After a week off of writing, I’m excited to post about making the inset drawers for my home desk. After completing the drawers, I realize that inset drawers are not overly difficult to make. But they require a bit more precision than overlay drawers. Definitely worth the extra effort on this project. Not only did they turn out fantastic, but they were great practice for some future projects (like a kitchen remodel).
Before I can even get to how I made the inset drawers fit correctly, I have to go through how I built the drawers. I chose a width for each of the sides to make sure they have room to fit without issue. I cut the sides with a circular saw to the correct width out of the same sheet of plywood I used for the entire frame. No need to overly complicate that dimension. For the depths, I again gave myself enough margin to not have to be overly precise. I took the depth of the drawer frame, minus ¾” for the drawer front, minus another inch for margin. The back and front of the drawers however were another story.
The drawer back and front piece determines exactly how wide the drawer is. This is a vital dimension, as it needs to fit perfectly with the drawer slides in place. To start, I first used my laser measure to get the width of each drawer opening. I then subtracted the depth of the drawer slides that I chose to get. In this case, those slides were 20” deep full depth drawer slides that I picked up at the big box hardware store. In everything I do, I try to avoid math whenever possible. After getting the dimensions of the full width of the drawer, I used a simple trick to cut the front and back pieces to the appropriate size. I set my stop block in place for the full drawer width and then used two scrap pieces of plywood to offset my cut the perfect amount, as shown below.
After cutting the drawer pieces, I added pocket holes to the front and back of each drawer and assembled them. I put the pocket holes on the hidden back and front of the drawer. For the bottom of each drawer, I cut a piece of ¼ plywood to size and attached it with glue and pin nails.
Here are the side drawers in place, with the orientation of the pocket holes more obviously shown.
Now to the fun part, making sure the drawers are inset properly. The key part of inset drawers is installing the slides correctly. To align the slide properly, I cut a couple of scraps from the drawer front to use while installing the slides. The scrap made it easy to set the drawer slide back the perfect amount.
As for attaching the slides to the outside of the drawers, there’s a couple of strategies. I always start by putting the slides into the desk first, as shown above. Then, I can either measure directly onto the side of the drawer, and attach the slide drawer using pencil marks. Or, I can put the drawers in place and then try to hold the slides on the drawer using clamps while screwing them on. If you can find a good support for the drawer as you pull it out, the clamp method works decently well. In this case, I measured and marked everything and attached the slides to the drawers while they were uninstalled. It worked fairly well, with some minor adjustments in the last part of the install.
I had to do one more thing before final installation. I added thin strips of pine to the drawer tops to give them a cleaner look than the plywood. This was the same method that I discussed while making the drawer framing.
Now, finally, we’re at the final install. Well, final install if you ignore having to double check everything after painting and attaching the drawer top. Depending on what drawer hardware you use, it may be possible to attach the drawer fronts to the drawers through the hardware openings. In my case, I had to attach the hardware and drawer fronts separately. I first installed the hardware into the drawer fronts. Then came the key effort of aligning the drawer front in its opening before attaching it to the drawer. I used a bunch of playing cards on all sides of the drawer front, aligning things perfectly.
Then, with everything aligned properly, I took out the top drawer and clamped the drawer front in place. With it clamped, I predrilled a couple of holes and attached the drawer front with screws, making sure to not go all the way through the drawer front.
I repeated the exact same process for the other two drawers, taking care to center the drawer front before attaching it from inside the drawer.
In the end, that work and attention to detail led to a (mostly) finished desk, ready for painting. I’m really happy with how the inset drawers turned out, especially for my first time trying them!