Kitchen drawer slide selection

karinlFebruary 15, 2010

How to choose...

We are building some new kitchen drawers into the opening that once held our dishwasher. The drawers will be about 24x24 inches and the biggest one will be about 8" deep. We're struggling with pretty much every aspect of how to build them - there are so many decisions to make about types of joints at each connection and type and thickness of material - but it seems the root decision has to be what kind of slides to use.

My husband is doing the building and isn't interested in fussing with cross-bars, which wouldn't really suit the kitchen anyway, so we have ruled out centre slides and are looking at different kinds of side slides, ranging from simple wood rails between the drawers to heavy-duty metal slides. We have figured that our drawer design and jointing options vary depending on what slides we use, and we seem to be going around in circles. If, for example, we put in 1 and a half inch wide (high) wooden side rails for the drawers to slide on, then our drawer fronts have to extend above and/or below the sides. This complicates any jointing of the front to the sides.

So I'd be interested in any helpful observations about slide selection for this size of drawer. I realize that metal slides will be more easily operational, but it is a very traditional furniturish-looking kitchen plus as old furniture buffs we think we might rather have slightly sticky drawers than look at the metal slides every time the drawer is open. Metal slides also lose us a little drawer capacity. But with this size, is there any hope that the drawers will work reasonably well on wood slides? It would be maple on maple, and the drawers may carry a bit of a load at times.

Finally, if we use wooden rails and thus have lower drawer sides, what is the best way to attach them to the fronts? ...other than using a false front which is an option I don't much like. My husband is handy, but our skill set stops short of dovetails.

Anyway, any thoughts are much appreciated.


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There are lots of options depending upon your skill level, your expected load, the type of cabinets (face frame or frameless), and perhaps most of all, your budget.

There are a handful of "make your own kitchen cabinets" books out there. The link below is one of my favorites as it explores a lot of different options.

Here is a link that might be useful: Jere Cary

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 5:28PM
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What tools does your husband have with which to make the drawers?

That factor, more than anything else can dictate what can be built.

Maple on maple shop built slides will work just fine if they are lubricated with a little wax or bar soap. 3/4" slides on the drawers and the same width upper and lower guides will carry a lot of weight.

The easiest way to do that is to make side panels for each side that mount inside and even with the front of the face frame. The back can be attached to the carcass back or side to side and the floor/underside of the countertop.

That allows the drawer guides to be installed on the work bench. That makes alignment much easier.

Dovetails were used 100 years and earlier because hide glue was the only glue available. Furniture makers found hide glue's average life expectancy was only years. Added to that was the fact that hide glue did not take strain well.

They found dovetails solved both problems. Hide glue only had to keep the pieces together(the design transferred the strain to the wood) and even when the hide glue failed, the joint often stayed together.

Modern wood glues are stronger than the woods they join. Two boards can be glued edge to edge with yellow wood glue and 24 hours later the wood along the glue joint will break apart before the glued joint will fail.

That means simple half lap joints that are nailed and glued will be quite sufficient for the joints in the drawers you wish to build. And, butt joints that are also nailed and glued can even work, depending on the wood used.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 7:55PM
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Mac, thank you; much of what you've said is very helpful, and certainly alleviates my dovetail envy problem :-)

We have a table saw and a router, no table for that but will acquire if needed. But you may have spared us that by increasing our confidence in joints that can be done with the table saw. I'm still not sure how to attach lower sides to fronts and make it look nice, but I think the simpler the joint, the simpler that's going to be.

That's a very interesting idea to assemble on the work bench (aka the basement floor or kitchen table, but we get the idea). I'm not sure it will work for this project since the sides are flush with the opening. There is a face frame to the right, but since this space was designed to hold the dishwasher, the frame was not extended to cover this opening. Since the left side is the end of the bank of counters, there was actually a face frame with an internal recess, but our first step was to close that up with a sheet of 3/4 ply on strapping. If we were doing that on both sides, we could have assembled the whole thing before insertion, but as it is, I think we'll have to work in the space.

One thing I've found online may help with that, namely something called NK drawer construction, in which the drawer base is built and fitted separately from the drawer box. I'm going to have to pay to download the full article, but it sounds promising.

