Most modern drawers are made from a veneered chipboard frame screwed or glued together. The sides are all grooved near the bottom, and a 3mm hardboard sheet sits in these grooves. Runners sit in cutouts along each side.
Better quality drawers may be made from wood. Some are dove tail jointed. These often have a plywood base. They often run on wood rails, or simply sit on the wooden frame of the furniture.
All plywood drawers are sometimes seen on old furniture. If well constructed these can be especially tough.
Kits are available containing drawer sides connected to runners. These can be fitted into all sorts of spaces, and only require a front, back and base to be added once in place. No grooves need to be machined for the drawer base, it sits on a lip running down each side. These kits make drawer construction quicker.
Standard inset runners
Most kitchen drawers use low profile runners sat in cutouts along each side of the drawer. Ball bearings provide smooth action.
Bottom fix & side fix
These non-inset runners may be used where insetting into a large groove in the sides of the drawers is impractical, eg for people building drawers without a router. They take up more space.
Low cost plastic strips are used in economy furniture. These are simply a strip of plastic stapled to the carcass.
They are weak when the drawer is fully open. Strength can be improved with additional fixings.
This design is prone to the drawers coming off the runner. This can be improved by adding lateral restraint of the carcass, preventing the sides moving or bowing outwards. Sometimes just tightening of carcass fixings is enough, sometimes a strip of wood or metal can be added running across near the front at around half way up.
Real wood furniture often runs the drawers on wood. This is simple and effective, but friction becomes an issue if the drawer is loaded up, and there is significant lateral movement in use. Polishing the sliding parts with soap, wax or silicone polish makes them run a bit better.
Castors are used on underbed drawers that aren't connected to the bed frame. Large castors eat into the available height, small ones tend to bog down in carpet.
Plastic vs metal
The load rating of runners doesn't only determine what weight they will carry. It also gives a rough idea of relative life expectancy. Plastic wheels give less load rating and less life expectancy than steel balls.
Runners are commonly available in 40cm, 45cm and 50cm lengths. Use the correct length to maximise the opening distance.
Most drawers use 3mm hardboard for the bottom sheet. This is usually veneered to give it a wood-like or white appearance. Hardboard isn't fully rigid, but the all round edge support helps keep it near enough flat. Heavy loading of such drawers can make the bottom pop out.
Thin plywood is a stronger option used in better quality drawers. Its thicker, stronger, and fully rigid.
Solid wood drawer bottoms are much thicker and strong, and tend to be found on old fashioned furniture and high quality furniture.
Wood drawers (eg pine or oak furniture) aren't dimensionally stable, and the bottom should never be glued in place in these, or splitting can occur.
Chipboard (eg melamine or imitation wood) drawers are dimensionally stable, and gluing the bottom in place improves strength.
A wide array of knobs is available, in both 1 hole and 2 hole fixings.
Sometimes its possible to restyle furniture by doing no more than replacing the knobs. New knobs, paint and an accessory or two can make a chest of drawers look very different, and can transform cheap, tired or unfashionable furniture.
Non matching but similar furniture may be turned into apparently matching sets by fitting a unified knob style. This is mainly useful for white flatpack furniture, which is very common and frequently of similar appearance.
There's no hard & fast rule, but generally plastic knobs are weaker than wood and metal, and thus better avoided where heavy loads are anticipated.
Wood knobs may be waxed, oiled or varnished. Uncoated wood is harder to clean.
Round holes and short sections of very thick rope are alternatives to knobs occasionally seen. Making the bottom of drawer fronts finger accessible allows a knobless minimal look.
Strength is an issue when domestic drawers are used for DIY tool storage, a task that takes most such drawers beyond their design load rating.
The main weakpoints in most drawers are thin bottoms and weak runners.
Thin bottoms can be cured by:
- gluing the hardboard bottoms in place
- laying thin ply wood on top of the existing bottom, and attaching the ply to the drawer sides using plastic blocks or wood strips
- disassembling the drawer, rerouting, fitting a ply base and adding extra support to the sides as above.
Special purpose drawers
This looks like a drawer, but contains a folded ironing board. a place to put a board away can be useful in a very small kitchen, but they offer no choice as to position of the board in use.
These are non-obvious drawers occasionally enocuntered on old writing desks. They may be anything from 1/2" - 2" deep. The concept may be used to provide a little extra space in excessively compact rooms. They're very simple to make, being little more than sheet material with a front strip attached. Where lateral carcass support is lost, the wooden restraint strip may be replaced with thin metal strip.
These look like drawers but aren't.
Fixed panels usually have a drawer handle but are really just fixed panels. These are sometimes used in front of sinks.
Drawer fronts may sometimes be connected to the cupboard doors underneath them. Again this is a means to make an unopenable space look well utilised and match the rest of the units.
These are used on small boats where space is at a premium. The space under each step is a drawer, accessed by pulling it out onto the step below and in front of it.
These are seen rarely in houses, as they're a significant safety risk. A lot of people are seriously injured in stair falls each year. If encountered they can be screwed shut.
Drawer dividers may be used to keep different types of item apart, or to facilitate tidy storage of eg socks, cutlery, etc.
Plastic divider trays
Cutlery trays are popular. Might not fit your drawer, no layout flexibility, but cheap.
User configurable plastic dividers come in straight interlocking strips. Flexible layout, but take time to assemble, and cost more. Can be made from stripwood or cladding.
A wavy corrugated type of divider is also available. The compartments are good for stuffing socks, but are the wrong shape for most other tasks, and no user reconfiguration is possible. These can also be used on walls, and where space is extremely tight even built into stud wall cavities.
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Tupperware type boxes can be used to create lidded compartments.
Mini trays can be placed to create compartments. Cut down small cardboard boxes do the same job, less prettily.
Fruit tray inserts (from apples, melons etc) will separate some types of item. They aren't robust, user configurable, or suitable for many things, but they're free and have occasional uses.
Drawer fronts can be readily replaced on kitchen cabinets. This along with any repairs can be far cheaper than a total refit.
Its also possible to replace the fronts on some veneered chipboard furniture. However they aren't designed for this so on some units its not so easy. Timberboard drawer fronts give units a mainly pine look, with some white as well.
Key operated drawer locks are occasionally seen, and can be got from builders merchants and fitted. Don't expect robust high security though.
Childproof catches can prevent toddler access, if you're lucky. Of course they have a lot more time to figure them out than you do!
These provide a slow graceful closing action, and are currently popular on new kitchen units.
Self closers are only rarely needed or used on drawers. If needed they may be implemented with fishing line attached to the drawer rear, passing through an eye screwed into the carcass, and a weight on the line. Putting the weight and line behind a false back makes this more elegant.
People can't be counted on not to store liquids in drawers, and they can be badly stained by spillage. To reduce the risk of this, drawers may be loose lined with paper, vinyl wallpaper or plastic film. The latter are non-permeable, so there is more chance of the spill drying before it reaches the drawer. Paper upper side and plastic lower (eg upside down vinyl wallpaper) gives the most spill retardation.