In this post, I’m sharing how to measure and size drawers for your next project!
This guide will help you easily determine your drawer front and drawer box sizes no matter what you’re building.
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The first step to adding drawers to any project is figuring out what size they need to be. So in this post, I’m going to discuss drawer dimensions and how to find them.
This may seem complicated at first, but the more you work with drawers, the easier this will be…I promise!
Fair warning, there is some math involved here, but don’t get overwhelmed! It’s just your basic addition, subtraction and division.
Before we dive into the numbers, let’s talk about some of the different styles of drawers and cabinets that you’ll run into.
Cabinet and Drawer Styles
Whether you are working with furniture or cabinets, you’ll run into different styles and types of drawers and framing.
It’s important to understand the terminology and how to recognize what you’re dealing with in your various projects.
Inset vs overlay
Drawers can be either inset or overlay. This has to do with the style of the drawer fronts.
Inset means that the drawer fronts are set inside the frame like this.
And overlay means that the drawer fronts lay over the frame like this.
Frameless vs Face Frame Cabinets
In cabinet design, frameless means that the front edge of the cabinet box is not framed out—the “frame” is simply the plywood edge.
This is how I built my workshop cabinets.
On the other hand, face frame cabinets will have an additional frame added onto the front of the box making the front edges thicker.
You can see below that I’m adding a face frame onto the front of this cabinet.
This same concept applies to furniture pieces as well—not just cabinet boxes.
Framed vs Not Framed Drawers
You’ll also run into instances in both frameless and face frame projects where the drawers may be individually framed out or not individually framed out.
I’ll share some examples to make this a little clearer.
These drawers are inset and not framed—notice there is no framing or dividers between drawers.
These drawers are inset and framed out—notice there is framing between each drawer.
These drawers are overlay drawers, not framed out.
And these are actually a combination of inset and overlay and they are individually framed out.
Now that we’ve covered some basic definitions, let’s dive into the dimensions.
Prefer to watch? Check out how to measure and size drawers in this video:
Finding the Drawer Front Height
The first dimension I like to find is the drawer front heights because this is the most challenging.
That doesn’t mean it’s difficult, it just has a lot of variables that you have to consider.
To find your drawer front heights, you need to ask three questions.
- How many drawers do you want?
- Will they be inset or overlay?
- And will they be individually framed out.
Using this information, we can calculate the “drawer front height availability.” Or DFHA—this is definitely not an official term, but one that I just made up ha!
Basically, this is the amount of vertical space you have available for drawer fronts. Once you have that, you can divide it out amongst our drawers.
This will vary based on whether you want inset or overlay. Inset is the easiest to work with, so let’s look at an inset example first.
How to Calculate Drawer Front Height on Inset Drawers
One rule of thumb to remember with inset drawers is that you want to leave ⅛” gap around all sides between the drawer fronts and any surrounding framing.
Step 1 is determining the available vertical space I have for drawer fronts. There is no exact “equation” for this because every project design varies.
But, I think you can get the idea by taking a look at an example. So here I have this simple cabinet and I want to add 4 equally sized drawers into it.
But, I want the top drawer to be framed out. You can see here that I already added this frame piece in the sketch below where the top drawer will be.
I personally think doing a quick sketch (even just on notebook paper) is really helpful to get a visual and make some notes.
So let’s sketch this out. I have a 24 ½” opening to begin with, but then I added a divider. I used a 1×3 turned on its side for the divider, which is ¾” thick.
Adding this piece will take away ¾” of my opening space, so now I only have 23 ¾” space to work with. But, I’ll also need ⅛” gap above and below the top drawer.
And I’ll need ⅛″ gap between all the bottom drawers as well. So that’s 6/8” of gap space—or ¾”, so I have 23” of available vertical space for my drawer fronts.
Once I calculate my available space for drawer fronts, I can divide this out between my drawers.
Since I want 4 equal sized drawers, I simply divide this by 4 to give me the height of my 4 drawer fronts—which is 5 ¾”.
Now obviously, you can make them different sizes—maybe you want a deep drawer at the bottom and shallow drawers at the top. That’s totally fine!
You can divide up the sizes however you’d like as long as the sum of all the fronts equals the available space.
How to Calculate Drawer Front Height on Overlay Drawers
For overlay, the concept is very similar, only instead of subtracting ⅛” gaps from the opening size, you’ll be adding an overlay to it.
The “overlay” is the amount of the frame you want the drawer fronts to cover. For example, if you want a ½″ overlay, the drawer fronts will cover ½″ of the frame.
Let’s look at this cabinet example again, this time, as an overlay design. If I wanted overlay drawers in this case, I need to first determine how much overlay that I want.
The framing on the outside of this example is 1 ½” wide. So let’s say I want the drawer fronts to overlay 1” of it all the way around. I made the drawer fronts transparent in the image below so you can see how they overlay the frame all the way around.
You can determine how much overlay you’d like–you may want to cover more or less of the outside frame based on your own design.
Just like before, I like to sketch this out to figure my available drawer front space. So I take my 24 ½” opening and add 1” overlay at the top and 1” at the bottom so that gives me 26 ½”.
But I need to subtract ⅛” gap between drawer fronts so that leaves me with 26 ⅛” drawer front height availability.
For 4 equal sized fronts, I’d just divide by 4 to give me 6.53125”…which is 6 17/32”. So that would be the height I’d need to make each of my drawer fronts in this case.
