Install kitchen pullout shelves
A great way to help organize your kitchen and take advantage of empty kitchen cabinet space is to add some pullout drawers. With a basic tool set and a weekend’s worth of time, you can build and install a set of pullout drawers that will fit neatly into your existing kitchen cabinets.
Width is Critical
The width of the existing cabinet will determine the width of the pullout drawer box. Also critical to the success of the project is going to be determining whether any spacers are required. In this example a spacer is needed on the left side so the pullout drawer box will not hit the door or hinges while being opened.
Cut Some Rabbets
Nicholson likes to cut rabbets into his front and rear pullout workpieces to help him ensure the overall width of the drawer box is correct. He does that with a dado set in his table saw and a stop block clamped to his mitre gauge.
Ready for Assembly
The pullout drawer front and back (on the top of the pile), as well as the two sides, are ready to be sanded and assembled.
Marking for Dowels
Nicholson marked 5/16" in from the edge, as well as 1" down from the top and bottom to locate the dowels.
Solid and Square
Assemble the pullout drawer front, back, sides and bottom with glue, and ensure they’re square while they dry.
Bore it Straight
A drill press makes easy work of producing straight, accurate dowel holes.
Keep it Even
Nicholson uses a combination square to assist with locating and attaching the slides to the pullout drawer boxes.
Flush it Up
Once dry, trim the dowels with a flush cut saw, and sand the surfaces smooth.
Check for Level
With the slides attached to the cabinet sides, you can cut a length of scrap and check that the mating pairs are level.
Solid wood is great for this project, as it’s lasting and strong. It also looks nice when you pull the shelves out to grasp items.
It is harder to work with though. You need a jointer and a planer, unless you want to dress the lumber by hand, which takes a fair bit of time and skill, not to mention energy. Solid wood also gives you the opportunity to get fancy with joinery. Making nice joints is likely going to result in a strong joint, but if these pullout shelves are going to be seen a lot nice joinery goes a very long way to spicing up the overall look. There’s little else that can be done with these very utilitarian pullout shelf boxes to jazz them up.
If you don’t want to use solid wood for whatever reason you can opt for one of a few different types of sheet stock. Melamine covered particle board is strong enough for the job, as long as you glue and screw at the corners properly, which isn’t an overly hard task. Apply a bit of glue to both gluing surfaces of the joint, rub it in with your finger, and then reapply a bit more glue. The first layer of glue soaks into the melamine, while the second layer provides the strength for the joint. 3/4″ thick melamine is the strongest choice, but 5/8″ is also possible. For a smaller pullout shelf, that won’t be asked to support a lot of weight, you could opt for 1/2″ melamine.
Plywood is also a great option. It’s strong, doesn’t need to be dressed to final thickness and will give you a wood look, if that’s what you’re after. Similar to using particle board, predrill any screw holes properly, as you don’t want the material to split when you drive a screw in.
Begin by clearing out anything in the cabinet that you want to work in. Mine was loaded with all kinds of stuff: a food processor, some stand mixer accessories, a basket of loose onions, and some other odds and ends. Remove any shelving and shelf pins, and place them aside.
After emptying out your cabinet and giving it a good scrub, use a measuring tape to record the width, depth and height of the cabinet opening (my cabinet measures 16-3/4″ wide, 22-3/4″ deep, and 28″ high). While all of these measurements are important, the width is critical – measure it twice.
Next, measure for any protrusions you will need to avoid. In my case the door hinges protruded into the cabinet about 7/8″, so a spacer strip at least that thickness will be required to allow for drawer clearance (I rounded up to 1″). I only need spacer strips for one side of the cabinet, because it has only one door. If you have double doors, you’ll need spacers for both sides.
For a height of 28″, I decided on two drawer pullouts. There is no hard-and-fast rule here; you could include more pullouts if you have smaller items (like spices), or only one pullout if you are using a taller item (like a trash can).
My cabinet is standard depth (22-3/4″), so I opted for 22″ full extension drawer glides. They will fit neatly into the space and give me a bit of breathing room for installation. These glides are 1/2″ thick and are readily available from hardware stores and lumberyards.
Even a slightly oversized drawer will not fit, so it makes sense to build the drawer with the front (and back) as the entire drawer width. By using the full width, it’s easier to size the drawer for smooth operation. Everyone has their own preferences, though.
This can be calculated by using the information you recorded earlier:
(cabinet opening) – (spacer strips) – (thickness of two glides) – (1/32″ wiggle room) = drawer front width.
