How To Build Your Own: Built In Closet Dresser

| Posted By: Brian | 1 Comment

In my previous post, I showed you the great new piece of furniture that we now have in our house.  A dresser built into our closet.  It added a lot of storage space to a small space without taking up too much room.  If you were wondering how I built it, you’ve come to the right place.  Now it’s time to give you a little breakdown on the steps that I took to create this masterpiece.  (I like to tell myself that it’s a masterpiece.  Masterpiece is relative term after all…)

The completed custom built dresser for the closet

The finished built-in dresser. All of that storage space, but yet very clean looking

Before I get into how I made this dresser, I’ll give a breakdown of the tools that I used.  This is always helpful to know…

  1. Table Saw with Dado Blade set (you could always use a handsaw.  This just makes it faster.  And I like faster :))
  2. Chisels (keep them sharp!)
  3. Hammer and nails
  4. Drill/Screwdriver
  5. Tape Measure (of course)

Step 1: Buy the lumber

It all started with the lumber.  Despite the many choices available, we went with standard pine.  Why pine?  A couple of reasons made that fit.  First of all, our whole house has pine throughout which gives it that rustic feel.  All of the trim is pine, so a pine dresser only fits.  Secondly, pine is the cheapest wood available which definitely helps on the budget.  Lastly, we were going to be painting the dresser.  There wasn’t a big reason to build the dresser from a more beautiful wood like oak or cherry if we were just going to paint over it with white paint.  So a pine dresser it will be!

Step 2:  Plan it Out

When building a typical dresser, you have to make it structurally sound.  After all, a dresser wouldn’t be worth much if it collapses when you put your clothes in it.  To make it structurally sound, you have to plan out how to build the frame, including the front, sides, and back.  However, a dresser built into the closet is a totally different beast.   Instead of having to build the structural frame of the dresser, the closet now serves that purpose.  (Hopefully those walls are structurally sound…)  What is the beauty of this?  You can’t see the sides or back of the dresser!  That cuts down on how many sections of the dresser that we have to make look “nice”.

Here are the main components of the closet dresser.  We’ll have to build each of the different components individually and then put it all together later.

  1. Front Frame
  2. Dresser Supports/Drawer Slides
  3. 4 Drawers
  4. 2 Doors
  5. Dresser Top
  6. Last but not least:  Shelving

Step 3: Build the Frame

The front frame of the dresser is the most critical piece of the whole dresser.  The front frame fills the opening of the closet.  It defines both the location and the size of the doors and drawers.  This, in turn, dictates what the entire dresser looks like.  Pretty important?  Sure is.

The frame is built just like a mortise and tenon door frame or cabinet frame.  I built it using mortise and tenon joinery, as this is strong and looks really good when finished.  If you didn’t know how to build mortise and tenon frames, you may look at it and wonder, “How in the heck is that put together?”.   It’s magic.  Tenon Magic!  There are a lot of other ways to accomplish the same thing, such as with dowel rods, but I chose mortise and tenons because they are such a classic joint in woodworking.


Mortise and Tenon frame example

This is a good illustration of a mortise and tenon joint on a frame

In my closet, I am nailing the frame to the pieces of trim on the closet.  So, after measuring my closet opening, the first thing that I did was cut all of my frame pieces to length.  9 pieces total.

Now comes the fun, but challenging, part of the project.  Cutting out mortises and tenons.  Mortises came first, then tenons were cut to fit into each mortise.  To cut the mortises, I laid out my frame and marked where I wanted the mortises.  They were each about 1/3 of the board width.   On a 3/4″ board, the mortises were 1/4″ wide.  After marking out the mortises with a pencil, I chiseled out each mortise.  Yes, the old fashioned way with my 1/4″ chisel.  If only I had a mortiser machine…

Although everyone has their preferences, I thought it was easier to cut tenons after the mortises so that they could be fit into the mortises exactly.  I used my table saw and dado blade set for this.  Rather than me explain every little step here, I’ll show you a good tutorial on how to do this.  Over on Fine Woodworking, they have a tutorial on how to cut tenons with a table saw.    Don’t have a table saw?  This video was excellent showing two guys doing a shootout:  Table Saw vs. Hand Cut Tenons.  I learned a lot from that video.

