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Three Ways To Make Drawers

author-gravatar TheWoodKnight Jul 24, 2016

How to make plywood drawers using power tools, three different ways - locking rabbet, dowel/domino, and box joint.

IMO, dovetails have no place in plywood drawers, and I lack a pockethole jig so I haven't covered that technique. 

The material used for the drawer boxes is 12mm (1/2") plywood, the drawer bottoms are 6mm (1/4").

Preparation is key - ideally you only want to move the fence when you're done with that particular setting.

We started off with a full sheet of plywood, broke that down according to our cutlist into manageable sections, then ripped them all down to  the height of the drawer box (in this case, 100mm)

After ripping, everything gets crosscut. A stop block is preferable, but this is a snap of cutting two pieces for the box joint drawer - the majority (of the 15) were  locking rabbet, which used a stop block. See each of the drawer types for the specific length calculations.

For all these drawers, I'm going with a 6mm (1/4") plywood base. While there are a few variations on this, a dado stack, router bit, or regular saw blade and moving the fence over are the best way. These are plywood drawers - they'll have a false front put on them, so there is no need to do a stopped dado to make it look prettier.

I've cut a slightly (~0.5mm) oversized slot. For the context of these drawers, it doesn't matter if they're not perfectly pretty, but it makes bulk assembly much easier with inexpensive plywood as the bases have a tendency to either bow a little between cutting and assembly, or just the fuzzy tearout can stop it seating properly.

Locking Rabbets.
These can also be called tongue and groove , Locking rabbets are my favourite for a few reasons

  • They can be made in just about any power tool workshop – router table, table saw with dado stack or even just multiple passes with a regular blade
  • They’re strong
  • They’re fast and easy to batch out after setup.

To calculate
    Drawer Opening – Drawer Slide Thickness (25.4mm) – (Material Thickness / 2)

On the drawer sides: First, raise the dado stack to half the material thickness, or even a little bit less, and sneak up on it in successive passes. Ideally use a scrap to test.
This cut will start half the material thickness away, and go until full material thickness. ie, starts 6mm, goes 12mm in.
Cut this on both ends.
Note the groove for the bottom is facing down

On the drawer front/back: This is the rabbet or tenon part, part. This needs to fit snugly into the sides, so again sneak up on it. Work on the thickness first, then the length. 

You should be left with a tenon thats half the material thickness long (6mm), and half the material thickness thick (6mm).

Note the groove for the bottom is facing up

Domino/Doweled joint

While the Festool Domino is overkill (in tooling, its not inherently better or worse than other drawer types) for making drawers, it’d be the same methodology if you were using a dowelling jig and drill or “duo doweler machine”.

These are dead simple to work out, cut, and assemble – its really just a set of butt joins.

  • Cut to length
  • Markout (or use the locating pins on the domino)
  • Plunge. If you're doweling, just replace the world 'plunge' with 'drill'. 

To calculate
    Drawer Opening – Drawer Slide Thickness (25.4mm) – Material Thickness

Box Joint

I’m not going to jump into a deep dive analysis into the types of box joint jigs – they all produce the same result at the end of the day. I would not use the iBox for 10 drawers - its too slow - but I would use it for decorative boxes.

To calculate
    Drawer Opening – Drawer Slide Thickness (25.4mm)

The thing that makes the iBox slow is that its one-side at a time while other jigs might be two, or even all four with two having an offset, at a time.

All four sides get a mark drawer across the edge that'll be facing up. This is used for reference later, but any piece that is being cut has that marked face pointing left (from the operator side)

  • Cut,
  • pop on the pin,
  • cut,
  • move one finger over,
  • rinse and repeat

For the offset pin, bring back one of the first pieces, flip it so the mark is facing right, pop it on a pin and slide the offset piece against it. Remove the first piece, and cut the offset piece, rinse and repeat as per normal.

Even in this cheap plywood, this is the most attractive joint of the three. I only went with 1/4" spacing because I couldn't be bothered adding more blades, but 1/2" would probably be more appropriate.

Drawer bases

Cut 6mm plywood to size.


While the assembly is different between the three, its also pretty much exactly what you'd imagine. Put glue in. Put drawer bottom in, slot together. I typically use clamps to help get everything lined up and square, then I pin it with a few small brads. This lets me set it aside and move onto the next drawer without needing $4000 in clamps.


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