Efficient Drawer-Front Installation

In this long, detailed discussion, cabinet pros swap techniques for attaching drawer fronts and discuss how to improve efficiency and accuracy of this fussy and time-consuming step. September 8, 2007

I have a three man shop. We do 32mm cabinets and we do our own installs. I'm looking at the top three time consumers at every project we do, and one that consistently comes up is setting drawer fronts. One of my workers and I come from the yacht business where fussy is rewarded, but our method of mounting drawer fronts needs a reality check for the kitchen and bath market. Here's how we do it on a typical drawer stack with 1/8" reveals:

1. Put a strip of clear mylar tape on the back of the drawer front (makes for easy removal of hot glue blob in step 6).
2. Drill 1/4" holes on drawer box corners (say upper left and lower right), and 5/32 holes on the remaining corners.
3. Clamp a straightedge to the cabinet bottom.
4. Set the first drawer on 1/8" spacers on the straightedge and push into position with hot glue blobs applied to the mylar tape. Let the glue kick for a few seconds.
5. Open the drawer. Using the 1/4" holes, sink a couple washer head screws, then remove them.
6. Twist the drawer front off. Peel off the mylar tape and hot glue blobs. Reattach the drawer front with the screw holes made in step 5.
7. Align the drawer (involves opening and closing the drawer, loosening and tightening the screws a bunch until happy). Fasten w/ 2 remaining screws. Move to next drawer up, lather, rinse, and repeat.

Does anyone have a better method youíd want to share? I just saw the Blum drawer front align-o-matic inserts but figure it's not much of a timesaver over my existing method. By the way, I'm using Tandems for nice kitchens and 230E for cheapies.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A :

For insets, when possible (access from the top of the cabinet) I set the front on a spacer and clamp the front to the drawer using two large faceframe clamps. Open the drawer, drill, screw, done.

From contributor B:
Kitchens are the easiest in terms of drawer alignment since you generally only have 2-3 different heights, and yes your process is far too time-consuming. Here is the solution:
Make a template for each height drawer front you produce, same height as the front; length doesn't matter too much, 2' is a good start. Now drill your holes in the fronts of the drawers and mark the exact hole locations on the template. Drill out the marks you made to the same size hole you use in the drawers (I use 5/16" holes, more room for adjusting). Now simply use the template to mark the backside of all your drawer fronts, pre-drill on the drill press, and your fronts will fit like a glove with plenty of adjustment to spare.

If youíre clever you'll quickly figure out how to make a couple small changes to the jig so it marks both the drawers and drawer fronts, saving even more time. In case you haven't figured it out, the reason length doesn't matter is because you can slide the jig side to side for any width drawer.

From contributor C:
I use a two-step process: Attach double-face acrylic tape to the fronts of the drawer boxes when they are in the cabinets. Starting from the bottom, push the drawer fronts onto the tape using thin spacers on top of the last-installed drawer front as you go up the stack.

Carefully pull the drawers forward on the slides and install two or more screws from the back side of the drawer box fronts into the drawer fronts. You're finished, and you never even had to take the drawers completely out of their holes.

From contributor D:
Why not use drawerfront adjusters?

From contributor E:
I drill 4 mounting holes for the screws. I make them so they are somewhat tight for the screw so it will stay in place. Then I put in the two bottom screws so the tips stick out about 1/8". On my FF cabinets I'll make a 3/32" strip and put it into the opening resting on the bottom, slide the drawer front into the opening keeping the spacing side to side even and push the drawer front onto the screws. Then reach into the cabinet and screw them in. Do a rest run and make sure it stayed put. If it did then tighten the other two screws. If it didn't, loosen the two bottom screws and you get another shot at it with the top ones. If you are doing drawer banks or stacked drawers, just start at the bottom and go up using the lower drawer as your reference.

From contributor F:
Drill a pair of 5/16 holes and a pair of 3/16 holes in each drawer. Use a pair of 5/16 dowel centers, align your first drawer, give it a whack, flip, drill pilots, attach with washer-head screws, adjust, set lock screws when the whole stack is set. We use 1/8 aluminum strip, drop-off from file rails, for spacing.

From contributor G:
We do what Jeff does for euro and face frame - jigs and templates. Because we almost always use the same drawer guides and stay pretty standard in our drawer stacks, templates really save the time, and drawer front adjuster screws really save time too.

We learned the biggest time saver of all is when we have a job with fifty or more drawer heads, we pre-drill all the heads on the point-to-point or by hand and then attach them.

If you keep standards on the size of drawers you use and stick them into all jobs, you will see a huge time saver in the future - we have the 2db, 3db, 4 db and the 5 db, and no matter how the architect drew it we always use our standards for these at the box level, drawer box level and the drawer front level and it helps to keep our wits, because of the repetition. We built our templates to allow the drawer guide to be attached to the box first and we notched the area in the side alignment area to go around the guides and man this was also a real time saver.

From contributor H:
We use the 1/2" pan head screws with a 3/8" hole in the drawer boxes. Our process goes like this. When we build the boxes we attach 4 pieces of 3/4" thick by approx. 2 x 2 particle board scraps to the bottom of the cabinet for transportation. These are removed by the installer. We set the box on a piece of 3/4" thick by 4" wide by however long and leave the front of it hanging out so that when you put a drawer front on it the bottom of the cabinet and the bottom of the drawer front are even. We then line up the drawer front and screw it on being careful to put the screw in the center of the hole so we can adjust it. We place a 1/8" spacer on top of the drawer front and put the next drawer on. We do this until all the drawers are attached. This takes about 1 minute. We usually wrap the cabinet and ship it but the nice thing is that the installer can adjust the drawer fronts on site before he drills for the hardware.

From contributor I:
I've used double sided tape, but am moving toward another approach, similar to several already mentioned. I rest the bottom drawer front on a piece flush with the bottom of the cabinet. But I also made a jig, 1/8" lip on a wider board which I screw to the side of the cabinet (they will have finished, applied end panels.) This makes consistent the side by side reveal with 5/8" overlay drawer fronts. I then clamp the drawer front to the front of the drawer box and insert screws from inside the drawer. I then go up the drawer stack with a spacer in between the fronts. I also install fronts in the shop. If they are dead on in the shop they won't change at the job site. Besides I'm closer to that tool which invariably I left home once I'm on the job site.

From contributor J:
We do it the same way as Contributor F. We only attach with the washer-head screws in the shop, and wait till we're in the field to "lock em in" with the smaller pilot holes.

From contributor K:
Try the carpet tape. It holds very well, so use small pieces if you want to be able to adjust it. I drill 1/4" holes in the box, stick the front on with 2 small pieces of tape, insert drawer front adjusting screws and tweak the alignment if required.

From the original questioner:
As usual, you all are a wealth of information. I think I'm going to try carpet tape instead of hot glue and mylar (thanks contributor K), and larger starter holes. It seems many of you mount the drawers and doors before installation, and some of you use jigs to control the side-to-side reveal. I wish I could do that, but my current door manufacturer can't seem to get sizes exact enough for my taste. Their tolerances are 1/16", which is awful. I've trimmed so many of their door packages I've almost become used to it. Why do I use them, you ask? Momentum, I suppose. That, and free freight, and freight costs a bunch to NW Washington. Although thinking about it now, a few hundred for freight sure beats the cost of trimming and reshooting doors.

From contributor F:
You're going to trim and clean up doors regardless of source. Even my CNC-cut foiled door (which I can't trim, obviously) supplier hides behind the +/- 1/16" spec. so I have to reorder a few occasionally. It's gotten easier to order them a little oversize and just plan on trimming rather than the annoyance of wasting time trying to make 'em work.

From contributor C:
What these guys who preinstall their drawer fronts don't mention is the downside of that process. It pretty much forces you to deliver your cabinets with the drawers inside which causes the cabinets to be much heavier and to have more delicate faces which have to be protected in shipment. This is especially a loss of convenience with frameless cabinets where the fronts of the cabinets themselves don't show after the doors and drawers are installed. If you ship these cabinets with the drawers installed, you have to be more careful.

The alternative is to ship the drawers with attached fronts outside the cabinets, but this is also a tricky proposition due to their fragility to damage. When you ship the drawer fronts off the drawers, you can flat pack the fronts with the doors and other fragile items. I'm sure you know this already, so I'm sorry if I'm being obvious.

Another thing is that preinstalled drawer fronts can go out of alignment if cabinets are tweaked sideways slightly during installation. This is more a danger with frameless cabinets than with face frames.

From contributor L:
It's a sad day when the old CNC is turning out 1/16" accuracy. The computer is only as good as the moron pressing its buttons.

From contributor F:
I wasn't blaming the machine. About 90-95% of the pieces I get from this company will be dead-nuts-on, then I'll get the occasional off-exactly-1/16" piece, that looks terrible, but technically is within their tolerances, so I reorder and pay for it. Seems like it only happens on a rush job, of course!

From contributor G:
We have talked to many architects and their take is that as long as the shop drawings come in symmetrical and some what close to what is drawn they are ok. This allows us to keep our standards intact and we aren't always re-inventing the wheel. The post is actually about drawer front placement and alignment. I worked on yachts in Florida for a while and truly understand the fussy is rewarded but does not do the same in the cabinet field.

I've tried it all - double stick tape, hot glue, measurement offsets, screwing the front onto the box in the case with shims, etc. We found drawer front/box offset jigs really make the time fly. But they work best with standardization. How many jobs does your job do a week off of prints?

From contributor M:
Interesting that only two of us use the drawer front adjusters that go in a blind hole on the drawer front backs. I have used a lot of methods including double sided tape but I like the adjusters best. For most drawer face sizes I use just two of them. Boring the holes is quick and pounding them in is even quicker. The rest is done with an adjustable square and an awl to mark the drawer box for boring the two holes for machine screws. On most drawer fronts, the combination of the two drawer front adjusters and the drawer pull screws are enough to hold them fast. On finger pull jobs, a couple of quick screws with finish washers locks them in place after adjusting and tightening.

From contributor G:
We've got to the point in the shop where we are just flat out bottlenecking if it is different than what we always do, and that is just the reason why we use our standard dimensions.

I programmed the point-to-point to drill all guides to allow the assembler to flush ball bearing at the bottom of all drawer guides or to attach epoxy side mounts, no thought needed. Our drawer front jigs do the same. Drawer front adjuster screws are great, but we save them for inset doors

From contributor F:
To contributor M: Blum makes 20mm dowel centers to put into the drilled adjuster holes. Drop them in, rough-set the front with spacers, give it a tap, drill the dimples for the machine screws. We put in tons of drawers like this before going to the 5/16" holes and washerhead screws.

From contributor N:
We use the 20mm pin marker that Contributor F just mentioned from Blum. We bore two 20mm holes on a drill press into the back of the drawer face using a depth stop from Rockler to control depth. Starting from bottom drawer and a jig underneath to keep the bottom flush with the bottom of the cabinet, we hit the drawer front so that two registration marks are made and drill these and attach with 1" bolts. Itís very fast and greater adjustability.

From contributor O:
Here is an easy solution. Drop the wood drawers and use the Zargen drawers from Grass. Two minute assembly or less, maybe the same for material processing and zero adjustment needed, just slide them in and go on to another project. Side to side adjustment and up and down if the carcass isn't perfect, or the doors are off a bit. Plus, no warped wood drawers that don't look good until they are loaded with some weight and no callbacks ever on these drawers. No finishing either.

From contributor P:
While drawer front adjusters have been mentioned, nobody has mentioned boring the drawer box face, for the adjuster screws, prior to assembling the drawer box. Since the OP is using 32mm, those (5/20mm) holes are some increment of 32mm apart and the same distance (+/- increments of 32mm) from the top/bottom of all drawer boxes and faces (since those are also sized in increments of 32mm). With accuracy of construction, itís very seldom that you need to break the tabs that keep the plate in the adjuster centered.