How to make modern wooden drawer fronts
We love to combine drawer fronts made out of natural oak wood with MDF furniture (and most of all when it is painted white). The combination of white paint and wood changes a lot the way a piece of furniture looks, regardless of the style.
Now, I will show you the steps we follow to build oak drawer fronts with rounded corners and routed finger pulls. We did these ones for a set of white mid-century nightstands.
The process is part of a video on our YouTube channel:
Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to see the latest videos!
Preparing the wood for the drawer fronts
1. We first had to calculate the size of the drawer fronts. The nightstands were 50 cm wide by 37 cm high (on the inside, since they were going to have inset drawers). So we calculated the length and the width of the fronts by keeping a 1 mm margin from each sidewall of the nightstands and 1 mm between the two fronts. That means 49. 8 cm in length and 18.35 cm in width. We decided that the thickness of the drawer fronts should be 2 cm.
For this project, we used 2.5 cm thick oak boards, wide enough, without any cracks and with nice grain pattern. We wanted to make the fronts out of one piece, not out of glued panels.
2. We cut four smaller pieces, of a length equal to the length of the fronts plus a few centimeters margin. We checked each end of the 4 boards to make sure there were no less visible cracks.
3. I planed the four planks on one face and one edge taking care to get a 90 degrees angle between them. Then I got them 2cm thick with the thicknesser machine.
4. We set the distance between the band saw blade and the fence to cut the boards to the needed width for our project. Then we cut them to length.
5. We arranged the boards – two by two – in front of the nightstands. We made several combinations of the boards (taking into account the grain, the patterns and the colors), until we get the best layout.
The rounded corners and the routed finger pulls
1. After we decided what combinations to make and what the positions of the fronts were, we drew the circles on each corner we needed to round (two for each front).
The fastest way to round the corners was to use the belt sander with 80 grit sandpaper. Because it was easier to handle the front than the sander, we secured the sander to the workbench. We secured a piece of plywood in front of the sander to raise the surface of the workbench on which we will handle the front. In this way, the board will be positioned perpendicular to the middle of the sandpaper and the sanding will be done on the entire height of the edge.
We rotated the boards continuously, so that the rounded corners came out evenly, with a smooth and natural curve. At the same time, we had to be very careful not to over round them.
2. For the routed finger pulls, we first set their length. Then, we built a jig to help us route the handles equally. We used an MDF board longer than the length of the pulls. On its ends, we screwed two small strips of MDF to help us not to exceed the needed length of the handles.
This is the finger pull router bit we used for these drawer fronts:
Sanding the wooden drawer fronts
1. We started the finishing by sanding the faces of the fronts with the belt sander, using 80 grit sandpaper. When all the router traces were gone, we sanded again with 150 grit sandpaper to get a finer surface. Before actually starting the sanding, we secured a piece of plywood to the work table. This way we didn’t have to make the effort to keep the drawer front in its position while sanding: it rested on the plywood piece by itself.
We did the same thing when sanding the edges of the fronts.
In the end, we made a few passes manually with a piece of 120 grit sandpaper. At the same time, we sanded the corners of the edges, so that they were no longer sharp.
2. We continued with sanding the routed handles. First, we sanded the surface with a narrow belt sander, until we removed all the routing traces. Our sander brand is not the best (actually it’s close to no name), but, for certain jobs, it is the best tool.
After straightening these surfaces, we continued sanding the routed handles manually, with 120 grit sandpaper. It is a tiring and long process. The channel made after routing the handles is hard to reach with power tools. So, manual sanding is the only alternative left.
We tried to sand the ends of the channels with a dremel tool, but it was quite complicated because we didn’t have tapered sanding drums to fit. In the end, we sanded by hand all the edges of the handles for a better look.
After sanding, we filled the knots, the small cracks and other imperfections with two-part putty. We use two-part putty because the drying time is very short compared to the usual wood putty. After the putty dried (it depends a lot on the amount of hardener), we sanded the surfaces again to remove the excess and to smooth them.
Finishing the fronts with water-based primer and varnish
The last step was finishing with primer and varnish. Depending on the project, we choose polyurethane-based or water-based primers and varnishes. Here we used the second option. We applied a coat of primer. After the primer dried, we sanded it with 320 grit sandpaper. We wiped the dust with a dry cloth and we applied a layer of varnish.
We usually apply the primer first on the back and on the edges. After it dries, we apply another layer on the face and on the edges (again). This way, the edges (especially on the end grain, where the surface is more like a sponge) will always have two layers of primer. We do in the same way with the varnish, just that there is no need for sanding.
Here are the fronts installed on the drawers of our White floating nightstands with oak drawer fronts