How to Build a Modern Dresser - With Few Tools




Introduction: How to Build a Modern Dresser - With Few Tools

About: Army Vet. I love learning & being creative.

This Instructable will take you through the process of building a simple dresser, with three large drawers. I made this this for my son's room. I could have bought a dresser, but that's too easy. :) I am a complete novice, when it comes to woodworking. I have made some custom shelves that I really love, and some picture frames. But, this was my first real woodworking creation! It was put together almost entirely with one small tool - the Kreg Jig. I am kind of a perfectionist, so there are definitely things I would improve on, and I will share that with you in my final step. I learned a lot, and will be modifying some plans to make myself a dresser next - one a bit bigger. If you have never made anything before, I think if you have the right mindset, you could make this!

Before I continue, I wanted to share that I first got inspired with this idea for this dresser from a combined project from Ana White & Shanty2Chic. Thank you guys so much! I totally modified the plans to fit my dresser idea though. On their plans, they have six drawers and the dresser is on wheels. I needed something smaller for my son's room, although the drawers on my plans are very large and fit a lot of clothes. I learned some basics with Sketchup (3d software program), and designed the dresser, based on what I learned from those two sites. And, using Sketchup helped me immensely, to make sure all measurements were precise. It also allowed me to see what the dresser would look like, before I even made it. I will provide these plans and documents throughout the steps. I even printed my plans out while working on the project, following through with the steps and images. I hope this helps!

Lastly, I tried to provide as many details as possible, but please ask if you have questions. I will be updating this Instructable with links to the products I used, later on. I hope you guys like this.

It is imperfect, like everything in life. :) But, I like it for my first real project! I know there are better ways to make drawers (dovetail joints) and stuff like that, but in this Instructable I kept it simple.Update: I was too hard on myself in analyzing what I created. I absolutely totally love this dresser and I am proud of myself for making it....even if that sounds corny. When I'm in my son's room, I am super jealous as I need a dresser myself and I adore how it turned out. So, the next one I design and create will be for me - and for you guys as I will share it on here. It will be a lot larger too.

This is my 99th Instructable!!! Wow! Thank you so much!

Step 1: Supplies & Lumber


  • Kreg Jig Pocket Hole (I am using the Kreg Jig R3)
  • Kreg pocket hole screws - 1 1/4" and 2 1/2"
  • drill - I am using the Matrix Drill (I own two & love them)
  • Screws - other assorted screws for drawer slides
  • drill
  • sandpaper or sanding tool
  • wood glue
  • clamps
  • level, right angle square
  • drawer slides 16" (I bought these ones in a pack of 10)
  • handles, knobs or drawer hardware
  • 1 1/4" finish nails
  • hammer
  • air compressor and nail gun (totally optional, not necessary)
  • wood stain and/or polyurethane/shellac (optional)

If cutting the wood yourself, you will need safety gear (eyes & ear protection) and a table saw or other saw to cut the pieces of wood.

If you're in the United States, and live near a Home Depot, they will cut the wood for you to size! At my local store it is all totally free. Cutting the wood properly is (what I believe to be) the most labor-intensive part of this process. So, if you can have them cut it for you - I highly recommend it. I had my plywood cut for me, but I ended up cutting most of the wood for the drawers myself.

Wood Cuts

    3/4" Plywood Cuts

    • (1) 15 3/4" x 38" (top piece)
    • (2) 15 3/4" x 32 1/4" (side pieces)

    1/4" Plywood Cuts

    • (3) 16" x 34" (drawer bottoms)
    • (1) 18 3/4" x 38" (bottom of dresser - optional)
    • (1) 36" x 31" (back of dresser - optional)

    2" x 2" Board Cuts for Frame (Make sure these are super straight - important!)

    • (4) 2" x 2" x 38" (for top & bottom pieces of frame)
    • (4) 2" x 2" x 30" (side pieces for frame)

    1" x 2" Board Cuts

    • (2) 1" x 2" x 35" pieces (they go across frame for drawers separation)
    • (6) 1" x 2" x 15 3/4" (for drawer slide placement - one 1" x 2" x 8' board would work - cut into these six pcs.)


    • (6) 1" x 8" x 32 15/32" (Please note: the last measurement of 32 15/32" is extremely close to 32 1/2". I added a small amount to that measurement because with my drawers were the tiniest fraction tight and would have been best at the measurement of 32 15/32". I used the measurement of 32 1/2" and it did work fine, but I think a super small amount of space would have been ideal. I hope this makes sense. This also greatly depends on the drawer slides you bought. The ones I purchased took up exactly 1/2" an inch on both sides.
    • (6) 1" x 8" x 16" for drawer sides
    • (3) 1" x 10" x 34 3/4" for drawer fronts

    * Please see all the images above for detailed measurements and board cuts (I made some graphics to help you). Also, actual board measurements and sizes are not true to what they are named. See graphic above for details.

