Few aspects of cabinet hardware are more confusing than the types of drawer slides and their mounting locations. For example, why does a top mount slide connect to the side of the drawer? Or why is a bottom mount slide connected to the side of the cabinet?
To help better understand drawer slide types, in this article we’ll start by reviewing all five mount types (yep, just five) and answer your questions on:
- The five types of drawer slides by mounting location
- Key features of each slide
- Why slide mount is important
- Pros and cons of each slide type
- And, key features of the various slide types
The Five Drawer Mount Types
Hey this is confusing – the rules change between top and bottom mounts on understanding mounting location. But first, here’s the five types of drawer slide mounting locations:
- Top mounts are connected to the “top” of the cabinet or furniture opening and side of the drawer
- Side mounts are connected on the side of the drawer and cabinet
- Bottom mounts are attached to the bottom of the drawer and side of the cabinet
- Meanwhile, undermounts are two slides attached to the underneath (invisible) of the drawer and side of the cabinet
- And lastly a center mount is single slide found on the bottom of the drawer (not visible)
Ok, so why have five types? Well, cabinet or furniture construction, aesthetics, features and cost dictate different slides.
Let’s explore each type and what makes them unique.
Top Mount Drawer Slides
As the name implies these slides are mounted on the top of the opening but to the side of the drawer.
Confusing right? Well, bottom mount slides are just the opposite – but we’ll get to those next.
Common uses: Pencil drawers in desks where side or bottom openings aren’t present.
Popularity: Due to these slides design they are generally limited use for keyboard trays or pencil drawers.
- Look for full extension or over-travel to allow full access to the drawer contents
- Since the full weight of the drawer and it’s contents is on the screws make sure you have the best screws with aggressive threads.
Features like soft closing or push-to-open are less common in this slide type.
Bottom Mount Drawer Slides
You’d think a bottom mount slide would mount on the bottom of the cabinet itself right? Because, of course, that’s opposite of “top”.
But, alas, bottom mount drawer slides mount are mounted to the bottom edge of the drawer and to the side of the cabinet. However this makes this type of slide extremely easy to install as there’s a fixed position for each slide to mount to (you have no choice!).
Common uses: All types of cabinets and furniture.
Popularity: High due to the low cost of these slides (installed in millions of kitchens!)
- Use a name brand like Liberty or Blum and avoid generic brands
- For face frame cabinets use rear mounting brackets and 5/8″ or 3/4″ screws (or shorter, if needed).
Features like soft closing or push-to-open are not available in this slide type. Also, a 1″ top drawer clearance is needed for the drawer to be installed and removed.
Undermount Drawer Slides
So to keep things confusing not only does this slide also install on the bottom of the drawer it’s also one word! Who knew understanding the types of drawer slides would involve a lesson in spelling.
But grammar aside, this is my favorite slide as it’s not only concealed but it has the best construction for soft closing slides.
And my favorite feature of this slide? It installs underneath the drawer and after installation is invisible when the drawer is pulled open.
Common uses: All types of cabinets and furniture.
Popularity: Typically used in higher-end furniture and cabinets due to it’s higher price point.
- These slides generally come in 18″ and 21″ lengths
- Due to a rear locking mechanism that fits into the rear of the slide the drawer will be slightly shorter than a standard drawer
- Best for new drawers and not retrofits
The major manufacturers are Blum and Grass, with some generic brands starting to enter the market.
Side Mount Drawer Slides
Chances are pretty good you have a cabinet, piece of furniture, file cabinet or tool box with large steel drawer slides mounted on the side of the drawer.
Of all the types of drawer slides the side mount slide is the most popular across the widest variety of applications. And, they are almost always a ball bearing steel design that’s about 1-3/4″ tall and 1/2″ thick.
And as their name implies they are (simply) installed on the side of both the drawer and the cabinet.
Common uses: All types of cabinets and furniture.
Popularity: All types of drawers, and work best in heavy duty applications.
Center Mount Drawer Slides
This last type of drawer slide is least common (outside of factory furniture). And for good reason as it’s usually a single slide mounted in, of course, the bottom center of the drawer.
While many variations of this type of drawer slide have existed for furniture applications (wood and metal) it isn’t, in my opinion, the best drawer slide to use. But we’ll get to that later.