A Note About Rounding
Now, this is just my personal advice—take it or leave it. But there is a time and a place for exact precision. But there is also a time and a place for what I like to call “close enough.”
Drawer fronts is a “close enough” situation. You want your gaps to be approximately ⅛”, yes. But, it’s more important that they are EVEN than that they are ACCURATE.
Your eye won’t notice if the gaps between drawers are 1/32” bigger than your standard ⅛″ gaps. But they will notice if they are uneven.
So, if I divide and get some weird numbers, I usually round down to the nearest 16th of an inch to keep the math a little simpler.
In this case, with 6 17/32″, I’d round down to 6 16/32″ which is 6 8/16″ or 6 ½″. Rounding down to the nearest 16th just keeps the math a little easier to deal with.
How to Calculate Drawer Front Height on Full Overlay Drawers
If you want FULL overlay drawers, basically, you want the drawers to cover the entire front so that it’s fully overlaid. This is what I did for my shop cabinets.
In this case, you calculate the same as inset, only you take the outside dimensions of the cabinet instead of the inside.
With inset, you take the inside dimensions and subtract ⅛″ gaps, but with full overlay, you take the outside dimensions and subtract ⅛″ reveal. The reveal is the part of the frame left exposed after the overlay.
With 29″ of available drawer front space, I can divide it out among my drawers however I’d like. For three equal sized drawers, I could divide by 3 and get ~9 ⅝″ for my drawer front heights.
Or, I could do two 12″ deep drawers at the bottom and one 5″ deep drawer at the top–like shown above. Any combination of three drawers whose heights sum to 29″ would work.
If you add dividers into this situation, the math for the drawer fronts stays the same, unless you want to leave a larger gap between drawers so that you see more of it.
That’s a pretty custom situation. In any case, I recommend drawing it out to give you a visual to work with.
Once you have your drawer front heights, everything else is smooth sailing. I promise.
Finding Drawer Front Width
The drawer front widths follows the same general rules as the heights, only there’s a lot less variables in most cases, so it’s much easier to figure.
For inset drawer front width, take the width of your opening and subtract ¼”—that will allow you ⅛” gap on both sides.
For overlay drawer front width, add 2x your overlay to your opening. So if your overlay is 1”, then you’d add 2” to the opening.
For full overlay drawer front width, take the overall width, subtract ¼” so that you have ⅛” reveal on each side.
Easy as that! So now we’ve got our overall drawer front sizes. Let’s talk about the drawer box.
Finding Drawer Box Height
There is no set rule for this, so it’s really just a personal preference here. But this is what I usually do.
When determining the drawer box height, you have to consider again whether your drawers are framed out or not.
If they’re framed out, I make my drawers 1-2” shorter in height than the opening. So in this example, if my opening is 6” tall, I’d make my drawer box 4-5” tall.
If the drawer boxes aren’t individually framed out, I typically make them about 1-2” shorter than my drawer fronts.
For inset drawers, 1″ works well, but for overlay, I usually lean closer to 2″ since some of the drawer front will be hanging over the frame.
So we know how tall to make the drawer boxes, now we need to now how wide.
Finding Drawer Box Width
The drawer box width is easy to determine because it’s basically the only measurement that does actually have a “rule.”
In this drawer building series, I’m using side mount ball bearing drawer slides. These are my favorite slides to use for several reasons and I’ll discuss that more in the installation post.
The measurements here are determined based on using side mount ball bearing drawer slides. For other types of slides, this may vary.
The drawer box width is determined by measuring the opening the drawer will go into and subtracting 1” for the thickness of the slides—½” on each side.
So if my opening is 16”, my drawer box needs to be 15” wide overall.
NOTE: Double check manufacturer’s specs on your specific slides. I’ve never seen any side mount slides that don’t follow this rule–it’s a pretty common standard. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some out there that will be different.
Finding Drawer Box Depth
Just to clarify, the depth here is I guess what you might also call the length—the distance from front to back.
Typically, I make my drawer depth the same length as my slides. This isn’t really a hard rule, but it’s what I do personally.
So if I go with a 16” drawer slide, I’ll make my drawer box 16” deep.
How long should your drawer slides be?
I prefer to use side mount ball bearing drawer slides in my projects. You can purchase them with or without the soft close option.
They are relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and don’t require additional bracing and framing like other types usually do.
These drawer slides come in 2” increments. You can find them in common sizes from 10” up to 24” long.
The length of your slide will depend on the size of the cabinet you’re installing into. Obviously, you don’t want to put a 20” long slide into an 18” deep dresser or it’ll stick out the back.
So choose a slide length that will fit what you’re installing it into and keep in mind that if the drawers are inset, you have to accommodate the drawer front thickness as well.
If installing inset drawers, subtract the thickness of your drawer front from the depth (front to back) of your cabinet. Chose a drawer slide smaller than this measurement.
If installing overlay drawers, choose a drawer slide smaller than the cabinet depth (front to back.
Ready to Build a Drawer?
At this point, you now have all the measurements you need to get started building.
We figured the drawer front height and width. And then we figured the drawer box overall height, width, and depth.
Check out how to take these numbers and apply them in this post about how to build a drawer box.
Prefer to print? Download the drawer building guide so you can print and take to the shop with you!
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I hope this helps make a little more sense of how to measure for your drawers.
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Until next time, happy building!