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How to Repair a Built-In with Hand Tools

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva repairs an old dining room built-in cabinet with hand tools and a bar of soap.

Steps for Repairing a Built-In:

  1. Start by straightening out the chip on the face of the drawer using a block plane.
  2. Hold the scrap wood flat against the chip. Use a pencil and mark the wood roughly for the length. To get the depth, slide the board until the pencil mark hits the end of the chipped section and mark the height there as well.
  3. Use a straight edge to draw a line from the pencil marks to the corner of the board.
  4. Cut the patch from the wood along the pencil lines using the pull saw.
  5. Next, mark the thickness for the patch by holding it up against the drawer face.
  6. Cut the patch to thickness. At this point, the patch will be thin, so it’s easiest to score and then cut it with a utility knife.
  7. Glue the patch to the face of the drawer using wood glue. Clamp it down and allow it to completely dry.
  8. Before removing the clamps, try to match the profile of the drawer on the short side of the patch. Use a combination of the block plane, the rasp, and the sanding block until the profile matches.
  9. Remove the clamps and repeat the process for the long side of the patch. To get the long side to match, a shoulder plane will need to be used to ensure it’s perfectly straight.
  10. To keep the doors from sticking, flip them upside down and plane the inside edges of the drawer to allow for more expansion and contraction in the wood.
  11. Once the drawers have been planed, lubricate the bottom edges of the drawer with bar soap until they slide in and out of the cabinet with ease. This process should be repeated every few years or so to make sure the soap doesn’t wear out.
  12. Touch up the drawers with paint or a desired finish.


To patch the chips on the dining room drawers, Tom used some scrap pine and a variety of hand tools to carve its profile. Some of those hand tools included a couple different rasps, a Japanese pull saw, a utility knife, and a hand plane. Some of these tools can be found at home centers, but it will be easier to locate them all at specialty woodworking shops.

To secure the patches to the drawers, Tom used Gorilla Wood Glue.

To smooth out the drawers, Tom rubbed regular bar soap across the slides. He recommends this get redone every two years ago to keep them from sticking.