The Easiest Way to Build a Cabinet Drawer

There are several ways to build a cabinet drawer. If you have a lot of time on your hands and the proper tools, you can build them using dovetail joinery. But if you are looking for an easier method, keep reading.

I recently completed some media built-ins in our basement, and I designed them to have three drawers. Since the entire project was pretty big, I didn’t want to spend a ton of time building the drawers. So I came up with an easy method. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how I did it!

Before you start building your drawer, you need to determine what type of drawer you are going to build. Basically, you have two options: inset or overlay.

What is an inset cabinet drawer?

An inset cabinet drawer is one that forms a flush surface with the cabinet frame. Cabinets with inset drawers and doors create a more high-end and classic look. They are also more expensive if you are buying your cabinets or having them custom made because it requires more time and skill to build them.

What is an overlay cabinet drawer?

An overlay drawer is one that has a front that overlaps the frame of the cabinets. The amount of overlay can vary, but a full overlay creates minimal gaps between drawers and cabinets doors and creates a much better look. Overlay cabinets are more affordable than inset because it doesn’t require the same tedious craftsmanship to make the drawer and door faces fit perfectly within the frame.

Which type of drawer you decide to build will only effect how you install it and how you construct the front. The actual drawer itself won’t change other than the depth, if you choose. An overlay drawer will allow for 3/4″ of more depth.

Step 1: Determine the Dimensions

The first step in building a drawer is to figure out how big your drawer needs to be. This will be based on the size of your drawer opening in your cabinet frame, and the type of slides you use.

My drawer openings had a size of 22 1/2″W x 12″L x 7 3/4″H.


Since I chose to do inset drawers for this project, this meant the drawer needed to sit 3/4″ back into the opening to allow the drawer front to be flush with the frame. I also subtracted another inch from the length just to be safe. This meant an overall length of 10 1/4″.


The width of your drawer will be determined by the width of your opening and as I mentioned above, the type of slide you used. I used side mounted slides that require 1/2″ clearance. This is pretty standard. Since there are two slides for each drawer, I subtracted 1″ from the width of the opening, giving me an overall 21 1/2″ width for my drawer.


When it comes to determining the height of your drawer, you have a little more freedom. As long as you’re at least 1″ less than the opening, you should be good. This will give you plenty of wiggle room. Or you can fo much shorter as I did. For my drawers, I let the material I was using determine the height. I used scrap 1×6, which gave me an overall height of 5 1/2″.

Step 2: Build the Sides of the Drawer

I started by cutting the front, back, and two side pieces. I decided to let the sides overlap the front and back so that no joints are visible on the sides when the drawer is open.

I applied wood glue to the ends of the front and back pieces. Then used 1 1/4″ finish nails to attach the side pieces, making sure all edges were nice and flush.

Step 3: Add the Drawer Bottom

I measured the inside width and length of the drawer, and used a table saw to cut the 1×8 to the correct width. Then used a miter saw to cut it to the correct length.

I slid the bottom in place and used 1 1/4″ finish nails to fasten it to the sides of the drawer.

Step 4: Build the Drawer Front

An inset drawer needs to have a thin, even margin all the way around between the drawer and frame. I decided to go with a 1/16″ margin. So I subtracted 1/8″ from the overall width and height of the drawer opening, giving me 22 3/8″ x 7 5/8″.

I cut the drawer front from a piece of 1×10 using a table saw and miter saw.

With the drawer painted and installed on the slides, I placed the front in the opening against the drawer. I used washers (1/16″ thick) as spacers on the bottom and sides to ensure that my margins were even. Then I attached the front to the drawer with 1 1/4″ finish nails.

Step 5: Add the Drawer Pull

I removed the drawer and determined the center point of the front. Using this measurement and the dimensions of the pulls I chose, I made a template using scrap wood.

The purpose of the template is to easily get the same screw hole placement on all of the drawers without having to measure each time.

After I had the holes drilled, I used the supplied screws to attach the pull. I placed the drawer back on the slides, and that was it! Well, except for building two more drawers.

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  • Reply Megan Berka

    Thank you for this excellent tutorial! This is exactly the look I wanted. Just a quick clarification, when making your drawer front do you want a 1/16″ margin all the way around so you subtract 1/8″ from the height and width of your opening? Or are your washer spacers 1/32″? I’m puzzled over the 22 7/8″ drawer front with a 22 1/2″ opening. Thank you!

    December 4, 2020 at 4:20 pm
    • Reply Henry

      Hi Megan. Sorry about that. That was a typo. I did subtract 1/8″ for the width and height, giving me a 1/16″ margin all the way around. The dimensions of my front is 22 3/8″ x 7 5/8″.

      December 4, 2020 at 6:34 pm
      • Reply Megan

        Thank you! I challenged all my math skills trying to figure out the formula! Excellent tutorial. Can’t wait to dive in!

        December 5, 2020 at 5:01 am
      • Reply Bridget

        These look great! Do you have any tips for lining up the slides on the drawers and the insides of the cabinets to make sure they meet up with each other precisely?

        January 2, 2021 at 3:03 pm
  • Reply Mike

    Great tips. What kind of wood did you use?

    December 5, 2020 at 2:50 pm
    • Reply Henry

      I used 1x primed pine.

      December 5, 2020 at 4:21 pm

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