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DIY workshop drawers

Strong, practical and easy

by Julian Edgar

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Over the years I have had plenty of chests of drawers in my home workshop. Mostly, they’ve been ex-bedside chests that have been pressed into use. Invariably, though, after a few years, they start to fall apart, the drawers sticking on the slides and the bottoms of the drawers falling out. That’s what happens when you start to put heavy stuff in them, anyway…

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So I bit the bullet and made my own. They’ve been so successful that they’re presented here for you as well.

Starting points

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The starting point is to buy a whole bunch of steel baking trays. This is the major cost of the project, so have a good look around until you find strong, deep steel trays that will hold their shape even when carrying substantial loads. I bought 18 trays at AUD$5 each and as a bonus, they were coated with non-stick stuff that will stop them rusting. The trays are 27cm wide, 34cm long and have a depth of 6cm. The overhanging lip around the edge is about 1cm wide.

For lighter loads, you could also consider steel or aluminium bread baking pans.

The sides of the chest are formed from timber. In my case, I used composite pine panels – made from smaller pieces of pine stuck together and so cheaper than buying solid pine of the right width (or multiple pine pieces to build up the width).

I could have cut slots within the panels for the edge lips of trays to slide in, but I chose not to do this for three reasons.

Firstly, the width of a circular saw blade cut was going to be a bit squeezy to carry the lips of the trays. Secondly, if the cuts were not exactly parallel and level, the trays would stick. Finally, cutting slots would mean the trays were sliding on the end-grain of the timber, and that wouldn’t be so smooth.

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Instead I chose to use multiple pieces of timber (again, pine), sized so that the width (63mm) of the timber set the right spacing between the pans (that were by now drawers). You need a lot of timber for these – the chest of drawers shown here consumed 15.6 metres of this timber. Note that I chose to set this vertical distance so that there is a gap above each drawer – that means the contents don’t have to always be below the top level of the drawer. The width of the slots in which the drawers slide is just under 6mm.

Building it

Building the chest of drawers is just a case of doing what is obvious from the pictures. However, be careful that the spacing between the slides remains even and square to the vertical edge. Check this with a square.

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I set the width of the runner gaps by temporarily inserting a piece of 5.8mm thick steel plate between adjoining slides, screwing and gluing, and them pulling out the plate. All side panels were made flat on the floor.

I set the internal width between the sides (28cm) only after they were built, allowing the temporary insertion of two drawers (baking trays) and then setting the spacing between the sides so that these drawers could slide easily. Don’t be tempted to squeeze things up with tight clearances – the trays slide best with some freedom.

You could make one taller vertical set of drawers, or have two sets of drawers mounted side by side as here.

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The top and bottom used more of the timber of the same size as the slides, but this time cut to provide the right spacing between the side parts. These were glued and screwed into place, and then another piece of pine panel was placed on top.

You can easily leave both the front and rear free of panels (so allowing front and rear access e.g. when the chest of drawers is placed as an ‘island’ in the workshop), or you can attach a rear cover (that stiffens the whole unit), or add a rear cover and front doors. The choices are all yours!

You could paint or stain the finished result – mine is a working piece of furniture, so I didn’t bother.

Outcome

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The drawers work beautifully. On the non-stick coating they slide in and out silkily (even when carrying a heavy load), and the drawers can be pulled well out and still remain supported, allowing their contents to be accessed.

Keep an eye out for those baking trays!

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