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post #1 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 02:41 AM Thread Starter
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Need help joining plywood

I'm posting this particular question in this sub-forum because I thought it might be more appropriate. I'm building a computer desk, using 3/4" and 1/2" hardwood plywood with hardwood facing. I'll be building two cabinet bases, one with doors, and the other with drawers and a slide out shelf. The desk top will sit on top of these, with a hutch on top. I'm not sure how to join the plywood together to form the right angles for the cabinets.

From what I understand, it would be acceptable to horizontally dado the sides of the cabinet for the shelves to fit into the cabinets, and rabbet the back vertical edge for the back to fit into. To join them, I should definitely glue, but also either nail or screw them together?

This is kind of what I think the side and back should look like, with the piece going left to right the side: Here.

I have limited equipment that I am going to start working with, and this will be my first build of this size. I pretty much have a jig saw, circular saw, orbital sander, air gun, and drill. Although I think I might have some resources for a router and table saw.
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post #2 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 03:35 AM
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Originally Posted by joshua.ackley View Post
From what I understand, it would be acceptable to horizontally dado the sides of the cabinet for the shelves to fit into the cabinets, and rabbet the back vertical edge for the back to fit into. To join them, I should definitely glue, but also either nail or screw them together?

Yes, glue them but I would not use screws. You would not have enough time for them because of the glue wanting to set up. The rabbet in the back will square up the carcass, so that will help. Dados in the sides will keep the dimensions even, so that will help.
Now here's the real issue:


I have limited equipment that I am going to start working with, and this will be my first build of this size. I pretty much have a jig saw, circular saw, orbital sander, air gun, and drill. Although I think I might have some resources for a router and table saw.
You will need a router for the dados and rabbets. You did not mention clamps, but you will need several long ones. Glue ups can be frustrating IF you have not made a dry fit and everything is ready to go. A helper is a good thing.

If you can use a table saw to get the panels squared up that will help. Don't forget every cut using a circular saw must have 2 measurements made and a straight edge to guide the saw. The slightest variation will be an issue when it comes to fitting it up.
A circular saw might be good for breaking down a sheet of ply , but a table saw is best for making the separate pieces.

You should watch some videos of Charles Neil or Norm Abrams to see what the some of the steps are:

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #3 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 03:44 AM Thread Starter
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So after gluing everything together, and clamping, instead of using screws, perhaps I should use nails? I'm new to woodworking, so I don't know how well the plywood cabinets would hold up with just glue and these joinings. This is what I'm going to be attempting to build: Here.

I may be able to get access to a table saw. I have a neighbor down the street who has a shop (think he builds custom cabinets and furniture), who might possibly let me. Otherwise, I guess I could always try to rent one. Not really ready to buy one. Although I would like to buy a router.

So if put dado's in the sides for the shelves, rabbet the back pieces, and use a piece of 1/4" ply, glue and clamp it all together, that should be structurally sound enough to put a top with a hutch on? I just want to make sure that my joints aren't going to fail any time soon. I've seen a few videos where people have countersunk screws into the sides through the top and bottom. The carcass is what I'm most concerned about. I'm pretty confident that I can build drawers that will hold up.

Thanks for your response!

Last edited by joshua.ackley; 11-30-2013 at 03:59 AM.
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post #4 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 06:09 AM
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So after gluing everything together, and clamping, instead of using screws, perhaps I should use nails? I'm new to woodworking, so I don't know how well the plywood cabinets would hold up with just glue and these joinings. This is what I'm going to be attempting to build: Here.

I may be able to get access to a table saw. I have a neighbor down the street who has a shop (think he builds custom cabinets and furniture), who might possibly let me. Otherwise, I guess I could always try to rent one. Not really ready to buy one. Although I would like to buy a router.

So if put dado's in the sides for the shelves, rabbet the back pieces, and use a piece of 1/4" ply, glue and clamp it all together, that should be structurally sound enough to put a top with a hutch on? I just want to make sure that my joints aren't going to fail any time soon. I've seen a few videos where people have countersunk screws into the sides through the top and bottom. The carcass is what I'm most concerned about. I'm pretty confident that I can build drawers that will hold up.

