If you are into woodworking or DIY for long enough, eventually you will be faced with making drawers.  Over the years I have heard from some beginning woodworkers as well as some seasoned woodworkers about having trouble making drawers.  Sometimes it is fitment issues or measurements being off, and other times glue-ups are troublesome.  Granted there are dozens of different ways to make drawers, but I find the tongue and dado method crucial to master.  Having this method under your belt gives you a much greater understanding of how a drawer comes together.  In a nutshell, you have to crawl before you can walk,   and the tongue and dado joint doesn’t need to be the “awkward uncle” that you only see at holidays.  It is a relatively easy method to get looking great, it is really strong when done properly and is super versatile.  If you are anything like me, you find yourself coming back to it again and again.  So lets go over some of the things to look out for when making tongue and dado cabinet drawers.

 

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In this particular case, I used 3/4″ thick aspen for my stock.  Drawers are often made from 5/8″ thick material or you can go down to 1/2″ without a problem.  I used 1/4″ birch plywood for the drawer bottoms.

 

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Materials can get squared on one end, and then cut to length on the table saw sled.

 

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Sizing of drawer parts is where I see people have trouble often times.  It is actually really simple.  1″ less in drawer height to the opening is plenty fine.  Drawer depth will depend on your cabinet, but typically 1-2″ short of the cabinets interior depth will be plenty.  Most drawer hardware needs 1/2″ on either side of the drawer for installation.  Double check your slide hardware before constructing the drawers to ensure the hardware you are planning on using doesn’t call for a different dimension.  Now that you have your finished drawer width, simply subtract the thickness of your material.  If you are using 1/2″ stock, subtract 1/2″; if using 5/8″ stock, subtract 5/8″.  It is that simple.

 

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Drawing showing a tongue and dado drawer construction.

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The drawer in exploded view showing the sides, front, back and bottom panel.
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The side pieces involve the most amount of fabrication.  Up until you add the 1/4″ groove at the bottom, these parts are identical for the left and right side of the drawer.

 

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I typically start by cutting the full width dados in the back of the side pieces.

 

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My dado blade is set to the exact width of my material and the rip fence is set to be 1/2″ from the blade.

 

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Often times I will make some test cuts on the same size scrap to dial in the blade height to precisely 1/2 the thickness of the material I am using.  Once set, make a dado on one end of each of the side pieces.

 

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I then change my dado blade set to exactly half the thickness of my material.  In my case 3/8″.  Then you can use your work piece to set the rip fence so your material is flush with the left side of the blade.  Doing so will keep everything aligned for the tongue and dado joint on the front corners of the drawer.
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Once you make those cuts on the opposite ends as the previous dados, this is what your side pieces should look like.  Still at this point, they are not specific to the left or right sides.

 

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While keeping with your dado stack from the previous step, install a sacrificial fence and move the fence so only the exact width of the dado blade is protruding.

 

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Run each end of the front drawer pieces through the saw.
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If the parts don’t fit together, raise the blade 1/64″ and make the cut again.  Do this until the front and side fit together snugly.  If the joint is too loose lower the blade and try it again on another piece of scrap.  If the tongue doesn’t bottom out in the joint, move the fence ever so slightly to the right.  If it bottoms out too early, move the fence to the left.  I like to fine tune the joint on scrap before cutting my finished pieces.

 

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Using a regular 1/8″ kerf blade, cut a groove along the bottom edge of each of the pieces.

 

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Move the fence slightly to widen the groove and test it for fit on the bottom panel material.

 

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Closeup shot of the side pieces.

 

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Make certain to cut mirror image parts for the sides.  It is in this step that you turn the sides into the left and right sides.

 

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Cut the bottom panels to length and width.  To find their dimensions, clamp up the box and measure the inside length and width of the drawers.  Measure the depth of the bottom grooves and add double that, to each the length and width.

 

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I like to cut my bottom panels 1/8″-3/16″ less in both length and width to give the panels a little wiggle room.

 

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Sand all the parts to either 180 or 220 grit sandpaper.  Foam sanding pads make breaking the inside corners nice and easy.

 

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A Fast Break makes easing the sharp edges of the pieces easy as can be.  Having a bit of water nearby along with an iron makes it easy to iron out small dings and dents in the finished pieces.

 

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Having all the pieces laid out and organized makes gluing up the drawer a breeze.  Glue-up only after dry fitting pieces to check for proper fit.

 

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Use scraps of the same species of wood or a less dense wood to keep damage from the clamps to a minimum.

 

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With solid pressure from the clamps the joints should come together nicely.  Clean up any accessible glue squeeze out with a damp rag or sponge.

 

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Any glue not cleaned up will need to be taken care of with a chisel, scraper and/or sander.

 

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With all the proper preparation, the joints should be nice and tight.

 

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A signature hand stamp finishes the work with a makers mark.  You can find out more about the hand stamp here.

 

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Often times I don’t apply finish to drawers.  Being this was going into a TV cabinet that would most likely be in a public area of the house, I applied one coat of wipe-on polyurethane to the drawers.

 

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A finish sanding sponge takes care of any bit of raised grain or rough particles in the finish, leaving it silky smooth to the touch.

 

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There is one happy camper – thanks for taking the time to check it out and if you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you!


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10 Responses

  1. Vince Granacher

    Nick, after seeing your last video where you answered a question about using the front drawer joint on the back, and you said could be done, i thought about two distinct advantages to that. One is there would be one less setup as the front and back of the drawer sides would be cut with the same setup. Two, when grooving the bottom, you would not have to worry about a left and right side of the drawer. Of course the downside is you now have to machine the drawer back just like the front, but, for me, since I view the table saw as my favorite tool to use, it just adds to the enjoyment of my woodworking.

    Reply
    • Nick

      That is an easy way to do it for sure – I have done it many times in fact – I basically wanted to show the traditional way of doing it – kind of a stepping stone or base skill set to have in which to expand off of – drawers have always interested me and I think the reason is the multitude of ways in which to tackle them

      Reply
  2. Chris Winslow.

    Hi Nick,

    Quick question from a novice, the Final Drawer Width in your math is the outside dimension of the width of the drawer itself correct?

    Reply
  3. scott

    Hey Nick Nice video bro !! thanks :) quick question what kind of clamps are you using in this video ? where do you get them from ?

    Aloha

    Scott

    Reply
  4. Doris J Foster

    Hi Nick just came across your site, great info, I just built 4 drawers for a kitchen cabinent but I used a Kreg jig and pocket screws to fasten the sides, front and back together. I did dado all pieces to fit the bottom. I am a senior widow and love woodworking, I even made sliding barn doors (including the hardware) for one of the closets in my old house. Looking forward to watching more of your videos and learning more about my favourite hobby.

    Reply
    • Nick

      so cool to hear the woodworking bug got you – Thanks for being here and commenting – I’d love to see the sliding barn doors – sounds really cool!

      Reply

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