Drawer Joints

Kitchen Drawer Joints and Slides

Choosing Strong and Sturdy Options

Drawer Joints

Kitchen Drawer Joints and Slides

Great kitchens are both beautiful and functional.  But the best kitchens are designed around each homeowner’s unique needs.  Island or no island?  Open shelving or cabinet doors?  Granite or quartz countertops?  Electric ceramic or gas burner stovetop?

With so many options, it’s easy to overlook something as basic as kitchen drawers.  But think about how frequently your drawers are used and how much wear and tear they experience.  Thus, choosing high quality drawer construction is key to designing your dream kitchen.

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of choosing solid cabinetry materials, so we won’t belabor that point.  Instead, let’s focus on another essential element of quality cabinetry construction: drawer joints.

Drawer Joints

There are a variety of joinery techniques and many ways to combine them in order to construct a drawer.  As with most aspects of homebuilding, each technique has its strengths and weaknesses.  According to Bill Hylton, master carpenter and author, the strongest joint needs to be between the front and sides because that area experiences the most impact.  Dan Cary, from Woodworker’s Journal, concurs:  “when suddenly opened, the corner joints are pulled and when closed, the abrupt stop puts several pounds of stress on the joints, especially on the front.”  After years of pushing, pulling, and slamming, your drawers can begin to come apart.

Drawer Joints
Box joint, Image: Startwoodworking.com

Two of the strongest options are box joints and dovetail joints.  A box joint (also called a finger joint) is a corner joint with interlocking pins that are cut at 90 degree angles.  In contrast, a dovetail joint uses wedge-shaped pins.  

Drawer Joints
Dovetail joint, Image: Finewoodworking.com

Both types provide a large area for gluing and the interlocking pins provide a lot of support.  According to Lee Valley Tools, for hundreds of years, dovetailed drawer joints were valued because they provided a form of mechanical lock when glue failed. With today’s much stronger and more durable glues, the joint has become more decorative than functional but is still a favorite of carpenters and homeowners alike.  However, drawers with dovetail joints can be more expensive because, even with the help of modern equipment, more skill is required to construct a finely made dovetail joint.

Drawer Joints
Left: Rabbet, Right: Dado, Image: DIYadvice.com

Another strong option that requires less skill to make (and therefore can be cheaper), is the dado-and-rabbet method of joinery.  A dado is a three-sided slot cut into the surface of a piece of wood.  A rabbet is two-sided and open to the edge or end of the surface into which it is cut. The dado-and-rabbet joint locks together, providing strength and stability, without the intricate cutting required by dovetail drawer joints.

There are many other types of joinery that will help your drawers last.  Ultimately, you want to avoid the simple butt joint, which is the weakest form of joinery, as well as stapled drawer fronts.  Both will likely cause your drawers to split, crack, or fall apart much too soon.  For a fantastic explanation of drawer construction (and lovely illustrations), check out this excerpt from Bill Hylton’s book Chest of Drawers

Drawer Slides

Now that you understand the importance of solid drawer joinery, let’s explore slides which help drawers open and close smoothly. Drawer slides typically are made of stamped metal and operate with plastic or metal ball bearings.

Drawer Joints
Side-mount slides, Image: Rockler.com

When choosing a drawer slide it’s most important to consider load ratings which range from 50-pound to 100-pound capacities.  Drawers that will hold heavier items, such as utensils or dishes, should use slides with higher load ratings.  

You should also consider how far the drawer opens.  According to Elizabeth Beeler from HGTV, quality drawer slide options range from three-quarter-extension slides that allow most of the drawer to be pulled out, to full-extension slides which allow access to the entire drawer. Under-mount slides are more costly than side-mount slides. However, they also tend to warp and sag less, which saves on repairs down the road.

Drawer Joints
Undermount slides, Image: Rockler.com

Make sure the slides you choose are produced from heavy-duty materials that won’t rust over time and have easy-gliding rollers or ball bearings. When testing models, open drawers fully to ensure they move smoothly and quietly, and that they don’t tilt or feel unstable when fully extended.  For more great advice on quality cabinetry, check out HomeStyleChoices.com published by engineer Rob Levesque.

Finally, if you’re seeking a worth-the-investment upgrade, look no further than self-closing drawers.  Sometimes called soft-closing or feather-touch, these slides retract with a gentle push and include shock absorption that prevents drawers from slamming shut.  Not only will this save your eardrums but will also reduce the stress placed on the drawers, increasing their longevity.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company 

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