The last piece of furniture we needed to build to complete our DIY bedroom furniture set is…a DIY dresser! We chose a more modern design for this dresser, but contrasted the modern design with a unique, aged finish.
This 9 drawer dresser design offers a lot of storage space.
Alright, let’s dive on in and start building!
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How to Build a Modern Dresser
- Circular Saw with Track
- Kreg Jig (not sure which to get? Check out which Kreg Jig to get in 2023)
- Brad Nailer
- Measuring Tape (new to DIY? Be sure to check out this post with measuring tips)
- Safety Equipment
- (3) ¾”x4x8 plywood (we used red oak from Lowe’s)
- (2) ½”x4x8 plywood (we used maple)
- (1) 1x3x6 (we used red oak)
- Wood glue (this is our favorite type)
- Wood filler (we use this one, but be sure to check out our wood filler experiment to decide which might be best for your project)
- Sandpaper (180, and 220 grit)
- 1.25″ softwood Kreg screws
- 1.25” hardwood Kreg screws (if using oak)
- 1” softwood Kreg screws
- 1″ wood screws
- Edge banding that matches your ¾” plywood
- (9) pairs of 18″ side mount, ball-bearing drawer slides
- (3) 12″ drawer pulls
- (6) 6″ drawer pulls
The overall dimensions of the DIY dresser are 67 ¼” wide, 20” deep, and 33” tall. If you prefer printable plans, you can grab them here.
STEP 1: PREP YOUR ½” PLYWOOD
This step is optional, but personally I’ve found it really helpful to seal my ½” plywood before cutting anything down. I applied 3 coats of Spar Urethane in Satin to my ½” plywood, lightly sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between each coat.
Polycrylic is also a great option. We chose Spar Urethane because we had a lot of it on hand. I would highly recommend a satin, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. This will make your drawer boxes easier to wipe down and they’ll feel more luxurious.
STEP 2: CUT YOUR PLYWOOD
Please note: we recommend waiting to cut any of the drawer pieces until after you’ve assembled your main structure. The key to drawers is proper sizing, so you may have to adjust the cuts for these slightly based on the actual openings of your drawers.
STEP 3: DRILL POCKET HOLES
- along both short edges and one long edge of the bottom
- (4) on one short edge of the side
- along all edges of the middle dividers
- along both short edges and one long edge of the back
- (2) on each short end of the front dividers
- (2) on each short end of the drawer dividers (long and short)
- along one long edge of the base (long)
- (2) on each short edge and (2) along one long edge of the base (short) and base supports
Pocket holes are the foundation of most DIY furniture. Become a pocket hole pro in less than an hour in Pocket Holes: Explained.
STEP 4: APPLY EDGE BANDING
Apply edge banding to the following pieces:
- the long edge of the bottom that does not have pocket holes
- both long edges of the sides
- Along one long edge of the drawer dividers (long and short)
- Around all edges of the top
- Along both short edges of the base (long)
- All around the drawer fronts (note: we recommend cutting these after you assemble the structure to ensure the sizing fits your actual dimensions)
STEP 5: SAND
I like to knock out the majority of my sanding before assembling so that I don’t have to worry about getting into all of the nooks and crannies later. It’s also helpful to check to see if your edge banding is applied well. If it’s not, it might start to gap while you’re sanding. If this happens, be sure to re-iron those areas before staining later!
I sanded my pieces with 180 and 220 grit sandpaper.
STEP 6: ASSEMBLE THE BASE
Attach the short base pieces to the long base pieces with glue and 1.25” Kreg screws. Evenly distribute the base supports and secure them with 1.25” Kreg screws.
As you’re doing this, make sure that all of the pocket holes that will be used to attach the base to the bottom of the dresser are facing the same direction.
STEP 7: ATTACH BOTTOM TO SIDES
Using glue and 1.25” Kreg screws, secure the bottom to the sides. The bottom will be flush with the front of the sides, but inset ¾” from the back of the sides. This gives the back a place to slide in.
STEP 8: INSTALL TOP
Using glue and 1.25” Kreg screws, secure the top to the sides, checking that the dresser frame is square.
STEP 9: INSTALL DRAWER DIVIDERS
First we’ll install the front dividers. Use the small drawer dividers as spacers to determine exactly where these dividers should be placed. Install with glue and 1.25” Kreg screws so that the dividers are flush with the front of the top and bottom of the dresser.
Next, install the drawer dividers. In our photos you can see that we made the drawer dividers very thin. You can do this, but if we were to make this dresser again, we would double the width of these dividers as we outline in the printable plans.
