What are dovetail drawer boxes?

Dovetail drawer boxes are a popular and durable type of drawer box. Read more to learn how drawer boxes are built and why they are both durable and practical.

A Birch plywood dovetail drawer box on a white background.

If you are reading this article, you have probably heard dovetail drawer boxes mentioned but don’t know what they are. 

Maybe your cabinet maker, contractor, or friend suggested you purchase them as an upgrade. Or, maybe you saw a picture online featuring dovetail drawers and thought they looked cool.

And we agree – they are!

However, the appearance is not all there is to dovetail drawer boxes. At Cutting Edge, we make and sell about 2000 drawer boxes each year. Because we started making them in-house 4 years ago, we understand what information you need to know as someone just learning about drawer boxes. 

In this article, you will learn:

  • What dovetail drawer boxes are
  • How dovetail drawer boxes are built
  • Benefits and drawbacks of dovetail drawer boxes
  • Common uses for dovetail drawer boxes
  • When you should consider purchasing dovetail drawer boxes

Definition of a dovetail drawer box

Simply put, a dovetail drawer box is a drawer box built using dovetail joints

Let’s break that down a little further.

Drawer boxes are open-topped boxes that you can often find behind drawer fronts. For example, if you open a drawer in your kitchen, there is likely a drawer box behind it.

There are many different types of drawer boxes, but we focus on dovetail drawer boxes in this article. The main difference between dovetail and other drawer boxes is the use of dovetail joints.

What is a dovetail joint?

A dovetail joint is a carpentry joint that joins two pieces of wood at a right angle, using interlocking pieces of wood for extra strength and durability.

In the case of a dovetail joint, those interlocking pieces of wood look like a dove’s tail, hence the name ‘dovetail’.

There are two parts to each dovetail joint:

  1. The part shaped like a dove’s tail is known as a tail (obviously)
  2. The gap between tails is called a pin
An infographic showing the parts of a dovetail joint used in dovetail drawer boxes.

Once you join your two pieces of wood together, you have a distinctive interlocking pattern of wood. Plus, the dovetail joint is naturally strong and stands up to horizontal forces (like opening and closing the drawer) because the dovetails interlock at a slight angle.

Now, not all dovetails look the same; the shape of the dovetail depends on the machine or pattern you use when cutting the wood. As long as the tail is angled and fits into the pin, you have a dovetail joint.

How to build a dovetail drawer box

A dovetail drawer box has five parts: two sides, one front, one back, and a base.

An infographic showing how dovetail drawer boxes are assembled.

When you open a drawer box and look at it from the side, you see the sides of the drawer box. The front is attached to the drawer front; the back hides inside the cabinet box. The base is what supports any items you store inside the drawer box.

Each side, front, and back gets cut with an alternating pattern of tails and pins. Those grooves interlock for an extremely strong joint.

The base fits into a groove cut along the inside of the sides, front and back.

Now, as standard, drawer boxes come as just the box. However, you can some additional options:

  • A pre-cut notch in the bottom of the drawer box for the undermount slides.
  • A clear lacquer or stained finish.
  • Pre-installed locking hardware to simplify installing the drawer boxes.

Benefits and drawbacks of dovetail drawer boxes

Thanks to the dovetail joint, dovetail drawer boxes hold up extremely well to everyday wear and tear, like opening and closing the drawer. The angled interlocking tails and pins ensure that the drawer box can handle horizontal stress.

However, dovetail drawers cost more than other drawer boxes without any other significant benefits. The extra cost covers additional craftsmanship and higher quality material, plus the added durability of the dovetail joint.

Common uses for dovetail drawer boxes

Dovetail drawer boxes are an upgrade for a kitchen renovation or kitchen project. They are more expensive than other alternatives because of the higher level of craftsmanship and material quality. 

So, you will usually find dovetail drawers in high-end applications like a custom-made desk, a high-quality wardrobe or dresser, or a luxury custom kitchen.

That is not to say that most people can not afford them; the cost for an average dovetail drawer box is between $42 to $75 per box. Your drawer boxes may cost over $100 per box depending on the size and material selection. However, it often makes sense to allocate that money towards some other upgrade that improves the function of a kitchen as opposed to purchasing dovetail drawers, which are more of a visual aesthetic.

Two natural birch dovetail drawer boxes in a light grey cabinet.

3 times dovetail drawer boxes are a good choice

As we already mentioned, dovetail drawers add more visual appeal than functionality to most kitchens. 

However, there are still some occasions where you should consider purchasing them instead of another option:

1. High-end or luxury kitchens

If you or your customer wants a high-end kitchen and has the budget to allow for functionality and a distinctive design, dovetail drawer boxes are an excellent way to make a kitchen stand out. As well, it is common for people to associate dovetail joints with high-quality manufacturing; this can be a selling factor to some clients.

2. Open cabinet designs

Recently, open cabinets have become more popular, whether in a kitchen or a pantry. Open cabinets do not have cabinet doors or drawer fronts. 

In this case, dovetail drawer boxes are a good choice because they come with a solid front. Unlike some other drawer boxes, you do not need to fasten them to a drawer front. 

Also, you can often customize dovetail drawers to make them more functional for this type of cabinet design. For example, you can add a hand scoop to the front of the drawer box to allow for easy opening without the standard drawer pull or handle.

3. High-use kitchens

If you use your kitchen frequently, you probably require high-capacity and durable drawer boxes. Dovetail drawers are an excellent option in this case for a few reasons. 

First, they typically use undermount slides instead of side slides, which allows for wider (if slightly shallower) drawer boxes.

Second, you can choose thicker bases to increase the weight they can support.

Third, the dovetail joint makes the drawer box hold up better to frequent opening and closing.

Dovetail drawer boxes: durable and functional

When it comes to designing or redoing a kitchen, there are a lot of factors to consider. By the time it comes to choosing your drawer boxes, you may feel overwhelmed. This is especially true if you are new to the woodworking and cabinetry industry. When you are just starting to learn about all the terms and options available, there is a lot to take in.

At Cutting Edge, we understand how overwhelmed you feel. There is a lot of information to learn about drawer boxes.

However, because we know about dovetail drawer boxes, we can pass that information on to you and save you the time and stress of learning by trial and error. Next, learn about the pros and cons of dovetail drawer boxes!

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