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I'm replacing some drawers I've had for a while that were built with the Hafele metal side and slider system.

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I will be making these new drawers with wood as I'm upgrading the slides to full extension ones, however I like the width of the drawers I currently have as afforded by the thin metal sides.

I know it will be technically possible to build drawer boxes with 12mm instead of 18mm ply/mdf but I'm wondering if they will be 'strong' enough for my purpose?

Does anyone have experience of doing this, or know of any resources like Youtube video that show this?

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    I'm pretty sure the answer is YES - 12mm should be strong enough for anything sane person would store in kitchen drawers. If you have doubts, then build one "mockup" - no finish, no fancy joinery and test it. But unless you store lead pipes filled with depleted uranium in your drawers, you should be fine..
    – Jan Spurny
    Aug 4, 2023 at 14:47
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    "Proof": my mother has new kitchen from IKEA (or IKEA-like store) and it has drawers from 12mm melamine particleboard with bottoms made of 3mm (maybe 4) HDF - and it holds everything without any problems. And unless you build from balsa wood, anything from solid wood would be stronger than particleboard
    – Jan Spurny
    Aug 4, 2023 at 14:51
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    Be more specific about what 12mm material you intend to use, as it stands readers are left wondering if you plan to use actual wood, plywood or MDF. If the first, obviously tell us what species, for ply be as specific as possible, and with MDF will it be bare, laminate, what? One thing to note is that the screws provided may be specifically intended for 18mm stuff because its use is now so commonplace, so you'll need to buy shorter screws, and potentially use more of them. [You could in theory modify all the supplied screws, but few consider this worth the effort, esp. with modern screws.]
    – Graphus
    Aug 4, 2023 at 19:13
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    Just on the query generally, for almost all 'normal' purposes where 18mm is typically used 12mm material of the same type/quality can be successfully substituted. There are even 'a few' things online specifically about this. Remember to also search in Imperial since so much English content is from the US.
    – Graphus
    Aug 4, 2023 at 19:16
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    12mm / 0.5" plywood is pretty much the standard for commercially-produced kitchen drawers in the US. Plenty strong for what you need. 18mm is way over-kill for that application. Baltic Birch is nice to use...both for it's consistency and appearance. MDF/Particle board are probably not "first choice" and might not hold up well with heavy use in a potentially "wet" environment.
    – gnicko
    Aug 5, 2023 at 0:08

1 Answer 1

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Since your concerns seem to be centered around the thickness (or thinness) of the material, let me start with the fact that I've built "plenty" of drawers out of 12mm (1/2") material using several methods and they have all proven to be very strong. Much of my shop furniture and the cabinets in my wife's studio were built with 1/2" thick plywood drawers and 1/4" bottom panels. They have held up quite well over the years.

Preference for Plywood over MDF

Plywood is much stronger than MDF because it is made of actual wood layers, or "veneers"; the grain of each layer runs 90 degrees to the layers above and below it. MDF is made from fine wood pulp and glue like cake batter that gets pressed into a sheet. Because of this, plywood is more durable. Also because of this, plywood holds screws much better than MDF does.

Using 1/2" Plywood in place of 3/4": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en48E7UVzzc

Using Plywood/MDF: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-fs1eMxQg

"Quarter-Quarter-Quarter" technique for making drawers of 1/2" sheet stock

This technique is specifically designed to use 1/2" (12mm) plywood to make drawers. I've built a "gazillion" drawers using this technique. The name relates to a quarter inch being 1/2 of the half-inch material thickness. I suppose in your case you would be pursuing a 6-6-6(mm) technique....

Essentially you want to cut a dado/groove half the thickness of your material located half the thickness from the end of your drawer sides and take away half the thickness of your drawer ends to form interlocking grooves and tabs which, when glued together form strong drawer boxes.

"borrowed" from: ThisIsCarpentry.com

The beauty of the "system" is that you can set up a table saw or router table once and do all the cuts without changing the setup.

This video demonstrates it like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z3pMyNPfi0 Not only easy to do, but very durable. Here's the same, but with it explained for different stock thicknesses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQXHzvJNsoA

Also: https://www.festoolownersgroup.com/various-woodworking-crafts-topics/the-quarter-quarter-quarter-drawer-system/

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  • Brilliant. I was actually going to post a second question asking how far up the slot for the bottom should etc. I've actually watched both of the honest carpenter's videos in the past whilst doing other projects :-)
    – physicsboy
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:38
  • Out of interest, I'm guessing that you used a table saw for the q-q-q method of creating your drawers?
    – physicsboy
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:43
  • I've done it both ways. For me, setting up my table saw is easier and I've always had a somewhat contentious relationship with router tables...so I prefer using a table saw. I don't see that one method is any better than the other. YMMV.
    – gnicko
    Aug 7, 2023 at 23:27

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