Staircase drawers

In-step drawers turn wasted space into a storage place


Some time ago, I got an idea that forms the basis for this project. I’m not sure where I first saw it, but some clever builder installed bookshelves in the space under each staircase turning the book spines into the riser faces. It’s easiest to build these drawers if your stairs have open stringers. If they do, skip ahead to the drawer building section of this project. If your stairs have riser faces on the front of the stringers, you’ll need to remove them first. A few taps from behind will free the risers if they were nailed in after the treads. If the risers were installed first, remove the treads before tackling the risers. Take extra care removing the risers so you can use them to make the drawer fronts.


Determining dimensions

Before building the drawer box, measure the distance between the inside faces of the stringers and the distance from the top of a stair tread to the bottom of the next stair tread. Determine the required dimensions using the formula in the materials list.

Drawer building

Begin by ripping the 5/8" medium-density fibreboard (MDF) to width. Cross cut the drawer box sides, back and front to length. Cut the drawer bottom groove with a tablesaw. Set the fence 1/2" from the blade and the depth to 1/4". Pass along the inside bottom edge of each drawer piece, then adjust the fence away from the blade. Repeated passes widen the groove. Simple rabbets milled on the front and back of the drawer create the box corner joints. Cut the rabbets using a tablesaw and assemble with glue and finishing nails. Cut the bottom panel to size-making sure it sits in the drawer bottom groove as you bring all four sides together.

Let it slide

Mount the drawer slides onto 1/2" plywood spacers. These spacers perform two functions: they extend the drawer slide mounting area beyond the stringer's back edge; and, they are adjustable to accommodate the angled irregularities common with builder-grade stairs. Cut and install the spacers with screws. Each drawer slide comes in two pieces. One attaches the drawer to its mate on the stringer. First attach the drawer slides to the drawer box and then place the drawer on a couple of 1/4"-thick shims on the tread. Mark the mating drawer slide location on the plywood spacers. Level and attach the stair-mounted drawer slides and slide the drawer into place. The drawer should be flush with the front edge of the stringer when in the closed position.

Complete the drawer by ripping the removed riser to width and attach it to the drawer box with screws from behind. Drill a 3/4" finger pull hole and the first drawer is done. Fill any holes left over from the removal of treads and risers with latex filler and touch up with matching paint. Only ten more to go!

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Box sides MDF 5/8" x 5 1/4"** x 12 2
Box front and back MDF 5/8" x 5 1/4"* x 29 1/2"*** 2
Drawer bottom hardboard 1/4" x 5 1/4" x 28 3/4" 1
Drawer front riser 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 34" 1
Drawer slides metal 1/2" x 12" 2 pairs
** tread top to tread bottom less 1/2"
** distance between inside faces of stringers less 1 1/2"

* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools


Staircase drawers

Illustration by Len Churchill

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