how to fix “sticky” drawers

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

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.


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…


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…



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.)


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.


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.


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.


And now your sticky drawer should be sliding smoothly!


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

how to fix “sticky” drawers

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