Common uses: Dresser drawers
Popularity: Typically used for manufacturing dressers and factory furniture
- Typically purchased as an after-market replacement slide
- Be sure to verify slide length, rear mounting requirements, drawer bottom clearance and “side roller” requirements for the drawer edges
Features of Various Types of Drawer Slides
now that you have the major classification of drawer slides down the next part is understanding all the features.
And there are a surprising amount of features in drawer slides.
#1 - Self closing types of drawers
This type of drawer slide is often confused with a soft close drawer slides. However, it serves a different purpose altogether.
The best way to think of a self closing slide is as a “stay closed” slide. But that’s a bad marketing name so we’ll leave that alone…
What is a self closing drawer slide?
A self closing drawer slide is designed to keep the drawer closed and prevent it from opening unexpectedly. To provide this stay-closed feature a self closing drawer slide uses either gravity (bottom mount) or a rubber block (side mount) to reduce the chances a drawer slide might open.
How does a self closing drawer slide work?
While a locking drawer slide is required (keep reading) to keep the drawer shut under any condition, a self closing drawer slide will generally work like the following:
- For top mount and side mount drawer slides a rubber tab (pictured above) will keep the drawer closed.
- However in a bottom mount the drawer slide will use gravity that slopes the last 1/3rd of the drawer slide down and away.
- In my research neither center mount or undermount have self closing.
#2 - Soft closing drawer slides
Because it’s very common for soft closing and self closing drawer slides to be confused let’s clear that up. Soft closing slides prevent the drawer from slamming shut. Meanwhile self closing slides keep the drawer from opening without the user pulling the drawer.
What is a soft closing drawer slide?
A soft closing drawer slide is designed to pull a drawer closed over (about) the last 2″ of drawer travel. By using a sled that connects and disconnects from the main slide, the soft close drawer slide will be “caught” and not slam. To accomplish this a soft close slide will use a damper to slow the closing force and springs to pull the drawer shut.
How does a soft close drawer slide work?
A soft close slide works by separating into two pieces.
- When the drawer is opened two springs and a damper are pulled forward about 1-1/2″.
- Then a catch on the main drawer slide is released.
- And left behind is a “sled” that is held in place but under the tension of a spring and damper.
- As the drawer is closed the slide reconnects with the sled, and triggers the release pin.
- The damper takes over and prevents a fast (slamming) close
- Meanwhile the springs provide the pulling force to bring the drawer closed.
Pretty complicated, huh?
To learn more, and what slides are best, see our guide to the best soft close drawer slides.
#3 - Heavy duty drawer slide
While some drawer slides call themselves heavy duty at 100-pound rating, the real heavy duty slides start at 125 and just get started at 250 pounds.
What is a heavy duty drawer slide?
A heavy duty drawer slide is a drawer slide rates for 125 pounds or more. Due to thicker sidewalls, heavier steel construction and enhanced ball bearings these slides can support loads up to 1000 pounds. And they also feature extension lengths of up to 96″.
How is a heavy duty drawer slide made?
First, heavy duty drawer slides are almost exclusively side mount, steel ball bearing slides with:
- Weight ratings up to 1000 pounds
- Extension from 10-96″
- Side clearances typically of 0.75″ or more
- Locking levers to hold slides open
The tricky part to these slides is buying the right weight load versus your budget. Due to the extra load capacity these are specialty slides with substantially higher cost versus a 100-pound or less drawer slide.
To learn more see our guide to the best heavy duty drawer slides.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are soft closing and self closing drawer the same?
No. Soft close drawers are designed to prevent drawers from slamming shut through use of dampers and springs. While self closing slides are designed to prevent drawers from opening while the drawer is not in use.
Are top mount drawer slides mounted to the top of a drawer?
A top mount drawer slide is mounted to the top of the opening and side of the drawer. The most common use of this slide is for keyboard trays or pencil drawers.
What is the cheapest type of drawer slide?
Bottom mount and economy center mount drawer slides are generally the lowest price – but features are sacrificed.
Summary - Types of Drawer Slides
With the five types of slides in mind, choosing the type you need is the first step. The next step is determine what features you want (and can afford).
Drawer Slide Series
Choosing and installing drawer slides takes planning. Follow our series for more guides, tools and techniques to complete your project: