With my garage getting a little disorganized again, I’ve been working on building rolling worktables. As I was working on the custom-built drawers and thought I would share my process. At some point as a DIYer, you might come across the need to make some drawers yourself – and it’s really rather simple.
If you are wondering how to make DIY drawers, there are many ways you can do it. In the end, it’s just a rectangular box with a floor and a handle. Among the many techniques out there to accomplish this, the three top methods that come to mind are dovetail joints, pocket holes and construction adhesive with nails.
How to Make DIY Drawers – Adhesive and Nail Method
The glue and nail technique has come to be my favorite. It’s super simple and very strong.
Basically, I cut the four box sides (usually ¾” boards), apply construction adhesive to the ends, and secure in place with finishing nails.
Then I use more glue and nails for a ¼” plywood bottom. I have actually built a number of generic boxes in the past with this method, but hung them on the wall with French cleats (see my project about finding hidden storage in your garage).
Turning one of these basic boxes into a drawer just requires a handle, and possibly some sliding hardware, depending on how you are going to use the drawer.
Some drawer designs also benefit from a decorative faceplate. The faceplate will additionally hide any visible joints made from the box design.
How to Make DIY Drawers – Video Walkthrough
I outline all of the steps that I took in this tutorial on how to make DIY drawers, but if you would like to see a video walkthrough, here is one which shows the whole DIY drawer-making process.
Speed Things Up with a Nail Gun
I happen to own a 16 gauge finishing nail gun, so drawer construction with glue and nails is extremely fast for me.
However, I started off with just nails and a hammer and got the job done just as well (albeit a little more time taken).
If you have the budget for a finishing nail gun though, you should seriously consider getting one for your DIY projects. Target the 16 gauge ones though. I think they are the most versatile.
Higher gauge ones are really only practical for applying trim. Lower gauge ones similarly also limit the scope of projects you can work on.
I find that 16 gauge strikes a fine balance between the two ends of the gauge spectrum. I use it to install most types of trim, while being able to quickly prototype ideas and fabricate projects.
So unless you’re a professional contractor who needs all the different gauge guns, as a DIYer you can compromise with a single 16 gauge gun.
Here’s a picture of my nail gun (with the 1.5″ finishing nails used for the drawers):
Materials for DIY Drawers
The current garage storage project requires me to make a lot of drawers. The key to getting it all done is efficiency. On my workspace, I just have the minimum amount of tools necessary to get the job completed. With my setup, I can bang out a drawer in under 10 minutes.
Here’s the list if item needed:
- 4 pieces of ¾” boards (for the drawer sides)
- 1 piece of ¼” plywood (for the drawer bottom)
- 1 drawer handle with screws
- C clamp for installing handle
- Long bar clamp for holding boards in place
- Caulk gun loaded with construction adhesive
- Square edge (for 90 degree joints)
- Finishing nail gun (or a hammer and finishing nails)
Here’s a picture of my workspace, ready to build a drawer:
Assembling and Squaring the Sides
To explain how to make DIY drawers, I first placed the drawer boards roughly in position for speedy assembly. The next step is to apply construction adhesive to the board edges, as seen below:
The wood is then pressed together to form the box design. I use the square edge on the inside of the corners to make sure the angles are 90 degrees. Then I use the bar clamp to hold everything firmly in place.
It’s useful to keep some paper towels handy as the wood glue with squeeze out the sides of the joints and get messy. I also like wearing plastic disposable gloves so my hands don’t get covered in glue.
Here is the box clamped together and squared, ready for nailing:
Nailing the Boards Together
Here I am using the finishing nail gun to secure the pieces together:
My drawer height is about 3” for this particular project, so 3 nails at each joint would suffice. Deeper drawers will require more nails spaced out evenly.
You don’t need to go crazy with the nails though. Contrary to what you may think, a majority of this drawer strength comes from the construction adhesive and not the nails.
The nails do add some strength, but are mostly there to hold the drawer pieces tightly in place while the adhesive dries.
Here is the glued and nailed box design (with just the 16 gauge nails and construction adhesive, it’s already pretty sturdy):
Practice with your Nail Gun First
Here’s a word of caution if using the nail gun. If you’re relatively new to them, you may want to practice on some scrap wood first before shooting some nails into your drawers.
With ¾” drawer sides, you don’t have too much room for error and will need to fire the nails as straight as possible. This may just come with experience, so practice makes perfect.
Even I still fire some nails accidentally at a slight angle and the nail ends up protruding out the side. When this happens, it’s annoying because you will have to either break off the protruding end or pull it out completely. Then decide if you need to fire a replacement nail.
Note that if your wood is too hard, or if you’re firing into knots, your nails can still poke out the sides, regardless of how perfectly straight you fired it.
If this is the case, you can just use a hammer and nails (or reconsider the gauge of your nail gun).
Attaching the Drawer Floor
So the next step is to apply more glue in preparation for the drawer floor:
Be careful what side of the drawer you decide to install the floor on.
You want to use the side that’s perfectly flat so the floor is flush against the drawer. If your ¾” boards aren’t all exactly the same heights, then one side of the drawer will not be all flat.
Ensure you’re using the flattest side my flipping the drawer over and using the side that was resting against your flat workspace.
Once the glue is applied, press the plywood floor firmly against the box and use your fingers to align the edges. Then fire some nails to finish it off. I usually nail the corners first, and then put in some evenly spaced ones along the box perimeter.
If your nail gun has a depth setting, you will want to use a fairly low setting for the drawer floor. Since it’s only ¼” plywood, you risk firing the nail all the way through if using too deep of a nail depth.
Finally, try your best again to fire the nails as straight as possible (or else you’ll be pulling out those nails that poke out the sides).
Here I am nailing the floor on:
Save Money with Custom-Made Handles
Now for the handles. If you aren’t going to make that many drawers, you can just purchase them at the store. However, if you’re working on a large project requiring lots of drawers, you can pocket some nice savings by making your own handles.
There is a lot of handle design inspiration out there on the internet.
Personally, I prefer a super simple L-shaped handle cut from 2x4s with my table saw. A single 8ft piece of 2×4 will yield around 30 six-inch handles.
With the garage storage project I’m working on, I need 48 handles. My homemade handle cost around 15 cents to make. Considering handles in the store cost a couple of dollars, that’s some significant savings!
Here’s a picture of one of my custom made handles:
How to Make DIY Drawer Handles
To make the handles, I rip a piece of 2×4 down the middle with the table saw, dividing it into roughly 2x2s. Then I set the cut length and depth to ¾” and again rip the 2x2s lengthwise. This cut a slot halfway into the wood.
Rotating the wood 90 degrees and ripping again made a perpendicular cut to the first slot.
The notched wood fell out leaving an L-shaped piece. Then I just used a miter saw to quickly cut the 8ft piece into smaller 6-inch pieces.
The best part of using 2x4s for the handle is that the edges are already bevelled for you. No need for sanding or special routing to create smooth edges.
Attaching the DIY Drawer Handle
With the drawer box completed, you have some options as to what to do next.
You could just leave the box as is and call it a day. After all, it’s a nice sturdy box with limitless potential. Depending on your project, you may want to install a faceplate on the front, and possibly some sliding hardware.
Then comes the final task of attaching a handle. For my current project, I didn’t need a fancy faceplate or even sliding hardware. So I jumped straight ahead to attach the handle.
For handle installation, I measured and marked an offset so the handle would be perfectly centered. Then I used a C clamp to hold the handle firmly in place while I pre-drilled some holes and inserted two screws.
Here’s a picture showing handle installation:
I didn’t use wood glue for the handle. I definitely could have, but the screws already make a very sturdy connection.
Plus, I like to leave handles flexible in case I want to replace them in the future. Glue would make this difficult.
The Finished DIY Drawer with Homemade Handles
The drawer is now completed! Here is the final product:
Here’s a close-up showcasing the handle:
Finally, here’s a sneak peak of my awesome garage storage project (to be posted in the near future), showing the DIY drawers in action:
Time & Cost of Making DIY Drawers and Handles
With a nail gun, these drawers should take under 1o minutes to make. If you’re using nails and a hammer, then add on a few extra minutes.
These drawers are also very cheap to make. If you have some scrap wood, then they are free! If not, then I estimate around $2 per drawer (assuming you buy some wood in bulk to make a batch of drawers).
Also, if purchasing wood, I recommend maximizing the yield of drawer cuts as much as possible. This will give you be lowest prices per drawer. For example, I purchased some 4×8 sheets of 1/4″ plywood from Home Depot (to make the drawer bottoms).
To keep costs as low as possible, I calculated ahead of time how many drawer bottoms I could possibly fit on the 4×8 sheet. Then I factored in how I can get the 4×8 sheet cut at Home Depot to fit in my SUV (it was too large to transport whole sheet intact).
In the end, I was able to provide Home Depot with some simple cutting measurements and still maximize the yield of drawer bottoms from the 4×8 sheets.
If you have been thinking about how to make DIY drawers, just follow this easy tutorial and you’ll have your homemade drawers ready to go in no time.
I’m so pleased with the way the DIY drawers turned out. I also love how much money I saved on craftily creating my own handles. Check back soon for my garage storage project – which will show these DIY drawers in action.