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Wooden drawer boxes

Build or Buy?

Vendor cost

Each vendor has a different way of calculating the price of a drawer box - most are complex enough that they require you to give them an example on which they can quote a price. With various extra charges for features, different woods, different packing and shipping policies (and costs) it is confusing at best.

Then I found WalzCraft - a large company in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Their price was far less than the vendor I had been using, their service is great, and the options are clear. The examples below are based on the way WalzCraft does business.

The sides of the drawer box with half blind dovetails on the front and back are priced quite simply - measure the outside height, width, and depth of the drawer and calculate the number of square feet - 1 foot minimum. Each species has a budget-grade option from about $8 to $8.50. Would I use budget grade? Budget grade often includes sapwood (or in the case of maple, the darker heart wood). There might be mineral stains or other discolorations. The sides may be glued up from smaller pieces. But all the wood is strong and solid - certainly as good as the drawers I have made with local lumber yard wood. Of course, if you would like drawer sides made from birds eye maple or quarter sawn white oak or other premium woods, you have the option to pay up to $20 or more per square foot.

For my example, I will assume a typical drawer: 15 inches wide, 22 inches deep, and 3 inches high. Calculate 15+22+15+22=74 inches around, times 3 inches high=1.54 square feet, times $8.45 for budget maple = $13.01 for the drawer sides.

Some vendors have a limited choice of standard drawer heights (for example, each inch from 2 1/4 to 18 1/4). That vendor has an extra charge for other drawer heights, since they have to adjust the spacing of their pins. WalzCraft provides any height desired, to 1/16 inch, at no extra cost from 1 3/4 to 14 1/2, with a surcharge for larger "oversize" drawers that have to be manually clamped.

I can buy the drawer bottoms for $1.70 (Melamine) to $11.50 (bamboo plywood) per square foot, but I don't buy from them. Why? Every time I make a 30 inch bookcase for someone, I have an 18 inch wide piece of furniture grade 1/4 inch plywood left over from the cabinet back. Finally I have a place to use that plywood!

You can add 7/16 inch ears to each side of the drawer box. This will hide the usual 1/2 inch thick side drawer slides, with 1/16" clearance at each side. The cost, $1.75 per drawer box.

There are several options for the top edge of the drawers. For example, if you would like the top edges rounded, and the sides slightly lower that the front and back (what WalzCraft calls TE1) you can deduct 50 cents per drawer.

WalzCraft and other vendors will finish the drawer boxes for an added charge. But I buy them "RTA" (Ready to Assemble) so they are easier to ship and don't take extra storage space in my shop until I am ready to use them. Then they are sprayed at the same time as the fronts and the rest of the item, so factory finish is not an advantage to me.

The packing cost is a simple 4.5% of the cost of the drawers. Actual shipping costs are passed through but are generally less for RTA drawers (which take far less room on the truck). My last order of 28 very large drawers cost $217.48 to ship, or an average of $7.77 per drawer. Most of my drawers are half the size of those, so I would estimate that typical drawers cost less than $5 per drawer for shipping.

Walzcraft total cost for my example, $13.01 for drawer sides, less 50 cents for the top edge ($12.51), plus 4.5% for packing (+.56 = $13.07) plus shipping (estimated $5) = $18.07

My cost

A lot of the wood I buy comes in pieces around 5 inches wide. If my example drawer is 3 inches, I don't have to glue up anything, but I do have to cut off a 2 inch scrap... not a lot of uses for maple less than 2 inches wide. So I am going to use 5/3 as much wood as above or 5/3 times 1.54 feet, or about 2.57 board feet. But I will still lose about 35% to splits, knots, and not using every inch of length, so I will need to buy about 4 board feet for this drawer. At about $3 (or more) per board foot, my cost of materials for the drawer sides is $12, plus time to buy the lumber, mill the boards and cut the dovetails.

If the drawer were 6 inches high rather than 3 inches, I would have to glue up the 5 inch board with a scrap from a smaller drawer or from another 5 inch piece. Sure, I get better use of the wood, but I have added the steps of milling the wood prior to glue up, gluing, then finish milling before cutting dovetails and sanding. To get the 3.08 square feet, I will have less percent waste (not just using 3/5 of the width of the lumber I bought) but I will still have the 35% general loss, so I will still have to buy almost 5 board feet. This drawer will cost me $15 or more in material, and will take a lot more work to prep the material.

I haven't timed how long it takes me to mill lumber, cut dovetails, and assemble the drawer, but someone I was corresponding with on a woodworking forum calculated that he spend 1.5 to 2 hours per drawer. That sounds like a good estimate to me - if anything, pretty fast.

My total cost is $12 for material, plus time to buy the lumber, mill the boards, and cut the dovetails. I save about $6 compared to Walzcraft, and spend a couple hours making a product that isn't as good as I get from the factory.

Other tricks

Shaker drawer fronts

The classic Shaker drawer front overlays the cabinet by about 3/8 inch on 3 or 4 sides. Few vendors provide this as an option, so I did a trick. I bought "bargain cherry" drawer boxes. I planed about 1/4 inch off the outside of the drawer fronts prior to assembly, and then laminated on a 3/8 inch thick layer of premium cherry, to match the rest of the project. After the glue dried, I trimmed the front to the proper overlay, and did the traditional roundover. Normally I am concerned about a veneer more than 1/16 inch thick, but since this was cherry glued to cherry, I am not at all concerned about the front delaminating.

Solid drawer bottoms

If you are going to use plywood drawer bottoms, then bottoms that are captured on all four sides are the best. (Some people add hot melt glue or flexible calk to the grooves to keep the bottom from rattling). But if you are going to use a solid wood bottom, it needs to have room to expand. The grain needs to run from side to side in the drawer, the front is attached in the slot for the drawer bottom, and the back has to leave room for the bottom to expand. Cut the back of the drawer off, through the slot for the drawer bottom, and the solid bottom can slide in. Put a slotted hole (or several) in the bottom attached to the drawer back - the slots will allow the bottom to shrink and expand.