How to Pick Kitchen Cabinet Drawers

Improved glide technology makes it possible for drawers to be larger and hold heavier items.



By: Elizabeth Beeler

Kitchen cabinets should be both beautiful and functional, which is where drawers and glides come in. Choose cabinetry that makes your kitchen life more convenient. Stronger glide technology has resulted in bigger drawers that can handle heavier items. Drawers now store everything from utensils, cutlery and spices to bulkier items like pots, pans, dishware and chopping blocks. Drawers may be kept simple without partitions or divided for easy organization. Drawer fronts typically mimic the style surrounding door faces and can be flush, overlay or lip-edged.

"One trend we've gravitated towards is drawer-only designs for base cabinetry," says Mark Hutker, an architect based in Martha's Vineyard. "In lieu of doors, we stack lower, middle and upper drawers for chef-inspired cabinet design."

Frequent use and heavy drawer contents call for drawer glides, which aid drawers in their function of opening and closing. Many cabinet manufacturers offer a variety of side, top and corner-mounted drawer glides. Quality drawer glide options range from three-quarter-extension, epoxy-coated glides that bear up to 75 pounds and allow most of the drawer to be pulled out from its box, to full-extension slides, which hold up to 100 pounds and allow access to the entire drawer. Some glides can't be used with particular cabinetry styles. It's also important to check load ratings for drawers. Options range from 50-pound to 100-pound capacities.

Material Options and Construction

Solid hardwood has traditionally been the choice material for drawer box fronts and sides. Solid wood joinery includes dovetail, finger, tongue-and-groove, dowel, biscuit and dado joints. "Dovetail joinery is the strongest way to make a drawer," says Josh Kayer, owner of Martin-Star Cabinetry in Richmond, Va. "The construction won't loosen over time."

Resilient drawer boxes are also commonly made from engineered woods, such as veneered plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with joinery often doweled and glued together. Make certain drawers have a minimum of 3/8 to half-inch thickness, especially on the bottom. Avoid flimsy drawers made from thin particleboard with a laminate or wood veneer and any drawers with stapled construction. "While solid wood is premium for drawer front and sides, plywood is a better choice for the bottom section of a drawer because it won't shrink or swell," Kayer says. Other common drawer materials include metal and manufactured melamine.

Most slides operate with plastic or metal ball bearings. Confirm slides are produced from heavy-duty materials with easy-gliding rollers or ball bearings, whether they are side, bottom or corner mounted. Drawer slides typically are made of stamped metal and most are unfinished. However, some can be purchased in black or dark brown finish. The best quality slides won't rust over time. "To test cabinetry slides, open the drawer fully and check to ensure the drawer feels tight within the drawer cavity," says Alabama-based builder Erica Neel of Structures Inc. "Make sure that the drawer opens easily, quietly, and does not tilt up or down when fully extended.

Budget Considerations

Where to Splurge. Well-constructed drawers are the trademark of a high-quality cabinet. All drawers consist of a front, back, bottom and two sides but the manner in which drawers are assembled and cut determine their value. Solid wood with seamless dovetail joinery identifies the best construction practices. "To determine if cabinetry is high dollar, open a drawer and look inside for solid wood sides and a dovetail joint," says interior designer Jane Coslick.

More expensive drawer slides result in a better cabinet experience. Undermount glides are more costly than side mount glides. However, they also tend to warp and sag less, which saves on repairs down the road. "Undermount concealed slides function three times as well and are able to carry more weight," Kayer says. "They're well worth the extra cost." The best slides include built-in bumpers to cushion the impact of the drawer when closed. Inexpensive glides will cause drawers to eventually get stuck, tilt or sag. "Spend money on a top of the line slide," says Coslick. "The operation of a drawer is just about the most important thing."

Where to Save. Side mount glides are less expensive than undermount slides but they're evident when drawers are ajar. If you want to slash costs and don't mind seeing workable parts, consider side-mounted slides. Three-quarter extension glides are another practical way to cut price. In addition, if you don't plan on stocking heavy items, you may be able to downgrade on weight capacity. Buyer beware, cheap glides can't handle more than 50 pounds and won't support rollout shelves or drawers filled with bulky objects. "Cut corners on drawer construction with a solid wood drawer face but an engineered box," Coslick says. "Only the trained eye will notice the difference. As long as the box construction is good, you'll be fine."


If you are seeking luxury at your fingertips, go with "soft closing" or "feather touch" glides, which retract with a gentle push and include shock absorption that prevents drawers from slamming shut. Also, check out detent features, which cause the drawer to pause at various marked positions.

Pull-through slides are ideal for islands because they allow drawers to be opened from either side. Some specialty slides allow drawers to extend beyond a full extension. These slides are advantageous for countertops with deep overhangs. "For the ultimate kitchen experience, I have self-closing drawers installed," Coslick says. "Clients love them because they add to the convenience of cooking and preparing food."

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