Drawer Slides Alternatives

If you have a workshop, you know that stuff tends to pile up over the years. If you have space problems in your shop, you might have been considering adding a drawer under some countertop to use that space for storage. That requires drawer slides to run smoothly.

The problem with drawer slides is that the longer they are, the more weight they are supposed to hold. That’s why they are so expensive. In order to withstand the load, they have to be pretty heavy-duty. Spending tons of money on such things sounds like a waste to me. I’d rather upgrade my tool arsenal or get some quality wood with that money. If you are old school, you might want to avoid inserting mechanical slides in your projects just because you’d rather keep it more “genuine”. So the following question arises: are there any valid drawer slides alternatives?

There are a few factors to keep in consideration, such as the size and material of the drawer. In most cases, the only alternative to mechanical slides is building some guides yourself. You’ll have to take a few extra steps in order for the drawer to slide properly, though.

Let’s get more into details in the following paragraph.

Drawer Slides Alternatives

“Retractable drawers” by Jeremy Levine Design is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In order to avoid using drawer slides, you have mainly two alternatives. First, you could search for a cheaper mechanical alternative. The problem is that you won’t be sure if it will support the weight and slide correctly until you install it. If it doesn’t satisfy you, you’ll have to remove it, and you’ll end up with wasted money and time.

If you are a creative person, you could even try to build an alternative solution yourself. There are many discussions on online forums about this kind of stuff. I suggest you dig into that if this idea attracts you.

Last, but not least, you could build the guides yourself, without having to use additional slides. That’s the woodworker solution, which is my favorite. In order for it to work, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, the guides need to be perfectly aligned and flush in order for the drawer to slide correctly. That’s even more important with bigger slides. The deeper they get, the more they tend to get stuck. Consider adding a central guide to keep things in place and to avoid lateral shifting.

Second, you need to make sure the drawer slides correctly into the guides over time. Even if the drawer moves perfectly fine at the beginning, you might notice it getting harder to open/close over time. Many factors may contribute to this, such as wear and tear due to friction, moisture, and so on. To prevent this, there are a few approaches. Let’s check them out, one by one.

Use Wax

This is a traditional method used to get drawers running smoothly. In order for the wax to last, your aim is to get it as deep into the wood fibers as possible. What’s the best wax for drawer slides? There’s a variety of good alternatives here. The most common choice is Paraffin Wax. It’s generally used for candle-making and lubrification purposes.

How to use wax on drawers? You want to start by applying a nice layer on all the surfaces that will be in contact, so both on the drawer and frame side. In order for the wax to impregnate the wood, you’ll have to use a heat source, for example, a heat gun or a hairdryer. I read some folks even use irons for that. If you decide to use that, make sure you move quickly to avoid burning the wood. After heating the wax, remove any excess with a cloth or sponge.

An alternative to paraffin wax could be beeswax. The method of application is the same, and so is the final result.

Apply Slippery Tape to the Guides

A cool alternative to waxing is slippery tape. The technical name would be UHMW Tape, which stands for “Ultra-high-molecular-weight”. It’s a type of polyethylene plastic that is renowned to be very tough and resistant against wear and tear. Other than that, it also has a very low coefficient of friction, which makes it ideal for our purposes.

The idea here is to use the slippery tape on the bottom of your slides to reduce friction. I’d start by applying it on the drawers slide only. Then, if the drawer still doesn’t slide as well as expected, consider applying the tape on the frame side.

This type of solution might only work with small/average-sized drawers. With large drawers, the friction might be too much for the tape to handle. In that case, consider the following solution.

Use HDPE Inserts

If you are not sure about the durability of slippery tape, you might consider using HDPE inserts. The acronym stands for “High-Density Poly Ethylene”; it’s similar to UHMW, but not the same. It’s the material used for plastic cutting boards, which you might be familiar with.

HDPE is sold in boards, up to 1″ thick. Available colors are generally black and white. That’s one of the only disadvantages of HDPE inserts: they look ugly when installed on furniture. If you are making a cabinet for your shop, you probably won’t even care. On the other hand, if you need to hide them from view, there’s an easy fix. Instead of installing the HDPE inserts on the drawer, put them on the frame side. On the drawers, you’ll cut the slots for the inserts to slide. Make sure to plan your project accordingly.

Final Thoughts

If you want to avoid buying expensive drawer slides, the best thing would be building your own guides. As we discussed in this quick post, it all comes down to building it properly (surfaces in contact need to be flush) and using some product to make them slide well, be it slippery tape or wax. These are also good options if you need to deal with sticky drawers. Another idea might be using HDPE to build the guides.

Keep in mind that if your drawer is big, you’ll probably need to install mechanical guides to it for the best results. I’d go for the suggested method only if you don’t plan on opening that drawer frequently and/or the things you’ll put in don’t weigh too much.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *