How to Fix Old Dresser Drawers that Stick
So you’ve found a really cool old dresser, but the drawers don’t work well? What a pain! This is a common problem though. Before you paint that dresser (or not), here’s how to fix old dresser drawers that stick! Get more of my favorite Tips for Repairing Old Furniture here!
Old dressers are notorious for having broken drawers of some sort.They have been around for longer than many of us have, so there is a good reason why they come with broken pieces.
That doesn’t mean that you need to put up with sticky dresser drawers, broken vintage dresser drawers, or even drawers that are hard to open and/or close.
So here’s how to fix dresser drawers that stick. But we aren’t stopping there.
We’ll also cover how to fix broken drawers, how to make old dresser drawers slide better, how to repair dresser drawers, and even how to remove dresser drawers.
First things first, before you can fix old dresser drawers, you need to learn how to remove drawers from a dresser.
It might be straight forward, and it might not be.
And then we will start at the easiest way to fix drawers and move onto more advanced ways if the drawer is really broken.
How to Remove Dresser Drawers
Most of these really old dressers don’t have a track system at all, and they are super simple to remove. You just slide them out.
But newer dressers usually come with a track system on the bottom or the sides of the drawers.
Most of the time a simple, strong tug will get the drawers unstuck.
**Before you give the drawer a good tug though, pull the drawer out as far as it will go, and then take a look under the drawer.
There may be a little latch or lever that needs to be pushed towards the bottom of the drawer to release the drawer.
If the track system is on the side of the dresser drawers, pull the drawer out as far as it will go, and then look in the track for a plastic lever.
If you find a little lever, push it up or down on both sides of the drawer, and then give the drawer a little tug. It should easily come out of the dresser.
Once you have your broken drawers removed, you can begin to fix it.
How to Fix Old Dresser Drawers that Stick
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Wax the Drawer Tracks
The easiest and fastest way to fix old dresser drawers that stick is to put some wax on the tracks, or on the parts that slide against each other.
If you think about it, wood against wood doesn’t seem like it would create the best environment for sliding, right?
But a slick surface against another slick surface would make things a lot easier.
Wax does just that. Once both surfaces have been given a healthy coating of wax, the drawers will slide in and out much easier.
You can also rub a candle against the drawer tracks, or you could also use furniture wax or a bar of soap to make the old dresser drawers slide easier.
This only works if there is nothing else preventing the drawers from sliding in and out.
Make Sure Nothing is Obstructing the Drawer Track
If waxing doesn’t help much, turn the drawer over and see if there is anything keeping the drawer from sliding in and out easily.
There may be a nail sticking out of the bottom of the drawer, or the side of the dresser. It only takes one small thing to block the drawer from opening and closing.
In this case, there was a nail sticking out of the drawer track. That nail was causing damage to the drawer track as well!
I made sure that the nail wasn’t holding anything before I removed it with a pair of pliers.
Sand the Sides of the Drawers
If you live in a humid area, there is a very high chance that the wood in your drawers or dresser has swelled.
In this case, sanding the sides of the drawers down can make a huge difference in getting old drawers to easily slide in and out.
Read this post to learn about the Best Sanders for Furniture.
Before sanding the drawers, make sure your dresser has been in a climate-controlled environment so the wood is acting normal.
If it has been in the garage for a while, bring it inside for a few weeks to see if the wood contracts at all.
If you need to sand the sides of your drawers down, you will notice that there isn’t any gap between the side of the drawers and the side of the dresser.
There should be a small gap so the drawers can move freely.
Remove the sticky drawers, and grab your power sander. I like to use 60 grit sandpaper at first, and then move up to 220 grit sandpaper when most of the wood has been sanded down.
60 grit sandpaper will quickly remove wood, while 220 grit sandpaper will smooth the wood down.
Learn more about Sandpaper for Furniture Painting here.
**When sanding, make sure to take note of certain areas that need attention, and other areas that don’t need any attention. Only sand in the areas that are tight.
It’s also best to only sand a little bit, and then check your progress so you don’t sand too much off.
Sanding Drawer Fronts to Fit
This also applies to inset drawer fronts as well. If they are too big for the opening, you can sand them down to better fit into the opening.
Before sanding the drawer fronts, you need to make sure the drawers are all in the correct spot, as some dressers are very particular about which drawer goes into which spot.
You’ll also want to make sure the dresser frame isn’t sagging or falling, making the drawer front too big for the opening.
If that is the case, you’ll need to repair the frame of the dresser first.
How to Fix Broken Drawer Bottoms
The bottom of old drawers can easily break under a lot of weight. Many times the drawer bottoms need to be replaced or repaired.
Let’s look at how to repair sagging drawer bottoms first.
How to Repair Sagging Drawers
One quick fix on really old dresser drawers is to look at the under the drawer and at the back of the drawer.