Thanks for the book recommendation, Bob's nephew. I've been looking at furniture and drawer-building books and sites but not specifically kitchen ones. Budget is not really such an issue, since it's a small project and even doubling the price is not going to kill us. I think we've learned about most of the options and variables, but once we've come up with a plan, none of the books answer the question "will this work??"

In case it's of interest, here is the opening - complete with trashed floor from years of the dishwasher being here (on top of abuse inflicted through the house's history before we built this kitchen).


    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 12:55PM
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The latest seems to be the "soft close" drawers. You close them 95% of the way and they finish themselves. I've had to repair a few of these and they are unbelievably complex for something as simple in function as a drawer glide.

I've also just completed a job to put full extension drawer glides in a wooden file cabinet. The customer wanted to be sure they would hold up, so he chose the option where the 220 lb capacity glides ran $60 a pair (!).

I remember an article in Fine Woodworking Magazine that had a five-drawer cabinet and the author used a different construction technique on each drawer. Its primary purpose was educational. I did a search and found 10 pages of articles on drawers in the indexed archive. Some of them require a membership (but there is a free 14-day trial, hint, hint, wink, wink) and some do not.

Here is a link that might be useful: one such article, free.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 3:07PM
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I forgot to mention, if you can find the issue of FWW you may be able to locate the article at your local library. Also many subscribers keep them in collections and might be able to pull a couple of issues for you.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 3:15PM
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Thanks again Bob's nephew... I signed up for the free trial to get the article on NK drawers, and they're an intriguing option. Then I spent the afternoon browsing the other 30 or so articles on the site about building drawers (including the one with each drawer being different - very helpful) and am ready to tear my hair out again...! There was even one on full extension wood slides, which are definitely easier to understand than the metal ones.

There really is a wealth of info on the Fine Woodworking site. I'm quite happy to let my free trial morph into a paid subscription as it's cheap relative to the magazine itself and also more space efficient. A house can only hold so many magazines and I've hit that point with gardening mags!


    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 10:11PM
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Sounds like you're going through a little bit of analysis paralysis. Have you considered that many furniture drawers have no slides at all? They're often just boxes fitted into holes.

NK drawer construction is really out of place in an application as rough as this one.

Forget about full-extension wood slides. That sort of thing is done mostly to demonstrate somebody's woodworking virtuosity, not because of any inherent benefit.

You don't want to see metal slides, so commercial side-mount slides are out.

You don't want a face frame ("cross bars") so hidden undermounted commercial slides are out.

Having eliminated all commercial slides, all that's left is strips of wood fastened to the cabinet sides. Those strips of wood can either be located between drawers or ride in dadoes cut in the drawer sides. The latter is probably the least trouble-prone way to go.

Please keep in mind, though, that you're heading for a set of drawers that will be rather awkward, and possibly dangerous, to use if they are heavily loaded. Without commercial slides or a face frame, the drawers will probably be able to slide right out of the cabinet if pulled too far. If you happen to have loaded your 24" x 24" x 8" drawer with plates or canned goods, having it land on your toes because the wooden slide was a little too-well waxed could really hurt.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 9:40AM
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Good analysis and summary, Jon.

The file cabinet I referenced above had wood full-extension glides. The rollers had long-since been broken / lost and the owner replaced them with glued together nickels. He said he was tired of having to grunt and push pull them in certain ways to get them open.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 6:05PM
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I agree, analysis paralysis captures me perfectly! It's kind of my default mode, but I usually do eventually get things done.

Your decision sequence is good. What I wasn't sure of was how much function we'd be sacrificing for looks if we rejected metal slides. It's not a changeable decision because we won't have room to retrofit the slides if we don't like how the wood slides on wood.

We may actually end up doing something similar to NK; not the textbook model but a variation. If it works, I'll share it.

And yes, drawer stops will have to be worked out; we have a few ideas and there is even a helpful article on the FWW site.

I have an antique filing cabinet with rather amazing full-extension glides/slides whatever. Maybe I should have another look at that just to complicate matters...

Thanks all, I'll report back as we carry on.


    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 11:24PM
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I recommend "fussing with cross bars" because you will be able to use undermount Blum Tandem-type full-extension slides, and anyway, the cross bars can be 100% hidden behind the drawer fronts. They will only be there to give the front mounts of the glides something to attach to. But IIRC, there is a frameless mount bracket for Blum tandems that attaches only to the sides of the front edge.
Separate drawer box/drawer front construction evolved for a good reason; it allows adjustment of the front irrespective of the box.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 4:29PM
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I thought I would update this thread with what we decided to do, which is more than half done.

