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Pull-Out Kitchen Shelves: Installation in 8 Steps

Norm Abram shows how to create easy access to items by building sliding kitchen shelves in a base cabinet.

Pull Out Kitchen Shelves

Make the most of your kitchen's storage space by installing a pull-out shelf in one — or all — of the base cabinets. The shelf resembles a shallow drawer that glides out for easy access to items stored in the back of the cabinet.

Our shelf was built for a standard 24-inch-deep by 33-inch-wide base cabinet, but its design is adaptable to virtually any size cabinet. It has a 1x4 pine frame and 3/4-inch birch plywood bottom. If you're only building one or two shelves, you can save some money by going to a home center or lumberyard that sells quarter or half sheets of plywood. And in most cases, they'll even cut the plywood to your dimensions.

If you've never attempted a woodworking project as seemingly complex as this one, don't worry. TOH Master Carpenter Norm Abram created a simplified, straightforward design that can be easily constructed with ordinary tools. Learn how to install a sliding drawers in your kitchen cabinet below.

Wood Pull Out Shelves Overview

Wood Pull Out Shelves Diagram Illustration by Gregory Nemec

With a pull-out shelf, the shallow drawer on full-extension slides eliminates the need to get down on your hands and knees to pick through the back of the cabinet in near darkness. Building and installing a retrofit pull-out shelf is actually a simple process, as This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram shows here.

The sides of the drawer can easily be cut using a power miter saw or a backsaw in a miter box; the bottom can be cut with a circular saw or even precut at the lumberyard. The pieces join together with basic butt joints, which are glued and screwed. Finally, to simplify the finishing process, Norm uses a quick-drying but tough spray lacquer.

There are factory-made wire baskets, trays and other sliding storage devices you can buy. If you go this route, however, be wary of second-rate hardware—it can sag and drag under a load of pots and pans. No worries if you build the shelf shown here, though; its full-extension slides can support over 100 pounds. Besides, nothing store-bought can ever compete with the finished look of a custom-made wood shelf.

How to Install Sliding Shelves In Kitchen Cabinets

1. Measure the Cabinet

Man Measures Kitchen Cabinet With Tape Measure  For Pull Out Shelves Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • To ensure that the shelf can slide past the cabinet door and hinges, you will need to fur out the drawer slides with cleats.
  • To measure how thick to make the cleats, open the cabinet door and position the drawer slide, with the inner rail extended, as close to the door hinge as it can get without touching. Then measure the space between the cabinet side and the back of the drawer slide.
  • Rip the two 2-inch-high cleats from plywood or 1x3s; they should be the same length as the drawer slides. You may need to build up to the thickness you measured (above) with more than one piece of wood.
  • Set the two cleats against the opposite sides of the cabinet, measure between them, and then subtract 1 inch for the thickness of the drawer slides. The resulting dimension is the overall width of the shelf including the pine frame. Set the cleats aside.

The overall depth of the shelf (front to back) is the same as the length of the drawer slides.

2. Build the Drawer

Man Builds Wooden Pull Out Drawer With Drill Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • Subtract 1 ½ inches from the shelf's width and from its depth to determine the dimensions of the shelf bottom. Cut the bottom from ¾-inch birch plywood, using a circular saw.
  • Next, using a power or hand miter saw, cut the four 1x3s for the frame to length. The side pieces should be the same length as the plywood bottom front to back; the front and back pieces should be 1 ½ inches longer so they can cover the side pieces.
  • Clamp the side pieces and back piece to the plywood bottom; the bottom edges of the 1x3s and the plywood should be flush.
  • Using a combination countersink bit, drill pilot holes for the screws through the 1x3s and into the plywood every 8 to 10 inches. Also drill two holes through each end of the back piece where it will overlap its side piece.
  • Fasten the side pieces to the bottom with glue and 15/8-inch drywall screws. Then glue and screw the back frame piece to the plywood bottom and into the attached sides.

3. Finish the Drawer Front

Man Finishes Drawer Front Of Pull Out Kitchen Shelves Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • Use a ½-inch-diameter spade bit to drill ¼-inch-deep counterbore holes along the bottom and at the ends of the front piece, using the same pattern as you did for the back piece.
  • Next, clamp the front to the assembled shelf and, using the countersink bit, drill pilot holes through the counterbore holes and into the plywood and the 1x3 sides.
  • Now remove the clamp and glue, and screw the front to the sides and bottom using 1 5/8-inch drywall screws.

4. Conceal the Screw Heads

Man Conceals Screwheads Of Pull Out Shelves For Kitchen Cabinets Photo by Keller & Keller
  • To conceal the screw heads along the front, glue ½-inch-diameter wood buttons into the counterbore holes.

Tip: Use birch wood buttons to match the 1x3 pine; oak, cherry, and walnut buttons are also available.

5. Spray on a Lacquer FInish

Man Sprays Lacquer Finish Inside Of Pull Out Kitchen Shelf Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • Sand the assembled shelf with 120-grit sandpaper.
  • Use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove all the sanding dust.
  • Move the shelf outdoors for finishing. Put on safety glasses and a dual-cartridge respirator. Carefully apply a thin coat of spray lacquer to the entire shelf.
  • Wait for the lacquer to dry — about 30 minutes — then lightly sand the shelf with 180-grit sandpaper.
  • Wipe off the sanding dust and apply a second lacquer coat.

Tip: When spraying lacquer, keep a clean cotton cloth handy for wiping up any drips or runs.

6. Mount the Slides to the Cabinet

Man Mounts Slides Of Pull Out Kitchen Cabinet Shelves Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • Prepare the drawer slides for installation by first removing the sliding-drawer-rail section from each slide.
  • Cut two 1/8-inch-thick shims from a piece of Masonite or cardboard and lay them on the floor of the cabinet; the shims will raise the cleats and slides off the cabinet bottom enough to keep the shelf from scraping.
  • Place one of the cleats that you cut from the overview on top of the shims and against the cabinet side. Fasten it to the cabinet with 1 ¼-inch screws.
  • Now position the drawer slide on top of the shims and against the cleat, and secure it to the cleat with the screws provided.
  • Install the second drawer slide on the opposite side of the cabinet in the same manner.

Tip: In most cases, it will be easier to install the slides and the finished shelf if you first remove the cabinet doors.

7. Fasten the Slides to the Shelf

Man Fastens Slides To Wood Pull Out Shelf Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • Take one of the sliding-rail sections you removed earlier from the drawer slide and set it against the side of the pull-out shelf.
  • Align the end of the rail so that it's flush with the front of the shelf and slightly up from the bottom. (Every drawer slide is different; read the manufacturer's instructions to see exactly how much space you should leave between the rail and the shelf bottom.)
  • Attach the rail to the shelf with the screws provided.
  • Install the second rail on the opposite side of the shelf.

8. Install the Shelf

Man Installs Pull Out Kitchen Shelf Photo by Keller & Keller Photography
  • Remove the shims from beneath the cleats and drawer slide, and sweep out the inside of the cabinet.
  • Push the drawer slides closed.
  • Next, hold the shelf just outside of the cabinet and level with the drawer slides.
  • Align the sliding-rail sections on the shelf with the drawer slides inside the cabinet.
  • Carefully but firmly push the shelf all the way into the cabinet.
  • Pull the shelf all the way out to be sure that the sliding rails have locked onto the drawer slides. If necessary, remove the shelf and reinstall it.

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