Cabinet / Open Bookcase Design -- What to do for the back?

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Forum topic by zipzit posted 03-21-2015 06:19 PM 1255 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View zipzit's profile


11 posts in 1188 days

03-21-2015 06:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: plywood cabinet french cleat wall hanging cabinet plywood bookcase solidworks weldments

I’m designing some wall hanging cabinets for my home office. I’ve got five of these puppies that I’d like to hang from the wall, side by side.

I’m planning to use one long french cleat on the wall to help get the alignment straight. I was intending to set the cabinets on the cleat, then align them and screw ‘em together. Finally I’d use solid anchors thru the three cross boards to secure the cabinet array to the studs in the wall. I’d never want this to come tumbling down, and books are pretty heavy. These shelving units are going to end up painted white to match the rest of the house. I was intending to use 1/8” hardboard on the end panels to totally hide the french cleat mounting system. With that in mind, I can also glue and screw in the fixed shelving.

I’m now having second thoughts on what to do with the back of these things. One thought is to do nothing, leave the gap with cross boards visible. But that will look tacky. Another thought is to add a 1/4” wide dado, and inset a hardboard back between the fixed shelves, so the appearance looks nice from the front. (Remember I’m painting these white.) The inset back also helps me align things square at glue up. At glue up of the fixed shelves, I leave the dado opening face up, and I just set the panels in place and kazaam, things are square. I’d have to make sure the depth of the dado allows for a flush mount, and then carefully drill mounting screws for the wall mounting cross bracing and french cleat.

What would you guys do? Hardboard backs? None at all? Anybody been here before? I’ve made big floor standing cabinets before, but nothing that hangs on the wall.

Oh, and anybody else use Solidworks weldments for furniture design? I love the way that software generates a complete bill of materials and cut list.

Many thanks, Zip

4 replies so far

View jerryminer's profile


928 posts in 1467 days

#1 posted 03-21-2015 07:25 PM


Wall-mounted cabinets are not new. We build them every day in our shop. We usually use a 1/4” plywood back, with a “hanger strip” or cleat attached at the back (sometimes inside, sometimes behind).

A rabbet in the last side panel in a run will cover the edge of the back and the hanger cleat. Like this drawing:

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View zipzit's profile


11 posts in 1188 days

#2 posted 03-21-2015 08:15 PM


Wow. thank you for your reply.

I’m assuming from your response that leaving the cleats exposed to the front of the cabinet is not recommended.

Do you like 1/4” hardwood ply better than hardboard for a painted surface? I would have thought the hardboard would leave a better appearance?

I’m working by myself, so I don’t think I could manage lifting and aligning a five cabinet wide structure onto the wall, even with support jacks. I’m thinking one long french cleat on the wall, and a short mating cleat mounted ‘behind’ each cabinet, to use your terms. I could place one cabinet on the wall at a time, then get them aligned and attached to each other.

I do worry about the connection between the three cleats and the sides of the cabinets. I’m thinking glue and two or three long spax screws per cleat. (#8×3” ??) I’m thinking this will work?

Any other thoughts? Again, many thanks for your advice and experience.


View jerryminer's profile


928 posts in 1467 days

#3 posted 03-21-2015 08:58 PM


I like plywood because I think it has more structural integrity than hardboard—but hardboard (or mdf, which I would choose before hardboard) would also work.

If the back is attached securely to the perimeter of the cabinet, it adds a TON of strength. If the cleats are attached to the top and bottom, the attachment at the sides is not so important. (3” screws are overkill, IMHO, and add the risk of splitting the side panel. 8×1 1/2 is plenty—-the shear strength of a single #8 screw is something like 500 lbs.)

Interior cleats: Interior cleats allow more interior space. Exterior cleats provide a cleaner interior surface.

Individual boxes ganged together at installation is a fine way to go. The rabbetted edge only needs to exist at the “show side” at the end of the run.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View Oughtsix's profile


42 posts in 1200 days

#4 posted 03-22-2015 12:03 AM

Remember to leave the face frame proud of the edge of the cabinet by 1/16” to 1/8” so it butts up nice nd tight to the cabinet next to it.

A french cleat should be plenty for mounting! I know it seems like more is better but kitchen cabinets with heave dishes in them are only held on with a screw or two.

I would use 1/4” ply for the back.

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