Unfortunately, Sombreuil, I can't influence Mr. KarinL to the extent you suggest and he is doing the work this time. However, we came up with a drawer design that does allow for flexibility in the attachment of the fronts.

Our design is odd, but suited the various constraints of the project, for example: In addition to the fact that we didn't want to work with or see metal slides, we also didn't want to do any more table saw work than necessary (table saw is outside in grotty shed), and there was one really odd constraint: a preference for easy reversibility. Given that these drawers are in the dishwasher space, it's quite possible that a dishwasher may someday again inhabit the space. Should that be done, the drawers can be easily resized for a different application or the wood used for something else.

The drawer construction method approximates the NK design to the extent that the bottoms and slides were built and fitted first, but then the drawer box was put on quite differently. In NK, the box is put on the slides; we put it inside them. That lost us a bit of drawer width, but simplified construction - we were able to use a ready-cut outside corner from the finishing store. We used (gasp) all butt joints and fastened with screws. No glue, in the cause of reversibility. Here is a view of the drawer in place before the front is attached.

The fronts are attached with homemade brass brackets (not as tacky as it sounds, since we are better equipped for metal than wood work). In addition, the front will be attached to the drawer bottom by means of a full-width bracket or piece of wood trim - haven't decided yet.

Since my initial question here was about whether a drawer this big would slide well on wood slides, I'm happy to report that so far it's not bad. Once fully shimmed and lubricated with Slideez, I believe it will be totally acceptable, though obviously not comparable with top-of-the-line full extension metal slides. The drawers are attractive and serviceable, and that's all we really needed.

While we didn't precisely follow the advice received, the discussion was very valuable in pointing to resources, setting our expectations, and making decisions, so thank you to all who contributed.

The other thing yet to add is drawer stops, for which we have a couple of options in mind - I'll post when those are done.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:26PM
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I really like your colors. I'm also impressed with the ingenuity.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 2:54PM
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Thank you Casey, that helped energize us through the home stretch and we're now pretty much done, barring the finishing. "We" she said possessively, but to be honest my role ended when the design and shopping were done. I really have to hand it to DH for the work. Well, and I kept the kitchen cooking during construction :-) I can do woodwork, but the precision measuring and clean cutting are way better than I could have done. (The bottom drawer still needs to be adjusted just a tad to rectify the left gap, for the perfectionists out there).

So here is the pretty-much finished project. (The bottom drawer still needs to be adjusted just a tad to rectify the left gap, for the perfectionists out there). One criterion having been that the drawers would look good when open, they do indeed show no plywood from the sides. In the second photo you can also see the triangle piece that connects the drawer bottom and front and supports the bottom. So far the side rails simply function as the stops, and we don't have anything yet to prevent me from pulling them out and dropping them on my foot. Working on that. Fortunately they are deep, and it's unlikely I'll make the error.

The most fun of course was playing with the exotic woods to pick up the colour scheme of the kitchen. The bloodwood picks up the brick in the chimney that absurdly rises through the kitchen counter; the purple heart picks up the maroon field and backsplash tile, and the blue the accent tile ( the main field is bird's eye maple). In the third photo you get a bit more of the flavour of the kitchen, which we wanted to be consistent with even if we weren't copying the rest of the cabinetry.

The blue is actually something called alowood, a softwood that is factory-stained and hardened. We were going to stain something blue ourselves so finding this at the lumberyard was a bonus. It was pretty good to work with. As many of you likely know, the purple heart is a very hard wood so the planer caused a bit of ripping from time to time, but fortunately not badly on the face we wanted to use. Also, it's actually brown when it's first cut, and turned more purple after a day or two - I gather this is usually a reaction to heat? Sun streams into the window onto the drawers, so maybe that or the light.

And with Slideez, they do slide well, albeit that's empty. I don't want to put anything in them until they're finished - I think we'll use polyurethane on the inside, and we haven't decided on the best outside coating yet.

Thanks again for the interest, and I hope this account is of some use to someone.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 5:46PM
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