How to order drawers - Part 2

This is part 2 of a 4 part series on How to Order New or Replacement Drawer Boxes Choosing your drawer box material can be a pretty simple task, depending on what you have set as your priorities.

  • The standard considerations for ordering drawers (new or replacement) focus on the following factors:
    • Price
    • Appearance
    • Function
    • Durability

These tend to be the primary drivers but are not necessarily in the order that they affect choices.  The material that you choose for your drawer boxes will be touching on each of these priorities.

  • The material choices will break down into four major categories:
    • Composite (MDF, Particle Board, etc...)
    • Plywood
    • Solid Wood
    • Metal (such as Blum Metabox)

The composite, plywood and solid wood drawers are generally ordered complete and can be shipped assembled and pre-finished or not.  The metal box system is ordered by component (sides, brackets and other parts) and is assembled on site. Let's take a closer look at each of your drawer box material options.

Composite Drawer Material - Composite drawers are normally made of an MDF (medium density fiberboard) or Particle Board core with a melamine sheet laminated to the material.  These melamine coatings can be solid colored or in wood prints.  Most drawers in this category consist of material that is 1/2" thick and is traditionally on the lower end of the cost scale.  This is still a popular choice with cabinet manufacturers due to the low cost in mass production.  Replacement drawers are not always less expensive due to the unpopularity of  this material in the replacement drawer market.  With the growing expectation of dovetail joinery in the drawer box market, many drawer box makers found it difficult if not impossible to produce dovetail drawers with these materials. Overall, these are good drawers for manufacturers to provide for low-end cabinetry.  That is where I draw the line, they are not that easy to find in the aftermarket and they are not that durable.

Plywood - Plywood drawers have always been a popular alternative to the composite drawers because they are on the lower end of the cost range.  Plywood used for drawer box construction can be found in either 1/2" thickness or 5/8" thickness.  The standard to compare to in the drawer box industry is Baltic Birch plywood.  Baltic Birch plywood in 1/2" thickness is comprised of 9 layers of material, including the front and back faces.  The Baltic Birch plywood in 5/8" thickness will normally have 11 layers.  The 1/2" plywood you will see at your local builders center is usually 5 layers and is chock-full of voids and knots.  This material comes from Russian and tends to be of the best quality construction.  Baltic Birch will be free of internal voids or holes that most of us are used to seeing in plywood.  During production, these knotholes, defects and holes are cut out and the hole is replaced with a football shaped plug.  These plugs may be visible on the exterior surface but they sure do provide a superior look to a knot or hole. If you want to "dress up" the appearance of your plywood drawer boxes, you can take a look at our Edge-banded Baltic Birch drawer boxes.  They offer the benefits of the plywood and you can cover the sight of the veneer layers on the top visible edge of the drawer box sides. The Chinese entered the plywood market a number of years ago and my experience has been that the plywood is a lesser quality and may have lamination issues as the layers sometimes separate.  You may find otherwise and this is my opinion and judgement from what I have experienced. Plywood drawers do make a good drawer investment, they will last and they look good.  Consider edge-banded plywood drawer boxes if you do not want to see the plywood veneer layers on the top edge of the drawer box.  Prices will be mid-range ($40 - 50$ for common kitchen utility sizes).  Bottom line...get genuine Russian Baltic Birch.

Solid Wood - Solid wood drawer boxes offer you the greatest opportunity for showcasing your cabinetry and interior storage.  Here, you can choose from any wood from Poplar to Cherry or Walnut.  The majority of the solid wood drawer box material choices will be for 5/8" thick stock.  With this you get a good sturdy piece of material and it can actually be a little less in cost than 1/2" thick material because they all start out at the same size and then they get machined to the final thickness.  So, if you think that 1/2" thick material will be less expensive, don't be surprised if it is not.  That's provided that you even have a choice of 1/2" or 5/8" thick drawer boxes. We have found that the 5/8" thick solid Birch provides the additional benefit of rigidity in drawer boxes wider than 24".  This is especially true when you are shopping for drawer boxes that will not use a drawer front on the front of the drawer box.  If you use your drawer box as a pullout shelf, you will benefit from this stiffness in pullout shelves where you pull on the front of the shelf to open. The 5/8" solid wood drawer box is our favorite value drawer box because of the wide variety of wood choices and its inherent strength and good looks.  Be sure to buy a solid wood drawer box with a good UV cured clear coat finish to enhance and preserve those good looks for many years to come.  You should expect pricing to be tied directly to the cost of your choice of materials ($55 - $100 for standard kitchen utility sizes).

Metal - For the purpose of this article, we will only be referring to metal drawers like the BLUM Metabox or similar products. The metal drawer box market is most prevalent in Europe and in the European style cabinet market.  The metal box system provides a contemporary look that is very popular.  The use of metal also mitigates the material shortages that tend to plague the European cabinet market. These drawer systems are componentized and your drawer purchase will consist of side walls, front panel mounting brackets and a bottom panel.  The drawer sides will encompass the slide mechanism as well and you will be purchasing the sides in a limited selection of heights and lengths.  Once you have the sides/slides you will cut or likewise provide the bottom panel to fit the width that you need.  You will also cut a back or rear panel for your drawer box assembly and then affix a decorative front on the box using the front mounting brackets which you previously purchased. The metal box choice can be a good choice for you if you are trying to get the modern European look and you want to have the flexibility of cutting the drawer widths to size on the job or work site.  The drawer sides will also conceal the drawer slide so you get a nice clean drawer box exterior when opened.  Pricing for metal box systems will be comparable to upper end plywood drawer boxes or solid wood drawer boxes ($40 - $65 for common kitchen utility sizes). With all drawer boxes, we recommend a 1/4" thick bottom panel with drawers less than 24" wide and in full depth of 18"+.  At 24" width and beyond we recommend using a 1/2" thick bottom panel to help with the load and in reinforcing the rigidity of the drawer and it certainly helps in keeping the drawer square with use.

In Part 3, we will cover some of the different drawer styles.