how to build simple inset drawer fronts with routed finger pulls

We recently built a set of two mid-century nightstands with oak drawer fronts and angled tapered oak legs. For that project, we chose a simple and minimalist design of inset fronts.

Watch the making video of the nightstands (and also of the drawer fronts) and subscribe to be up to date with the latest videos:

How to make mid-century nightstands with oak finger pull drawer fronts

This is a step-by-step instructional to make them from timber to the final finish.

Measure the opening of the drawers

Measure the opening of the drawers from one side to the other, and from the top to the bottom. Add a 2 mm margin for each measurement. That will help the front in the opening, regardless of humidity.

Choose a beautiful piece of timber

Choose a beautiful piece of timber. That means it has to be wide enough. I believe a wooden front made out of only one board is more beautiful than one built out of two or three narrow boards.

It has to be long enough so you can cut the ends if any snipe appears when planing it. Otherwise, you have to sand it more, until all the surface becomes flat. The length is also important because, if there is any crack you were not able to see before planing, you can cut that end, so you are still able to get the correct dimension.

Also, you have to search for a piece of timber without any cracks. This way you avoid the risk of the front cracking over time.

Try to avoid the big knots. They are unpleasant and the front wouldn’t look as good as it could.

Straighten one face and square one edge of the timber

Choose one face of the timber and straighten it until you get a flat surface. Choose the concave face that you are going to straighten, so you don’t have to repeat the process too many times.

we started the project by straightening one face of the oak board
Straightening one side of the board

Then take the board and square one edge.

we straightened and squared one edge of the bord chosen for the oak wood fronts
Straightening and squaring one edge of the oak board

Bring the board to the final thickness

Go to your thicknesser and plane the board on the other face. Alternate the faces to avoid bends because of the tension in the board, till you get both faces planed and the needed thickness. You can do the same thing with the width of the board, or, you can cut it along the edge with 2-3 mm. After that, you can use the thicknesser to get the correct width.

we cut with the bandsaw the second edge of the board with 2 - 3 mm longer than the height of the fronts
Cutting the second edge of the board with the band saw

Cut the board to the needed length

Cut the board to the needed size. For that, you can use the sliding miter saw or a circular saw.

If you use the sliding miter saw, be sure it is correctly set. Cut one end of the board. Measure the distance and make the second cut to get the needed width of the front.

cutting the end of the board and verifying if any cracks appeared
Cutting one end of the board

You can also make these cuts with the circular saw. You will need a guide to be able to run it straight, so you can get a 90 degrees cut.

Choose the shape of the handle and draw it on one side of the front

Choose the prettier side of the front and then choose the shape you want the routed handle to have. Draw it on that side. We choose a shape to match the design of the nightstands: a trapezoid with equal base angles.

we drew the shape of the handles on one side of the oak drawer fronts
The shape is drawn on one side of the front

Route the shape of the handles

Secure MDF boards at a distance so you can run the router base along with them and get the desired shape. Use clamps to be sure the boards won’t move during routing.

we secured the MDF stripes to the oak fronts to safely routed the shape
MDF stripes secured to the fronts

Set the routing depth. We left 3 mm to the other side of the front because we didn’t want the cutout to be through the entire board. We used a top-bearing flush trim router bit to route the shape.

to get the shape of the finger pulls, we made several passes not to burn the wood or to force the router bit
Several passes to route the shape

Set the depth to make several passes, if needed, so you don’t have to force the router bit or burn the wood.

we routed the shape of the handles with a flush trim router bit
The routed shape of the handles

Make the finger pull in the drawer front

Use a finger pull router bit to shape the edge of the handle. Do not run too slowly, otherwise, you’ll burn the wood. In the end, it would be very difficult to sand the burnt slot.

this is the way the routed finger pulls oak fronts looked before applying the primer and the varnish
The routed handles before sanding and finishing them with water-based primer and varnish

Sand the fronts

Sand the fronts with a sander (we usually use the belt sander) with 80 grit sandpaper and then with 120 or higher grit sandpaper to get a smoother surface. Manually sand the routed handle, with 120 grit sandpaper.

Apply primer and varnish

Apply one layer of primer. Apply the primer first on the edges and then cover all the surfaces. After it dried, turn over the front and apply the primer on the other side (in the same way, first on the edges and then all over the surface). This way the edges will have two layers of primer. After the primer dried, sand everything with 320 grit sandpaper. Remove the dust with a clean cloth and apply one layer of varnish on both sides and on the edges, too.

we finished the routed finger pull drawer fronts with water-based primer and varnish
Applying the water-based primer and varnish

Following all these steps, you will get some beautiful wooden drawer fronts with routed finger pulls for your cabinets.

routed finger pull drawer fronts finished with water-based primer and varnish
Detail of the routed finger pull
how to build simple inset drawer fronts with routed finger pulls
Easy to build drawer fronts out of oak wood

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