Dimensional stability is one of the advantages of using plywood for any purpose; unlike solid wood, plywood does not expand or contract with variations in humidity. It is also available in huge sheets of varying thicknesses, removing the need to laminate parts together to form a piece of wood of the desired size and to resaw timber to obtain thinner pieces.
This makes plywood a good alternative for furniture construction, including the construction of drawers for cabinets, dressers, tables, etc. Due to the dimensional stability of plywood, the sides of the drawer will not expand in humid conditions. This expansion might cause the sides to bind in the drawer opening, making the drawer difficult to open. Using plywood for the bottom minimizes side-to-side movement, hence reducing binding of the drawer and its runners.
In addition to these significant benefits, plywood construction minimizes the total amount of labor required. When constructing six drawers for a dresser, this might be crucial and save considerable time.
Properly constructed, the only hardwood component required for the drawer is the face, as plywood will likely not match the wood used for the remainder of the piece of furniture, even if it is the same sort of wood. Finally, construction using plywood is substantially less expensive than with hardwood. Even when utilizing hardwood plywood, just the face veneer is made of hardwood, reducing the expense of using solid hardwood throughout.
Construction of Plywood Drawers
Regardless of style, drawers consist of five parts: the front, rear, bottom, and two sides. Typically, the front is made of solid wood and mirrors the overall aesthetic of the piece being constructed. Even with commercially produced furniture, the back, bottom, and two sides are frequently comprised of plywood.
In the instance of drawers when the drawer front overflows the furniture’s framework, there are technically six elements, however only two are connected as if they were one. These are the structural and decorative drawer fronts, respectively. If a decorative drawer front is utilized, the structural drawer front is likewise made of plywood. In cases when the drawer front is flush with the cabinet frame, the structural drawer front also acts as the ornamental drawer face.
In lieu of this structural drawer front, low-cost furniture may use angle brackets between the drawer sides and the decorative drawer front. A piece of wood placed in the corner can have the same result.
The size of a drawer is mostly dictated by the size of the drawer opening in the cabinet into which it will be installed. This is a pre-project decision. Determining the precise construction method and dimensions of your drawer is part of the design process.
The overall outside dimensions of drawers must always be smaller than the drawer opening, even if it is only 1/16″ smaller. You need a small amount of clearance all the way around to prevent the drawer from sticking. At the same time, you do not want too much room, since this could make it too easy for the drawer to get crooked in the opening and cause jamming.
Drawer runners or slides have a significant impact on drawer size. Single runners, which are mounted under the center of the drawer, will have the least impact because they are mounted under the frame and only protrude slightly into the recess at the bottom of the drawer. Pairs of side-mounted drawer slides can have a larger influence, as the most typical dimension is 1/2 inch. With 12″ thick drawer slides, the drawer must be 1 1/16″ to 1 1/8″ narrower than the aperture. This discrepancy must be factored into the overall size of the drawer as well as the sizes of its constituent components.
As noted previously, the other important design choice is whether the drawer front is flat with the cabinet frame or sits on top of the cabinet frame, overhanging the drawer opening. If it overlaps, it often overlaps between half an inch and three quarters of an inch on either side, albeit not always by the same amount.
Drawer backs and sides are typically not the entire height of the drawer opening, although the structural drawer front will be, minus around 1/16″. Rather, these components are reduced by half an inch to three quarters of an inch to prevent them from interfering with the drawer opening. This is a matter of personal preference, with some preferring shorter sides and backs to avoid binding and others wanting to make them as tall as possible without binding in order to put more in the drawer.
When there are both structural and ornamental drawer fronts, it is usual for the drawer sides to run full depth, overlapping the ends of the structural drawer front and the drawer back. When the ornamental drawer front is also the structural drawer front, the drawer front will overlap the drawer sides to conceal the end grain. On higher-quality furniture, the drawer is assembled using half dovetails.
Some low-cost furniture employs MDF or particle board instead of plywood for drawer construction. MDF is not as robust as plywood and is more difficult to connect together, but it is suitable for most uses. MDF joints will not be as strong as laminated softwood or hardwood plywood joints, and it is extremely difficult to perform effective repairs if they break.
MDF and particleboard are additionally more absorbent. When they absorb water, the pieces swell, particularly at the edges, and their structural integrity is compromised. This can result in many issues, such as drawers sticking and falling apart.
Bottoms of Drawers
There are two fundamental methods for installing the drawer bottom. As it affects the size of the parts and how they are cut, determining how to mount the bottom is a crucial aspect of the drawer design process.
The easiest way to install a drawer bottom is to cut a rabbet in the bottom edge of all the drawer pieces to accommodate the plywood bottom. The drawer bottom is then hammered into place within this rabbet. This approach is less secure and leaves no room for the wood to expand.
Knowing the size of the drawer opening and accessible depth is the first step in determining the part’s dimensions. In other instances, shorter drawer slides are utilized, and the drawers do not extend to the entire depth of the cabinet. A great deal depends on the drawer slides chosen.
Putting Together the Drawer
There are numerous methods for attaching the drawer sides to the front and rear panels. Using a basic butt joint is the simplest way to connect the sides to the rear and front. However, this simplicity comes at a price; the joint is prone to separation and cannot withstand heavy use.
This can be enhanced by employing a rabbet joint instead of a butt joint. This junction includes cutting a rabbet in the sides of the front and back parts (equivalent to the thickness of the side pieces) and inserting the side pieces into this rabbet. The advantages of this joint include the opportunity to use mechanical fasteners to enhance the bond between the side pieces and the front/back parts. However, the glue will attempt to adhere to the end grain, which does not produce the strongest joints.
Driving a nail or small diameter dowel from the side pieces into the front/back pieces gives great strength to the junction without being evident from the exterior of the component.