Drawer Building Options

Materials choices, fastening methods and systems for drawer assembly. September 23, 2006

Does anybody use 1/2 inch melamine for drawers? I'm thinking of offering it as an option for people that don't want to pay for dovetails. I would use the maple for a better look than the white. Suggestions for joinery?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor F:
One vote for pocket screws - if you've got an applied front. Don't forget to change your kreg jig from 3/4" setting to 1/2" setting.

From contributor T:
1 vote for rabbet, glue and pin. A shop I subcontract from requests that the ebanding on the top of the melamine sides matches the exterior of the cabinet. This gives kind of a nice touch to cheap drawers. I have also Kreiged them, but kind of time consuming with the hand jig. Very strong, though!

From contributor P:
I make drawers of 5/8" melamine, and edgeband the top to match the wood doors. I pocket hole. Not too good luck with pocket holes for 1/2" stuff.

From contributor K:
I agree with contributor P. Use 5/8 and pocket screw. Use Roo glue, edge band the tops and staple the bottoms. Hard rock maple looks good, although if you have white interiors, why not use white drawers? You may also consider the 1/2" pre-finished maple apple ply. You can get it from your supplier in certain sizes and they are edge banded and grooved. All you need to do is cut to length and put together. I recommend a shallow rabbet in the front and the backs of the sides to accommodate the front and backs of the drawers. Glue doesn't work on the finish.

From contributor L:
We use 5/8 or 3/4 melamine drawers for some jobs. Rip 8' strips, groove for bottoms (allow more space under the bottom than with wood). Band with 1 or 2mm PVC, cut to length, dowel. They hold up better than you would think.

From contributor M:
I use dowels, 5mm x 20mm. Super strong joint, and with the right equipment, very fast and efficient.

From contributor J:
I use 1/2" Jabba wood, white, both sides edge band, the top and butt joint with glue, pinned with 1" brads and nailed with # 14 x 1" bronze boat nails. I drill a pilot hole for the boat nails. Boat nails' shanks are ringed, so it's strong. I tried pocket holes but on 1/2" material, it's a pain.

From contributor N:
When we have to make drawers (usually outsource), I use 3/4" leftover from case construction, then dowel with the construction borer and 8x35mm dowels. This allows us to leave the borer in the same setup as for cases. Lamello works fine if 1/2" is required, but kind of tedious.

From contributor B:
I was using 3/4" melamine pocket holed. I used 3/4 scraps from cabinets, though 5/8 looks better. It worked well, but I dropped them in favor of much nicer looking dovetailed 1/2" Baltic birch. Today I am picking up some metal boxes (Grass) for a couple of vanities. The metal boxes are cheaper than the 100# full extension slides I would use on a melamine box. It certainly looks easier than making a box and they have other advantages. This is my first crack at using them. They appear to be a quality solution that saves time and money.

From contributor D:
If you try the Grass system, you may not turn back. I have been using them for about 6 years now and can't even calculate the hours saved on drawers, not to mention dollars. If you go that route, be sure to get the pneumatic ram for pressing them together. They also have a manual foot press, though it takes a lot of weight to press it down. If you are using Grass hinges and own an Eco press already, than you just need the right bits and some instructions.

From contributor H:
We pocket hole all our drawer bottoms. In melamine we use 5/8 for all construction of boxes and drawers and backs and bottoms. For a pre-finished ply drawer, we use 1/2 for the sides and bottoms and 3/4 for front and back. These materials are fall-offs from the boxes and backs anyway. I often demo the strength of my drawers by standing in them at full extension. Never broke one in 27 years. We use undermounts for most of our cabinetry.

From contributor Y:
Used to use Grass Zargen, but had inventory hassles. We switched back to melamine boxes when we switched to nested construction. We now use 1/2" sides, 3/4 ends. Sides are dadoed for bottom, assembled using blind dado construction. All cuts done in nest. We step our ends down 1/8 inch from top of sides. Assembly is then completed with white wood glue and a couple of pins to hold for glue to dry. We just switched our upgraded drawers, which are wood, from dovetails to the same construction except we use 5/8 sides instead of the half inch melamine. We edgeband these sides with 3mm veneer edgeband with 3mm radius cut with edgebander. These finish up very nice and work great with the undermount slides. When I surveyed customers, most are not willing to pay the extra cost involved with dovetails.

