How to Downsize a Drawer

How To Downsize a DrawerWhile building a media cabinet, I broke the wise rule of “Measure twice,cut once.” I made a quick measurement for depth on a drawer that would extend to be flush with the face frame, and I forgot to account for the additional thickness of the false front that would be attached. I left myself a half inch of wiggle room when I measured, but I needed nearly an inch to accommodate the thickness of the false fronts. I thought about simply planing the drawer face down to about a half inch, but this would have still left the back of the drawer “bottomed out” against the back of the cabinet car-case, and I don’t like leaving myself without depth adjust-ability in the drawer to account for variations (I built three drawers to this specification).

To fix this situation, I decided to cut the back off of each drawer and attach a new panel with glue and brads. The original back was attached with locking rabbet joints in each corner and a dado to receive the bottom panel, so my fix would not be quite as strong as the original, but by making the fix on the back of the drawer where there is little stress applied to the joints I was confident that it would hold up. Here are the steps I took in “right sizing” my drawer:

first cutFirst cut. I positioned the blade to remove about 1″ from the rear of the drawer, and raised the blade to just over half the drawer’s height. I set up to make the cut through the top of the drawer first so that the bottom panel would hold the drawer together during the second cut. Then I slowly fed the drawer through the cut.

second cuttSecond cut. I flipped the drawer, lowered the blade a bit, and fed it through slowly.

How To Downsize a DrawerNew style back. The new drawer back will sit on top of the bottom panel rather than using a dado to receive it as the old one did, so in my case it was 1/2″ shorter than the original component.

How To Downsize a DrawerWaste not, want not. I was able to re-use the back panels for my drawers by simply cutting off the protruding rabbet on each end and the dado on the bottom.

How To Downsize a DrawerGlue. I applied a liberal application of glue to all mating surfaces. Because there is less of a mechanical connection, the glue will serve a more vital role in the joint. I made sure to coat all contact surfaces well.

How To Downsize a Drawer Shoot brads through sides into back. Using 18 ga. brads approximately twice as long as the thickness of the drawer side, I shot a few nails through the sides into the drawer back. I was extra careful to orient the nail gun in such a way that the nails were not likely to blow through the sides of the back panel. With an 18 ga. nail gun this usually means that the nail gun is held perpendicular to the edge of the material being fastened.

How To Downsize a DrawerBrads through bottom.Shoot brads every few inches through the bottom panel into the back.

How To Downsize a DrawerDrawer now fits perfectly.

How To Downsize a DrawerIs it strong enough? While the drawer is not quite as strong as before, the important question is whether the drawer is strong enough for the application at hand. I contend that this drawer is still far more durable than the majority of store-bought furniture. The joints that I modified will never fail under normal use in my media cabinet. And yes, it will still withstand a size XL stress test.

Result. This quick, inexpensive repair is not noticeable unless you are specifically looking at the drawer construction and the strength is adequate for this application. It took me about 30 minutes to fix all three drawers, which wasn’t bad, but not as quick as it would have been to double check my measurement in the first place.

Photos By Author

Discussion
  • (will not be published)

12 Responses to “How to Downsize a Drawer”
  1. William Bailey

    How refreshing to see a professional who occasionally commits an “oops”!

    Reply
  2. Paul Mayer

    No kidding – I am certain that I could write a set of encyclopedias on this theme! 🙂

    I admit that I will sometimes spend more time fixing something than it would take to just start again from scratch, but there is a certain satisfaction (and thriftiness from a materials standpoint) from repairing goofs.

    Reply
  3. Paul Mayer

    No kidding – I am certain that I could write a set of encyclopedias on this theme! 🙂

    I admit that I will sometimes spend more time fixing something than it would take to just start again from scratch, but there is a certain satisfaction (and thriftiness from a materials standpoint) from repairing goofs.

    Reply
  4. John Dudzik

    Why not just cut the drawer 1/2″ shorter around trhe perimeter so it would fit in the hole? Or am I missing something

    Reply
  5. John Dudzik

    Why not just cut the drawer 1/2″ shorter around trhe perimeter so it would fit in the hole? Or am I missing something

    Reply
  6. Paul Mayer

    Hi John, Good question. The drawers were too big from front to back, rather than height. But if they were too tall, your approach would have worked.

    Reply
  7. fishing4wood

    Hi Paul,

    Your repair was adaquet for the repair, and well dond. However could you have rabbeted the bottom of the drawer and then cut your sides to fit inside the drawer and fastened with your 18 gauge and glue, thus leaving the bottom as it was to begin with, floating? Thanks for the update it gives us all ideas to look for.

    Reply
  8. Paul Mayer

    Hi fishing.

    I believe that the approach that you describe would work fine. With plywood bottom drawers I don’t worry about having them float as there is not expansion and contraction of the bottom panel to worry about constraining. If the bottom was solid wood, however, this would be a major consideration and I wouldn’t have used the approach that I describe. I should have made this point in the article and I appreciate your calling it out here.

    Reply