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How To Fix Sticking Drawers

Mahogany Desk with file drawers

Wooden Drawer Construction

Drawers when constructed need to be made to fit the drawer opening perfectly with an equal and small gap of 1 or 2 mm all the way around the edge. They also need to slide on their runners in a straight line so when closed they fit snugly into the opening.

Our mahogany range of furniture is hand crafted and building drawers by hand to achieve the above is actually quite difficult. Very occasionally we get reports of sticking drawers – this article explains how to fix sticking drawers which is normally quite simple.

Causes of Sticking Drawers

There are three main causes of sticking drawers which relate to the construction of the piece of furniture. Of course there are other reason that a drawer might be sticking. For example there is some sort of physical obstruction like a small piece of metal or hard plastic stuck in the runners. Also, and this may sound really obvious, the drawer might be brimming with items and whatever is in the drawer it catching on the inside the front of the frame. These are worth checking but apart from that, as I said there are three main causes:

  • The drawer is slightly over sized resulting in it rubbing against the main body of the piece of furniture in one or more places. Apart from the drawer or the opening being constructed slightly over sized the main cause of this in solid wood furniture is wood expansion. In a moist environment wood can expand and hence the drawer front becomes ‘tight’ in its opening.
  • The drawer sides or runners have become worn and the surfaces are not smooth so creating more friction making the drawer less easy to open and close. This applies mainly to wooded drawers with wooden runners.
  • The runners of the drawer are out of line by a small degree which means the drawer will run at an angle thus resulting in it sticking or certainly not running smoothly. This can be because the runners have been mounted at a slight angle and not dead straight. Or possibly when the item was moved the frame was flexed in such a way as to go slightly out of shape. This a particular problem with flat packed furniture but much less so with solid made furniture.

Finding the Cause

Remove the drawer and inspect all sides and edges to identify where it is coming into contact with the frame – normally a rub mark or slight abrasion will be visible. Also check the inside of the frame for a corresponding rub mark or marks.

Quite often the cause will immediately be apparent but if there is no obvious abrasions then inspect the runners and the inside of grooves that the runners move along. Check for rub marks and that the runners are properly aligned and are not loose. Note that not all drawers have runners and some are metal so you might have to adjust what to inspect depending on the type of runner.

Tip1: In some cases the drawer can be stuck so solidly that it will not open by pulling the handle(s). In these cases try putting your hand up and under the back of the drawer and pulling. For access to the back of the drawer you might need to remove a drawer below the sticking one. If this does not work remove the back panel (if possible) and then the drawer can be pushed out or by tapping the sides of the drawer with a rubber mallet or similar this will normally do the trick.

Tip2: If a drawer comes out almost all the way then stops this is possibly because there is a ‘catch’ at the back of the drawer. This catch is there to stop the drawer being accidentally pulled fully out and landing on your feet!. The drawers of AKD Furniture have such a catch. By putting your hand inside and to the back and top of the drawer feel for this catch in the centre. Then swivel it either left or right 90 degrees so it no longer sticks up and the drawer can then be removed.

Fixing the Problem

Once you have established where the drawer is sticking there are a number of options you can employ.

  • Where there is a rub or scuff mark it is just a matter of sanding this area down. This may require just a light sanding to resolve the problem or heavier sanding to take off a millimetre or two of the surface before the drawer will run freely. A couple of points to remember – firstly try and sand an area which is out of sight on the inside of the frame – secondly if a more visible areas need to be sanded try to avoid harming the front of the drawer. Staining or painting the sanded area maybe required afterwards.
  • Fix loose runners or realign them as required.
  • Runners can be made to run smoother by sticking nylon tap along the runners or smearing them with candle wax.

Tip3: If you need to repaint the edge of a drawer after sanding remember that paint has some thickness so sand a bit extra to take account of this.

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