installing drawer slides

7 tricks for installing drawer slides correctly

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Installing drawer slides can be the most frustrating part of any cabinet or furniture project. And I’ve installed thousands of them.

What makes installing slides so difficult? Well consider these issues:

  • Fighting the 3D alignment of the drawer and slide: up/down, left/right, and in/out
  • Finding the right place to screw for face frame cabinets
  • Making the final drawer adjustments for smooth operation
  • No drawer is the same so what worked for one drawer might need a slight adjustment for the next.
  • Working in tight spaces with low light
  • Not having the right drawer installation jigs

While that’s only the tip of the iceberg, these areas can cause a beginner hours of frustration.

But drawer slide replacement is a DIY project almost anyone can do. So in this article we’ll touch on the tools and techniques that will help your project go smooth.

Steps for Installing Drawer Slides

1. Use a Jig for Installing Drawer Slides

Jig for installing drawer slides

While you can try your hand at measuring and trial-and-error, a jig will make your installation so much smoother.

What’s so special about a jig? Well consider:

  • Drawer slides need to be installed at a perfect 90-degree angle to the cabinet or furniture face. And the consequence of being off a few degrees is the drawer front will not sit flush with the face of the cabinet. While the solution is to manually reset the slide, it’s a trial-and-error process. A jig will simplify this as they are 90-degree guides that will position the slide right the first time.
  • For projects that are replacing slides in existing cabinets is an on-the-floor, back stretching exercise for most. A jig will cut the installation time (and frustration) by setting your angles right the first time.

Related: Best Drawer Slide Jig to Avoid a Slide Installation Headache

2. Always Use Rear Mount Brackets on Face Frame Cabinets

Use rear mount brackets for installing drawer slides

While not all side mount slides require them, a rear mount bracket is a lifesaver on face frame cabinets.

Not sure if you have frameless or face frame cabinets? 

Just think of a face frame as a picture frame that goes on the front of the cabinet. If you have one, it’ll be easy to spot. On the contrary a frameless cabinet is exactly that. The doors and drawers connect directly to the side of the cabinet.

So what’s special about the rear mount bracket for installing drawer slides? Because face frame cabinets lack sides to screw the drawer slide to a bracket replaces the side. 

First slip the slide into the mounting bracket, and then use the drawer jig to set the height and left/right adjustment. Due to mounting brackets having many holes adjustments are easy and quick.

I’ve found that using the vertical slot for the screw is best as that is usually the adjustment needed.

3. Plan 30 Minutes a Drawer When Installing Drawer Slides

The biggest enemy of a perfectly installed drawer slide is impatience.

Of the thousands I’ve installed maybe 20% were exactly where I wanted them the first time. And that’s with a jig and experience.

If the cabinet isn’t installed you should be able to move towards 10-15 minutes a drawer. But for working under existing counters a 30-45 minutes average is best for planning.

Now if you’re installing epoxy slides you are in luck. Because the right slide is the “guide slide” if you install that slide correctly your time can be cut. As the left slide is merely a track it can be positioned with the drawer installed. With years of experience I’ve been able to install epoxy slides in just a few minutes.

4. Use a cordless light when replacing slides

Dewalt light for installing drawer slides

If your project calls for upgrading slides in existing cabinets you’ll want to plan on plenty of light.

Since you’ll be doing precise measurements, looking for small holes with small drawer slide screws, and wanting to not test your patience a light will be your best friend.

5. Use a magnetized bit holder

Magnetized bit to hold drawer slide screws
Not many recommendations cost around $5, but having a strong magnetized bit* will prevent some NC-17 language when screws keep falling off. Because each drawer will have a minimum of 12 screws there is a lot of room for screw-dropping frustration.
 

6. Install in the workshop or before the counters go on

Installing drawer slides after the cabinet is installed is just not fun. And while installing drawers while the counter is installed is possible, I avoid it doing so at all costs.

7. Always mark your drawers

This often overlooked tip is perhaps one of the most important. Due to a lot of cabinets being the same width it’s easy to lose track of which drawer went where.

But a simple pencil or marker on the back of the drawer and a piece of tape on the cabinet marking the same will help.

Summary

Installing drawer slides can be the hardest part of building cabinets. And for a DIY’er tackling a replacement project it can be downright impossible without the right jigs and brackets.

But, lowering your expectations on time it will take is my #1 tip.

Drawer Slide Series

Choosing and installing drawer slides takes planning.  Follow our series for more guides, tools and techniques to complete your project:

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