Cabinet build steps. Carcass or Drawers first?

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Forum topic by MistakeMagnet posted 01-10-2012 08:02 PM 9608 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View MistakeMagnet's profile


35 posts in 3572 days

01-10-2012 08:02 PM

I’m about to start building my first cabinet with drawers. It’s going to be for the shop, that way, I learn a lot and don’t have to worry about others seeing the errors. I was about to start on the carcass first, then build the drawers to fit, but then I read about someone building the drawers first and the carcass to fit. Which way is better?

15 replies so far

View jmos's profile


918 posts in 3613 days

#1 posted 01-10-2012 08:06 PM

Short of some mass produced piece; Carcass first, then adjust drawers to fit.

I’ve never seen different. I’d be interested to hear from others why you would do it the other way, sounds fraught with the possibility for errors.

-- John

View Viking's profile


882 posts in 4438 days

#2 posted 01-10-2012 08:09 PM

I know that if your drawers will use side mounted slides, Build the cabinet, install the slides, then measure for drawer width.

Don’t ask me why I know that.

Good luck!

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 4169 days

#3 posted 01-10-2012 08:11 PM

I suppose if it was the first time you were working on bow front drawers with exotic wood, you may want to build your drawers first if you were not confident about the skill required, but I have never done it that way either.

I always build the carcass first, then the drawers to fit.

As John says, will be interesting to hear the other side of the discussion.

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

347 posts in 3705 days

#4 posted 01-10-2012 08:13 PM

jmos, perhaps he is thinking do the faceframe first then, carcass, then drawers?

If you are going to do a bunch of cabinets at some point, which you will because these will probably turnout great, you can do all your facemframes then build the rest to fit them….

View Viking's profile


882 posts in 4438 days

#5 posted 01-10-2012 08:15 PM


This is kinda like the “which comes first? ...... The mortise ….. Or the tenon?”

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View Loren's profile


11271 posts in 4891 days

#6 posted 01-10-2012 08:17 PM

Carcase first. I can’t think of a good reason to make the
drawers first and to do so would be looking for trouble, imo.

If doing a lot of cabinets, it is smart to assemble the carcases
last because they consume a lot of space. So in small shop
fact frame building it would be face frames, then doors and
drawers, then assemble the carcases.

However in fine furniture with piston-fit drawers you build
the carcase first, drawers oversize by a hair, and plane to fit.

View MistakeMagnet's profile


35 posts in 3572 days

#7 posted 01-10-2012 08:17 PM

Thanks for your input folks. I read about it the other day and it didn’t explain why it would be done that way. But, my failed search of the internet for such information probably revealed why it isn’t done regularly. And your comments reflect that. On to the build…..

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 4312 days

#8 posted 01-10-2012 08:23 PM

Carcass first unless the drawers have a very specific purpose that dictates their size. Last year, I built a huge entertainment center that needed to store over 800 DVD’s, and have a pull out tray for a turntable. For that job, the drawers & pullout got built first.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4110 days

#9 posted 01-10-2012 08:43 PM

It’s best to build the cabinet first and then build the drawers to fit. If you are using drawer slides you can mount your slides and then measure. I always use just a little bit more room than the drawer slide maker recommends – maybe 1mm. It’s never caused me any problems to do it. To be extra sure you can usually cut a piece of drop the right length and mount the appropriate parts on the edges and test for the actual feel of the drawer slides if you want to go that far.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 4985 days

#10 posted 01-10-2012 09:25 PM

Yep Carcase to fit the space you plan, then build the drawers to fit it.

Though often if you were making a bunch of cabinets – you would make all the carcase parts and stack them so that you aren’t trying to navigate around a bunch of bulky wood boxes and trying not to ding corners

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 3936 days

#11 posted 01-10-2012 09:52 PM

I always go carcass first.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4110 days

#12 posted 01-10-2012 10:11 PM

Back when we manufactured cabinets with all of the European hardware we always allowed 1 more millimeter in the length between the sides than what the slide manufacturer specified. We usually tried to use the same slide from order to order so there were no surprises. We had programmable panel saws where we cut all of the parts. We cut the cabinet parts and drawer parts and assembled each and everything usually fit fine. In other words you didn’t fit the drawers to the cabinets. You made a batch of drawers and a batch of cabinets, assemble both , and slid the drawers into the cabinets. One drawer would fit just as good as another. This is obviously slightly different than making one or a few cabinets.

Obviously, if you build really nice furniture you fit each drawer to the case.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View ChrisForthofer's profile


150 posts in 4310 days

#13 posted 01-10-2012 10:29 PM

Another vote for Carcas first. My reasoning is this, any mistakes in the carcas can likely be compensated for by altering the dimensions slightly in the offending area. If the drawers were built already this could be a much bigger issue. I also look at it from a materials standpoint, there is a lot more wood tied up in the carcas of cabinet than in the drawers making a “do over” on the carcas due to a mistake much more expensive than a drawer or two. Remeber, measure 5 times, cut once! Cheers.


-- -Director of slipshod craftsmanship and attention deficit woodworking

View casual1carpenter's profile


354 posts in 3719 days

#14 posted 01-10-2012 10:46 PM

I vote for the face frame first, after all is said and done it is the face frame that defines the cabinet in my little world. I layout and measure by hand and eye, and the eyes are not as good as they once were. When trying to face frame a carcass even small errors in measurement or cut are right out front for me to see every time.

That said, the face frame (if face frame), the carcass, the doors and drawers (adjusted to fit).

That allowing that silly millimeter extra is a very good piece of advice. Let’s just leave it that I know about tight drawers.

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 3897 days

#15 posted 01-10-2012 11:46 PM

It depends.

If the drawers HAVE to be a certain size (to fit specific objects) then build the drawers first then the carcass to fit around the drawers.

If the carcass has to be an exact size to fit in a specific space, then build it first and size the drawers to fit the carcass.

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

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