Drawer Slides: The Inside Story

How to choose which ones to use

When it comes to smooth-running, trouble-free drawers, you just can’t beat the action you get from a set of properly installed drawer slides. While some purists may scoff at their use in handmade furniture, mechanical slides are a mainstay of the kitchen cabinet industry and take a lot of the hassle out of installing drawers in cabinets and furniture alike. So rather than debate whether drawer slides belong in your next project, the real question becomes: How do you choose from all the options available? In this handy guide, I’ll help you pick the right slides for the application at hand and save time that you might otherwise spend on research.

What’s out there

When purchasing slides, you have two choices to make: how far out you want your drawer(s) to extend (Photos A, B, C) and how you want to mount the slides to the drawer (and the case). Here, you see side-mount slides–those that are mounted between the sides of the drawer and the sides of the case. Other options include center-mount (Photo D) and under-mount (Photo E). You may also come across some low-profile side-mount slides with flanges that extend under the drawer as well (Photo F).

Photo A - At the low end of the scale are three-quarter extension slides. They allow a drawer to extend so that about three quarters of it is exposed and easily accessible. The primary advantage of these slides is their economical cost. Also, they are readily available at local hardware stores and home centers and are straightforward to install.

Photo B - Full-extension slides allow access to the entire drawer. They come in a range of capacities depending on how much weight you intend to put in your drawer. They cost about twice as much as the three-quarter extension slides shown in Photo A. They are becoming more widely available, but for the best selection of sizes, you’ll probably have to order from a woodworking supplier such as Woodcraft. Installation is also very straightforward. This style of slide is available from a number of manufacturers. (Those shown are the Accuride 3732 series.)

Photo C
- Over-travel slides offer the best access, allowing a drawer to slide approximately 11⁄2" out past the face of the cabinet. This keeps obstructions such as overhanging countertops from being in the way. Over-travel slides tend to be both more expensive and have a taller profile than full-extension slides, with ease of installation similar. Along with better drawer access, these Accuride 4034 series slides offer a 50% greater weight capacity than a comparable full-extension slide.

Photo D - Center-mount slides are one of the least obtrusive slide types, but only offer three-quarter extension and a fairly low weight rating. As many drawers just require a single slide, the cost is about half that of side-mounted slides. As shown here, you can retrofit these slides into existing cabinetry, giving new life to tired, old drawers. Installation is simple, though you may need to be a little creative if you are retrofitting. Here a shim made from 18" plywood helped make the spacing work out for this Accuride Series 1029 slide.

Photo E - Relatively new to the market, under-mount slides combine near invisibility with full-extension capacity. These high-end slides (BLUM Tandem Series shown) cost twice the price of full-extension side-mount slides, but won’t hide any of the beautiful corner joints holding your drawer together. Installation is a bit more complicated, and you have to design your drawers from the inside out–you need to build to the drawer’s inside dimensions and pay close attention to the thickness of the sides.


Photo FLow-profile slides such as the Centerline 757A Series often include a flange that wraps around the underside of the drawer. This makes them ideal for mounting pull-out shelves. Other than the flange on the part of the slide that mounts to the shelf, this style of slide is identical to a full-extension slide.

Photo GMost drawer slides require the drawer box to be narrower than the opening in the case. To cover up the resulting gap, many woodworkers make a separate drawer face that is attached to the front of the drawer box.

Wooden Drawer Slides

If you can’t bear the thought of adding a chunk of metal hardware to your elegantly crafted creation but still want the convenience of a slide, consider using wooden slides. These mount underneath your drawers and provide many of the advantages of a metal slide without the manufactured look. Rubbing a little paraffin on the mating parts keeps things gliding beautifully.

Wooden slides offer near full-extension capacity while remaining quiet and unobtrusive. You can purchase these mating, dovetail slides or make them yourself with the help of a table-mounted router. While not entirely wooden, this track/glide combination offers smooth motion at a fraction of the cost of a set of metal slides.

Slide and drawer sizes

Most drawer slides are available in even lengths ranging from 10" to 28" with a couple odd lengths (15" and 21") thrown in. They also carry weight ratings. To choose the right length, measure both the depth of your cabinet and the length (front to back) of your drawer(s). Undermount slides are designed to match the drawer length. With the other slides, you typically get slides that are approximately 1" shorter than the depth of your cabinet.

As for the weight ratings, consider what you are going to put in the drawers and purchase slides up to the challenge. Canned foods, files, and tools will require heavier duty slides than clothing and linens.

Possibly more important than drawer length is drawer width, particularly with side-mounted slides. Most slides require 12" of space per slide, which means you need to make your drawers 1" narrower than the opening they are to fit in, but check the specifications for the slides you are using first.


Other factors to consider include the slide material and finish. Most slides are made from steel, but for outdoor applications, a few models come in stainless. As for finish, zinc-plating (silver) is the most common, although some manufacturers include white, off-white, brown, and black in their offerings.

Drawer motion

Still other options include drawer-motion engineering. Some slides are available with a self-closing feature. With these, a pair of springs take over for the last couple of inches as you push the drawer closed, retracting the drawer into its opening without allowing it to slam. Some slides offer a “push-to-open” feature. With these, a gentle push on the drawer face causes the drawer to pop out of the cabinet a few inches, eliminating the need for drawer pulls.

Designing for Drawer Slides

As mentioned earlier, most drawer slides take up 1⁄2" of space on either side of a drawer. In order to conceal these spaces, you’ll need to plan on making your drawer fronts wider than the boxes. This is accomplished by making the drawer face a separate element from the drawer box itself, as shown in Photo G.

About Our Author

Ken Burton has been working with wood for more than 30 years and writing about it nearly as long. You can take classes with Ken at his studio in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania. Check out his website at www.wrwoodworks.com.

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