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Pantry Organizers: Storage Drawers Versus Pull-Outs

Understanding the Difference Between Storage Drawers & Pull-Out Shelves For Pantry Organization

Not everything comes in a neat and tidy box. Pantries, and any type of closet for that matter, frequently need to organize small or awkwardly shaped items. Bottles, cans, bags and small gadgets can become jumbled on shelves and are often left forgotten in the back of the closet until they expire. A better way to organize small items is by using a drawer or pantry pull-out shelf instead of a standard fixed shelf for storage.

Many people are confused about the differences between a storage drawer and a pantry pull-out shelf. They function in similar ways and share several common features. They both pull out from the cabinet or closet on some sort of slide or roller, providing easy access to contents. They both are a type of box and have "sides" to keep items contained, preventing things from falling or rolling off when the unit is pulled opened or pushed closed. However, there are also substantial differences that can make one a better choice than the other, depending on your application. It is important to understand these differences when deciding between a drawer or a pantry pull-out shelf.

Drawers VS. Pull-Out Shelves for Pantry Organization

1 Storage Drawers

A "closet drawer" is similar in most ways to a high end kitchen cabinet or bathroom vanity drawer. Basic drawer components include three essential parts, There is a basic box made of wood, plastic, or similar material. Attached to the box is a drawer front, which is the only part you see when the drawer is closed. There also needs to be some sort of sliding mechanism to make it go in and out. The sides of the drawer are full depth, meaning they roughly equal the height of the opening minus a small allowance for slides. The height of items stored in the drawer cannot be higher than the height of the drawer box sides. The bottom of the drawer is frequently made from a different, thinner material than the rest of the drawer box. Drawers usually include a handle or knob for opening and closing them. The handles and knobs can become quite decorative, and are often used as ornamentation in addition to their practical functionality. Special inserts are available to help subdivide and further organize drawer contents. Most of these are are geared towards working with standard drawer sizes, but some are adjustable. Drawers can be made in a variety of widths and heights. Standard widths include 18 inch, 24 inch and 30 inch. Standard heights (from the bottom of the drawer to the top) are 5 inch, 7.5 inch, 10 inch and 12 inch. The shallow 5" drawer is really popular in closets for storing jewelry.

At Closet Works, all drawers feature wood boxes made from 12mm birch plywood (9-ply). The joints are dovetailed. Each drawer can hold up to 75 pounds. The bottom of the drawer box is .25 inch thick birch plywood. The front of the drawer (part that shows when it is closed) is mounted to the basic wood drawer box and will be made from whatever material, color and style you select from our various door and drawer style options. The drawers work with an under mount closing mechanism. This means that the drawer runners are underneath the drawer and hidden from view, even when the drawer is open. There is a simple release mechanism on the bottom of each drawer so that you can remove them for cleaning, etc. if needed. Our drawers are always "soft close." The means that if you give the open drawer a slight push, it will close the rest of the way itself. You can't slam them shut either — they always close softly and nicely.

drawer with dovetailed joints
Drawer with dovetailed joints

drawer boxes with drawer faces attached
Example of two different drawer faces attached to the drawer boxes

drawer runners are undermount and soft close
Soft close undermount drawer runners

bottom of drawer with release mechanism
There is a release mechanism on the bottom of the drawer so that it can be removed

2 Pantry Pull-Out Shelves

A pull-out pantry shelf is kind of like a cross between a drawer and a shelf. Most ordinary pantry shelves can be upgraded to include a sliding mechanism so that a standard adjustable flat shelf can be pulled forward to view items stored in the back. The pull-out pantry shelf takes this sliding shelf concept a step further by adding low sides on the standard pull-out shelf. This keeps small things from rolling off when it is pulled forward or pushed back. It is very helpful in pantries where small cans and jars are often kept on the shelves, but it can be used on any type of organization system. Although it has sides, it is not a full drawer and lacks some of features included with a typical closets drawer. The slides are mounted on the sides of the shelf and are visible when it its pulled out/open. It is usually a simple sliding mechanism that features rollers and not hydraulics like those availble with high end drawer boxes. This means it is not soft close. The entire unit is made of .75 inch laminate (or whatever material you have chosen for your system) — there are no wood boxes with attached drawer fronts in a choice of styles. The only choice typically available for the front of a pull-out pantry shelf is whether you want it to be straight or scalloped. The "sides" are usually only about 3.25 inches high and joints are not dovetailed. When you include the bottom of the shelf, it adds another .75" and the total height of a typical pull-out pantry shelf will be about 4 inches, although they can be built to any size. You will be able to see the items stored on this shelf even when it is closed. There will be a gap/space between the top of this shelf and the shelf above so that you can reach in even when it is in the closed position. As a result, the pull-out pantry shelf can accommodate a much greater variety in the size of items stored (just like a standard shelf). The amount of space between the boxes/shelves is one of the main features that define the unit as a type of shelf, rather than a type of drawer. No handles or knobs are needed to open and close this unit. You just grab onto the front and pull gently. The lack of knobs makes it a perfect choice for use inside a cabinet because a knob or handle would prevent the cabinet door from closing.

pull-out shelf with slides
Standard pull-out shelf uses side mount drawer slides

pull-out pantry shelf
A pull-out pantry shelf is like a regular pull-out shelf with small "sides" attached (Straight front shown)

scalloped pull-out pantry shelf
Pull-out pantry shelf with a scalloped front

pantry pull-out shelf
Pull-out pantry shelves are like a shallow drawer and do not require handles or knobs

Choose the right storage drawer or pantry pull-out.

Storage drawers and pull-out pantry organizers have different uses. Whether one has advantages over the other will depend on how you intend to use it. Drawers have more design options due to all the fronts available. They can lend a cleaner, less cluttered look when closed. There are numerous organizers and dividers specifically made for drawers that can help organize the contents. Drawer organizers are available for everything from silverware and to napkins, to makeup, to sunglassses, to name a few. However, you wouldn't want to store canned goods in a drawer. The pull-out pantry shelf is a better choice for this scenario. Many organization systems will use a combination of both drawers and pull-outs to provide the best storage for the owner's needs.