When choosing old furniture to paint, we always recommend checking the drawers to make sure they open and close smoothly. It is nice when everything is in good working order, but wonky drawers aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker.
Here are 5 ways to fix out-of-whack dresser drawers.
(Plus a bonus trick that is helpful even if the drawers seem perfect.)
1. Nix the nails!
Check for protruding nails or screws that could block the drawers from operating smoothly. I pulled so many nails out of this piece in really weird places. I’m not even sure what half of them were intended to do.
Nails are usually not the best things to use when repairing furniture. Use wood screws instead. They will “bite” into the wood and hold it in place better than a nail.
And—for goodness sake!—only put a screw where you need one to join two pieces of wood together. These nails were just sticking out of the back of one of the drawers for no good reason I could figure out.
2. Get the glue!
Check for any loose pieces on the drawers or inside the base of the dresser. Squirt a little wood glue, clamp it and/or place heavy objects (like books) over it to hold it in place while the glue dries.
3. New runners are easy to make.
This buffet was missing three runners. Without a track to glide over, the drawers get all wiggly-jiggly and are hard to close properly. Luckily, I found two of the missing runners jammed in the back of the buffet when I removed the drawers. Those were easy enough to repair—just a dab of wood glue and a wood tack on each end to hold them in place. (See Tip #4 for more on that.)
Before gluing them back in, I took one of the runners to the hardware store and bought a piece of wood trim about the same thickness for a few dollars. Then I used the existing runner to trace a pattern and cut out a new one.
4. Remove the back of your piece. Make sure your runners are square in the front AND back.
This is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I LEARNED ON THIS PROJECT! 🙂
Two of the three runners I replaced worked like a dream and the drawers opened and closed smoothly. But the third one? This is when I started saying bad words on this project.
After my repair, the drawer went in better than before, but not perfectly. I still had to finesse it to get it to go “just right.” That didn’t seem right. It seemed to get hung up about halfway in. I ran my hands all along the inside of the dresser, but could not feel anything obstructing it.
I just could not figure out what was causing the drawer to go in crookedly until I removed the back panel.
There were all four runners all lined up. And you could see clearly that my problem drawer was not squared all the way in the back. From the front it seemed straight, but the back end was about 1/2 inch over too far.
Removing the back panel also allows better access when attaching the runners in the back. Now they are right up front and you can reach them! It also gives you space to place a clamp while the glue dries for a better hold.
The back panel is easy enough to remove and put back into place. I just never thought about doing it before. Now I will do it first thing whenever I have drawer runners to replace.
5. Lube it up!
Take an old candle or a bar of soap and run it along the runners, the bottom of the drawers and anywhere inside the piece where the drawers will touch when they are in place.
I do this on every project involving drawers—even when I don’t need to make repairs. It makes a big difference in helping the drawers glide more smoothly.
BONUS TIP: Number the drawers.
Some pieces are particular. The drawers may all seem alike and interchangeable, but they are not. The drawers will only go in the space where they want to go. That’s OK. It might take some trial and error … but when you figure out the correct order, label each drawer with a number on the back.
That way you can remember what order they go in when you start putting it back together after your fabulous paint job! (This is also helpful when you remove drawers to deliver the item.)
If you have any other great tips for fixing dresser drawers, please share them in the comments section. I know I still have a lot to learn—and I would love to hear from you!
9 thoughts on “5 Ways to Fix Out-of-Whack Drawers”
great tips and beautiful makeover xx
Thank you Chris!
If the drawer is “cockeyed” – a little lower on one side than the other when the drawer is closed, just take a simple thumbtack and push it in to the wood on the low side, on the frame or track the drawer rests on when closed. It will lift the low side of the drawer up slightly. Use regular thumbtack, not push pin.
This is an AWESOME tip! I’m going to try it. Thank you for sharing, Liz.
A sag in the cross center board, holds my drawer from closing totally shut. If I put the drawer in and pull the sag board the drawer closes shut. But doesn’t fix it. I guess replace cross board?
Hi Mary, It sounds like you need to replace that board. I don’t think there is an easy fix for sagging like that except to replace it. ~Courtney
love it I have more messed up dresser drawers than I care to admit Taking off the back is a great tip, thanks!
Thank you Peg! I felt like I won the lottery when I figured that one out! 🙂 I’m glad my article was helpful. ~Courtney
I’ve tried using a candle or soap on drawers and this only works ok. I used a really good auto wax with carnuba and it works great! Be sure to wipe the front of your piece to remove excess wax.