Melamine or chipboard drawer face repair

Last week I shut one of my shop drawers loaded with sandpaper and manuals with a too much “gusto” which ripped the drawer face off and left large deep pits in the chipboard around the mounting screws. Here is how I fixed it.

Aw shucks!

This is the broken drawer, you can see how the 4 mounting screws ripped deep holes out of the Melamine chipboard drawer front.

For this repair you will need:

  • Eye protection
  • Pen or pencil
  • Ruler (preferably long)
  • Saw, container, and sieve (or sawdust)
  • Wood glue
  • Wire brush (optional)
  • Clamps (screw clamps and hand clamps used in the example)
  • Scrap wood to protect your surfaces from clamps
  • Screwdriver suitable for your existing drawer screws
  • Paper (sticker backing, baking parchment, or waxed paper is best)
  • Popsicle stick or similar spreader
  • Disposable cup or other container
  • Sharp chisel or sandpaper (optional)

Wearing eye protection, clean out the holes. You can compressed air, or you can pucker up and blow them out with your own compressed air but be sure to close your eyes and wear eye protection, sawdust and debris is nearly guaranteed to blow right into your eyes with this method (voice of experience). Alternatively you can gently clean them out with a brush with the holes facing downward.

Next, mark lines through the centers of the screw holes around each pit. This step is important for getting the screw holes located later in the repair so the drawer front is aligned and spaced properly so take your time. I found using a long ruler lined up with the centers of pairs of holes horizontally, vertically, and diagonally to mark the area around each repair worked well. If you use a permanent marker as I have take note which areas of the back of the drawer face will be visible when reassembled. It may be useful to look at other drawers to get an idea of what areas will be visible. If you use a pencil or erasable marker (dry erase, grease pencil) be careful not to erase your marks later when working in the area.

Next you will need sawdust. I grabbed a piece of scrap plywood, clamped it in the vice and started cutting from the end. After 3 cuts I felt I had enough. You want the sawdust pretty fine, no chunks or splinters so I sieved it.

Now it’s time to make our own chipboard filler and fill the holes. I mixed up a little at a time so I could get the consistency I wanted and so the batch wouldn’t get too gummy while working. Start with glue in a disposable container. I used a plastic cup but it can be any container as long as it is clean. I start with glue, add sawdust which will absorb some of the moisture of the glue and mix. I keep adding glue or sawdust until the mixture is a putty like spreadable consistency. You want it on the wet side so the glue can bond to the chipboard in the next step.

Working one hole at a time using the Popsicle stick or spreader, start pressing the filler into a hole. You want to pack it as deep as you can into the bottom without leaving voids or bubbles. The glue will shrink as the moisture evaporates during curing so mound the holes full.

Now we are going to apply some pressure with clamps. Select pieces of scrap wood to protect your surfaces from the clamps which will dent, scratch, and break the surfaces of your drawers if they are not protected. I used screw clamps, you can use whatever you have available.
Place a piece of paper over each glue filled hole. If your paper has a shiny side that side should face the glue. Place smooth wooden blocks large enough to more than cover the hole over the paper. With a second wooden block on the other side tighten each clamp. The clamp should be snug to tight, you don’t need to crush the wood, just hold it tightly together.

Leave for a two to three hours to let the pressure distribute the materials and the glue will penetrate the existing chipboard.

The glue will not cure if covered so after several hours remove the clamps and carefully remove the paper to leave as much filler as possible in the holes. Leave them overnight to dry or longer to dry and cure. They will likely take longer to cure than wood glue usually takes due to the volume of the filler.

You will probably notice that the old screw threads are full of wood. Clean them with a wire brush so they bite into the repaired drawer face without interference. If you don’t have a wire brush you may be able to clean them using the drawer body front by backing them all the way out. This step is not critical.

The next day or when you are confident all the filler has fully cured you can proceed. The filler likely contracted leaving the center slightly concave, this is OK. If you have a large void and feel you need more filler you can repeat the above steps but it is usually not necessary.

Remove any excess glue or filler on the drawer face. A sharp broad chisel worked very well for me. You can try a razor scraper or sandpaper. Assuming you don’t have any large lumps this step is optional to assure a snug smooth fit between surfaces.

Select an appropriately sized pilot hole drill bit. I typically do this by holding candidate bits behind and in front of the screw. For woodworking in solid wood I would normally select a slightly smaller bit but considering my experience with chipboard, I selected a bit that was nearly the diameter of the center of the screw leaving plenty of material for the threads to bite into.

This is a good time to create a depth gauge by wrapping your drill bit with a piece of painters tape to indicate how long the screws are (not pictured). This will allow drilling holes deep enough for the screws without drilling all the way through to the face of the drawer.

Using a ruler and sharp pencil, re-draw the lines to determine where the screw centers should be.

Carefully drill pilot holes at the screw center locations. Make sure the drill holes are perpendicular to the drawer face (not angled). Again, be careful to drill the holes deep enough for the screws but not deep enough to damage the front of the drawer face on the other side.

Back up the screws so that only the points protrude and get some hand clamps ready. We will use the screw tips to align the drawer face on the drawer and hold it in place with the clamps.

Place the drawer front on the drawer carefully locating each screw tip in one of the pilot holes you drilled. Once aligned place the hand clamps and take a moment to verify the screws are in the holes and the drawer face looks properly positioned and aligned. Take your time on this step.

Gently tighten the screws. I give each screw a couple turns with a hand screwdriver and move on to the next until they are all fully screwed in. Don’t over torque the screws, you know what they’re biting into. I advise tightening these by hand with a manual screwdriver. If you choose to use an electric screwdriver, use slow speed (screwdriver, not drill), the lowest torque setting, and still do the final tightening with a hand screwdriver.

There are a couple optional things you can do for additional strength:

  • You could drill pilot holes and add more screws into fresh material. Again, be careful to select appropriate size/length screws so you get a good bite without drilling or screwing through the face of the drawer.
  • You could apply epoxy between the faces before screwing them together for a permanent bond but you better get everything aligned perfect because there is no undoing that. (not advised)

Perfect fit! Which one was repaired?

The top drawer, ready to be re-filled.

Clean up the shop. 😉

I hope this was helpful and you picked up a tip or two.

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D. Scott Williamson
Compulsively Creative

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