How To Put Drawers In Stairs
If you live in a small home (or simply have more ‘things’ than you have space) storage can become an issue. Because of this, having functional spaces that double as storage is like rain in a desert.
Staircases happen to be some of the largest, most unutilized spaces in your home, yet they’re completely necessary to get from point A to point B. So why not solve two problems at once?
Learn how to turn stairs into drawers with this super helpful instructional guide! Sebastiaan Mellema will walk you his wonderful staircase drawers DIY so that you can start space-saving, stat!
You can also get the complete stairs with drawers plans on his Etsy for more specific material requirements and measurements.
Let's Make It
- Electric Saw
- Power Drill
- Paint Roller
- Crow Bar
- Tape Measure
- Pin Nailer
- Hot Glue Gun
- 3/8" Thick Plywood
- 1/2" Thick Plywood
- Wood Glue
- 1" Square Dowels
- Pre-Primed MDF Boards
- Larger Square Dowels
Turn Stairs Into Drawers
Remove The Faces Off Each Step
The first step (pardon the pun) in building staircase drawers is to remove the front wood board backing from each step.
Ideally, this could be done neatly with a drill or crowbar, but a small mallet can work to smash through stubborn boards.
Carefully remove any remaining wood chips or nails hanging in the opening.
Measure Your Staircase Dimensions
Though Mollema has made a complete design with drafted drawings, the measurements are likely to vary depending on the size of your staircase.
Measure the dimensions of your stairs, recording the width and height of each stair face opening.
If your staircase is carpeted you will, unfortunately, have to remove the carpeting for this DIY.
Cut Wood For The Drawer Frames
The wood of each drawer and drawer track will be made out of plywood. Each drawer will need to be made up of two parts: a drawer frame/track, and the sliding drawer.
Plywood is a flexible yet sturdy material, easy to work with, and lightweight enough for smooth maneuverability.
Though Mollema’s stairs with drawers plans are for steps that wrap around a bend, the instructional guide can also be used for a straight staircase. For simplicity's sake, we will only be walking through how to put drawers in stairs that are straight today.
What To Cut For Each Step:
For the drawer frame, cut four long pieces of ⅜” thick plywood to approximately 6 inches wide.
Then, cut each one to be as long as your staircase is wide. These four boards will span the width of the drawer frame.
Next, cut two long pieces of ½” thick plywood to be as wide as your step opening is tall. Subtract ¾” to account for the other wood pieces.
Now, cut these boards to the depth your staircase allows. These two boards will represent the sides of your drawer frame.
Put The Frame Together
Referring to Mollema’s stairs with drawers plans, or your own drawings, prop up the two ½” thick frame sides parallel to one another.
Lay one of the four ⅜” boards down on top of the two sides, completely flush to the ends.
Use wood glue two attach the three boards, followed by a pin nailer to hold it in place.
Flip the three pieces over so that the ⅜” board is lying flat on your work surface.
Next, place the second ⅜” board on top of the sides the same way you did the last, boxing in one end of the frame. Glue and pin nail it into place.
Do the exact same thing with the remaining two ⅜” wood boards on the other end of the drawer frame.
This is the basic design of your drawer frame and should slide snugly into each stair opening. Make as many of these as you want drawers.
If your staircase is indeed curved like Mollema’s, continue following his plan for individual step instructions.
Cut Wood For The Drawers
Cut The Front And Back
Make the front and back of your drawer by cutting two ⅜” thick plywood boards. Measure each so that it is the exact width of your stair opening, but then subtract 3”. This will ensure that the drawer fits inside your frame while leaving room for tracks.
Next, cut each piece so it is as wide as the height of the stair opening, but subtracting 1” (again, so that it fits within your frame, with ¼” air room).
Cut The Sides
Next, create the sides of your drawer by cutting each to be as wide as the stair opening is high, but subtracting 1”.
Then, cut each piece the same length you cut the sides of your drawer frame, but subtract ½”.
Cut The Base
Finally, build a base for the drawer that will fit in between all four drawer sides (rather than underneath them).
Using ⅜” thick plywood, cut the base the same width as your stair opening, minus 4”.
Then, cut it so that it’s the exact same length as the sides of your drawer.
Cut The Handle
To turn stairs into drawers you're going to have to make a discreet handle.
Draw a small rectangle cutout on the top edge of the front plywood board. Make it approximately 1” x 4”, using the edge as one of the sides.
Make sure it’s perfectly centered on the board, then cut out the handle.
