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The Importance of Dovetail Drawers

What are Dovetail Drawers and Why Would You Want Closet Drawers with this Feature?

Drawers are a popular feature in closets, whether included in the closet island, hutch, peninsula or other storage section. Like anything else, quality is important in determining the longevity of the drawer and its usefulness. There are several methods for manufacturing a drawer. However, not all methods are equal. The best drawers use dovetail construction. Dovetail refers to the type of joint that connects one side of the drawer box to another. This joinery is very important in ensuring that the drawer does not fall apart, even under heavy use. Drawers that are used every day need to be made with high quality joinery in order to prevent them from coming apart through constant use.

Dovetail drawer for closet island
Dovetail drawers provide the homeowner with the strongest drawer joints, ensuring the drawer won't come apart even when used every day. They are a good choice for closets and kitchens, because of the heavy use placed on drawers in these applications. Dovetail drawers are often slightly more expensive than other techniques for drawer joinery and require the use of a wood drawer box. PVC, MDF, or other materials that might be used on a drawer box cannot use these high-quality dovetail joints.

In order to get a firm grasp on the importance of dovetail drawers, you must understand the basic components that make up a drawer. There are three main components to every drawer, no matter what technique is used to manufacture them:

  1. Drawer Front: The drawer front, also called a face, is the only part seen when the drawer is closed. The drawer front attaches to the front of a drawer box and does not need to be made from the same material as the box. Since this is the visible part of the drawer, style and color choices that distinguish the look of your closet or cabinet are made on the drawer front only. The drawer front/face will usually be higher than the corresponding drawer box to which it is attached.
  2. Drawer Slides: The drawer slides control the mechanics of the drawer, enabling it to be pulled in and out. There are different types on the market, including side-mount, under-mount, Euro, and more. Under-mount slides have the option of including the sought after soft-close technology, a type of hydraulic dampener that ensures that your drawer closes quietly and smoothly each and every time, even when slammed shut.
  3. Drawer Box: As its name implies, the drawer box is the box/container part of the drawer that gives it its purpose. It has four sides that can be joined to each other using various techniques, one of which is dovetail joinery.
The assembly of these components make up every finished drawer in your home.
Dovetail drawer assembly
Assembly of the drawer face to a dovetail drawer. The face is secured by screwing it into the front of the drawer box from the inside of the drawer.

    Dovetail Drawers vs. Standard Drawers:

  • Dovetail drawers use locking joints. This type of joint is constructed from triangular wedge-shaped channels cut into the edge of each side of the drawer box. The pattern is similar to the iconic crenels often found on the parapet of an old English castle. The difference is that the sides of each crenel angle in slightly like the tail of a dove. Also referred to as an English dovetail, these dovetails are offset on adjoining sides of the drawer box so that they that interlock with one another when put together to create a box. The interlocking edge pieces are also referred to as tails and pins. They provide a very strong joint which is usually further enhanced by the addition of glue applied to the edges of each tail and pin. Dovetail drawers are always made of wood rather than PVC or some other lesser material. Birch wood is a common choice. Further enhancing their premium appeal, dovetail drawers are often paired with hidden, under-mount drawer slides and may also include soft-close hydraulic dampener technology. The superior English dovetail pictured here is different than the French dovetail, which is constructed in an inferior manner with only one wedge that fits into a single groove cut into the opposite panel.
    PVC drawer cannot offer dovetail joints on the drawer box
    Close-up of an English dovetail joint on a closet drawer that also features hidden, under-mount slides.
  • Standard drawers are joined differently. Most common is the use of dowels, biscuits, or even nails to join the sides of the drawer box. Although the edges of each dowel or biscuit is also glued, it the joint is not as strong. There is less surface area to glue and the dowels/biscuits themselves are not interlocking. This type of drawer box could potentially come apart if subject to heavy use. The benefit of of this type of drawer is cost. Drawer boxes that use dowels do not need to be made of wood. PVC is a common choice of material for this type of drawer. Standard drawers also typically come with less expensive drawer slides. Side-mount slides, whether European style or ball bearing, are a visible drawer slide that is attached to the sides of the drawer box. This type of slide is highly visible when the drawer is opened or closed and are not available with soft-close.
    PVC closet drawer with dowelled joint on drawer box
    Close-up of a PVC drawer box with side-mount slides that are just visible on the top of the drawer box. This type of drawer cannot offer dovetail joints on the drawer box. This particular PVC drawer also displays an acrylic drawer organizer. These popular drawer organizers are available for any type of drawer where the drawer box is at least 5 inches high.

Dovetail drawers are noted for their resistance to being pulled apart. This is a great advantage for a drawer that is constantly being pulled open such as those in a kitchen, bathroom or closet. Dovetail drawer boxes must be made of wood. Cheaper materials like PVC simply won't work. The precision carpentry involved in making this type of joint along with the solid wood material mean that this is a premium product. Dovetail drawers can also feature hidden, under-mount slides with soft-close hydraulic dampeners. Soft-close is a premium feature that is available on under-mount drawer slides. It allows drawers to close silently and smoothly. When you close a drawer or cabinet with this feature, just before it's completely shut, the soft-close mechanism takes over and closes the drawer or cabinet the rest of the way. It's no wonder that dovetail drawers are recommended as the drawer of choice for kitchens, closets, and sometimes bathrooms.