how to fix “sticky” drawers

Marian ParsonsAntiques, Cleaning & care, Decorating, home improvement, Tips and Tricks, Tutorials23 Comments

Have you ever had words with a piece of furniture that just would not cooperate?

Well, I had to have a few words and get physical with this bottom half of a step-back cupboard yesterday.  The drawers that came out of it, so they could be cleaned, just would not go back in.  And, when I tried to force them in, they wouldn’t come back out.  This resulted in lots of grunting and “good griefs” and using my feet to steady the piece as I pulled with all of my might.

mms-5583

Unless you’re a furniture dealer, I bet most of you haven’t had a piece this extreme, but you might have come across a few drawers that are sticky and stubborn.

Here is how I fix them…

#1

I figure out where the drawer is sticking.  This is sometimes easier said than done and can take a bit of trail and error.  Look for clues, though.  Do you see marks on the drawer that show signs of rubbing?  Insert the drawer into the recess.  Can you shimmy it left to right or up and down?  Finding which way there is “wiggle room” can help determine where the drawer might be sticking.

(Also, check to make sure nothing is stuck in the drawer runners or behind the drawer.  I have found all sorts of things stuck in the drawers of pieces I’ve purchased and sometimes a rogue nail or screw is interfering with the runners.)

In the case of the drawers I was working on, I could see rub marks along the bottom sides…

mms-5587

#2

Remove material from the area where the sticking occurs.  Most drawers stick because the wood has expanded from humidity, moisture, a change in the environment or temperature, etc. and it no longer slides in smoothly.  Removing the excess wood will help the drawer fit once again.  I usually use an orbital palm sander with 40 grit paper.  (When talking about sandpaper grits, the lower the number, the rougher the paper.  40 grit is perfect to wear away wood quickly.)

mms-5590

I’ll also use a wood rasp (I use a Shinto Saw Rasp my dad got me for Christmas) and, in some cases, a chisel or hand plane.

mms-5595

I keep testing the drawer to see if I’ve removed enough material from the right places.  If it’s still sticking, I continue steps one and two until the drawer fits in the recess.

#3

I “grease the rails” so to speak.  Drawers will slide in smoother if the friction is reduced and wax is a perfect way to do that.  Just like skis.  (I originally said “like a surfboard” and learned that was the exact opposite of what I meant!)  Anyway, I’ll rub the areas that make contact with the wood with some beeswax and that does the trick!  You can use a paraffin candle as well, if you have that on hand.

mms-5596

And now your sticky drawer should be sliding smoothly!

mms-5611

If you’ve ever felt the red-faced frustration of trying to get a stuck drawer open…you’re welcome.

z

23 Comments on “how to fix “sticky” drawers”

  1. Marian, this post comes at the perfect time! I do indeed have a very vintage piece of furniture with the old-fashioned style drawer slides, and the drawers have become stuck. They won’t slide in or out easily. There’s nothing blocking the way of the rails, I figure it might be because Southern California is *finally* experiencing a lot of rain and it’s the humidity causing it. I’ll give them a light sanding, and perhaps a “greasing up” with one of the paraffin candles from my emergency kit and see of those steps will help the drawers slide easier.

    As a native So Cal girl and former beach baby/surfer chick, I’m compelled to interject on the “just like a surfboard” statement in your post! 🙂 Surfboard wax is not intended to slick up the surface of a board but rather to provide a sort of gummy traction for the surfer. It’s used on top of the board (the deck) and is meant to keep the rider more or less glued to the board. Surfboard wax is actually quite sticky in texture — my fav brand is called Sticky Bumps — not smooth or slick. It’s hard to stay standing on a board as it is in fast-moving water, we don’t need help slipping off! It comes in different textures/hardnesses depending on water temperature. When surfing in colder climates, you’d use a softer wax, in warmer water, a harder wax so it won’t melt as easily. There’s an entire ritual to waxing a board, including putting down a base coat, then a top coat, and then using a wax comb on the top coat to get a grid formation for better traction. You’d rue the day you used surf wax on a drawer slide, so yes, either beeswax or paraffin wax are the way to go to slick up those drawer rails!

