Joinery for plywood drawer boxes.

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Forum topic by dbhost posted 06-18-2012 02:19 PM 21476 views 3 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5777 posts in 4011 days

06-18-2012 02:19 PM

I have a few shop projects that I need to build drawers for, and I honestly do not want to spend a ton of money on them, so I am thinking plywood for the drawer boxes. But that begs the question of what to do for joinery on these boxes.

While I know it is theoretically possible, is it a good idea to dovetail the joints here? I just cringe when I think of dovetailing plywood visioning blowing out tons of material and coming out with lousy joints. The other thought is to use locking rabbets, which is great to resist pulling forces, but lousy for sideways / torsional forces…

These drawer boxes need to support a fair amount of weight as they will be for tool related cabinetry, specifically a drill press stand cabinet that will house all my bits, of many various shapes, sizes and formats… I have other related projects in the queue that will be a while, but I will likely be using the same techniques for building them. They are….

#1. Full cabinet base filled with drawers for a workbench base. #2. Full cabinet base / workstation for my Ryobi BT3100 table saw / wide table kit. I will include a router wing in this… #3. Second full cabinet / drawer setup for misc shop storage including supplies. This is to replace my Strong Tie workbench and Rubbermaid totes. #4. Lathe stand cabinet.

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28 replies so far

View nwbusa's profile


1022 posts in 3065 days

#1 posted 06-18-2012 02:34 PM

I’d use a reinforced rabbet joint, myself.

-- John, BC, Canada

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Bill White

5290 posts in 4739 days

#2 posted 06-18-2012 02:38 PM

A well setup lock miter is a pretty darned strong joint when properly glued.

-- [email protected]

View JBfromMN's profile


107 posts in 3555 days

#3 posted 06-18-2012 02:40 PM

I have my Drill press on a cart with a couple drawers on it myself. One drawer for drill bits and one for driver bits. Both use locking rabbit joints with 1/2 prefinished plywood. If I can remember, I will take a pic tonight and post it tomorrow.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3140 days

#4 posted 06-18-2012 03:17 PM

1/2” BC ply with glued and nailed/screwed butt joints is all that’s needed. Mine is 16 feet wide.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 4011 days

#5 posted 06-18-2012 03:28 PM

Clint, you are on to the right idea, but I have no space to work that big. Subtract 10 feet from that sucker and you’d have the cabinet / bench I want along the wall, subtract 2 more feet and you’d have the base for my workbench…

Screwed / glued butt joints is something I was hoping to avoid. However, yes, 1/2” BC ply is on the materials list…

Your drawer fronts look like they were cut from 2 full sheets of plywood. Very interesting look, I like it…

The locking rabbet sounds like what I was thinking. I just wasn’t sure it would be strong enough…

What are you guys using for drawer bottoms? I am thinking keeping with the motif and going with 1/2” BC ply bottoms as well…

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View Granddaddy1's profile


182 posts in 2980 days

#6 posted 06-18-2012 03:54 PM

The drawer lock joint will probably work, but my first choice for plywood drawer box construction is box joints. It’s almost as strong as dovetails without the blowout problems. I’ve built several projects this way, with the biggest being a bedroom set with 32 drawers. I set it all up and cut the box joints in one session.

As for the drawer bottoms, that depends on the size of the drawers and amount of weight to be stored inside. I would think the norm would be 1/4” plywood. If the drawer is larger than normal, or will carry a heavy load, go with the 1/2” material.

Good luck!

-- Ron Wilson - maker of fine firewood!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4426 days

#7 posted 06-18-2012 04:49 PM

I rabbet and nail them. Edgeband before rabbeting.

I have a drawer lock cutter that I’ve used sometimes
but it chews up a veneer edgeband so I use the
rabbet usually.

View Charlie's profile


1101 posts in 3065 days

#8 posted 06-18-2012 05:33 PM

If it’s just for a work bench, pocket holes and glue. I have test pieces in my shop that I JUST pocket screwed together and also that I pocket screwed and glued. They’re amazingly strong. I wouldn’t use them on furniture or cabinets for others like a kitchen or something…. ok maybe a kitchen…. but for my workbench? Pocket holes and glue and move on to something more important :)

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 3003 days

#9 posted 06-18-2012 06:10 PM

LOL Jonathan – a join can never be too strong!

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4904 days

#10 posted 06-18-2012 06:13 PM

I tried dovetailing ApplePly for our kitchen drawers, and got major blow-outs. Tried taping, backer boards, just couldn’t make it work.

Eventually settled on Dominos to do loose tenons for the joints, but biscuits would probably work equally well. Although as others here are pushing, box joints or rabbets should be fine. Especially: You’re using plywood so you don’t have to worry (much) about humidity changes: you could glue in plywood drawer bottoms, back up your edge joints with pin nails, and they’ll be close to indestructible anyway.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 4011 days

#11 posted 06-18-2012 06:32 PM

Yeah, Dominos aren’t going to happen in my budget unless Harbor Freight starts selling Lamello tools…

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View NiteWalker's profile


2741 posts in 3355 days

#12 posted 06-18-2012 08:30 PM

Tongue and dado.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View LeeInAZ's profile


41 posts in 3254 days

#13 posted 06-18-2012 09:09 PM

I built all my shop drawer boxes from 1/2” baltic birch with mostly 1/4” bottoms. I used pocket hole screws on the drawer frame and just glue and staples holding the bottoms on. It is fast, easy, and solid.

-- Lee - Phoenix, AZ

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4049 days

#14 posted 06-18-2012 09:26 PM

I like the drawer lock bit, mitre lock bit or finger/glue bits for quick drawer assemblies. Either of those bits can make a real strong, quick join. Dovetails both through and half blinds are great too, but a bit more time consuming.

Biscuits work great for these also. I have used a slot cutter and some bisquit stock to put a few drawers together for a planting table someone wanted built. They worked great and are still holding up after 5 years in place.

My favorite is using Finger joints made on a router using a finger joint bit. These are really quick and really strong for this type of application. The setup is easy and the bits don’t cost an arm and a leg, but they get the job done with a pretty strong join.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3469 days

#15 posted 06-19-2012 02:51 AM

I use box joints for 90% of my drawers. Ply does tend to tear out when cutting box joints without a backer board. For the record box joints were stronger then dovetails when Wood Mag tested joinery methods. I use 1/4” ply for the bottoms but put a stiffener under it if it is a really big drawer or one that holds heavy items. I have some shop drawers with 3/8” cardboard bottoms as an experiment. They are very stout and held up well.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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