DIY Emerson Dresser – How To Build

When building my Kendal Extra Wide Dresser, I was also simultaneously building another smaller Emerson 3 drawer dresser.  This classic dresser style is so versatile and can be used in just about any setting for either children or adults and is a great project for someone just getting into woodworking with maybe one or two previous projects under their belt.  While I stained the Kendal dresser for a more rustic look, my plan for the Emerson is to paint it white and give it to my daughter to compliment her multi-colored room!

The dresser frame construction in this project is very similar to the Kendal dresser, with the legs made from 2x2s and 3/4″ plywood and the frame and supports mostly made from 1x2s.  The dresser top is also similar in that I used 3/4″ plywood with some 1×3 trim around the edges.  The trim is optional, but nicely covers the edges of the plywood for a more finished look.  The same thing could easily be accomplished with some thin strips cut from 1x boards, so if you generally follow this plan, you’ve got options.

I also made the drawers out of 1/2″ plywood with 3/4″ face panels.  A lot of the dresser plans on the internet use 3/4″ boards to make drawers and while they’re a little easier to join and you can more easily screw or nail the drawer bottoms on the bottom of the drawer panels,  I think that makes the drawers a little more chunky and heavy.  I prefer the 1/2″ board construction with dado grooves holding the drawer bottoms in place.  I’ll walk you through the construction below.

As with my other plans, I’ve uploaded a complete 3D model of the dresser built in SketchUp.  SketchUp is free and you can download my plan and modify it as you like.  If you need some basic instructional videos on how to use SketchUp, there’s a ton out there on YouTube.  Here are some that I made.

I’ve also created a printable PDF version of this plan which you can purchase for $5.  It’s all the info from the blog posts, but I’ve compiled it for easy printing and included shopping lists, cut diagrams and helpful pictures.  Basically, if you want a handy printable version so you don’t have to get sawdust all over your iPad, you might consider purchasing this download.

Cut List – Dresser Top & Frame

  • 1 – 1/4″ Plywood @ 39″ x 28 1/2″ (dresser back)
  • 2 – 3/4″ Plywood @ 28 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ (dresser sides)
  • 1 – 3/4″ Plywood @ 36″ x 15 1/2″ (dresser top)
  • 3 – 1x2s @ 36″ long (dresser face frame)
  • 3 – 1x2s @ 15 1/2″ (top supports)
  • 1 – 1×2 @ 16 1/4″ (bottom support)
  • 3 – 1x4s @ 36″ (back supports)
  • 2 – 1x3s @ 20 1/2″ (top trim)
  • 2 – 1x3s @ 41″ (top trim)
  • 2 – 2x2s @ 36″ (frame supports)
  • 2 – 2x2s @ 33 1/2″ (dresser legs)

Cut List – Drawers

  • 3 – 1/4″ Plywood @ 34 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ (drawer bottoms)
  • 3 – 8″ wide 1x boards @ 35 3/4″ (drawer faces) – you may find 8″ wide project boards, but you’ll more likely need to buy 1×10 boards and rip them to 8″ with a table saw.
  • 6 – 1/2″ Plywood @ 34″ x 5 1/2″ (drawer frame)
  • 6 – 1/2″ Plywood @ 16″ x 5 1/2″ (drawer frame)
  • 6 – 5/16″ Pine Lattice @ 35 3/4″ (drawer trim)
  • 6 – 5/16″ Pine Lattice @ 8″ (drawer trim)

Cut diagram for the frame and top

Cut diagram for the drawers

Shopping List

  • 1 – 3/4″ plywood @ 4′ x 8′ – Buy a nice sanded hardwood plywood since this will be the sides and top of your dresser.  You will only use about half of the plywood.  If you can find a half sheet (4′ x 4′) that will work!
  • 1 – 1/2″ plywood @ 4′ x 8′ – This is for your drawer boxes.
  • 1 – 1/4″ plywood @ 4′ x 8′ – This will be for your drawer bottoms and the back of the dresser
  • 2 – 1x2s @ 8′ select pine or hardwood boards
  • 2 – 1x4s @ 8′ select pine or hardwood boards
  • 2 – 1x3s @ 6′ select pine or hardwood boards
  • 3 – 2x2s @ 8′
  • 2 – 1x10s @ 6′ – These are for the drawer faces and will be ripped to 8″ wide.  If you can find 8″ project boards, that will work as well.
  • 3 – 5/16″ pine lattice @ 8′