Thanks for your response!
Using dadoes and rabbets, and glue and clamps would be all you need. The reference to using nails would be brad nails shot in with a pneumatic gun. You could use a hammer and a small brad nail. In the beginning, I used a hammer and small nails when I had to, because I didn't have a compressor and a brad nail gun.

The problem with the hammer thing is the impact that's applied to the joint. You could drive fasteners while the joint is clamped, as that would help. I wouldn't use pocket screws. There are ways to install nails and make them not noticeable. You can seat them with a nail set, and fill the hole. Or you could blind nail (if it's necessary) by lifting a small section of wood where the fastener goes...driving the nail in, and then gluing the section back down.





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post #5 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 03:33 PM Thread Starter
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Using dadoes and rabbets, and glue and clamps would be all you need. The reference to using nails would be brad nails shot in with a pneumatic gun. You could use a hammer and a small brad nail. In the beginning, I used a hammer and small nails when I had to, because I didn't have a compressor and a brad nail gun.

The problem with the hammer thing is the impact that's applied to the joint. You could drive fasteners while the joint is clamped, as that would help. I wouldn't use pocket screws. There are ways to install nails and make them not noticeable. You can seat them with a nail set, and fill the hole. Or you could blind nail (if it's necessary) by lifting a small section of wood where the fastener goes...driving the nail in, and then gluing the section back down.





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Thanks for replying here and in my other post. I'm going to reply to both of them here.

I attached three pictures of a quick mock up I did, with the rabbets and dados and hardwood banding on the front to see if I understand that part. I don't know what you mean by the stretchers? As you can see, there won't be a lot of clearance after it's assembled and the cabinet has a top on it. I left the top and back out of these pictures on purpose. I suppose it's possible to make the shelves where they could just slide in, and screw the back to the cabinet, so that I could secure the top, slide the shelves in, and screw the back down. Would that be feasible? Planning on using 1/2" backs to the cabinets, unless 1/4" would work just as well.

Top View

Back View
View of one of the sides


I have a small compressor and pneumatic 2 in 1 stapler, brad nail gun. The brads can be 3/8" to 2". I'll glue, clamp, and then drive in nails with my gun while it's clamped. I'd feel a little more comfortable with using the nails in addition to the glue to make sure it's not going to fall apart.

Thank you so much for your help and advice!

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post #6 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 04:24 PM Thread Starter
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I also didn't think about how to secure the drawer faces to the drawers, or the hutch to the desk.

For the drawers, think I'm going to make false fronts, so maybe I can clamp and glue and some brad nails or screws to secure it.

For the hutch, I'm wondering if it is possible to use small dowel rods inserted into the ends of the plywood sides down into the desk. I'm going to need to be able to take it apart as well so that it can be moved. Maybe I can use the hardware that sometimes comes with store bought furniture that has the peg that sticks down into the other surface with that little round deal you turn to tighten it.
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post #7 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 04:35 PM
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typically...

Typically you have a top, shelves and a bottom. The rabbet extends all the way around the back so that it can be set in flush with the edge of the rabbet, maybe a touch more. The sides, shelves and top and bottom are glued up as an assembly THEN the back is set in at the last moment to square the whole carcass up and glued and NAILED on last. This is the way I do it, others may have another procedure.

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #8 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 04:48 PM
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I don't know what you mean by the stretchers? As you can see, there won't be a lot of clearance after it's assembled and the cabinet has a top on it.
"Stretchers" are nothing more than pieces of wood that connect two ends of a cabinet, and allow a way to screw the top down. They fit in that top dado. They are " x 2" - 3" wide each, and get screwed down into the ends. Once in the dado you don't see their ends. The rear one can be held forward to line up with the rabbets on the vertical rear ends, so a back can attach at the top.






