I have a couple of small parts organizer cabinets. Over the years several drawers went missing or broke. Fortunately it’s easy and cheap to make replacement drawers for a small parts organizer. You don’t have to throw out a $20 cabinet over some missing drawers. Here’s an illustrated guide showing how I made mine.
To make replacement drawers for a small parts organizer, trace out all of the sides on a piece of thick cardboard. The thicker the better. Leave flaps in each corner. Cut out the big rectangle. Cut one side of each flap. Score the rest of the lines and fold them, then secure with wood glue.
Why use cardboard?
Cardboard may sound hokey, but hear me out. The plastic that the drawers for small parts organizers are made of isn’t all that strong either. Cardboard can be very durable, especially if you get thick cardboard, like bookbinder’s board or chipboard. You can buy bookbinder’s board at art supply stores. It’s the same stuff hardcover books are made from. Chipboard looks just like the back of a notepad. You can buy chipboard at most craft stores.
The cardboard won’t be much weaker than the plastic it’s replacing. It also won’t crack, because cardboard isn’t as brittle. If something does go wrong, it will also be much easier to fix. If the cardboard ever rips, just squirt a bit of wood glue into the tear, then glue a scrap of paper on either side of the tear. The paper doesn’t have to be much more than an inch wider than the tear.
Bookbinder’s board takes Titebond wood glue extremely well, so I recommend both. It took me about 10 minutes to make the first drawer. The remaining ones went faster. I didn’t time myself and I didn’t do them in a single sitting, but I doubt I spent much more than 30 minutes total.
While I made the drawers, I also did some other things to enhance my small parts organizer cabinet.
What about other kinds of cardboard?
Corrugated cardboard is hard to work with, so I don’t recommend messing with that. It doesn’t fold well and the corrugated edges won’t take glue well.
You could certainly use cereal box cardboard or other similar cardboard from food packaging. It won’t be as strong, but it will work. If money is tight, or if you want to prove the concept before buying a heavier cardboard, give it a whirl with the empty Raisin Bran box.
Making replacement drawers for a small parts organizer
To make things easier, I traced the drawer out on a sheet of paper so I’d have a template.
Then I traced out the template on my cardboard.
I used a metal ruler and a pen to trace out any lines where I would have to bend. Press down hard to score the cardboard slightly. You’ll find the cardboard bends very readily right along the line.
Cut out the rectangle from the cardboard, then cut the flaps along the front line. Fold the remaining lines into a box. Trim the flaps so they fit tightly against the front and back of the box. Squirt a few drops of glue onto the flaps and onto the front and back of the drawer. Spread out the glue into even, thin layers. It doesn’t take a lot. Fold the cardboard into a box and secure both the front and back with two small clamps or wooden clothespins.
Test the fit after you make your first one. My first one was about 1/16 of an inch too wide so it didn’t fit. I adjusted my template and then my drawers fit, at least sideways. Some of my drawers ended up a touch too tall and they rubbed, making them hard to open. That was easy to fix with some 60-grit sandpaper. If you use thinner cardboard, you may have to cut them shorter instead of sanding them.
It only takes about 10 minutes for each drawer to dry. After they dried, I glued a 3/8-inch wooden bead to the front to act as a drawer pull. You can also glue a lip to the back of the drawer if the stock drawers have one.
If you’re concerned about appearance, you can paint the front of the drawer, or the whole drawer. Painting the drawers will also make them less susceptible to moisture.
I also cut some cardboard dividers to match the inside width of the drawer. This lets me keep related parts close together in the same drawer without mixing them up. For example, I use a lot of 6-32 machine screws, but in several different lengths. Putting 2-4 similar sizes in the same drawer with dividers to keep them from mixing up saves both time and cabinet space.
You can glue the dividers in if you want, or just cut them to a tight fit and let friction and the support of the items hold them in place. I use the dividers in both my cardboard drawers and the plastic drawers.
Removing labels from cardboard drawers
Removing peel-and-stick labels from cardboard drawers is more difficult than from plastic. You can just stick a new label over the old one if you need to change a label, or you can remove the old label with lighter fluid. Just dab a little lighter fluid with a cotton swab onto the label and let it soak in. The lighter fluid will neutralize the adhesive and the label will either fall off, or peel off with little resistance. The lighter fluid doesn’t affect the cardboard.
Consider making a couple of extras
I mentioned my first drawer was a little oversized so it didn’t fit. That may turn out to be a good thing. One reason I had missing drawers is because I tend to grab several drawers of parts for my projects. If I have an extra container right there, I’m more likely to grab one and put the parts I need in that container.
The container might still go missing, but if it does, then at least my whole stock of a particular part doesn’t go with it.
And now that you have your drawers made and your organizer is populated, here are some tips for sorting your screws and nails and other random hardware. Having a nice stock of hardware is much more helpful when you’re able to find the part you need when you need it.