If you are using oak like we did, you’ll need two types of Kreg screws here: coarse thread and fine thread. Any time you are screwing into plywood, you will use the coarse thread screws. When you are drilling into the oak front divider, you will use fine thread screws to minimize the chances of your wood spitting.
Though in my pictures some of the pocket holes are facing up, make sure that you install these dividers so that the pocket holes are facing down to the ground! Because we’re indenting the drawer fronts slightly, you can see the pocket holes if they are facing up. We had to go back and flip the drawer dividers at the end.
Now that the horizontal drawer dividers are installed, you can install the middle dividers. These will be flush with the sides of the front dividers. As you’re installing, double-check that things are staying nice and square and straight. It’s imperative that these are installed straight if you want your drawer slides to work well later.
Also remember to use the fine thread screws when you’re attaching the vertical dividers to the 1×3 front dividers if you are using oak. The rest of the pocket holes will use the coarse thread screws.
STEP 10: INSTALL BACK
Place the back inside of the dresser and secure it with 1.25” Kreg screws. We opted to place our pocket holes facing the inside of the cabinet so that no pocket holes were visible from the outside.
Don’t forget to secure the back using the pocket holes in the dividers and bottom as well.
STEP 11: INSTALL BASE
Center up the base on the bottom of the dresser. Secure with 1.25” Kreg screws.
STEP 12: DRAWERS
Now that the base is all finished, it’s time to measure for the drawers. I love using a laser measurer for this because it’s quicker and accurate.
For each drawer, you’ll want to measure the front and back of the opening. I also recommend measuring from the top and bottom of the opening to ensure the cabinet box is nice and square. If your measurements are the same, you’re good to move forward. If they are off by 1/16”, you’ll use the smallest measurement for all of the calculations. If things are off by an ⅛” or more, you may want to consider moving some things around to make your box more square.
Once you measure, use the formulas in this post to get your drawer box measurements. Cut your drawer boxes accordingly.
If you already sealed your drawers like we did, be sure to put the sealed side down if cutting with a circular saw. This will help reduce splintering of the wood on the sealed side.
Assemble the drawers using glue and pocket holes as is outlined in this guide to DIY drawers.
That guide also talks through how to install the drawer slides. We like to use scrap wood as spacers when installing ours.
STEP 13: INSTALL DRAWER PULLS
If you’re using more traditional drawer pulls, you won’t install them until after you install the drawer fronts. We outline that process a bit more in this DIY drawers guide.
Since our pulls were installed on top of the drawer fronts, we needed to install them prior to installing the drawer fronts to ensure there was enough room for the pulls.
For the small drawers, we used our multi-mark tool to help center the drawer pulls up. For the large drawers, we just used a measuring tape since the multi-mark tool didn’t go out that far.
Once centered, I drilled two pilot holes before adding the screws.
STEP 14: INSTALL DRAWER FRONTS
To install the drawer fronts, we opted to first place the dresser on its back. If you go this route, I highly recommend placing the dresser on some scrap wood or some project blocks so that it’s easier to lift up when it’s time to put it back on its feet.
Place the drawer fronts on top of the drawer boxes and center them up. We just eyeballed the spacing for them.
The other option is that you can use a deck of cards to help you evenly space the drawer fronts. You can see this in action in our DIY entry bench with storage tutorial.
Once happy with the placement, add 4 nails to each of the small drawer fronts and 6 nails to each of the large drawer fronts. Make sure you’re not getting too close to the edges. You need to make sure you’re nailing into the drawer box that’s below.
Lift the dresser back up and carefully open the drawers. Secure the drawer front through the drawer box using (4) 1” screws.
STEP 15: FINISH
To finish our dresser, we first applied wood filler to the nail holes and to any seams that had slight gaps. Once the wood filler dried, we sanded off the excess and sanded the whole dresser down with 220 grit sandpaper to prepare it for stain.
At this point, you can finish your dresser with any finish that meets the look you’re going for. If you like our look, here’s what we did.
First, we used a foam brush to apply Minwax Wood Effects in Charred Black. This is a very unique finish. It’s not a stain. It actually reacts with the tannins in wood to give it a more aged look.
Since it reacts with the tannins and doesn’t just sit on top, the results may vary from piece to piece. It’s also important to note that it works great on wood like oak that is high in tannins, but will not work on pine which has very minimal tannins.
After letting it dry for about 2 hours, I sealed it with Minwax Finishing Wax in Natural. I buffed it on with a clean rag.
There you have it! Now you know how to build your very own modern dresser! I love that this dresser has 9 drawers instead of the standard 6 drawer look. The smaller drawers help keep things a bit more organized, but you still get the benefit of having a few larger drawers for things that require a little more space.