    1. LOL! Well, shows what I know about surfing. Let’s say, “just like skis”. I skied a lot as a kid and we did use wax on our skis to make them glide better on the snow. 🙂

    2. Kimberly,

      Being a SoCal girl myself (San Clemente to be exact), I thought the same thing when I saw Marian’s comparison but thought I’d let it slide (so to speak 😉 ). Of course, Marian had a great sense of humor when you pointed it out (don’t we just love her?!). Surfs up!

  2. Just wanted to go even further back in the process with a recommendation. If the piece has been in a garage, cold sun porch, ill-heated antique mall etc just leaving it alone for a few days in normal household temps may help. It’s frustrating to do when you want to get stuck in, but I can’t count the number of pieces I thought were going to never work again that were perfectly fine two days later.

  3. Perfect timing…I have a beautiful, old dresser that sticks at certain times of the year…usually winter. And true to form, I can’t close two of the drawers now. Headed to the hardware store for 40 grit!!! Either that, or I can just move south.
    Thank you.

  4. Just loving the relationship of a dad giving her daughter tools for Christmas. Warms my heart how your folks are so supportive and intricately part of your business.

  5. How about adding glides to an old piece? I have an old armoire with a large drawer in the bottom. If I fill it up it is too heavy and ackward to use.

  6. I would love to know how you deal with smelly, musty furniture!! I find that to be my biggest issue with old furniture, wonder if you have ever encountered it…

    1. Oooh, me too!! I have a piece that was fine until I painted it. Now my clothes smell all weird when I take them out!

      1. I have successfully removed odors with Odo-Ban and once to keep a piece from smelling of smoke I sprayed it all over and inside out with Def and let it air out for a week.

        Lastly, and this was a pain (before Odo-Ban), I lined the drawers with newspaper and mixed coffee grinds and clean cat litter clay. Then made a mound of that on top of the newspaper and left it for a week to absorb a strange perfume odor. Now when I buy furniture I give it a good sniff, because I’d rather buy smell free furniture. 🙂 Live and learn!

  7. I was just wondering about musty smelling drawers and how to get rid of the smell. Would love to know what to do!

  8. One more thing…on older pieces make sure you have the drawer in the correct “hole”. As many are hand made just moving the drawer from one place to another can be the fix!

  9. Well for some reason this tripped a memory of when we bought a used SUV a few years back. Got it home and couldn’t move any of the seats forwards or backwards except for the drivers seat. Looked at the tracks to see what the problem was and the prior owners had let a huge amount of little toys get stuck in most of the tracks. Then we realized there were popsicle sticks stuck in the air vents.

  10. Yes! Make sure that the drawers are in the right slots! It can be hard to tell on handmade pieces – but I have bought dressers where the seller is apologizing for a sticky drawer – and it’s because they’ve got them in all out of order.
    ALSO!
    I use MMSMP Hemp Oil on all of my wood drawers to make them slide – works great!
    -breida

  11. I just got some silicone tape made for drawer bottoms from Amazon. Haven’t had a chance to use it yet but it had good reviews.

  12. Oh Marian…that picture of you, I was laughing so hard because that was me not to long ago! LOL I had this drawer that was so stuck I had to lay the dresser on it’s back and stand on the sides wiggling it back and forth until it let go. I bet it took me about 2 hours, of and on, to get it out. Honestly I don’t know who was more stubborn me of the drawer 🙂 🙂

  13. Hi, thanks for the tips. Just curious, what are the plans for the sides/insides of the drawers? Thanks!

  14. If the drawer isn’t sliding open or closed easily, i have cut narrow strips of Formica (the slickest you can find) and glued it to the wood rail where drawer rests. I got scraps pieces from flooring & countertop shops. Works great for big heavy drawers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *