Choosing Drawer Slides
Gone are the days of using wooden slides to get drawers in and out of cabinets. Sizing them can be tricky and they often get sticky and bound if they aren’t made just right. Ball-bearing slides are simple to install and often come available with a “soft-close” feature that is more elegant than a slamming drawer. The slides I like to use are referred to as “full-extension” which means that the drawer box can come all the way out of the cabinet, allowing complete access to the contents. In addition to a soft close and full-extension, there are two mounting types that I tend to use often: side mount and under-mount. Deciding which to choose is largely a matter of personal preference, but there are some situations where one type may work better than the other. Let’s explore this.
Side-mount slides are a less expensive option but don’t think that is a reflection of their performance. They have slick ball-bearings that make opening and closing a drawer a joy. Side-mount slides separate to allow one part of the glide to be fastened to the cabinet and the other attached to the drawer.
There are a few things to consider before choosing these slides. They are the lesser of the two styles cost wise, but they are also the most visible. They are easily seen as they run the length of the drawer side, so you must be okay with seeing them. They also require a bit more space to fit in a cabinet. In most cases you will lose around 24mm (1”) to accommodate the slides. This in turn means that your drawer box needs to be a tad smaller, not a deal-breaker to my mind but something to consider.
Under-mount slides are slick in both installation and operation. To start, they completely mount to the side of the cabinets. The drawer then slides onto them and interfaces with a small pin at the back and clip at the front. This makes them easy to remove if you ever have to repair something or if you want to take the contents of the drawer to another location. Imagine a shallow drawer of fasteners that you can take to your bench to work on a project.
Making any drawer box requires a certain level of precision, but drawers with under-mount slides have specific requirements. Generally, the underside of the drawer bottom needs to be 12mm (1/2”) from the bottom of the drawer side and the width and length need to be spot on. This isn’t a difficult thing to achieve, you just need to be aware of it. The nicest feature of under-mount slides is that they all but disappear when they are installed.
Regardless of which style you choose, ball-bearing slides add a slickness to the drawers of whatever style of furniture you are making. If cost is a consideration, then you can’t go wrong with the side-mount option. If you want that clean look, under-mount is the way to go. Personally, I will often choose the undermount, even for shop furniture because I like the clean look. Ultimately the choice is yours and you can’t go wrong with either one. Both will give you a pleasant experience when opening and closing drawers because whether in the shop or home, there is nothing better than a smooth operating drawer.