    Holly Mann is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

    Step 2: Step 1 - Assembling the Basic Frame

    In this first step, we will put together the basic frame, including the two sides and top of the dresser. I had the plywood pieces cut at the store for me. And, then I used my miter saw to cut the (6) 1" x 2" x 15 3/4" pieces. Please see the Sketchup models for details about exactly where to place those pieces. You will then need to measure, glue and clamp them in place. Once ready, you then need to use the finishing nails to attach them to the side pieces. Once they are firmly attached and nailed on, then you will need to create pocket holes.

    Take your Kreg Jig tools out and you will also need some type of clamp and table to work on. The Kreg Jig is easy to use. I had the settings on it at 3/4" and the screws used later on were 1 1/4" screws. If you see all the pocket holes I made (in my images) I went a little overboard. You do not need to make that many holes. I wanted it to last a lifetime! But, went way overboard on the holes attaching the sides to the top piece! Please see my images to see where you should put the holes on the sides of the dresser pieces. Once the holes are done, you are ready to attach the sides to the top piece. I had to flip my piece over upside down to do this. I then used my 1 1/4" screws (and first glued the edges) to attach the sides to the top. It can be tricky if you don't have clamps or a proper work area - but do your best. I had very few good clamps and a very basic work area. I ended up keeping the piece flipped upside down and attaching a board across it and clamping it down (to keep the proper shape and interior size).

    *Important: In second-to-last photo in this step, I realized I had forgotten to add pocket holes along the top piece of the dresser (which will be used to secure it to the frame). See graphic to show you where you can place pocket holes for frame attachment. Feel free to use more (or less) pocket holes than shown. I had to prop it up and make the holes before proceeding.

    Step 3: Building the 2" X 2" Frame

    In this step you will need to use the 2" x 2" pieces to build the frame. As you can see in the photos, I used pocket hole screws (and glue) to attach the sides to the top pieces. You need to make sure things are done accurately here. If you have a corner clamp, this would help a lot. If you look closely at the last picture, you can see where and how I added the pocket holes. The settings for these holes was 1 1/2" on the tool and I used 2 1/2" pocket hole screws to secure them. The 1" x 2" pieces that went across it, I ended up putting in one pocket hole to secure those to the sides. In this step, you are only supposed to do the frame (not yet attach it to the main dresser pieces) but I put the Sketchup models in here so you have precise measurements.

    If you notice that I have boards between the 1" x 2" boards (vertically) those I cut and placed in their temporarily to make sure the space is correct and the boards stay straight across. I did this as things were either clamped or drying. You need to make the two frames - one for the front (which also includes the two 1" x 2" cross slats) and the back which is only the 2" x 2" frame.

    Step 4: Attach the Frame

    Now it's time to use those 2 1/2" pocket hole screws and attach the frame to the sides and top piece. Be sure to glue it and clamp it as needed while doing this. Take your time and make sure it's all even and level.

    Step 5: Making the Dresser Drawers

    In this step, it's time to make the drawers. Be sure you have all the pieces cut and the pocket holes drilled. See images for details. I used pocket hole screws on the front (which was later hidden by the front face) and on the back (which is not visible when in use). I then glued, clamped and drilled them together. After that, I glued them onto the plywood bottom pieces. I let them sit overnight and then the next day I used the air compresser and nail gun to nail the bottom to the drawers. To make it extra strong, I also countersunk and drilled some screws in the corners and middle of all sides to attach the bottom to the drawer, in addition to the nails. I tend to go overboard with securing things on! In this step, I did not attach the faces to the drawers, and I do not recommend that you do this yet either. I waited until the drawer slides were in, so I could be sure they fit well.

    Step 6: Drawer Slides

    In this step, it's time to install the drawer slides onto the 1" x 2" slats on the side pieces. I would love to give a more thorough instructable and explain this well, but it is hard to explain! I found an incredible, simple little video showing how to install them fast and easy. If you don't see the embedded video, you can also watch the video here.