Cutting Your Wood

I recommend that you have the store make initial cuts on your plywood when you buy it.  These will be your dresser top and the sides.  This makes the work at home much easier (unless you have a table saw large enough to handle a full sheet of plywood!) and also helps with transportation.  The folks at Home Depot or Lowes will do this for you, but make sure that they measure carefully and get the cuts exactly… you don’t want that 1/8″ thick saw blade to turn your 15 1/2″ strip into a 15 3/8″ strip!

*Ripping wood means cutting it in the direction of the grain.  Cutting against the grain is referred to as “cross-cutting.”

I would also suggest that you wait to do your cross cuts until you’ve built the dresser frame and measure them individually.  Even the best measured plans are dealing with wood which can contract or expand slightly based on humidity.  Measuring the drawers individually takes a little longer but may save you some work in the long run.

Constructing the Frame

Before we get started, here’s a vision of the frame so you can see what we’re going for.  I’ve added measurements so you can make sure you cut your 1x2s and 2x2s appropriately.

Here’s a picture of the frame “skeleton” so you can get a good visual of how it’s constructed.

Once you’ve cut your plywood sides, the 4 2×2 legs and the frame (which consists of your 2x2s and 1x2s), you’ll want to drill your pocket holes all together.  This takes a little while and I’ve definitely found it helpful to knock all this out at one time.

You’ll use pocket holes to attach the plywood sides to the legs as well as to the dresser top.  For the top, the screws will actually attach to the trim, so that’s why my plan has additional cross supports to attach the dresser top (more on that later).

Side panel & frame supports with pocket holes

You’ll notice that my wood looks really different in these pictures.  That’s because I used a good bit of “reclaimed” wood to build this particular dresser (you’ll see my Kendal dresser that I was building with it in the background!)

A note on the hardware… when attaching the 3/4″ boards to other 3/4″ stock, you’ll use 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws.  When attaching 2x2s to other 2x2s, you’ll use 2″ pocket hole screws.  Make sure that when you are drilling your pocket holes that you measure and make adjustments to your Kreg Jig and the drill bit itself or you’ll end up drilling a hole in your jig (like I did!)

Notice in the frame construction that I used 2x2s for the top rear and bottom front frame supports.  Be sure to carefully follow the plan!

Also notice that the bottom 1×2 support is a different length (16 1/4″) from the top 1×2 supports (15 1/2″).

The cross supports (I’m using 3 on the top and 1 on the bottom) are different sizes because the back frame has a 2×2 on the top, but 3/4″ thick 1x4s on the bottom.

Frame Assembly

I’ll start this section out with a few pointers on constructing the frame:

  • Sand your wood before assembling everything.  Sanding is the biggest pain and I like to try and knock it all out at once.  It makes a total mess in the garage or workshop ir basement or wherever.  Also, make sure you sand after you drill your pocket holes since they will leave rough areas around the holes.  Even though these will generally be hidden, it’s good form!
  • Second, glue all your joints with a good quality wood glue before joining them with screws.
  • Third, notice that the inside of the side panels – the side you drilled the pocket holes on – attach flush to the edge of the 2×2 legs.  Be careful here!  This can create some aggravation when you’re trying to clamp the sides to the legs to attach.  Don’t make the mistake of assembling with the outside facing side of dresser panel flush with the edge of the legs.  The inside facing side of the panel should be the side flush with the edge of the legs.

You may also find that you like certain sides of your legs and want a particular face to be more visible, especially if you’re staining the dresser, so take care to make sure that the legs are attached such that the best faces are visible.