After I had my frame constructed, it was a matter of gluing it up.  Never too many clamps for this project.

Front frame of dresser glued up with clamps

Here is the final assembly of the front frame as it is clamped waiting for the glue to dry

Step 4:  Build the Drawers

The drawers were built out of 1/2″ plywood for the sides and back, 1/4″ plywood for the bottom, and the same pine as the rest of the dresser for the front.  After measuring my current filing cabinet to get the inside dimension of the drawers, I went to cutting.  I cut 4 drawer fronts, 8 sides and 4 backs for the 4 drawers.  Using my table saw, I cut two 1/2″ dadoes in the back of each drawer front at my needed drawer width.

A view of the completed drawer back and sides. Notice how the sides are attached to the front using dadoes. Also, notice the top of the sides have a rabbet for the file hangers to hang on.

Just up from the bottom of all pieces of the drawer, I cut a 1/4″ dado on the insides.  This is the  slot that the bottom of the drawer fit into.  Once I had all of my dadoes cut, I glued up each of the 4 drawers.

Bottom of dresser drawer

The drawer bottom is slid into the 1/4" dado on the sides, front, and back pieces.

Once the drawers are built, the drawer slides go on next.  Pretty easy step, just make sure they go on level!

Step 5: Build the Doors

The doors frames were built using the same method as the front frame of the dresser.   We found some tongue and groove paneling at Lowe’s that was perfect for the inside of the doors.  On the inside of each of the door frame pieces, a dado was cut so that the paneling would fit inside of the door frame.  Instead of paneling, you could very easily put glass in there as well.  These doors give a really nice touch to the dresser and are actually pretty simple to make if you know what your are doing.  It kind of inspired me to make some doors for other areas in our house.  Watch out!

This is the back of the door. Notice the 4 pieces on the outside forming the frame using the same mortise and tenon construction as the front frame of the dresser.

A closeup view of the door showing the panels going into the frame dado.

Step 6: Cut the Rest

After all of the cosmetic pieces are complete, its just some rough cutting and hammer and nails.  First, the drawer frames should be cut to size.  They were made out of 3/4″ plywood.  They should be cut to just deeper than the drawer depth and to the height of the front frame.  The dresser top should be cut to fit the inside dimension of the closet.  I didn’t do anything fancy for the tops.  It’s just 3 pine boards that are 8″ wide and then glued down to the frame and drawer vertical supports and the front frame.

Step 7:  Assembly

Whew!  Cutting, chiseling, measuring, etc. etc.   Now is the easy part.  Putting it all together.  After Lara picked out her favorite hardware,  we attached it to all of the doors and drawers.  The frame was nailed into place and then the doors and drawers were attached.  Getting the drawer slides into the right place to make the drawers slide smoothly and level was no easy feat, but some careful measuring/screwing took care of it.  At the same height as the front frame, I nailed some 1×6″ boards to the walls on the back and sides.  This served as rear/side support for the dresser top.  The dresser top was then put onto the finished frame and wall supports and glued down.

Step 8:  Paint

Put on some old clothes and get out your favorite brush.  One important thing if you are using pine is to spray the knots with a rattle can of Zinsser BIN primer to seal it and hide the knot stains.  Put a coat of primer on the whole thing and then some paint.  I used Zinsser 123 water based primer and it worked perfectly.

Step 9:  Enjoy your new storage space!

That’s all!

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One Response to “How To Build Your Own: Built In Closet Dresser”

  1. […] on how to build this thing here, I’ll just show you the final product for inspiration (see how to build it here).  Not only does it add a lot of storage space, but it looks nice too! It’s a great idea to […]

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