Thank you for all your kind feedback about the big kitchen/dining room wrap-up post last week!
In that post I shared a bunch of new projects that we did in the final week of 2016, with the promise that I’d return to share some details on them. Today I’m diving into the pull-out shelves I made for the pantry, which added a ton of useful storage and allowed us to finally get our kitchen more organized and put together than it’s been since last January.
My dad and I built the frame for our pantry last spring, and we built one fixed shelf for the microwave.
But we didn’t build any other shelves, because at 24″ deep we knew that fixed shelves would be a recipe for disorganization/underutilization. Sliding shelves were the obvious solution, but we didn’t have time to build them at the time and then my attention quickly turned to a million other projects like getting an actual kitchen floor, painting the cabinets, etc.
As of December, things had come a long way from those photos you see above.
But our kitchen was still feeling less-than-functional because so much of our stuff was still living in the basement and craft room from when we removed the buffet last January and lost a lot of storage in the process. I realized that to get us to feeling settled, the time had finally come to build the sliding shelves, put everything away, plus do a massive reorganization to put things in more logical places given our new cabinet layout.
I was intimidated about building the sliding shelves because I knew everything had to be perfectly square and level or else the drawers would not slide smoothly in and out. But I sucked it up and got started!
I ordered four pairs because it seemed like four shelves (two above and two below the fixed one in the middle) would be the right spacing. That would create six shelves total, with the bottom of the pantry serving as another fixed one.
Once they arrived, I got to work!
The first step was to build out the sides where the slides would be mounted, since the cabinet frame has a lip that overhangs the opening by 3/8″. If I attached the slides directly to the sides of the pantry, the drawers wouldn’t be able to open because they would bump into the lip.
I found some scrapwood of the exact depth as the frame overhang, and cut eight thin strips about 23″ long — one for each slide. I knew that I needed to mount the strips at the right spacing and relatively level because that’s where the slides would attach, but that it didn’t need to be perfect because I could do the final tweaking in the way I actually mounted the slides.
I figured out the spacing I wanted for the drawers, and then mounted the wood strips using a level and my plug-in drill.
Once I had mounted all eight, it was time to attach the slides. There are three extension components to the slides: the first one mounts to the cabinet frame, the second one extends a bit further, and the third one mounts to the drawers.
The third piece detaches so that it can be mounted directly to the drawers, so I removed those and prepared to mount the rest of the slides on the cabinet frame. First I used a level to draw a perfectly straight line down the middle of the mounting strips, ensuring that the lines on the mounting strips opposite one another in the pantry were level with each other as well so that the drawer would be level side-to-side.
As you can see from the faint pencil line, the mounting strip isn’t perfectly level but the line is — I knew that as long as I mounted the slide using the line as a guide (looking for it in the little screw holes along the slide and then marking where to drill in the screws accordingly) then it would be level.
Once I had the first pair of slides mounted, I wanted to test a drawer out to ensure that my process was getting things sufficiently level to make everything work smoothly. I planned to use leftover relatively nice plywood for the drawers, so I cut a piece to 22″ deep by 23″ wide (23″ was is the width between the mounted slides, subtracting another 1/8″ to account for the depth of the third piece of the slides that I’d be mounting to the sides of the drawer).
Once the piece was cut, I attached the slides to the sides of the plywood:
Then came the moment of truth: I tried to slide the plywood into the cabinet frame, feeding the end of the slides attached to the plywood into the openings of the slides mounted to the cabinet frame. And it was successful!
To my great delight, the plywood slid in and out smoothly.
With the confirmation that my leveling method was sound, I finished mounting all eight pairs of slides onto the cabinet frame and then moved on to making the drawers. I didn’t have a clear plan, but figured I’d wing it a bit as I built the first one and then if it was successful I’d replicate it three times. Working with the piece of plywood with the slides attached as the bottom, first I added sides. I cut two narrow pieces of wood the exact length as the depth of the plywood (22″), about 3″ high (a random height I picked).
My goal was to have all the screws hidden, so I clamped the first side piece to the plywood:
And then flipped it over to drill screws into it from below:
I repeated that process for the second side, which left me with two sides and no visible screws.
Next I added a back by cutting a strip of wood the exact height as the side pieces and the right length to fit between the sides. I clamped that in place:
And then drove screws in from either side:
Even though these screws are on the outside of the frame, I knew they wouldn’t be visible once they were mounted because they’re all the very back of the drawers and wouldn’t quite clear the cabinet frame even when the drawers are pulled all the way out.
Finally it was time to attach the front. I cut another piece the same height as the sides and back, but long enough to span the whole front of the plywood bottom (across the fronts of the side pieces, not between them like the back piece). Before attaching it, I used my kreg jig to drill pocket holes on the bottom of the drawer, which would allow me to attach the front to the bottom without visible screws (more about how much I love my kreg jig in my post about the mid-century dresser I built).
Then I flipped the drawer upside-down, and clamped the front piece in place:
That let me drive the screws in through the pocket holes nice and tight:
And voila! I intentionally cut the front piece to the same height as the side pieces knowing it would actually appear shorter — because it rests in front of the plywood bottom not on top like the sides do — since I thought having it a bit lower in the front would make it easier to take things in and out.
However, it of course still looked relatively unfinished. It’s amazing what sanding can do, though. Here’s the corner where the front meets the sides pre-sanding:
And here it is after I sanded the whole thing down and round the edges with my orbital sander:
I repeated this process three times, and then slid all four drawers into place! I was lucky because the pantry frame my dad designed was pretty level and square, so I didn’t need to tweak the dimensions of any of the drawers. I did verify that for each drawer though by mounting the slides on each new drawer bottom and bringing it up to test that it slid in and out easily before I built the rest of the drawer — I didn’t want to go through the work of attaching the sides, front, and back only to realize that the bottom needed to be shaved down a little.
The final step was to bring everything back into the kitchen from the basement and guest room plus take everything out of every drawer and cabinet to begin the Great Reorganizing Effort. It got worse before it got better.
But thanks to the sliding shelves — which hold so much but make it all so easy to access — I was able to get every single thing put away in a logical place. The drawer slides say they can hold 100 pounds of weight even when fully extended, so I wasn’t shy about loading them up. Still, I put our heaviest items (a bunch of appliances, including our stand mixer) on the bottom fixed shelf. Because these are just a few big items rather than a bunch of small items, I figured it’s easy to go rifling through those without needing to slide the whole shelf out, unlike with things like baking supplies where something is certain to get lost if we can’t look at the full drawer pulled out.
The total cost for me was just $65 for the drawer slides because I was able to use wood I already had for the drawers, but if you’re doing this and don’t have scrap wood then you should add another $50 for a nice 4’x8′ sheet of plywood (I like birch or red oak) and of course more for drawer slides if you want to make more than 4 drawers.
Of course ultimately my dad and I will make pantry doors and all the shelving will be hidden, but I’m in no rush — for now no doors just means it’s just easier for me to stare lovingly at my new drawers!