Trying to wrestle a stuck wooden drawer out of its casing feels a bit like playing tug of war as a kid. You're simultaneously yanking as hard as you can and bracing for a possible disaster. If you lose at tug of war, you'll end up on the ground, and if you lose the battle with your stuck drawers, you'll either pull so hard that something breaks or you'll give up and declare the drawer unusable. Instead of using brute force, try gentler methods to slowly ease open a stubborn drawer.
Unsticking Drawers in Humid Conditions
Hardwood drawer slides can get stuck for a few reasons, but humidity is a common culprit. Wood expands in hot, humid conditions, so you may notice that certain drawers in your home only get stuck during the hottest part of the year. Wood is a porous material and absorbs moisture from the air. In other words, your drawers literally get bigger when it's humid. They can get stuck in their casings even if they have metal drawer slides; in furniture with wood-on-wood drawer slides, both a drawer itself and its wooden tracks can swell with moisture.
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If you suspect the current weather is to blame, removing moisture from the wood should help the drawer shrink enough that it can be coaxed open. Set up a dehumidifier next to the drawer and let it run for a few hours. If that doesn't work, point a hair dryer on low heat at the drawer for several minutes. This strategy should dry out the wood without scorching or damaging it.
More Ways to Unstick Wooden Drawers
When humidity isn't the culprit, a wooden drawer may become stuck because there's too much friction in the drawer slides. Think of the way a bike chain freezes up over time and needs lubrication to move smoothly. A block of paraffin wax or a plain white candle can be used to make the drawer slides just slippery enough that the drawer opens.
The key is to work slowly and methodically. Pull the drawer open as far as it will go and rub the wax or candle over the slides and any other exposed areas of the wood. Move the drawer in and out again a few times to work the wax into the crevices. Rub more wax into the wood and repeat the process. With some luck and patience, you should be able to pull out the drawer a little bit further with each pass.
Another possible reason for a drawer to be stuck closed is because something inside the drawer is jammed against the top of the drawer casing. If you can slide the drawer open a little bit but it won't go any further, aim a flashlight into the space to see if you can spot an obstruction. To open a jammed drawer, slide a metal ruler or dull dinner knife into the drawer to shift the item that's in the way.
Lubricating Drawer Slides
Once you've wrestled stuck drawers open, take some steps to clean and lubricate the drawer slides to allow for easier opening in the future. Remove the entire drawer from its casing and spray any areas that stick with dry-film lubricant spray, which is safe for wood and creates a protective film to reduce friction. Make sure to lubricate both the drawer component and cabinet component of each drawer slide.
If your wooden drawers use ball-bearing slides, clean the drawer slides with a cotton swab dipped in a water-based spray cleaner. Lubricate the slides with plain mineral oil or some kind of bearing grease, which is designed for exactly this purpose.
Applying thin strips of acrylic tape inside the drawer casing may also help keep the drawer moving smoothly. Put one strip on the inside of the drawer casing and a strip in the corresponding place on the drawer, almost like you're applying the two parts of a Velcro strip. But acrylic tape has the opposite effect of Velcro: It should cut down on friction so the places where the two pieces of tape meet move smoothly.
If you'd prefer a more permanent solution for a drawer that's constantly getting stuck, consider installing new slides on the drawer. It can be a fairly simple project as long as you buy replacement slides that use the same slide-mounting position as your existing drawers.