What's the best joinery for plywood drawers?

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Forum topic by Jim posted 09-24-2013 06:29 AM 47959 views 2 times favorited 33 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Jim's profile


254 posts in 4317 days

09-24-2013 06:29 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m looking for opinions on the best joinery for plywood drawers? I’m using 3/4” plywood for drawers in a project and 1/2” plywood for some smaller drawers. The plywood will be edged with real wood to hide the fact that it’s ply. I’m wondering what the best joinery is to use in joining the drawer face and back to the sides? I’d appreciate any input.

By the way, please don’t give me a hard time about using ply for the drawers instead of real wood. Thats not the question being asked here. I have several very valid reasons for choosing baltic birch ply on this project.

-- Jim in Langley BC Canada ---

33 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4320 days

#1 posted 09-24-2013 06:54 AM

Drawer lock joint is not too much trouble to make and very tough.

I usually rabbet, glue and nail because ball bearing slides remove a lot
of strain on drawer boxes. I have a drawer lock cutter but it ruins
thin edgebandings more often so you have to do the edgebanding
over on the part.

Dovetails are strongest traditionally but they can be ugly in ply and
with modern glue and slide quality they are not needed often.
Modern box joints are probably stronger than dovetails if closely
spaced due to the quality of today’s glues and the accuracy
of machined joints.

If you can accept screws (pocket screws are intensely strong in
drawer applications but make big holes) or nails, steel fasteners
with glue are the toughest. While you’re at it, glue the bottom in.

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1922 posts in 2641 days

#2 posted 09-24-2013 10:40 AM

I used pocket screws on my workbench drawers. They are loaded down with huge amounts of nonsense and they are holding great. Screw and glue. It isn’t pretty but for me it works because its just my workbench. I wanted it to look nicer I would rabbet and nail it, and glue it.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View scotsman9's profile


134 posts in 2561 days

#3 posted 09-24-2013 11:05 AM

Box joints are proven in tests to be stronger than dovetails….I know that statement will draw some ire, but it’s fact. Dovetails are pretty and very strong, but not in plywood.

The Swede makes a good argument, pocket screws and glue are tough, fast and easier to conceal the use of ply.

-- Just a man and his opinion.

View bigblockyeti's profile


6342 posts in 2393 days

#4 posted 09-24-2013 12:32 PM

I too use drawer lock joints when I can, much quick to cut than dovetails or box joint. With a good glue they can be very strong. I usually use a couple of brads to position everything before clamping.

-- "Lack of effort will result in failure with amazing predictability" - Me

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12064 posts in 4101 days

#5 posted 09-24-2013 12:35 PM

+1 on the lock joints for BB drawers.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View NiteWalker's profile


2741 posts in 3249 days

#6 posted 09-24-2013 01:05 PM

Tongue and dado.
Quick and easy.

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

View PurpLev's profile


8554 posts in 4321 days

#7 posted 09-24-2013 01:24 PM

For a while I was using box joints – but unless these are small drawers and a small number of them I found that box joints just takes too much time and effort to make on large projects (many large drawers) and now either use pocket screws with or without glue (drawer slides really take the majority of the weight so even glueless pocket screws are plenty strong enough), or rabbet joinery if I still want to put some effort into it and avoid the use of screws.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Nygiants77's profile


57 posts in 2630 days

#8 posted 09-24-2013 01:28 PM

Alot of people have already mentioned drawer lock joints but sometimes people call things something else. Are drawer lock joints the same as the tongue and dado joint nitewalker posted? I know them as tongue and dado joints as well. They have been very successful in my experience.

View mnguy's profile


294 posts in 4070 days

#9 posted 09-24-2013 01:50 PM

+1 on the tongue and dado joint posted by NiteWalker. I have dovetailed baltic birch drawers, and I was happy with the results because they look nice, but I don’t think I would do it again; too much set up time, fighting tear out, etc. With the tongue and dado, on either the table saw or router table, you have one setup and one spacer (1/4” for 1/2” ply, etc.), and you are good to go.

View David Dean's profile

David Dean

608 posts in 3571 days

#10 posted 09-24-2013 01:56 PM

Try this good old scerws and glue.

View tefinn's profile


1222 posts in 3109 days

#11 posted 09-24-2013 02:10 PM

Nygiants77 – The drawer “lock joint” and “tounge and dado” are very similar. The lock joint goes one step further so it’s a bit more complicated to make and with more glue surface a little stronger.

-- Tom Finnigan - Measures? We don't need no stinking measures! - Hmm, maybe thats why my project pieces don't fit.

View Charlie's profile


1101 posts in 2958 days

#12 posted 09-24-2013 02:13 PM

Nobody asked what kind of project so I guess I will,

What kind of project?

Drawers for utility like a workbench, even a nice workbench, don’t necessarily need to be pretty. Sounds like you’re building drawer boxes where the front IS the drawer front and there are no attached fronts beyond that. The strength of the tongue and dado means the end grain of the drawer side will be visible in front. If you edge it with solid wood (not edge banding) then you could lose some of the strength as the edge would be into the front. So, how thick are you planning to make the edge pieces? Attaching a drawer front to the box makes this a moot point as the drawer front would hide the edge grain of the sides.

The lock joint as shown hides the edge grain of the sides. Not a terrible joint to make. A bit more complicated in terms of setup, but doable on a table saw.

A little more info about the project might help get a more narrowed down answer :)

View TheDane's profile


5775 posts in 4335 days

#13 posted 09-24-2013 02:29 PM

I used lock rabbet joints (cut on the tablesaw) when I built the cabinet for my workbench … Click for details

That was four years and a cross-country move ago, and they are still in great shape. Granted, I was not using plywood, but IMHO the joint would be just as strong had I chose to go that route.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3033 days

#14 posted 09-24-2013 02:36 PM

Glue and screw butt joints. 3/4” is way overkill.

-- 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 gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3362 days

#15 posted 09-24-2013 02:37 PM

I do mine like NiteWalker suggests and his link is where I learned it.

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

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