Transform an old dresser into fresh new display space using easy-to-make inserts.
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When replacing dresser drawers with custom-fit cubbies, you’ll need to size each insert to fit the dresser opening. Many dressers, for example, will have horizontal dividers between levels of drawers instead of the large openings shown. For those pieces, plan to replace the four-opening cubbies shown with cubbies built one opening tall and two wide.
With the dresser drawers and drawer side hardware removed, measure each dresser opening in at least two locations horizontally and vertically. Build the cubbies about 1/8 inch smaller in each direction -- 1/4 inch smaller if the openings are a slightly irregular shape. Then measure from the back of the dresser to the front of the frame (or wherever you want the front edge of the cubby to end). You can make the cubby shallower by including a back panel, but this needs to be added to the overall dimensions.
Cut the cubby top, bottom, sides, and optional divider to size (Dresser Cubby Planning Guide). Cut the shelves slightly longer than necessary -- they’ll be trimmed to fit later. Then cut spacers sized to center the divider along the inside height of the cubbies. For example, if the finished cubby will be 20 inches wide, the space between the sides would equal 19 inches. Spacers would then be 9-1/4 inches long to allow for the 1/2-inch thickness of the MDF.
Lay one of the sides on a flat work surface. Apply glue to the bottom edge and nail the bottom to the side. Place spacers on the side, glue the bottom of the divider, and nail it to the cubby bottom.
Rotate the assembly onto its bottom. Cut spacers to center a shelf on the side and divider, and cut the shelf to length. Glue the ends of the shelf and rest it on the spacers. Then nail the shelf to the divider and top/bottom, and let the glue dry.
Rest the assembly on its edge. Then glue and nail the other side in place. Turn it back on its bottom, glue the second shelf, and nail it in place.
Glue and fasten the top to the sides and divider. Check that the assembly is square. Allow the glue to dry and sand the edges flush with the MDF faces.
Mix 1/4 cup of wood glue with 1/4 cup of water to make glue size. Brush glue size over the entire surface and let dry. This helps make the porous edges firm instead of fuzzy. Sand the MDF smooth.
Apply three coats of the finish of your choice (Cracked Pepper shown). Allow the paint to dry overnight before inserting into the dresser. Apply paint to the inside back of the dresser as needed.
Check the dresser opening for hardware or obstructions and remove them. Then slide the cubby into place and nail it to the bottom of the dresser. Fill any gaps with caulk, let dry, and paint.