Put The Drawer Together
Lay the base of the drawer out on your work surface, then stand the two side boards up on either side of it.
Make sure the sides are flush to the edges of the base, then attach the three pieces with wood glue and a pin nailer.
Align the front and back plywood pieces the same way, making sure the handle side is facing up on the front board.
Make sure the corners are all flush, then attach them with wood glue and a pin nailer.
Build The Track
On The Frame
Going back to your drawer frame, measure the length of your side boards. Cut six 1” square dowels to the same length.
Stack three of the dowels on top of each other and place them inside the frame, right against the side board on the right.
Make sure the ends of the dowels are completely flush with the front and back of the frame.
Use a pencil to mark the height of the stack of dowels on the side board.
Remove the top two dowels, then glue the bottom one where it sits along the corner edge. Reinforce with a nail gun.
Pick up the second dowel and line it up carefully with the line you marked on the board.
Glue and nail the piece to the side board. (There should be a one-inch gap between the two, leaving room for the third dowel to slide in and out.)
Repeat this process on the left side of the frame.
On The Drawer
Slide the drawer into the frame. Mark where the dowel gap lines up with the drawer on either side, then remove the drawer.
In order to achieve a smooth opening and closing motion, you’ll need to allow for a small amount of air room between the bottom of the drawer and the frame.
To do this, lower your pencil mark just the slightest amount (making sure you’ll have air room above the drawer as well.
Once you’ve adjusted your guide line, attach the remaining two dowels to either side, using glue and a pin nailer.
After the glue has dried, slide the drawer in and out to make sure it works.
For ease of motion, you can coat the sides of the track with candle wax.
Build The Drawer Face
Now, when you turn stairs into drawers you don't want to sacrifice design for mere function. Instead of looking at rough, unfinished plywood, cover the drawer with a better quality face.
Mollema uses pre-primed MDF for his drawer fronts; a higher quality wood with a nice finish, keeping your stairs looking sleek and polished for years.
Cut the drawer face so that its width is equal to the height of the step, and its length is equal to the width of the step.
Measure and mark a handle cutout that lines up perfectly with the cutout on the inner drawer. For example, if the inner drawer’s handle is 1” x 4”, the handle on the MDF piece should be approximately 1 ½” x 4”.
Once you’re sure of your marks, cut the handle out with a saw.
Fit it into the opening of the bottom step to make sure it sits flush with the floor and stair tread above it.
Once satisfied with the fit, sand down all the edges so that you have a smooth finish.
Go over the whole surface with a roller in your chosen paint color, covering the exposed wood edges.
Let the paint dry, then set it aside.
Install The Drawer Frames
Now here’s the part where you cross your fingers and hold your breath! (Though if you've been following Mollema's stairs with drawers plans you shouldn't need to hold your breath for long.)
To test whether your measurements were done correctly, slide the drawer frame into the opening of the bottom step. (It’s good if it’s snug, as long as it can be pushed in fully!)
To stabilize the drawers you’ll need to screw the frames into the sides of the stairwell. But before you do, make sure the front of the frame is approximately 1” in from the edge of the stair tread above it.
Install A Support Panel
In order to support the weight and size of the upper drawers, Mollema’s design has each drawer supported by the frame below it.
If you’re able to access your stairwell from behind, you’ll save yourself a great deal of hassle. Otherwise, reach through the openings of the steps above to complete the rest of the installation.
Measure the height of your stair treads. Using a planer, cut two sturdy square dowels to the exact same thickness. (Or, if you can, find a pre-existing square dowel of the same dimensions.)
Next, cut the square dowels the same length as the drawer frame sides.
Glue the dowels to the top of the drawer frame sides and the walls of the stairwell. Use a nail gun to secure them even further.
These two panels will serve to support the weight of the drawer above it.
Attach The Drawer Face
Now that your drawer frames and support panels are in place, slide your drawers into position!
Then, attach the painted drawer face carefully and precisely to the front of the drawer with hot glue.
Slide the drawer out, then drill five screws into it from the inside.
You’ve now mastered how to put drawers in stairs!
Now that you know how to build one drawer, continue to create as many as you’d like until your staircase is complete!
Great for keeping your home clutter-free, staircase drawers save so much space. Providing extra storage without taking up extra square footage, stairs with drawers are the perfect organization hack.
If your staircase twists and turns but you’d still like to give this DIY a go, Sebastiaan Mollema’s downloadable plans have got you covered.
Experience the joy of a neater space, and make the most of your home with this amazing DIY.