For my drawer I used stock prepared to 5/8″ thick, and 3-5/8″ tall. This is a nice compromise between appearance, strength and function. I like solid maple, but you could easily substitute a high-quality 5/8″ plywood, or even melamine. For joinery I opted for pinned rabbets, which are strong and attractive.
Rip all your boards to width. Square one end of each board, and then cut both the front and back to length. Next, cut the side lengths to final dimension. The side length of the drawer is the full drawer length, minus the rabbets in the front and back piece. I make the rabbets half the thickness of the drawer front, so I need to subtract 5/8″ (5/16″ for the back and 5/16″ for the front).
Set up your table saw with a 5/8″ dado stack set to a height of 5/16″. Using a miter gauge with an auxiliary fence and push pad, make a test cut to ensure the depth and width are correct. If not, make some adjustments and run another test piece until you get it just right. Then clamp a stop block to your auxiliary fence and batch out all your rabbets. If you don’t have a dado stack, you can use a single blade, making multiple passes to reach the desired rabbet width. Take your time, and sneak up on a good fit.
I will not be asking these pullouts to hold anything heavy, so I decided to use a 1/4″ plywood bottom trapped in a groove. If you want to carry heavy items, like a collection of pots or a stand mixer, you will want to beef up the bottom to 3/4″ plywood. Just cut the thicker bottom to size and glue and screw it in place – no groove required. The glide hardware will cover the exposed screw heads.
For a 1/4″ bottom, switch back to a single blade. Set the fence to leave 1/2″ of material below the groove and raise the blade height to 5/16″. After testing in scrap to confirm a good fit, run each piece along the table saw fence to establish a groove for the plywood bottom to fit in. Cut the bottom to size, and do a rehearsal with clamps to ensure everything fits well (and is square). Disassemble, sand all the inside faces, apply glue to the joints, and then clamp it up for the night.
Reinforcing the rabbets
A glued rabbet does not have a lot of strength, so I decided to pin the rabbets with 1/4″ dowels. A faster route would be to use countersunk screws, but I find screws don’t always “bite” well in end grain. Besides, a pinned joint is not much more effort than drilling, driving and plugging screws.
Use a small combination square set to 5/16″ to lay out the joint’s centerline on the drawer face. Next, measure 1″ from the top and bottom of the drawer face, and complete the eight crosshairs per pullout. Head to the drill press and chuck in a 1/4″ drill bit. Set the depth stop for 1-1/4″, then drill holes on your layout marks.
Apply glue to the holes, and tap the dowels home with a small mallet. After letting the glue dry, use a flush trim saw to cut the dowels level.
Don’t forget to cut and prepare your spacers. Mine are 1″ thick maple, but almost anything can be used that’s the appropriate thickness you need. I cut them to 22″ long, and 2-1/2″ wide. Sand and prepare them as you did the drawers.
Waterborne polyurethane is one of my “go-to” finishes for a variety of reasons (durability, low VOC and easy cleanup, just to name a few). General Finishes High Performance poly is a great performer, and it’s perfect for this application. I used an HVLP spray setup, but it can easily be applied with a brush. Apply three coats, sanding lightly between coats.
Separate the glide into two pieces, and start with the inner section. Place it 1/8″ back from the front of your drawer and 3/16″ from the bottom (I used a pair of small combo squares for this). Drill 1/16″ pilot holes in three hole locations, and fasten the inner glide onto the drawer using 5/8″ truss head screws. Repeat for the opposite side of the drawer.
Next, lay the outer portion of the slide onto a spacer strip. Set it 1/8″ back from the front, and center it on the spacer. Drill your pilot holes, but don’t attach the slide yet.
Using a pair of layout sticks (or one larger piece of sheet stock) inside the cabinet, place your spacer on the non-hinge side of the cabinet. Insert a drill bit in the pilot holes from earlier, and drill into the cabinet side through the spacer. This will give you the placement for the glide that does not have a spacer. Move the layout sticks and spacer to the hinge side, and attach it to the cabinet using 1-1/2″ countersunk screws. Finally, attach both glides with 5/8″ truss head screws, and remove the layout sticks. Check for level, and adjust as needed.
Repeat the entire procedure for the lower pullout, but rest the spacer on the cabinet bottom to locate your holes instead of using the layout sticks.
Now all that’s left to do is slide your pullout drawers onto the glides. After admiring your work, load them up with your stuff, and enjoy the extra space!