit was born.

I got the chest of drawers on a site called Freecycle, someone didn't want it anymore and I was more than happy to take it. If you're in the US I suppose something like Craigslist might be the way to go or any other kind of classifieds site, maybe even the local newspaper or eBay.

When measuring the inside of the drawer I made sure to measure the point where each shelf would go as there may be slight differences in length even though the drawer appears straight and square. Sure enough there was a difference of around 5mm which doesn't sound like a lot but would make for one of the shelves to have an unsightly gap on one side.

So after cutting the shelves to their 2 slightly different lengths I placed them inside the drawer only to come across another issue. The bottom of the drawer had two corner pieces and a central piece to hold it flat, this unfortunately came into contact with the shelves and stopped them sitting flush with the back. I put the shelves in, marked where the obstructions were and chiselled them from the shelves. They then slot in nicely and against the back of the unit.

Step 3: Attaching the Shelves

I laid the drawer on its bottom and slot the shelves into the right place, making sure they were level and flush. I then carefully put clamps on the outside of the drawer and pulled the sides in to hold the shelves tightly in place.

With the shelves stuck in place I used a brace and 8mm bit to make some dowel holes and then glued some dowels in place. I make all my dowels by splitting wood and using a dowel plate which you can see in the video.

After 24 hours of drying time I cut the dowels with a flush cut saw.

Step 4: Adding the Drawer Divider and Screws

Holding up a piece of the shelving material under the first shelf I marked and cut it. I pushed it into the gap making sure it was half way along the shelf and more importantly square to the shelf. I put two screws into the bottom of the divider and a dowel through the shelf into the top of the divider. Of course I should have thought about this before put the shelves in but it was too late at this point. You could always screw it in and then add a wood plug to cover up the screw if you wanted.

An awkward little gap left by the lock mechanism was simply just filled in with a piece of wood I cut to the same size and glued in.

After that in order to add more support to the shelves and also to bring the board on the back of the unit close to the back of the shelves I put 4 screws in from the back into each shelf. Just drawing a straight line from the front all the way round the back with a long straight edge will find the line of the shelf from the back.

Step 5: Making the Drawer Pieces

I'm what you might call an 'unplugged' woodworker and as such I do all my making with hand tools. I had some sapele that was perfect for the drawer fronts but just too thick. With that in mind I decided to saw it in half all the way down its length to get two even(ish) pieces. I put them in my vice and planed them square and smooth.

For the rest of the drawer pieces I used some old plywood bed slats that I had lying around, not pretty but perfect for drawers and will be hidden away most of the time.

Step 6: Connecting the Drawer Sides and Front

There's many ways you could attach the drawers together, screws and dowels being two options, I decided to try out half blind dovetails as I'd never used them before. I wont go through the whole process of how I made them as there's a million tutorials online.

I marked on the drawer fronts how deep I wanted the dovetails to go, I made them as deep as possible to get plenty of strength. I also made the dovetails themselves thinner so there wasn't too much of a thin. weak section at the front of the drawer (I previously split a piece off by doing that which you can see in the video).

Step 7: Attaching the Back and Fitting the Bottoms on the Drawers

Before I could attach the back to the drawers I wanted to make a rebate on the underside of the pieces to hold the bottom in place. I temporarily clamped the drawer together with a frame clamp and drew a straight line around the inside of the pieces.

After unclamping the pieces I could then just use a combination plane or rebate plane to make the rebates on every edge which were cut about 2mm deeper than the thickness of the bottoms.

With the rebates cut I could glue the dovetails to the drawer fronts and then drill and dowel the backs of the drawers. I cut some thin ply to the right size and glued and pinned it to the bottom of the drawers. I then cut the dowels off and did a little sanding.

Step 8: Making the Drawer Handles

I went with a nice straight drawer handle once again because I had never tried it but also because I thought it suited the piece. Using some of the leftover shelf material I cut two long pieces and squared them with a plane. I then cut 4 small blocks of sapele to use as "gap makers" between the handles and the drawers.

Step 9: Attaching the Handles

I drilled two holes through the drawer fronts and screwed the pieces together from the inside of the drawer. As you can see this was rather troublesome due to the depth of the drawers so I had to use a socket set in order to get the screws in there!

Step 10: Attaching the Hanger

There was a rather ugly piece at the bottom of the drawer so I decided to cover it up with a kind of hanger for keys or tools or what have you. I cut it to a kind of triangular shape and fixed it in with dowels. The hanger dowel was put in at an angle to stop whatever is hanging on it from falling off.

Step 11: Drawer Guides

Because the drawers would angle downwards when pulled out I had to make some guides to keep them straight. This simply involved making a pencil mark inside the shelf where the top of the drawer sides was and then nailing a couple of little blocks in those spaces.

Step 12: Finishing the Unit

I used a hard wearing interior varnish on the shelf unit as I know its going to get a lot of abuse in the shed. After mounting it on the shed wall I got some beeswax and mineral oil mixture and rubbed it all over the drawer bottoms and the guides. This makes the drawers slide more smoothly.

I'm quite pleased with how it came out as well as my impromptu attempt at half blind dovetails, still many improvements to be made but as its a shed shelf unit, I'll let it slide!

If you'd like to check out my other builds you can subscribe to my YouTube channel and also join me live on Twitch.

Thank you for checking this out, any comments, criticisms and general greetings are always welcome.

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    4 Discussions


    2 years ago

    This is such a classy way to upcycle sturdy yet lonely drawers. Thank you, especially, for the wonderful video. I love watching your hands and hearing the sounds of your tools. Lovely.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you so much, that's such a compliment its made my day! You should watch a guy (if you don't already) called Mr. Chickadee on YouTube, amazing hand tool woodworker and doesn't speak a single word, doesn't have to either!

    Here's a link to his channel, I think you'll like it!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Wow, thank you for that link. I just watched several videos. They are like you- patient, deliberate, confident, creative and very skilled. You also have an artistic flare. :-)


    Reply 2 years ago

    My pleasure I'm glad I could share his content, he has inspired some of my work. Thank you very much, I'm flattered!