In no past kitchen of mine have I ever found drawer dividers that actually fit. It’s possible I’ve only lived in janky apartments with “custom” (fudged) cabinets that weren’t deep enough for the standard cutlery trays. This had two consequences:
- I got used to living (for many many years) with my spoons and forks and chopsticks and everything else swimming around in an embarrassing, clangy tangle of a drawer.
- Because I’d NEVER had luck with one before, a utensil organizer wasn’t on my list of things to purchase when we moved into our new house.
I knew if I wanted it done right, I’d have to do it myself.
This approach has many benefits, the most obvious being that the dividers fit your drawers and your things EXACTLY. And it’s pretty easy, to boot. Not too much equipment required:
- Measuring tape
- Miter saw (OK… “required” is a bit strong here. You do need a saw of some kind, but a miter saw isn’t necessary. You do, however, want very straight, clean cuts. I just didn’t own another kind of saw at this point…)
- 3/16″ Basswood (We used it in the lab a lot, and it’s fairly cheap. The 3/16” thickness seemed like a good sweet spot – not so thick that I felt like I was overengineering the whole thing, but thick enough for some structural integrity at the joints.)
- Wood glue
- Cotton swabs (for creating sweet fillets on your glue joints without getting your fingers all sticky!)
Here’s how I made the dividers for my two utensil drawers.
Step 1: Design
I measured the internal drawer dimensions as exactly as possible, taped some printer paper together, and drew the outline of how much space I had to work with. From there, I laid out all my utensils in various configurations until I arrived at something that worked:
I didn’t want big, catch-all sections. I like having everything in its proper place, and because I got to design this from scratch, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to really customize things to the tools I own.
From this layout, I measured how large I’d need to make each compartment and wrote down all the dimensions on a piece of paper where I’d sketched out where all the dividers would go.
Step 2: Material calculations
There are many ways to tackle this part, but I found it easiest to recreate my dimensioned sketch in Illustrator. There’s no reason you couldn’t do this on, say, graph paper, though.
I knew I wanted to use 3/16” basswood, so I added this dimension to my sketch. This let me figure out exactly how many pieces I’d need, where they’d go, and how long they’d need to be. Having this master plan helped me make a list of all the lengths I’d need to cut for both drawers AND gave me an assembly plan I’d reference while building.
Calculating the linear inches I needed for all the dividers let me order my material without too much waste.
Step 3: Prep
Using your list of lengths, get to it! Start cutting! I laid it all out and wrote the length down on each piece I cut so I’d be able to identify them when assembling. 9.5” and 9.75” pieces look awfully similar, for example, but are very much NOT interchangeable in my design!
You’ll have a massive pile of pieces at this point, and they’ll probably need some kind of sanding/finishing. However… I didn’t actually do any finishing. A sealer of some kind is probably a good idea, though. That said, I’ve been using these dividers for a few months now and they’re holding up just fine! Totally your call.
Step 4: Assembly
I emptied the drawers and took them out for better access. From here, it’s all about fixturing and gluing. Having a detailed plan of which piece goes where helps this part a whole lot. I found various implements around the kitchen to help the pieces stay put while drying. Wood glue dries pretty quickly, so it’s not too tedious.
One thing I did to reinforce these tiny joints a little bit was to add a glue fillet (no, not FILET) using a cotton swab. This helps distribute any deflection loads across a greater cross-section and significantly strengthens the joint. In other words, it was all I could do to beef these babies up without using hardware or extra material.
And… that’s it!
You might be thinking… really? Just wood glue? No screws or nails or anything? And what about the ends just floating, why not attach those to the drawer interior for rigidity? Or glue the whole thing down onto some sort of base?!
Honestly… I was just curious how it would hold up! So I didn’t want to do anything permanent to the drawers. These dividers weren’t meant to be a long-term solution – hence why I didn’t sand, stain, or seal anything. I wasn’t sure if 2” was a good depth to choose for the wood, and I wasn’t totally convinced about my decision to make so many little compartments. In other words, this was just a functional prototype – one that ended up being surprisingly useful and robust!
If you’re using thicker material than I did, you could definitely use a brad nailer/finishing nails in your assembly to really make those joints bulletproof, and/or just glue things directly to the inside of your drawer. Up to you if you’d like them to be removable.
Two changes I made on the fly:
- I added little arced cuts with a jigsaw to help with reaching down into some of the tighter spaces.
- In that vein, I cut a couple of the pieces a little less than 2” tall.
Unfortunately, I made those pieces a little TOO short, and you can see the result is that the knives kinda spill over onto the fork pile:
Not the end of the world, but not awesome. Given how easy this project was, it wouldn’t be too difficult to refine my design and redo it.
…But given how lazy I am, I’ll probably just rip the offending pieces off and attach new ones!
If you’re considering doing this yourself, don’t worry too much about the pieces deflecting. Yes, it seems impossible that a long, skinny piece of wood attached only with a little glue could function well, but trust me when I say that these dividers have been rocking it for a few months now, and we’re not real careful with them. If the wood flexes a little bit, it’s not a big deal, it just springs back into place.
Let me know if you try this method! I’d love to see how you organize your kitchen tools!