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The third time I was attacked by my kitchen cabinets while trying to free a pot from the bottom cupboard, I decided to remedy the situation.  Nursing a bruised foot I went to the local big box to buy a few sliding drawer units to put in the cabinets — and I nearly popped a gasket when the size I wanted turned out to be sixty bucks a drawer.  So I built them myself.

First you want your sliding rails.  Though they might seem intimidating at first, you can install the rails pretty simply.  You just need to know a few things:  how much weight they’ll need to support, how they’re going to mount, and what depth they are.

You can find all these specs on the packages, and normally the displays you find them in at the store will give you a demo on how they look installed.  I chose Knape and Vogt 8400PR sliders with a 100-pound capacity, since my drawer was going to be a bit heavy — these cost around $12 to $15 depending on where you find them.

Next you need to fit the rails in the cabinet space.  Because my front fascia has a lip, I couldn’t mount the rails directly to the sides of the cabinet — so I fashioned a set of extensions that would move them just far enough in to let the drawer slide in and out without scraping it.

Attaching the extensions to the cabinet then attaching the rails to the extensions requires a bit of forethought.  First, mark the extensions for the holes that the rails are going to be screwed into. Then pre-drill the holes for the fasteners that’ll hold the extensions to the cabinet.

After you’re all marked up, place the extensions in the cabinet and position them with spacers.  Marking and holding them may work, but it’s much easier to just take some scrap and jig the pieces up, then screw them in.  Make sure to use screws that’ll drive flush with the surface here — remember, you’re going to put rails over them in a minute.

Now screw the rails onto the extensions in the pre-marked spots and you’ve completed the rail install — all that’s left is the drawer itself.  I decided to make my drawer out of scrap wood I had lying around, so the grain doesn’t match.  However it was free, and the idea here is to save money, so spending tons on select woods wasn’t in the budget.

I didn’t care so much what the drawer looked like, but I definitely wanted it to be the right size.  Remember you don’t have a lot of play here, so you need to measure the dimensions of the drawer carefully and try to hit the mark.  In this case I needed a box 14-1/2″x23″x12″, so I threw together something that I thought might work.

I’d like to stress that this is the area where your creativity and artistry come into play.  If you want to make an artistic statement, do it constructing the box.  Or, if you’re like me, use whatever you can find scattered about the shop.  I did opt to stain the box to match the cabinets, and I did a fair job matching them, so I was reasonably pleased.

The last step is mounting the rails to the drawer.  In this case, I just detached each rail via a plastic retainer clip on either side and was good to go.  It’s fairly important to match them on either side in relation to each other — so if they’re an inch back from the front on the right side, they need to be the same way on the left.

After the rails are attached to the drawer, just line ’em up and push the drawer in all the way — and you’ve completed the entire project.

With the scrap wood in play, I managed to build the entire project for the cost of just the sliding rails:  $14. That low figure also stood me in good stead with my other half — if I can keep the price down, it eases the friction when I disappear into the shop for yet another project.

I’m going to put in another smaller drawer right above the one you see here to maximize the space available in the cabinet.  If I can complete it in the same manner, I’ll have done two custom-sized sliding drawers for about half the cost of one store-bought rig.

Knape and Vogt [Website]
Street Pricing [Google Products]


6 Responses to How-To: Install Custom Sliding Drawers

  1. apotheosis says:

    Excellent, this info will come in handy. I’m about to get rid of the ancient trash compactor in our kitchen and wanted to replace its space in the cabinets with a slide-out tray for a regular trash can, and this should do nicely.

  2. Zathrus says:

    Great article — I’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile, but I haven’t actually seen a decent article covering the caveats (like the front fascia lip).

  3. Chris says:

    Those rails look a whole lot like the ones I use all day long in IT/Server work (only not as beefy, servers often weigh more than 100lbs).

    You could likely find them real cheap in a computer surplus place or free if you know someone that does IT work.

  4. fred says:

    We are big fans of Blum hardware for standard drawer construction and Hettich HD slides for everything else

  5. Mike S says:

    apotheosis – I did exactly the same project about 5 years back. That drawer is going to see heavy use; much more so than one holding pots & pans. Let me share my experience taught me.

    Whoever installed you cabinets wasn’t planning on a drawer being there, so the sides of the compartment may not be parallel. I thought of this, but made an error. I measured only at the front and back of the cabinets (to verify they were the same). I failed to measure the middle. If I had, I would have found that they bowed slightly into the compartment (solid pine boards, not plywood, near the sink). Then I made the drawer before installing the rails. So now the rails wouldn’t install flat against the walls, and the drawer was too wide. Oops.

    The walls were flush with the opening, so I shimmed behind the rails instead of making a mount. The idea was to maximize the drawer width. This was a mistake. The rails flexed slightly during use. The drawer was opened several times a day, and it didn’t take long to loosen and damage the rails.

    Moral of the story – Make sure your mounting surface are parallel and flat by measuring in several locations. If not, make a mounting bracket even if that means reducing the drawer width to accommodate it.

  6. SawDustMaker says:

    I have done a couple kitchens and used metal drawer sides and slides. These are essentially drawer sides with built in slides. All you need to do is build a drawer front, bottom and back and you are done. We are not talking dovetail here, but they are functional, easy to build and install and can handle serious weight. You can buy them in various places, but Lee Valley sells a 6″ by 20″ version for about $15, $13 if you buy 5 or more.


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