    I used some wonderful drawer slides that I bought in bulk from Amazon. I will update the Instructable shortly with a link to the ones I bought. They are 16 inches long and half an inch wide. They did not include any hardware or instructions, so the video was very helpful. Be sure you use spacers, as you can see in my photos. Then it will have a little room above and below the drawer faces. In this step, I ended up adding the drawer faces as well by gluing them on and screwing them in from the inside. I countersunk them also, to avoid them from sticking out or getting in the way of my son's clothes. I also had to pull the drawer slide forward a bit and attach it a bit past the 2" x 2" frame piece (about 1/4 inch beyond the frame) in order to have the slide close where the drawer face would be pretty flush to the frame.

    Step 7: Staining, Hardware and Handles

    Next, I stained the piece after sanding and prepping it. I like how the drawer fronts stained, but the frame of 2" x 2" pieces was quite blotchy. I will continue to try to fix it, but for now, this is how it is! I also plan on doing a coat of polyurethane on it later. The whole process takes a while once you get into staining.

    I bought some modern, huge 20-inch drawer handles for this dresser. I gave my son the choice between these long ones and six smaller ones. He chose these! I love the style! For this step, I just measured to figure out the center of the drawer. I then figured out where to place the holes. These handles came with screws, but I needed to take one with me to the store to get ones that were an inch larger. I drilled in some holes and placed the screws in from the inside of the drawer to the outside to attach the handles. That's all - completed!!!

    Step 8: Lessons Learned & Next Dresser Plans

    Hey guys - thanks for reading this far. I just wanted to share (briefly) some lessons I learned.

    1. I learned that different types of plywood stain very differently and can totally change the affect or style of the piece. At first I didn't like the plywood I used (red oak) but after the whole thing was completed, and I used a couple layers of shellac - I love it. It is really nice and my son loves it. Our cats love it too!
    2. The edges of the plywood are exposed on here. My son doesn't care, and I am trying to not get concerned since my son loves the dresser and it was my first woodworking project (all on my own, I might add!). I had to learn how to make this piece of furniture and how to use a table saw a I bought - and considering it was my first build, I am happy enough with it. :) The plywood edges did drive me a bit nuts but I will let it go! Update - there are ways to fix this - thank you, Hank! And, it is actually hardly noticeable right now.
    3. I will be making a new dresser plan (possibly with six drawers, I am not sure yet) and I will be sure to avoid the problems I had with this one. Someday I want to learn how to work with laminating or edge-gluing wood together to make something without plywood. I need to do some research on that though.
    4. I learned to buy better wood stain. Next time I will try General's Gel Finishes and see how it goes. I will also buy cheaper wood, since my 2" x 2"s were $8 for 8 feet and they were the pieces of wood that took the stain the worst, and ended up the most blotchy. I do not know why.
    5. If possible, I will let Home Depot guys do more cuts for me - it saves a ton of time!
    6. Next time I will use the router I got - and things will look nicer.

    Most importantly, I learned many months later. I adore this dresser. Initially I was hard on myself about dumb imperfections. I love everything about it. I learned a ton and can't wait to do more woodworking. Right now it's about 15 degrees out in my state, so I need to wait till it gets a bit warmer out for the next project. Thank you guys for reading!

    Step 9:

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    50 Discussions

    You said the plywood edges drove you nuts; however, there are ways to fix that. How is that done?

    Great instructable. Was asked by a friend to make a simple dresser and this is perfect. U mentioned about making a 6 drawer version which mine will be 5 with shallower drawers and outside dimensions are 44×45. So been making a few changes just started the project today and so far so good. Plus making all my own cuts so taking a Lil more time. Plus I'm not using drawer slides to save on materiel cost since I have a Lotta scraps. I will post a pic when done. Thanks again for the instructable.

    Hello HolyMann!! This is a GREAT instructable! I have saved it and will be building 2 as soon as I get my shop set up. In the mean time, would it be possible to get a list/pics of the screws you used for this project? I'd like to make sure I have them on hand as well.

    You made mention of building a 6 drawer dresser in the near future, That is what I really need. I so look forward to your next builds, great job and keep up the work.

    2 replies

    Hey there! I am SO sorry for not replying sooner. I don't know how I missed this. How are you doing? I am getting anxious and excited to build the larger 6 drawer dresser and get the plans setup on here. I am sorry it might be a month or two. I hope soon. Most of the screws I used were for the kreg jig and those are listed above. But, the other screws I used were kind of random ones I bought that worked well with the drawer slides, as those did not come with screws. I remember they were #8 screws. And, here is what I definitely used (it's in a photo I think in step 6 too):

    Round Philips Wood Screws 8 x 1 ....I think I also bought some that were 1/2 in or 3/4 of an inch just in case they were needed for the drawer slides and some were flat - they were basically just like these: ...hope that link works. Please let me know if you create this and how it's going or if you need advice!