Start with the side panels for the dresser:

Here’s what they will look like.  This is a view of both the left and right outsides of the dresser panels.  Note that the sides are flush with the inside of the legs.

I found that the 90° Kreg clamps are really useful when joining the legs.  They’re a little more expensive than basic clamps, but well worth the investment to make your project go smoothly!

Using a Kreg clamp to hold the dresser legs to the panel for joining

Another look at the inside of the drawer sides.  Note that I drilled the pocket holes on the inside of the panel which is flush with the inside face of the legs.

Inside of the side panel should be flush to the edge of the dresser legs

Next, attach the back supports, again with pocket hole screws.  Your frame will look like this.  Remember that the top rear support is a 2×2 while the bottom 3 are 1x4s.

Another shot of using the right angle Kreg clamp to get a solid joint.

I don’t know how I managed without this thing before!

Using the Kreg Right Angle clamp is a major time saver!

Next, attach the front base support.  This is another 2×2 board.

The bottom frame support is slightly longer than the top frame supports.  This is because the front frame support is a 2×2 and the back is a 1×4 whereas the top is a 1×2 placed horizontally across from a 2×2 so the distance spanning the top and bottom (for the supports) is different by 3/4″.

Attach the 1×2 face frame supports with wood glue and pocket hole screws:

Here are the 15 1/2″ top supports which will help support the dresser top.  Again, attach with pocket hole screws.  And yes, you might have to do some arm gymnastics to drill your pocket hole screws in.  The regular Kreg clamps will be a lot of help when it comes to  attaching the frame support.

Dresser Top Construction

In my Emerson Dresser version, I’ve constructed the top from 3/4″ plywood trimmed with 1×3 boards cut at mitered angles.  This will require some precision cutting with your miter saw and while I think it makes for a nice decorative top, you can certainly trim the top with butt joints (i.e. non-mitered joints) instead.

Also, I’ve linked a video here that will show you some tips on setting your miter saw to cut at 45° angles so you don’t have gaps.

Here’s the schematic for the top:

Top assembled with measurements:

After cutting the trim pieces, I drilled pocket holes on each face.  Additionally, I’m using a biscuit joiner to align the trim pieces with the plywood top board.  This way you can make sure that the whole top of the dresser is flush and minimize any additional sanding.  You’re pretty certain to find that the trim pieces and the plywood have slightly different thicknesses, even through they are both supposed to be 3/4″ thick!

I used both the pocket hole jig and the biscuit joiner to join the trim to the dresser top.

It’s also important to attach your trim with the appropriate sides facing the top.  It’s easy to make an error here if you’re not paying attention.  I suggest writing the surface face on your wood when assembling it.

Dresser top and trim pieces

Here’s a shot of the fully constructed top (bottom side facing up so you can see the pocket holes.  If you’ve got access to long clamps like the ones shown, that’s great.  If you have a Harbor Freight in your area, that’s a great place to find inexpensive clamps!

Attaching trim to the dresser top with pocket hole screws and wood glue.

Drawer Construction

Emerson Dresser drawer with trim

After building out the frame and the dresser top, I moved to the drawer construction.  I chose to make the 3 dresser drawers out of 1/2″ plywood which to me made the drawers feel slightly more spacious and also to be less heavy.  I used pocket holes to join the drawer sides to the front and back and for the bottom, I used 1/4″ plywood fitted into dado grooves cut 1/4″ deep and also 1/4″ up from the bottom of the drawer frame.  While you can certainly just glue and nail/screw the drawer bottom to the bottom of the drawer frame, I think the dado method provides a little more support.

The drawers are also constructed so that there’s a 1/2″ gap between the sides of the drawers and the side of the dresser so that the drawer slides will fit.  Because of the importance of a correct fit, I would also strongly recommend that you build the drawers after you’ve completed the frame assembly to compensate for variations in the frame measurements.  Unless you’re an engineer and make everything perfectly (and you’ve got perfect wood, which I’m convinced doesn’t actually exist!), you’re probably going to have some slight variation in your frame construction.

