Most modern drawers are made from a veneered chipboard frame screwed or glued together. The 4 drawer sides are grooved near the bottom, and a 3mm hardboard base sheet sits in these grooves. Runners sit in cutouts along each side.
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, and on kitchen units they might foul the door below.
They are weak when the drawer is fully open. Strength can be improved with additional fixings, with more at the front than the rear.
This design is prone to the drawers coming off the runner due to lateral bending of the carcass. This can be improved by adding lateral restraint of the carcass to prevent the sides moving or bowing outwards. Sometimes just tightening of carcass fixings is enough, sometimes a strip of wood, metal or wire 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, and there is significant lateral movement in use. Polishing the sliding parts with soap, wax or silicone polish makes them run a bit better.
The load rating of runners is the weight they will carry. Load rating also affects life expectancy in real world use.
Runners are commonly available in 40cm, 45cm and 50cm lengths. Use the correct length to maximise the opening distance. A shorter length can be used if necessary, the drawer just opens a little less 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. It's thicker, stronger, and fully rigid.
A wide array of knobs is available, in both 1 hole and 2 hole fixings.
Sometimes it's possible to restyle furniture by doing no more than replacing the knobs. New knobs 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.
Round holes or 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 heavy loads, such as DIY tool storage. Such tasks take most such drawers beyond their design load rating. The usual weakpoints in flatpack drawers are thin drawer bottoms, weak runners and lateral spread of the carcass.
Thin bottoms can be cured by:
- gluing the hardboard bottoms in place
- laying thin plywood 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.
- Fixing strengthening strips across the interior base, and attaching them to both drawer bottom and sides.
Weak runners can be fixed by:
- Adding more screws to plastic runners
- Adding a secondary wooden runner strip 1mm under the drawer base
Lateral spread can be prevented by fitting tie bars across the carcass. These can be rigid bars or just iron wire. They need to be positioned to avoid fouling the drawers.
The pictures show a set of drawers able to take several times the load they were originally designed for due to fitting of additional fixings to the plastic rails, addition of wood secondary rails, lateral carcass restraint with iron wire and added bars to the drawer bottoms. None of the extra carcass hardware is visible in use, only the bars inside the drawers show. Non-visible drawer reinforcement by using plywood would take more work.
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.
Non-obvious drawers are 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 are fixed panels that look like drawers. They usually have a drawer handle. These are sometimes used in front of sinks. Fake drawer fronts are sometimes connected to the cupboard doors underneath them. Fake drawers are 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 aren't used in houses as they're a significant safety risk. A lot of people are seriously injured in stair falls each year.
Plastic divider trays
Cutlery trays are popular. Might not fit your drawer, no layout flexibility, but cheap.
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 carcass repairs can be far cheaper than a total refit.
It's also possible to replace the fronts on some veneered chipboard furniture. However they aren't designed for this so on some units it's not so easy. Timberboard drawer fronts give units a mainly pine look, with some white as well.
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. The thin line is hardly noticeable if you use clear or smoky nylon monofilament.
Liquids can spill & perishables can rot, badly staining drawers. To reduce the risk 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.
If you fancy something special, curvy tilted drawer units can be made on a bandsaw.