Help me sort out this problem please....(Sorry this is long)

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Forum topic by RobH posted 07-31-2007 04:51 AM 1495 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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465 posts in 4044 days

07-31-2007 04:51 AM

Hey all,

Ok, just one more in a string of problems with the bookcase commission. Man, this is one that I am glad will be over with soon.

Ok, the bookcases are 94” tall with a fixed shelf at about 32” up from the floor. then it is approximately 60” to the top of the case. On a couple of the carcases, over this 60”, the side is bowed (yeah Chinese plywood). On one unit, the worst, this bow is about 3/8”.

Now, there will be a face frame on the unit, and there is a back in the unit. The face frame will not be applied until installation. The back will be applied in the shop before installation.

I put the 1/4” plywood back in tonight and squeezed the sides together with a clamp to take the bow out. It did not take much clamp pressure. In fact, I could still pivot the clamp on its jaws with no problem. This successfully took the bow out of the plywood. The back fits into a 1/4” deep 3/8” wide rabbett in the back of the unit.

I am planning on stapling the back every two or three inches with 1/4” narrow crown staples at least 5/8” long.

I am fairly convinced that the back and the face frame together will take the little pressure put on them by straightening out the sides, but I am still a little skeptical. I am afraid the back plywood will start tearing apart.

Because these are built-ins and because of the installation method, I could build a frame around the back of the unit and screw it to the sides to help take the pressure off the back.

Once the shelf units are in place before the face frames are applied, I plan on placing some blocks in the spaces between the shelf units. This will also help take the pressure off.

What do you think? Will the plywood stapled every two or three inches be enough along with the face frame? Would you build a frame around the back just for insurance or not?

Sorry this is so long, but I do need some ideas.

Rob Hix

-- -- Rob Hix, King George, VA

11 replies so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3983 days

#1 posted 07-31-2007 06:21 AM

I would think that the nails should hold it.

If you are worried, deepen your rabbet in the back by 1/4 inch and screw a piece of solid lumber
1/4 thick across the back. Widen the width of the rabbett to 1/2 inch for the width of the board
to give you a little more meat for the screw, and pre-drill the holes.

If the back is against the wall it will never be seen.

Hope this helps.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4395 days

#2 posted 07-31-2007 06:21 AM

Is the bow out or is it in?

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View RobH's profile


465 posts in 4044 days

#3 posted 07-31-2007 06:36 AM


The bow is out. Thus the worry about the pressure pulling the 1/4” ply apart.


-- -- Rob Hix, King George, VA

View edp's profile


109 posts in 3955 days

#4 posted 07-31-2007 11:00 AM

Have no fear. You do not have enough stored energy in this bow to pull the plywood apart. You didn’t mention any glue for the backpanel but I would highly advise it. Staples, brads or nails around the perimeter of ¼” plywood are not very strong. Their function should be inclamping until the glue dries. The glue will be your real strength and you will need it because the backpanel is the main structural element in a bookcase. It holds the sides to size and maintains the squareness of the assembly when installed correctly.


-- Come on in, the beer is cold and the wood is dry.

View RobH's profile


465 posts in 4044 days

#5 posted 07-31-2007 01:41 PM

The back panels are already finished and I fear that I could not get the stain off well enough for them to stick.

Thanks for the ideas,
Rob Hix

-- -- Rob Hix, King George, VA

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4305 days

#6 posted 07-31-2007 01:48 PM

Buy American next time. I know the Chinese stuff is about half price. I can get 3/4 Birch for $33 a sheet, but I’ve heard too many horror stories like yours, so I refuse to buy it. Anyway, I would add a frame on the back to guarantee my customer doesn’t have any problems with it in the future. Who knows if it has bowed all it ever will? It’s the lesson I think all woodworkers eventually learn…if you start with great wood, you’ll end up with a great project. That’s why we spend so much time jointing, planing and preparing the wood before we do anything else. Good Luck!

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4400 days

#7 posted 07-31-2007 02:48 PM

Hey Rob. I would recommend that you put some glue under your plywood back edge, then the staples, and then don’t worry about it, it will hold just fine for your customer. Once the face frame is installed, I feel that you will be fine, and can cash the check and feel good about it.

This is a common problem for plywood users, and domestic vs. import alone, doesn’t seem to always solve the problem. You are doing what all of us do to fix the problem.

I had this problem with the best red oak veneer 3/4” ply I could buy when I did a recent commission for two church altars and a lectern. I didn’t want the edging to show onthe corners of the cabinets, so I naively thought I would just 45 angle cut and biscuit the corners of the cabinets.