Many of these drawers only have small nails holding the drawer bottom to the backside of the drawer.
Inspect this area to make sure the nails are in place, and add some new nails if they are missing.
** Look for nails that are 3/4″ long with a larger round head.
How to Keep the Drawer Bottom from Falling Out
On the sides of the drawers, there are notches where the drawer bottom sits.
But sometimes the bottom of the drawer was only cut barely bigger than the drawer itself.
You can cut a new drawer bottom that is a little bit larger. And/or you can add support to the bottom of the drawers.
Choose a square dowel that is smaller than the space between the drawer bottom and the bottom of the side of the drawer. A 1/4″ square dowel should do the trick.
- Cut the dowel into 2-3″ long pieces.
- Make sure the drawer bottom is in its correct place. Then turn your drawer upside down.
- Glue the dowel pieces along the edge and to the bottom of the drawer. Six pieces per drawer is typical.
- Make sure the glue dries before turning the drawer back over.
- For added support, put a few nails through the dowel and into the side of the drawer. Make sure the nails don’t come out the outside of the drawer!
The dowels will keep the bottom from moving around, but it will also help give support to the drawer bottom so it doesn’t come out of the notch on the side of the drawer.
This is another good idea for sagging drawers.
How to Replace the Bottom of a Drawer
Sometimes the bottom of the drawer really just needs to be replaced. It might be too small, or it might have major damage or cracks in it.
Remove the Bottom of a Drawer
Some drawers have easily removable drawer bottoms. Just remove the nails at the back and bottom of the drawer, and then slide the bottom out.
If that’s not the case, you’ll need to take apart the drawer.
If you’re working with a dovetail jointed drawer, be sure to take the drawer apart very carefully. You don’t want to break those dovetail joints!
I like to work with the back of the drawer instead of the decorative drawer front if possible.
Typically you can lightly tap a hammer on the inside of the drawer (close to the dovetails) to slide the dovetails out from each other.
Do this on both sides of the drawer to remove the back of the drawer.
You may need to remove the drawer track from the bottom of the drawer if there is one. It is usually held on with a nail or two (hopefully no glue like the one in the image above.)
If there is glue holding it on, use a hammer and a thin chisel or metal scraper to pry off the drawer track without damaging the track itself.
Use the same method to remove the little triangle supports.
Cut a New Bottom
With the old bottom as a guide, cut a new bottom out of 1/4″ plywood. For this project, we used 1/4″ red oak plywood.
** If your bottom needs to be a little bit bigger in one direction, make sure you cut it a little bit bigger than the old bottom.
If you don’t have access to a table saw, you could use a circular saw or even a jigsaw. Your local hardware store may be able to cut it down for you as well.
After the new bottom is cut, run some sandpaper around the edges of the plywood to remove any splinters, and then reassemble the drawer.
How to Fix the Side of a Drawer
Another problem we run into with dresser drawers sticking is when the side of the drawer is broken under the bottom panel of the drawer.
Since there is a notch cut out in the side of the drawer for the bottom panel to slide into, it’s easier for the side of the drawer to break under pressure.
But don’t worry! You can easily fix it without replacing the whole side! Especially if your drawer has dovetails like this one!
In this case, you can see that the drawer was broken right where the bottom panel of the drawer sits.
Whoever tried to fix it in the past just put some nails into the bottom of the drawer to hold it into place, and called it a day.
The problem with that is the nails were digging into the wood tracks in the body of the dresser every single time it slid in and out.
And it wasn’t very easy to slide it!
It also meant that the drawer sat crooked because one side of the drawer was shorter than the other.
All of these things make old dresser drawers hard to open!
Repairing Furniture with Bondo
Instead of replacing the whole piece of wood (including the dovetails), you can repair the area and build the drawer back up.
You can use Bondo to build onto the side of the drawer and replace the broken area.
Bondo is a fast-drying material that is great for furniture repairs.
I’ve used it many times to rebuild a broken corner, fill in missing veneer, or repair broken trim.
Learn more about how to use Bondo to repair furniture and broken trim.
It’s a two-part epoxy that starts to dry very quickly after being mixed up, so you have to work fast.
But that’s also the beauty in it.
You don’t have to wait hours for this stuff to dry. It is ready to sand after about 30 minutes.
It dries very hard and can be a pain to sand down if you don’t have a power sander.
**(I like the auto body kind of Bondo ((the pink stuff)) because you can see if you have mixed enough pink hardener in it, vs the wood filler and all-purpose kind that have a clear hardener.)
The other kinds will work as well! Just not as easy for the beginner.
Bondo is thinner than clay, so it has to be contained and molded while it starts to set up, so the most difficult part of this process is to build a box out of scrap wood to mold it into the shape we need it to be.
How to Repair the Side of a Drawer
First, remove any nails, or staples holding the bottom in place.
