How to Build an Oak Dresser From Scratch


An oak dresser isn't only sturdy, it has a rich color and beautiful grain. An oak dresser withstands wear, tear and abuse better than mass-produced dressers made out of particle board. It also costs less to build your own dresser, made from oak, than all but the cheapest store-bought offerings. However, building a dresser is generally considered one of the more difficult woodworking tasks due to the joints required and the accuracy needed. A simple oak dresser, made from lumber or oak plywood, is the perfect starting point for honing your skills and providing furniture built to last.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Table saw
  • 1-inch-thick oak plywood
  • Carpenter's square
  • 1/4-inch oak plywood
  • 1-by-2-inch oak boards
  • 2-by-2-inch posts
  • Carpenter's glue
  • Finish nails
  • Screws
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Pocket hole jig (optional)
  • 1-by-3-inch boards
  • 1-inch-thick oak dimensional lumber
  • 1/2-inch plywood
  • 1/4-inch plywood
  • Drawer pulls
  • Drawer slides
  • Carpenter's level

Creating the Dresser Frame

  • Sketch a basic design for your dresser. Label the dresser frame's height, width and depth. Divide the frame into the number of drawers desired, taking into account the height of each drawer given the height of the dresser. For example, a 4-foot-tall dresser with four drawers provides less than 12-inch-tall drawers, given the thickness of the drawer dividers and dresser top. If the dresser sits on legs, off the floor, the drawer height is even less.

  • Measure and cut two dresser sides. Use 1-inch-thick oak plywood and mark the height in three spots several inches apart. Connect with a carpenter's square and pencil to create the cut guide. Repeat with the depth measurement. For example, the sides may measure 48 inches high and 18 inches deep. Decrease the height measurement by the height of the legs desired; this isn't necessary for a dresser that sits flat on the floor.

  • Cut a sheet of 1/4-inch plywood to create the dresser back. Use the height and width measurements to create the cut guides. The back might measure 48 inches high and 36 inches wide, for instance. Subtract the height of the legs, if applicable, before cutting.

  • Create the horizontal boards that comprise the dresser frame from 1-by-2-inch oak boards. Measure and cut the boards to the depth of the dresser, matching the plywood side panels.

  • Cut four 2-by-2-inch posts to the total dresser height desired. Include the leg height, if any. These posts will form the legs and corners of the dresser frame.

  • Spread a bead of carpenter's glue along the face of the 1-by-2-inch dresser frame boards, working one at a time. Position the frame board, horizontally, flush with the edges of one plywood side panel. Flip the board over after a few minutes. Nail through the plywood into the frame board with short finishing nails, taking care to ensure the nails do not penetrate the board. Repeat at the bottom of the panel, then again with the opposite side panel at top and bottom.

  • Align a 2-by-2-inch post flush with the top of the side panel. Drive screws through the panel into the post, working from the inside -- the side without the horizontal frame boards -- and angling the screws to penetrate the post without breaking through the outer surface. Sink the screws slightly below the surface. Place screws every 6 inches vertically. Repeat on the opposite side of the side panel and again with the opposite dresser side panel. Use a pocket hole jig for greater precision. Alternatively, drive the screws through the post into the panel. Sink below the surface and cover the holes when finishing the surface.

  • Cut and attach one 1-by-3-inch board per 12 inches of height at the back of the dresser. Make the boards measure the width of the dresser minus the thickness of the side panels. Turn the board so the widest face runs vertically and ensure the boards are flush with the frame. Drive screws at an angle through the board into the post, use a pocket hole jig or attach through the post into the board as a last resort.

  • Use 1-by-2-inch boards, laid flat, to create stiles -- the frame pieces between the drawers -- measuring the dresser width less the thickness of the posts at either side. Attach either at an angle through the board, with a pocket hole jig, or through the face. Space the boards precisely, 1/2 inch above the drawer height desired.

  • Cover the back with the 1/4-inch plywood piece. Align so that every edge is flush. Use glue and finish nails to secure.

Finishing the Dresser

  • Cut one 1-by-3-inch board per every 12 inches of the dresser width. Use the depth measurement, from the inside edge of the front to the inside edge of the back. Insert the boards, flush with the dresser top edge, and glue in place. Drive screws through the board into the outer frame, ensuring you do not penetrate the outer surface.

  • Create the dresser top from solid, 1-inch-thick boards. Divide the dresser depth into strips to determine the dimensions needed. Allow for a 1-inch overlap on all sides. For example, an 18-inches-deep dresser frame that is 36 inches in length requires boards totaling 20 inches in depth and 38 inches in length. A 1-by-12-inch board (the maximum width board created) coupled with two 1-by-4-inch boards, all cut to 38 inches long, works perfectly. Spread glue across the support boards lining the dresser top. Attach the finished top boards with screws, driven through the top support boards into the top finish boards or face-nailed with finish nails.

  • Build drawer frames from 1/2-inch plywood with 1/4-inch plywood for the bottom. Cut each side to the depth of the drawer opening less 1 inch by the height of the drawer opening less 1 1/4 inches. Make the front and back frame pieces the width, minus 1 1/2 inches, by the same height measurement. The reduction in size allows for the thickness of the material and clearance for the drawer and slides.

  • Adjust a table saw blade to emerge 1/4 inch above the table surface. Move the saw fence to 1/4 inch away from the blade. Run the bottom of each piece through the saw to create a thin groove. Enlarge the cut -- called a kerf cut -- with successive cuts of the blade until wide enough to allow the drawer bottom to fit inside. Move the fence slightly with each pass to ensure accuracy.

  • Create rabbet edges, which form an L-shaped lip to each board edge, along each vertical edge between the sides, front and back. Run the board ends through the saw, flat, to create a 1/4-inch-deep cut. Flip the boards on end and connect the first cut with another 1/4-inch-deep cut. When complete, the cuts meet at a 90-degree angle, forming the L-shaped lips.

  • Fit the drawer pieces together, gluing each piece and joint during attachment. Insert the drawer into the kerf cuts at the bottom of the frame pieces before piecing the vertical edges together. Use finish nails to reinforce the joints.

  • Top the drawer with a finished oak board, cut to measure the drawer opening plus a 1/2 inch in every direction. Spread glue across the front of the drawer frame and attach the oak board. Reinforce with screws, driven from the inside of the drawer outward into the board, one in each corner at minimum. Attach drawer pulls and slides to complete.

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