I didn’t realize that I was going to have so much trouble with the bowing. In a 35” long strip, the ends bowed up about 2” from the center, ugh! I normally don’t use plywood in my work, so this bowing was a surprise to me when it happened.

Like you said, the bow comes out easily so I wasn’t worried about the integrity of the joint. But, it does make cutting perfect 45 degree edges on bowed strips of plywood pretty difficult, especially if I didn’t want a single spot where the veneer tore on the sharp point, or a burned mark that leaves a “step” in the cut line, which would leave a gap later in the joint. I got it done perfectly, but much slower than I figured for sure. It is the sort of thing I worry over that nobody will probably ever notice when looking at the finished work.

But after that job, I can feel your pain!

Your face frame and back will hold things for you. If you still are concerned, you could do another stationary shelf at the 30” point, or add the back frame you mentioned.

I have been helping a local cabinet maker build three large kitchen sets this summers on Saturdays to help him catch up and meet some deadlines. He has the same problem with bowing plywood, and indicated that he didn’t used to have this problem. He says that something in the plywood quality has changed over the years, although the price continually goes up.

take care, great question,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View RobH's profile


465 posts in 4044 days

#8 posted 07-31-2007 03:56 PM

I usually try to buy domestic ply. The supplier I have started using is carrying nothing but Chinese any more. His reasoning was that most of his customers (local cabinet and millwork shops) are demanding the Chinese stuff because it is cheaper. He said it took them a couple of months, but they finally found a good mill and they have had no large scale complaints. Seems like all of the wood dealers are at least telling the same story. They are all saying that you have to find a good mill. Remember, Home Depot and Lowe’s will buy from the cheapest mill. I feel that it will not be long until we have not choice to use domestic or Chinese plywood. I think we will see a day within the next 10 years that we have nothing but Chinese available.

I could have been part of this problem. While finishing the sides and shelves, I have the ~92” long sides drying on a drying rack that only supported them in two places. These supports were four to five feet apart. I learned my lesson there. I know when I started I had more straight pieces than I have now.

Sorry to say, but I think like everything else in this world, people are not demanding quality and so manufacturer’s are not producing quality. There are so many areas that I see this in every day. I got in to building furniture because I could not afford to buy the “high grade” particle board that they call furniture. I got tired of people trying to sell me something so overpriced. I do the occasional job for someone else (like this one) because they want quality, are willing to pay for it, and trust me to provide it. However, it is getting really hard to provide it with materials of the quality I have been seeing lately.

Thanks all for the replies. Sorry about the rant at the end.

-- -- Rob Hix, King George, VA

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4156 days

#9 posted 07-31-2007 04:59 PM

I am wondering if the housing boom has also caused a drop in the quality of the materials. At certain times, various materials have been out of stock for some time because they could not make enough to meed demand (OSB for one). To increase supply, the manufactures may have skipped some steps they used to take, and the quality suffered. With the housing boom slowing, people can focus more on the quality side. Since there may be less slap it up building, those who build with quality will be more successful. Just a thought.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View RobH's profile


465 posts in 4044 days

#10 posted 07-31-2007 05:49 PM


I think the housing boom has had a little to do with it. However, I feel that the almighty dollar has more to do with it. Lumber companies like many others have seen the light that things can be done cheaper overseas using what we would consider to be slave labor. Not to get a political discussion started, but Google NAFTA SuperHighway and see what we are dealing with. When I read up on this (and I am still skeptical) and look at what our politicians are doing to us, I do not believe it is the housing market that is enabling things like poor quality plywood.

Ok, I have to quit now. I do not want this to become a political post, and I could rant about this all day. Let’s just say I avoid Chinese made as much as possible. It was not possible in this case and I am afraid it is not possible in many other cases. It is just sad that we are loosing all of our manufacturing capability. I, for one, would gladly pay more for a product made in the USA.

Ok, I really have to stop,
Rob Hix


-- -- Rob Hix, King George, VA

View Ken Fitzpatrick's profile

Ken Fitzpatrick

376 posts in 4018 days

#11 posted 08-01-2007 02:56 AM

Hi Rob,

Was poking around and saw your post. Had the same problem, in fact it was like de ja vous all over again. You’re doing the right thing. Basically did the same and both book cases have held up well. Each had three permanent shelves set into dados. Also put hangers beneath the middle and top attached with pocket screws to the sides and the shelf above, so they did quite a bit to pull it back in. Once the back went on it was almost perfect. With the facing in place everything is fine and has been for the six months they have been installed. Hope you have the same luck. I picked up my plywood at the orange crate for a great price. Nothing beats the good stuff, but sometimes we all just take a chance and we get a way with it.


-- • "I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm."....... Calvin Coolidge

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