    Sorry that was a weirdly long link. Here is a better one:

    I like!! In fact, I think I am going to make one myself!

    1 reply

    I cannot wait to hear about it or see a pic!

    Wow I'm impressed Holly you hit the ball out of the park with this build. I didn't know you had the woodworking skills in your blood too. Love the look kinda dated but with the modern hardware that looks great, It has a rustic feel to it too. Like the detailed instructions well explained as usual with all your ibles and the pictures look great also. I know how long writing this up can take so I congratulate you with that. This design would look great as a bed frame maybe your next build?? haha.. Can't wait to see what else you have up your sleeves Holly.. =) Voted!! Have a great day...

    2 replies

    Thank you so much - it's great hearing from you! Bed frame is definitely the next go with this. How did you know?! :) You are correct about writing the Instructable and getting photos and details together - that takes a lot of brain power and some time. :) But, it's worth it! About the dresser's look - when I first stained the plywood top - i thought it looked dated...I didn't have enough experience with different plywoods and staining to know how it would look! But, once it was all totally done, and had a couple layers of shellac, it still has the rustic feel but it a bit more modern...:) I'm glad my son likes it! :) Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

    You're welcome Holly.. =) How did I know?? I guess us creative minds think alike.. ;) Besides it would compliment the piece. I'm glad your son likes it, I wish my mom had the creative skills you have and build me some cool things like you do for your son when I was a kid I would of really like that, I actually was the only one of the five at home who even wanted to learn how to build things. One tip Holly before staining a piece get a few of the scrap pieces from the build and try the color of stains this way you can play with the finish before adding it to the actual piece of furniture. I covered this on my Reclaim wood bed swing post here on instructables under step 10 finishing options. There you can see different finished on wood feel free to have a look at the post. I'm really amazed how good this dresser turned out being it's your first time making one. Are you sure this is you're first?? lol I'm glad to see you back in here and always looking forward too seeing you're new creations Holly.. Keep up the good work!! =)

    Your tutorial writing and illustration skill is great! Well done! On this site, it's not about what or how you build, it's about how you explain it. You knocked it out of the park.

    5 replies

    I apologize if you were hoping for a critique of your woodworking. To be honest, I was so impressed by your tutorial skill, I lost interest in the structural integrity issues because I already have that covered for myself. I have such a high respect for good technical writing, that I had to give you credit where credit was due.

    Wow, thank you again! :) I'm happy it was understandable! I thought I could have made things a lot more detailed...but I guess it was explained well enough! :)

    You really raised the bar here! I am impressed! I will be doing a load bearing evaluation of your designs because you seem to know what you're doing.

    Wow thank you Jon for that nice comment! :)

    This is a great and easy instructable that can be easily adapted for any kind of drawers. Kudos!

    But I would change one thing... The way the pocket screw holes are drilled does not give a lot of structural integrity, because of the way the screws are angled - from the inside to the outside/edge of the plywood (I guess because you can hide them better?). But if you look at some of your pictures, you'll see the edges of the plywood are already chipping. Inserting a screw in the direction of the edge puts even more pressure there and your edges can degrade faster with time, to the point where they may not only split while you are screwing them together, but also long after the assembly has been finished.

    To avoid this, the pocket holes need to be drilled from the outside face to the inside - that way the screws have a lot more wood to bite into. Then you take a wood dowel (costs a few cents for a 32 inch piece at Home Depot or Lowes) of the same diameter as your pocket hole drill and glue it in the hole after you insert the screw. Cut the part that sticks out with a flush-cut saw and with a little bit of sanding it won't be noticeable that there was ever a hole...

    1 reply

    Thanks for the comment and advice...I'll have to think about how this could be done. The plywood you can see that is chipping away - it was like that from the get-go. When they cut it at home depot, it chipped away the bottom of one side. But, luckily, that was put on the inside bottom edge where it was not visible once done. I did not care for that much either, but it didn't have to do with the holes. So, to put the pocket holes from the 'outside' to the inside...where would you put them? I am sorry it's hard to you mean on the 2 x 2s on the outside of the piece? Thank you!

    The video on how to instal the sliders was worth the price of admission :)

    Voted for you.

    Only question I have is.

    How can someone NOT like oak? lol

    As for edges. The fastest way I know to hide them is to use iron on veneer.

    Hope it helps :)

    Thanks for this :)