Locate two straight boards that are longer than the side of the drawer. One should be the thickness of the break.
So for this drawer, I needed a board that would line up from the bottom panel to the bottom of the drawer front. It was about 3/4″ thick.
The second board can be thin and skinny.
It just needs to be at least a couple of inches wide to clamp onto the other boards while still creating the bottom of the box.
It’s better for this wood to be a little thicker than you need because you can sand the Bondo down smooth easier than building it up more after the box is gone.
Build a Box Mold for the Bondo
I asked my husband to help hold the boards while we got them clamped into place.
Two hands just weren’t quite enough.
Be sure to rub vaseline, wax, or spray pam onto the boards before you clamp them in place.
Otherwise, the Bondo will stick to them. You only want the Bondo to stick to the drawer.
It’s also best to scuff up the break with some sandpaper, and then make sure it’s dust-free and wax-free before moving on.
This ensures the Bondo will stick to the drawer.
- Lineup the first board so it is about 3/4″ from the side of the drawer.
- Place the thinner board on top of that, lining up with the side of the drawer.
- Clamp the boards onto the drawer.
You should have created a box with the top open to put the Bondo into. The box is where the side of the drawer was broken.
Fill the Box with Bondo
Once you have the box built, you can fill it with Bondo.
Bondo is a two-part epoxy resin that needs to be mixed together. Once it is mixed, it starts to dry very quickly.
Mix time and work time is typically 3-4 minutes.
It’s also pretty stinky, so it should be used in a well-ventilated area.
Mix the Bondo by following the increments described on the back of the can.
Read this post to learn more about using Bondo to Fix Chipped Wood Furniture
Quickly fill the box with Bondo, making sure to push the Bondo into the drawer. You want the Bondo to really stick to the drawer.
If you need more Bondo, mix up some more, and fill the box full.
Let the Bondo dry for a few minutes. You can remove the box once the Bondo isn’t sticky.
When you unclamp the boards, they should pop right off because of the wax.
Let the Bondo dry for at least 30 minutes, but an hour or so is better.
With your power sander, sand the Bondo down to the correct size and shape.
Test out the drawer and make sure it sits correctly in the dresser.
Mine needed to be sanded down a bit more to allow for the front of the drawer to push into the dresser correctly.
Old Drawer Repair with Kwikwood
**For smaller breaks, you could use Kwikwood instead. Its texture is more like clay, so you can mold it in the shape you need it in. And then once it’s dry after a couple of hours, you can sand it down more to shape.
Learn more about using Kwikwood to repair furniture here!
How to Repair a Drawer Runner
On old dressers like these, you may find that the drawer runner is very worn or even missing.
This is the part of the dresser that the drawer slides in and out on.
You can cut a piece of wood out to replace the runner!
In this case, the runner was very worn down. A nail had been damaging it, and it was about to break.
- I cut off the runner and then replaced it with a piece of wood, cut down to size.
- Then I glued and nailed it into place.
The drawer slides in and out so much easier now!
I hope that was a huge help to you! When drawers don’t work on a dresser, it can be super frustrating!
But now you know how to fix old dresser drawers that stick… and then some more!
PIN THIS TUTORIAL FOR LATER.
Find more inspiration and learn how to upcycle old furniture with these DIY Dresser Makeovers.
More Furniture Tips:
- How to Change Hardware on a Dresser
- Staining a Dresser Darker
- How to Fix Broken Trim on Furniture
- Pink Vintage Dresser with Gold Hardware
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Any advice on getting a drawer out that is completely stuck? I’m pretty sure it swelled up and is now stuck in. I can get it out to the 3/4 point but not any further than that. Its an old solid oak with no tracks. I’ve tried waxing and gradually getting it further out but not all the way. Any tips?
Oh no!! I haven’t ever come across a drawer that is that bad! Have you tried putting it in a climate controlled room with a dehumidifier? That might help the swelling. How long have you had the piece?
The drawers on the armoire that I was refinishing for my daughter actually had wooden grooves on the sides, and the weight of clothing in the drawers, dropped the drawer down below the grooves and got the drawers stuck in place if you can see what I mean? and actually I had to, with my feet underneath it and my hands pull it straight up first to get it back on the tracks on the sides before I could slide it out. That’s what I’ve been looking for on this site, how to build up or replace the wooden tracks that the drawer slides on. Good luck to you
Natalie, great primer on fixing drawers! These skills are awesome!
Thank you so much Lorin!
I have an old oak dresser with 2 smaller draws and then two that are the full length of the piece. There are no runners, but little tabs that have dug grooves in the bottom. Your tutorial will be very helpful in repairing them, but I’m thinking of converting the piece into a bathroom vanity so I need the drawers strong as well as easy to use. Have you ever added under the drawer runners? There isn’t room on the sides.
Great info on this blog. Great job!
Thank you so much Do!
It still sat in the groove on the sides