A step-by-step tutorial on how to build shaker style drawer fronts for your cabinets.
We are continuing on with our closet makeover and finishing it off with the drawer fronts. I decided I wanted a shaker style door, just like my kitchen cabinets. This is an easy way to build drawer fronts plus it’s cheap (about $20 without the hardware)!
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BUILD SHAKER STYLE DRAWER FRONTS
Before I begin I want you to know that this method should only be used if you will be painting the drawers!!!
CUTTING THE MDF/WOOD
The first thing to do is cut the wood. Before leaving the hardware store (Home Depot or Lowes) have them cut your MDF sheets. Here is what you will need (cuts are a little long because their cuts are sometimes not precise).
1/2” sheet = 15-inch strip (cut length will be 15”x 4’)
1/4″ sheet= cut 5 strips to 2” (this will give you NO extra so maybe cut 6!)
There will be 6 cuts total.
SIDE NOTE: If you have a table saw, you can use yours and cut to the width you need!
FINDING THE EXACT SIZE
Before doing any more cutting you need to measure your drawer system opening. Measure the distance from the top to the bottom of the opening (measure left, right, and center). These three measurements should be equal or very close but take the smallest number.
You are now going to find the size of the smallest drawer front. Take the number you just found (mine was 49.5”) and subtract 43.875 (this is the 5 other drawers plus a 1/8” gap between each). This number is the size of your smallest drawer (mine was 5 5/8”). You now have you drawer sizes 10”, 9”, 9”, 8”, 7” and your measurement.
Next, you need to measure the width of where each drawer front will be.
TIP: Measure where the actual drawer is.
Make sure to measure the top and bottom plus subtract 1/4″ (the gap between the sides). These measurements will be the width of each drawer so write them down with the size of the drawer. Will look something like this when your front is assembled.
SIDE NOTE: My sizes were all around 14 3/4″ but some were a little larger or a little smaller. By measuring and cutting each to their measurement you will have a professional look in the end (no big gaps!).
CUT THE BASE
Using a miter saw or table saw cut the drawer sizes from the 1/2” board. You can only cut 5 of the sizes from the pre-cut 15” piece, cut the last one from the extra piece.
Here is your cut measurements again: 10” – 9” – 9” – 8” – 7” – your measurement”
Next cut the width of each drawer to the size you measured. After cutting check the fit on the closet system. After sand all 6 pieces with the #220 grit sandpaper.
ADDING THE TRIM
Before cutting the 1/4″ strips, prep them by sanding the edges with the #220 grit sandpaper. This will take very little time because of MDF sanding easily.
Next place the 1/4″ strip flat on a solid surface (the ground). Then place the 1/2″ base piece on top of the 1/4″ strip. Adjust the 1/4″ strip to be flush with the size of the base piece (example 10” side). Once the two are flush, mark the 1/4″ strip where the 1/2″ base ends.
Then cut the 1/4″ piece right next to the marked line. TIP: it’s better to have a little extra because it can be sanded down later. After cutting, place the board on top of the base piece to check the fit.
Do this step for each side of each drawer front but make sure to keep your pieces together.
Now you’re ready to attach the trim to the base. Working on one drawer at a time, place the trim piece off to the side (right side down). Then take a dry cloth and wipe both the trim piece and the base, this will remove dust to help the glue adhere. Apply some glue to the trim pieces, making sure to stay 1/4″ away from all sides.
Place the trim piece onto the base, making sure the edges are flush. Then take your nail gun, with 5/8” finishing nails, and nail the trim into place (I used 3 nails per trim: edges and center). TIP: Test your nail gun before with scrap pieces to make sure it inserts the nail correctly.
Do this for the other trim piece. Then add the trim pieces to all the other drawers.
Now that the side trim pieces are all attached it’s time to add the inside trim piece. To do this, take the 1/4″ strip and place the edge against the newly added trim piece. You can use a square or just your eyes to mark the strip right where the side trim piece will hit the inside piece.
Take the piece to the saw and cut right next to the line or marking. TIP: It’s better to cut big because you can always trim off more. After cutting, check the fit of the trim piece and adjust the size if needed. The goal is to have a very little gap.
Once the trim piece fits perfectly, do the other side. After both trim pieces are cut to fit, wipe them with a cloth and attach them the same way as the side pieces (glue & finishing nails).
Now complete all the other drawers fronts the same way.
PREPPING THE DRAWER FRONT
Once all the trim is added to each drawer, the drawers need to be sanded with #220 grit sandpaper to make everything even (all the edges).
Next, is filling in the nail holes and gaps where the trim pieces connect. Take a putty knife with spackling paste (or wood filler) and fill. Then let the paste dry.
Once it has dried, sand the whole drawer front with the #220 grit sandpaper. When everything is sanded smooth, take a vacuum to remove all the dust or use a dry cloth.
Next, apply caulk to the inside of the drawer where the trim hits the base.
Let the caulk dry completely then add two coats primer and two coats paint to the drawer front (front and back). SIDE NOTE: I did put 3 coats of paint on the front of the drawer front.
Once the paint had dried, I then predrilled the holes for the handles. I purchased world knobs from Etsy but use whatever you want. And because I was using knobs I placed my hole in the center of each drawer front. Here is a close-up of our knobs.
INSTALLING THE DRAWER FRONTS
After the drawer front is all painted and the hole for the hardware is drilled, it’s time to install it onto the drawer. Take the drawer and drill a slight hole on the 4 corners of the front inside of the drawer (leave at least .5”-1” space from the ends), this is where the screws will be placed to add the front. TIP: Make sure the slight hole is only deep enough for the screws head; it will be level with the drawer after installed.
Take four 5/8” screws and slightly screw them into the holes you just created (so that they are in place).
Add the drawer onto the slides and close into place. You need to leave a 1/8” space from the edges of the frame to the drawer front. TIP: I found that a nickel and dime taped together gave me the perfect space, place your spacer onto the frame and place your drawer front into place.
Once the front is where you would like it, you can clamp the drawer front onto the drawer (I checked my level and gaps after clamping).
Then pre-drill the handle hole into the drawer.
I decided to add my knob completely before attacking the drawer to the drawer front with the screws. After the knob was added I again checked my level of the front then tightened the screws on the drawer. This drawer was now complete.
I followed these steps for all the other drawers. And now the closet drawer system is complete!
We do not plan on adding doors to the space but we still need to add trim around the opening. But what do you think?
I hope you learned an easier way to build drawer fronts but remember this will only work if you are painting the wood and I would not recommend using ½” MDF if it was just for a door, use cabinet grade plywood instead to give you more strength. Do you have any tips or questions about building the drawer fronts?
If you happened to miss another part of this project, here’s the list:
- Build a Closet System – Part 1
- Build a Closet System – Part 2
- Build a Closet System – Part 3
- Building the drawers
- Making shaker style drawer front (THIS ONE)
- Total cost for small closet makeover