Woodworkers who are making cabinetry out of expensive, attractive hardwoods are often uncertain about what to use when it comes to constructing the drawers. Or more specifically, the drawer boxes. Should the interior sides, back, and bottom of the drawers be made from the same wood as the face of the drawers and the rest of the cabinet? After all, this will give the drawer sides a uniform look when they are opened, perfectly matching the face of the drawer. However, the advantages of building drawers this way may well be outweighed by the merits of using a different wood.
Hardwoods like cherry or fine maple are expensive. On a big project like a full-wall entertainment center, the added cost of building solid-cherry drawers could add up to hundreds of extra dollars. Using a less expensive, but equally suitable, wood won't affect the look of the finished piece unless you like to leave the drawers open for some reason.
Drawer boxes, even high-quality handmade boxes, typically have plywood bottoms. This is because plywood is flat, strong, and dimensionally stable (it expands and contracts much less than solid wood). It's also much easier to cut a single piece of plywood to fit a drawer box than to glue up a bunch of hardwood planks.
Plywood for most drawers is 1/4 inch thick but can be 1/2 inch thick on large drawers. You can find these materials in many different types of hardwood so that one or both of the outer veneers can match your drawer boxes and/or fronts. However, not all wood species are available in a veneer plywood. If you can't find a plywood that matches or complements your drawer box material, you might be faced with gluing up stock to create the bottoms. That's a pretty time-consuming undertaking.
Why Be Matchy-Matchy?
There's nothing wrong with using a contrasting wood for the drawer sides. In fact, this can be a stylistic advantage. For example, combining a dark hardwood front with a lighter-colored wood like poplar for the drawer box can really highlight the joinery and workmanship. Contrasting wood colors look particularly good with joints like half-blind dovetails.
You Can't Go Wrong With Poplar
Poplar is a great all-around choice for drawer box construction. It is stable, durable, and much less expensive than most hardwoods. The color of poplar heartwood ranges from a creamy white to a yellowish tan or brown. It is very easy to work with and has straight, uniform grain. The overall look of popular blends well with birch plywood, which is an excellent choice for the drawer bottoms.
Wood for Drawer Box Bottoms
Assuming you're going with plywood for the drawer bottoms, you'll get the best results with real hardwood plywood, which is made entirely with thin plies of real hardwood. Conventional plywood has inner plies of various softwoods, even if the outer veneers are hardwood. In general, more, thinner plies make for stronger, flatter panels. For birch plywood, you can't go wrong with Baltic birch, a true hardwood plywood sold in 60-by-60-inch sheets as well as various cut sizes.