It’s really the front and back drawer boards that you need to really pay attention to.  Since the drawer depth will all be the same, you can cut your drawer sides all together.

Drawer box pieces with the dado groove


Don’t be intimidated by cutting dado grooves.  It’s really not difficult.  You just need to have the appropriate tools, be patient, measure correctly and test your cuts!  I have used this Freud dado blade set on a number of projects and think it’s a great value for what you get.

Freud dado blade

Here’s the schematic for the drawers.  I suggest using wood glue in the dado grooves as well as your pocket hole screws on the drawer panels for additional strength.

1/2″ plywood drawer boxes are cut with a dado that is 1/4″ from the bottom and 1/4″ deep.

Also, make sure that when you drill your pocket holes, you drill them on the outside of the drawer panels.

Drawer box panels with pocket holes

Start by joining the drawer sides to the back leaving the front off in order to insert the drawer bottom.

Start by attaching the back and 2 sides of the drawer together with wood glue and pocket hole screws.  Then you’ll slide the drawer bottom into the dado and attach the drawer front.  With the drawers, as with the frame, you’ll find the Kreg right angle clamp pretty indispensable.  However, it can be a challenge clamping the pieces so they don’t slide when trying to attach them.  For these drawer box panels, I used a block of scrap wood and a clamp to stop the panel from creeping in when screwing.  The Kreg clamp that I used on the frame legs is a little heavy duty for this 1/2″ plywood, so I found this method, while requiring a little balance with your hands lining things up and clamping, to be much easier.

Another shot of a partially assembled drawer. In this shot I went ahead and inserted the drawer bottom for additional support.

Next, run a bead of wood glue down each dado and slide the drawer bottom into place.

Notice that the drawer bottom is inset. This is because the front panel will butt joint to the insides of the side panels.

Next, attach the front of the drawer, again with wood glue and pocket screws.

Next, attach the front drawer panel and secure with wood glue and pocket hole screws.

Your construction will look like this.  The reason you want the pocket holes on the outside of the drawer panels is so that you won’t see them on the inside of the drawer.  Once the drawer face panel is attached, you won’t really see the holes, unless you’re looking for them.  You can also fill them with wood filler if you’re so inclined.

Front drawer panel attached to the side. Remember, the front is inset into the sides so the length of side panels is the same as the depth of the drawer. Pocket holes are also cut in the front and back panels.

Next you’ll want to attach the faceplate to the drawers.  Here’s where I’m going to again suggest that you measure and cut each face panel individually.  This will take a little longer, but since these drawers are inset into the face frame of the dresser, it’s important to get the measurements right so the gaps around the drawers look consistent when they are closed.  TO do that, measure the width and height of each drawer space in the dresser frame and cut accordingly.

The drawer trim is made from pine lattice.  You can buy strips of lattice at Home Depot or Lowes and you’ll find them in the moulding section.  You’ve got a few options; they come in pine either unfinished or finished or you can find them in a synthetic material like PVC.  The benefit to the PVC is that they are perfectly straight.  You may also find them in PVC with a laminate that’s supposed to be stainable and paintable.  They’re probably great, but I’ve stuck to the old school pine ones.  I guess I’m just afraid that the paint will peel over time.

The drawer trim is made from 5/16″ thick pine lattice strips cut to size with mitered corners.

Like the dresser top, you can either miter the corners at 45° angles or you can butt joint them together depending on the look you want.

I used pre-primed lattice trim pieces.

Check out those precision cuts!

You’ll want to use wood glue and finishing nails to attach the lattice.  Here I’m being creative in holding the lattice pieces down while the glue dries!

Gluing the drawer face trim and setting with something heavy, in this case some paint cans

Here I’ve got both dressers laid out for additional sanding!

Attaching the Drawer Slides

Adding the drawer slides can be a little tedious, but it’s not particularly hard. In my opinion it’s better to add the slides after assembling the frame so you can make any minor adjustments that are necessary.  But doing that does involve contorting yourself so you can measure, hold the slides in place and screw them in.  It would be really helpful if you have 3 hands for this step! I’m using 16″ bottom mount drawer slides for the drawers.

For attaching the drawer slides, it will be helpful to have an awl to mark your screw holes in the dresser side.  This will enable you to start the screw slightly with your hand before you screw or drill it in.  When you’re trying to reach in between the drawer face frame to attach these things, you’ll see what I’m talking about!

I’m using an old strip of 1/4″ wood underneath the drawer slide.  This is so that the bottom of the drawer is not flush to the face frame and there’s a little space to ensure that the drawer opens and closes smoothly.  You can measure this out, but I think it’s easier to use a spacer.  That will ensure that your spacing is exact for every drawer.  Make sure that your slide is level!

Here’s a shot of the bottom mounted slide on the drawer.  Once you get the first drawer in, you’re going to have this amazing sense of accomplishment!  Making drawers seem like it’s a really complicated thing, but if you break it down step by step like I’m illustrating here, you’ll be making awesome drawers in no time at all!

Tackling the Drawer Face Panels

Now you should have your drawers made, your drawer face panels trimmed with lattice and it’s time to do the final drawer assembly.  That means drilling a hole for the drawer pull in the center of the drawer panel and then attaching the drawer face so that it fits precisely into the face frame of the dresser.

Drawer illustrated with attached face. This will be inset into the dresser frame.

Below you’ll see my drawer pull and a couple drill bits.  I’m drilling the hole in my face frame with the drill bit in the middle.  Then I’ll drill my hole in the front of the drawer using the larger 1/4″ drill bit.  The reason I’m doing this is to give the drawer face a little “wiggle room” when using the spacers to position it.  This will make more sense in a few minutes.

You’re going to need drawer pulls and a couple drill bits.

Use your tape measure to mark the vertical and horizontal center of the drawer panel:

It’s fine to use a hand drill to make this initial hole, but if you have access to a drill press, that will guaranty that you get a perfectly perpendicular hole.

Drawer face with hole for the drawer pull.

There are lots of posts on the internet about how to get a perfect fit with your drawer face panel, but the method I’ll use is to slide each drawer into it’s place, use craft sticks (or tongue depressors) to space the drawer face in the frame and against the drawer, then use a hand drill to drill the hole – through the face panel hole which I’ve already drilled – into the drawer front board.  This makes sure that the holes for the drawer pull are aligned and also when I attach the pull it will basically hold the face panel to the drawer (along with glue & nails of course!).

Before I actually attach the drawer pull, I’ll take the drawer out and using a slightly larger 1/4″ drill bit, I’ll “overdrill” the drawer front, making the original hole a little larger.  This will allow me to make very slight adjustments to the drawer face even after I’ve attached it with the drawer pull.

Here’s the method that I used for fitting the face frame drawers into the face.

Oh… and One Last Drawer Step

This is a totally optional one, but I wanted to create a sectional divider in the top draw of this dresser.  For this I used some of the leftover 1/4″ plywood to cut some thin strips and a divider.  I glued the thin strips to the inside front and back of the drawer making a slot for the divider to slide down into so I can remove it if I want to.

Drawer divider pieces

Here’s the top drawer finished with the divider panel. This is, of course, optional.

Here’s a shot of the fully constructed dresser and drawers before a final sanding and painting.  We’re on the home stretch!

Here’s the dresser with the drawers completed, awaiting the painting!

Painting & Finishing

Upside down view showing the internal construction and top attachment.

Painting the dresser top

The dresser, primed and painted, ready for coats of polyurethane

If you like this plan, consider my printable PDF version which you can purchase for $5.  It’s all the info from this post formatted so you can print off the sections you want, included shopping lists, cut diagrams and helpful pictures.  Basically, if you want a handy printable version so you don’t have to get sawdust all over your iPad, you might consider purchasing this download!

Here’s the dresser set up and ready for decorating!


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