Pros Guide on How to Measure Drawer Slides in 5 Simple Steps

How to Measure Drawer Slides

Understanding how to measure drawer slides is the first step to ensuring a proper installation. And is a must before building drawers or replacing slides.

How to Measure Drawer Slides (Length)

Hey we’ll keep this simple, but there are a few steps to measuring drawers. 

Step 1 - Understand your cabinet construction

Let’s first start with your cabinet construction as that determines the need for rear mounting brackets (or not) and leaving space for them. 

Three things matter when it comes to how your cabinet or furniture is constructed:

    • A face frame cabinet will require a rear mounting bracket and 1/2″ of rear clearance
    • A frameless cabinet doesn’t require rear clearance
    • Lastly, and often overlooked, check your door hinge clearance and setback requirements from the face of cabinet. One area to watch for is pull-out drawers are typically installed just behind the hinge and are 1″ narrower than the open to prevent hitting the drawers.

Not sure what a face frame cabinet is? Well consider a face frame the same as a picture frame. It sits on top of the cabinet and is usually a strip of wood 2″ in width all around the frame of the cabinet.

Step 2 - Pick Your Slide Type

Because drawer slides have differing requirements for measurement you’ll want to at least pick the “mount”.

Here’s the most common slide types:

    • Side mounts are by far the most popular and as the name implies they mount on the side of the drawer. A side mount requires zero rear clearance on a frameless cabinet and ~1/4″ rear gap on a face frame to fit the rear mounting bracket. And most are 1/2″ side clearance (with the exception of heavy duty slides).
    • Meanwhile, undermounts are more advanced and are fully concealed under the drawer. Undermounts typically come one inch shorter as they require room in the back of the slide for a connecting mechanism.
    • And bottom mounts are a cross between both and are seen on the bottom side of the drawer.

If you have the skill and are undecided I recommend the undermount slides but they require some precise measurement.

On the other hand side mount slides are easy to measure (usually 1/2″ on each side, or 1″ less than drawer opening).

Step 3 - Measure Cabinet Depth

This step is easy.

Use a tape measure to find the distance from the front of the face frame or cabinet frame to the back of the cabinet. Then consider:

    • Never use a longer slide than the cabinet depth.
    • Round down to the next inch. 
    • A standard kitchen uses 22″ side and bottom mounts; and 21″ undermounts.

If you are building face frame cabinets remember to leave room for at least a 1/2″ thick mounting block in the back to attach the  drawer slides mounting bracket.

Step 4 - Pick Your Slide Length

First, drawer slides are available in lengths from 10″ to 96″.

But fortunately your search is much narrower as most drawer slides range from 16″ to 22″. So, once you have your cabinet depth, rear socket brackets and mounting location you can safely match finalize your drawer slide length. 

How to Measure Drawer Size Height and Width

By now you may have realized the drawer height and width is also controlled by the type of drawer slide. 

Due to that here’s a few quick pointers:

    • Bottom mount drawer slides usually require a 1″ height reduction to allow the drawer to be installed using a “tip in” method
    • Side mount slides allow for maximum drawer depth and height as they are “pushed in” from the front. 1/4″ at top and 1/8″ at bottom are feasible with proper alignment
    • Undermount slides also are installed by pushing them into the opening, but an extra 1/4 to 3/8″ of drawer depth is lost to hide the slide.

Special Considerations for How to Measure for Drawer Slides

Since there are a wide variety of drawer slides you may need to do a little more research on your slide types before finalizing measurements.

Measuring Undermount Drawer Slides

Key considerations for undermount slides:

    • Plan to subtract one full inch from your measurement to accommodate for special rear locking devices.
    • Side clearance for undermount drawers is less than 1/2″. As their design is unique the drawer side thickness plays into overall side clearance.
    • The drawer bottom will require enough depth to fully hide the undermount slide. This is typically 1/2″ (or more). 

And this last point on sacrificing drawer depth makes an undermount slide work best for drawers at least 4″ deep.

Measuring Side Mount Drawer Slides

Low Profile Drawer SlidesSide mount drawer slides are almost always a ball bearing construction with a standard 1/2″ clearance on each side. But there are a few sizing considerations for these slides:

    • Low profile drawer slides are sometimes needed when the drawer (or shelf) requires a lower overall drawer slide height. One example of this is a pencil drawer with drawer slides as low as 2″. And, as most side mount slides are 1.8″ in height, a slide with a 1.4″ side profile is sometimes desired.
    •  Push-to-open drawer slides will require a small clearance at the back of the slide for the “push” clearance

Frequently Asked Questions for How to Measure Drawer Slides

How much space do you leave at the back of a drawer?

I prefer to leave a full inch of clearance at the back of a drawer. Due to mounting brackets and features like push-to-open a tight fitting drawer will cause more issues than the extra 1″ of space is worth.

Does a frameless cabinet require a rear mounting bracket?

No, a frameless cabinet does not require a rear mounting bracket as the drawer slides are instead connected to the side of the cabinet directly.

Do I need to pick out my drawer slide first and then measure?

Yes due to the variation in drawer slide measurements choosing the drawer slide type first is vital. For example, an undermount drawer slide has a different rear clearance and custom drawer length. While a side mount slide is more universal there are considerations such as low profile to consider.

How do you measure drawer size?

There are three dimensions of drawer size and depending on your drawer slide they dimensions will all vary. For example, a side mount drawer slide allows for maximum drawer slide height as it doesn’t require the “tip in” requirement a bottom mount does (and the 1″ top clearance). Purchase your drawer slides first if you aren’t sure and then build the drawer to the specifications supplied.

Summary

While learning how to measure drawer slides isn’t too difficult, deciding which is the best drawer slide can be harder. Due to the variety of slides and mounting requirements the #1 best tip for measuriwng drawer slides is picking your slide type first.

References

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