From contributor O:
I am considering going with the Grass drawer system but don't seem to be able to get much info from the rep. How do you handle the drawer front reveals? On our standard 3 drawer bank, the fronts are put into a jig and attached to the fronts with either 14mm, 3mm or 24mm reveals. Am I going to have to change our process to get balanced reveals? The rep said I would need two machines to make the drawers. Does he know what he's talking about?

From contributor D:
Yes, you will need two tools, the Eco press and Grass ram. Eco press does all the boring and also does hinge boring and insertion. Grass ram presses all the parts together. One other tool you will need that Grass doesn't make, is a router table set up with their special grooving bit. This puts a groove in the bottom that accepts the drawer side. It is best to have all three set up as designated stations to make it a very efficient system. One other note: in 10 years of using this system, I have not had a single warranty issue with these drawers.

From contributor V:

If it is the Zargen system that you are referring to, you need an Ecopress with a flipper stop and two special bits to bore the holes, and a Zargen ram, manual or pneumatic, to press the drawers together.

The reveals on the cabinet are based on where you bore the drawer fronts and where you locate the cabinet members of the slides. A systematic approach is very helpful and will make your life much easier. All of my reveals are the same and all fronts get bored from the bottom. This does not change with different drawer front sizes. Occasionally, I have to change the bottom boring location for a specialty application, but this is rare. Some people use two different boring locations - one for the bottom drawers and one for all other drawers.

If you donít already have it, you should get the Zargen brochure from Grass (and a metric tape measure). All the info that you need should be in there.

From contributor L:
Type "Grass Zargen" into a Google search and you will get a lot of info. We've got the system. It uses the Grass hinge boring machine, an air press and a router setup to make the groove. Really fast!

From contributor V:
Forgot about the bottom grooving. Nothing special here - I just use a 10" PM66 tablesaw with a standard blade (whatever is in it at the moment).

From contributor O:
Thanks for the fast replies! I'll put a fire under the Louis rep and see if I can get the info from Grass.

From contributor H:
My rep from Trend distributors came by with the Grass rep. They brought both the drill and press, did a complete demo to show me the system. Price was 600.00 if I bought 300 slides. The grass rep said he would come by and help us get set up with full training where we would build a bank of drawers. You should be able to get this kind of service as well.

From contributor O:
Thanks. I called my Louis salesman this AM and he said he would have to dig for some old info sheets and have his guy make copies! Since I just spent $23,000 on a panel saw with them, I will have to pass him your response of what salesmanship should be like! Seems like the way to go. In the midst of all the changes I have been making in production, I hate to change my linebore pattern/cabinet size to get the drawers to work. I guess change is good, but right now, I need to go faster! My boxes are 30 1/2" and linebore starts at 39.5mm. What works to get the drawer reveals the same? Drawers are 4" and 9".

From contributor A:
We started using Grass Zargen six months ago - love them. You will want the router table and special bit set up all the time. Best thing is the idiot-proof process. Zargen is the only job in the shop that new hires will thrive on.

Our regional rep is Andy, and is the biggest reason we bought the system. Louis and company always sends a rep down with him every few months and the few problems or advice needed were handled quickly.

It was a bit daunting at first, but now it takes only a minute or less to switch from hinge drilling to drawer back drilling, then only half a minute to drawer front drilling. It took a couple of jobs before we saw the time savings, but now we wouldn't do without it.

Be sure to specify the height of the sides in your estimates, because the 3.25" are pretty reasonable, but the taller ones are expensive. We offer the Zargen for the same price as wood drawers if the 3.25" are used. It actually saves a lot of time and money building and finishing, and again, it is entry level work with little judgment needed by the worker.

Drawer end reveals are set by the drilling stops, easily changed, but we have two sets, one full overlay and one 1/2" overlay, so we seldom change them. For a pull-out front, we just put a small spacer block in front of one of the standard stops rather than change anything. Drawer height reveals are set by the system, but you can change it however you want. The "KISS" system is what they recommend, and it is on the Grass website for download. They have charts of cab heights and drawer heights.

From contributor O:
Sounds like all I need is the press and the setup info to get it going. Thanks!

From contributor H:
I cannot help you with the reveals, as I never ended up buying the system. We use Blum tandems, as most of our work is higher end kitchens and this is what the clients want. My point was that the reps should be working harder for our hard-earned money. My office was destroyed in last year's hurricane and some of my suppliers said they have no extra catalogues to send me, or they are short of laminate samples. Others responded quickly. Guess who gets my business?