Repair Your Broken Drawers

Replacing side-mount, top-mount or bottom-mount drawer hardware can be like buttering toast... or like cleaning the toaster.

Usually the scenario is something like this...

The parent has inadvertently left some bait on the counter, but not near enough to the edge so their little joy can reach it. But Junior is no fool!  He has seen how the drawers pull out and, being a higher form of life, deduces that by stepping on the drawer... well, you get the picture.  The result is a hopelessly jammed drawer, drooping like the lolling tongue of an exhausted wildebeest!

Why oh why?

One of two things has happened... either a guide roller, or wheel, has jumped off the track causing the drawer tracks to lockup against each other when you try to remove the drawer... or the track is so hopelessly bent that the wheels bind preventing removal of the drawer.

If you have never worked with drawer tracks before, look at another drawer in the same cabinet and learn how a properly functioning set of tracks do their stuff!  Remember... you don't have to reinvent the wheel, just understand the concept!  As you may have already realized, sometimes the hardest part of drawer track repair is just getting the dang drawer out in the first place! 


You are very lucky.  The drawer is located above a nice big cabinet or in the midst of other drawers giving you easy access to the tracks.  If the problem seems to be a wheel that is off the track, you can sometimes pop the wheel back in using a long screwdriver and a little finesse. Simply pry the cabinet-mounted track away from the drawer and ease the wheel of the drawer- mounted track back into the cabinet-mounted track.

If the drawer works fine after doing this, you still aren't done. Slide the drawer out and remove it from the cabinet.  Look at the hardware on both the drawer and inside the cabinet.  Are any of the tracks bent?  Are the tracks securely attached to the cabinet at both ends?  Are any of the wheels wobbly or excessively worn?  If so, you can obtain a drawer slide kit at your hardware or home store. Read on for some installation tips and also for a trick to help you prevent this problem from reoccurring.

Then again, who ever said life is fair?  Some drawer hardware is not so easy to get to.


No access to the inside track, eh?  If you have zero access to the top or bottom of the drawer, all is not lost! Try the following, remembering the Rule of Handymanship #11: Be conservative in your repairs.  In other words, don't cause more damage than you must to get the job done!

Pull the drawer out as far as possible. Remove all the screws you can see from the tracks on both sides of the drawer. If you are lucky, the manufacturer used a minimal number of screws and the drawer and slides will part company, freeing up the drawer for removal.

Next best case, the slides will pivot on the remaining screw, which remains inside the cabinet. Using a bit of finesse, you should be able to wiggle and jiggle the track so that remaining screw rips free. There is no real "technique" here... use a stiff putty knife, a flat screwdriver or whatever to persuade the little screw that you are the boss!  Never fear... the replacement track will cover the hole and most drawer tracks have zillions of holes... hopefully you won't have to  rescrew into the damaged spot.

Many cabinet makers use hardware that is similar... but not identical... to the replacement parts you can buy at home centers and hardware stores.

Often, the differences are merely in screw placement. Sometimes, though, you must make modifications to the inside of the cabinet to secure the slides. Your best bet is to take one drawer with slides attached and the cabinet-mounted slides to the best hardware store in your area. If they have something close, go for it!

The critical factors are the length of the slide set and the thickness of the tracks. If the track length is too short, the drawer may not pull out far enough.  Longer tracks are not a problem, since they can be cut.  The thickness is more critical.  If the new track is too thin, the wheels may jump the track and jam the drawer... again!  But thinner tracks can be relocated by deft shimming... using thin strips of wood or metal washers between the cabinet sides and the tracks to move the tracks closer to the drawer sides.

If the replacement track is too thick, it may bind on the sides of the drawer. Thicker tracks will take more work to install since they may bind against the cabinet face, necessitating a little woodworking to provide the space they need to function.  I strongly suggest you energetically shop for the correct track thickness before you begin carving up your cabinet!

There are advantages to using a longer track... if you have the space for it!

A longer track can allow the drawer to pull out further, which in turn allows better access to stuff in the back.  However, the trick is to mount the longer track on the drawer only.  The tracks attached to the frame should be cut with a hacksaw to the original manufacturer's length.

To see if this trick can work for you, measure the distance from the inside front of the drawer cabinet to the back of the cabinet or to any obstruction (such as any supports of braces mounted in the drawer's path) that would interfere with the longer  moveable tracks.  This is the maximum track length.  If you are unsure about the length, opt for a longer track length... you can always trim them down if you find that the drawer will not close completely.

One type of slide that I have found a joy (Not) to replace is the type that extends from the front of the cabinet to the rear wall, usually bending at the back to allow for screwing in. Unless you have a supplier of cabinet parts in your area, you are probably not going to get a match for these. Instead, you will have to build up the inside of the cabinet walls with wooden spacers to give you a place to screw the straight standard tracks. It is important that you maintain the distance between the left and right tracks. If the space widens towards the rear, the wheels may jump off the track... jamming the drawer.  If the space narrows, the drawer will bind and not close.

GOOF UP ALERT! Screw in... not screw up! (Or glue in!)

Screws poking through the delicately- appointed faces of your cabinets are not attractive!  So try to determine the thickness of the cabinet walls before you begin screwing into them . To measure the thickness of the side wall, first pick an end cabinet with an exposed finished side. Measure the width of the face frame along the outside vertical edge. Then, measure from the inside cabinet wall to the inside edge of the face frame (same edge). Subtract the two measurements.  You may have to subtract an additional 1/8" or so for any overlap of the face frame on the outside of the cabinet.

Though some older cabinets have 3/4" thick walls most modern cabinet makers, being sensitive to the environment (and their profits), use panels as thin as 1/8". You cannot get a screw to hold in an 1/8" panel, so don't even try. And don't nail or screw through the outside of the cabinet unless all else has failed. It can look very amateurish or, as my editor would say... aesthetically un-pleasing!

Instead try the following technique...

Heat up your glue gun and get out your can (or tube) of construction adhesive. Determine the location of the wood spacer.   Apply dabs of construction adhesive to the spacer or the cabinet... whichever is easier/neater for you. Leave a few inches of the top and bottom of the shim glue-free. Press shim into place to spread the adhesive, then remove it and apply a dollop of hot melt glue to the top and bottom of the strip. Immediately press back into place. The hot glue sets up really fast, allowing you screw the tracks up within a few minutes. The construction adhesive, when dry (generally 24 hours) will give you the strong, long-term grip that rivals nails and screws.

Can you prevent this problem from happening again?

Sometimes.  If junior goes cabinet climbing again, no hope!  However, you can make the tracks more secure and lessen the possibility of recurrence under less grueling circumstances.

Once you are sure the drawer is functioning properly, add wooden spacers at the midpoints of the cabinet-mounted tracks. They will solidify the tracks and make derailment less likely. Always do both sides at the same time.  If you don't, you may cause the tracks to bow to one side, inducing pressure on the tracks and rollers that can cause premature failure.

Don't use too thick a spacer.  You might cause the drawer track to bow inward and jam the drawer.  Cut your spacers so that they slide easily between the tracks and the cabinet walls.  Temporarily hold them in place with masking tape, install the drawer and test the drawer for proper function.  If the drawer jams, try thinning the shims.  If the drawer works, permanently install the spacers.