Pocket Hole Joinery
Building drawer boxes


One of the more popular uses of pocket hole joinery is making drawer boxes out of plywood. It's also about the easiest way to build a strong, solid drawer that will take the abuse of everyday use... whether in the kitchen, bedroom or the workshop.

The drawers can be designed and put together in such a way as to make the pocket holes virtually invisible, visually comparable to drawers made by more conventional methods.

If you've seen my review of the Kreg K4 pocket hole jig, you've seen how easy it is to join two pieces of wood together using a butt joint and pocket hole screws. When building drawer boxes though, there's another thing to keep in mind.

The one universal truth to all successful drawer construction is being able to cut the front, back, side and bottom panels square and dimensionally accurate. This is also true for pocket hole joinery, because as the screws are tightened, they will pull the wood together into whatever shape the ends are cut.

In other words, if your drawer box parts are not square, your drawer box won't be square. A table saw with an accurate fence should be the tool of choice for cutting your material.

Cutting the drawer parts

These drawer boxes will have a finished size of 7" high, 20" wide and 18" long. The opening in which they'll fit is 1" wider to allow for the metal drawer slides. The height of the each opening is 1/2" taller than the drawer boxes.

The two sides of each drawer box measure 7" x 18". The front measures 7" x 19" and the back 6 1/4" x 19". The back is shorter in height than the others because it only has to reach to the top of the dado in the sides.

Pocket hole joinery - cutting dados in the drawer panels. After the plywood is cut to size, 1/4" dados are cut in the front and side panels 1/2" from the bottom.

The bottom panel measures 19 7/16" x 17 11/16. It's cut 1/16" shorter than it needs to be to allow room for movement.

The material for the sides, front and back is 1/2" baltic birch and the bottom panel is 1/4" baltic birch. I like to use baltic birch because it has more plies than standard plywood and no voids... which always seem to magically appear where you want to place a screw.

The plywood was ripped to width on the table saw using a zero clearance table saw insert to keep tear out to a minimum. The grain of the plywood should run with the length of the drawer panels. To keep the ends perfectly square to the sides, I used my crosscut sled to cut the panels to length.

The dados were then cut starting 1/2" up from the bottom edge of the two sides and the front. The back has no dado. I used a Freud 8" stacked dado saw blade shimmed a few thousandths thicker than the bottom panel to give the bottom panel enough clearance to slide in the dado, yet still have a fairly snug fit. The dados are all cut to 1/4" depth.

Pocket hole joinery - A dry fit will show any problems before assembly. It pays to dry fit each drawer to locate any problems before assembly. If the cuts are square, the drawer box will practically hold itself together.

The dados could also be cut with a router table, but I find a dado blade mounted on a table saw much quicker and more accurate, especially if you need to make two passes with the router table.

To avoid any problems during assembly, it's a good idea to dry fit the drawers together to make sure they have enough clearance between the bottom panel's edges and the dado grooves in the side panels. It's easier to find out now and correct the problem before gluing and screwing them together.

After all the drawers you're building have cleared inspection, stack each drawer's pieces into separate piles to avoid mixing them up.

Drilling the pocket holes

The pocket holes are drilled on the fronts and backs. The front pocket holes will be hidden with a solid wood drawer front and the back pocket holes won't be visible once the drawer is installed. This will leave the sides of the drawer boxes with a nice clean look.

The number of pocket holes you'll have to drill depends on the depth of the drawer. A deep drawer will require more screws. The pocket holes should be spaced no more than 2" apart for most applications.

To speed things up, I marked each piece before drilling the pocket holes. First, I set up the Kreg pocket hole jig for 1/2" material and measured from the top of the base to the top of the drill guide.

Pocket hole joinery - lining up the drawer panel to the pocket hole jig. The hole marked "B" is lined up with the mark on the right side of this drawer front and then both "A" and "B" pocket holes are drilled.

I then transfered this measurement to each end of the parts to be drilled. A line was then drawn across each mark with a square.

The fronts were then marked 3/4" down from the top edge and 3/4" up from the top of the dado groove (1 1/2" from the bottom edge.) The backs were marked 3/4" from both the top and bottom edges.

The two outside holes marked "A" and "B" in the photo on the right are 1 1/2" center to center which will work out perfect for these drawers.

To drill the pocket holes, I lined up the mark on the right side of each front and back panel to the guide block hole labeled "B" as in the photo above and drilled both "A" and "B" holes.

> Make sure you're drilling the holes on the outside face of the front panel and not on the side where the dado groove is. This should be obvious, but I've done stranger things... especially when I'm in a hurry to see the finished result.

Pocket hole joinery - lining up the drawer panel to drill the left side. To drill the left side of each front and back panel, line up the mark with the hole labeled "A".

To drill the left side of each panel, I lined up the mark on the left side of each front and back panel to the guide block hole labeled "A" and again drilled out both the "A" and "B" holes.

The space between each pair of holes measured out to 2", which is fine. If the space was any wider though, a center screw might be needed.

The marks that I made on the front and back pieces let me work through all 64 holes for the four drawers in a matter of minutes. It's a real time saver and well worth doing.

Assembling the drawer

After all the pocket holes are drilled, it's time to assemble the parts into a set of drawer boxes. I used two bar clamps on each end to clamp the sides to the front and back pieces.

Pocket hole joinery - drawer sides clamped before driving in the screws. The drawer sides are set flush with the front and back and clamped before driving in the screws.

The clamps can be set loose while wiggling the parts into position and then properly tightened when everything is lined up flush. It's important to make sure the dado grooves are lined up exactly or the bottom panel will not slide in properly.

Whether you want to glue the joints during assembly is a personal choice. I found the drawers to be quite solid without glue, so I'll leave it to time to prove otherwise. If you do use glue, don't glue the drawer bottoms in place, they're meant to float in the grooves.

Pocket hole joinery - pocket hole screws. The 1" pan head screw on the bottom has to be used for 1/2" material.

You must use a 1" coarse thread pan head pocket screw for 1/2" plywood. The smaller diameter head on these screws prevents the head from standing proud of the surface in this thinner material.

Once the drawer pieces are lined up properly, the screws can be driven in. If you'll be using a drill to set the screws, make sure it has an adjustable clutch and set it just enough for the screw to bottom out before it starts to slip. It's easy enough to go around after and cinch them up with a regular screwdriver.

With the drawer upside down, slide the bottom panel into the dado groove from the back of the drawer box. Make sure the panel registers in the dado groove in the drawer front.

Pocket hole joinery - Screwing the bottom panel to the rear panel. The bottom panel is screwed to the bottom of the rear panel to complete the drawer box.

To secure the bottom panel to the bottom edge of the drawer back, drive in screws every couple of inches. I drilled pilot holes for 3/4" long wood screws and countersunk them to make them flush with the bottom panel.

After I make up some drawer fronts and mount the drawers with the slides, I think I'll have a cold one and think about what I'll do with this pocket hole jig next.

Using the Kreg pocket screw jig to build drawer boxes was easy, quick and made a very strong drawer box. Amazon has a huge assortment of Kreg jigs, screws and related hardware that will get you started making your own drawer boxes and tons of other projects around your house.

I'll probably still use box joints or dovetails on drawers that I build for hardwood furniture, but when I need to make a set of drawers for kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and many other projects... pocket hole joinery seems like the way to go.


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