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post #9 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 05:03 PM Thread Starter
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Typically you have a top, shelves and a bottom. The rabbet extends all the way around the back so that it can be set in flush with the edge of the rabbet, maybe a touch more. The sides, shelves and top and bottom are glued up as an assembly THEN the back is set in at the last moment to square the whole carcass up and glued and NAILED on last. This is the way I do it, others may have another procedure.
I'm not sure what you mean by this first part. Do the drawings that I posted mirror what you are saying? The rabbet on the sides extends from the front of the top of the sides to the back (where the top or stretchers would sit), and then down the back to the bottom where the back fits? I will put the back on last. Wondering if I can just slide the shelves in, then attach the back, to make it easier to screw down the top from the inside of the cabinets.

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"Stretchers" are nothing more than pieces of wood that connect two ends of a cabinet, and allow a way to screw the top down. They fit in that top dado. They are " x 2" - 3" wide each, and get screwed down into the ends. Once in the dado you don't see their ends. The rear one can be held forward to line up with the rabbets on the vertical rear ends, so a back can attach at the top.






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So stretchers in my application would be something like this?:

Last edited by joshua.ackley; 11-30-2013 at 05:06 PM.
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post #10 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 05:29 PM
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So stretchers in my application would be something like this?:
Yes, but you only need one in the front and one in the back.






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post #11 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 05:32 PM
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Deleted...double post.




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post #12 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 05:44 PM Thread Starter
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Yes, but you only need one in the front and one in the back.






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Okay, got it. What would be the advantages of using stretchers, instead of a solid piece of plywood for the top?
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post #13 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 05:50 PM
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Okay, got it. What would be the advantages of using stretchers, instead of a solid piece of plywood for the top?
The actual top goes on top of those "stretchers".






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post #14 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 05:58 PM Thread Starter
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The actual top goes on top of those "stretchers".






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I guess I mean, what would be the difference in using stretchers for the top of the cabinet, versus putting a full top on the cabinet, that the actual desk top would sit on?
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post #15 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 06:13 PM
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I guess I mean, what would be the difference in using stretchers for the top of the cabinet, versus putting a full top on the cabinet, that the actual desk top would sit on?
No difference really. The stretchers usually are available from scraps from cuts, not from full pieces.






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post #16 of 19 Old 11-30-2013, 09:17 PM Thread Starter
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No difference really. The stretchers usually are available from scraps from cuts, not from full pieces.






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Well, that would make construction a little easier. Although I think I would blind rabbet the stretchers in, instead of having the rabbet go all the way across. Would also mean using less plywood. I guess I'll have to see if I would need more plywood in order to make them full tops. If not, then I will probably use the stretchers.

Would it be okay to make the two shelves be able to just slide in, secured by their dado's and the back of the cabinet when I screw it on?

Other than that, does the overall joining of the cabinets look good now?

For the hutch, I'll dado the bottom shelf into the sides, then rabbet the tops of the sides, and the back of the sides where the shelve backing will go. And dado each of the shelve dividers. Then trim with hardwood banding. And figure out how to attach it to the desk.

Edit: How deep should my rabbets and dado's be? I'm thinking 5/8's deep rabbets for 3/4" plywood, and 1/4" dado's? or maybe 3/8" for the dado's.

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post #17 of 19 Old 12-03-2013, 09:59 PM Thread Starter
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After doing a little bit more research, I made my dado's in the 3/4" plywood to be 1/4" deep, and my rabbets 1/2", instead of 5/8".

Still not sure if it would be acceptable to not glue the fixed shelves in, and just slide them in the dado's, and have them secured by the back of the cabinets being screwed in.

This would be a lot easier for me to secure the top, so that I can put the top on, secure it down, and then put the shelves in. However I'm still debating exactly how I want to secure it, so that I can make it easier to disassemble and move it.
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post #18 of 19 Old 12-03-2013, 10:18 PM
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After doing a little bit more research, I made my dado's in the 3/4" plywood to be 1/4" deep, and my rabbets 1/2", instead of 5/8".

Still not sure if it would be acceptable to not glue the fixed shelves in, and just slide them in the dado's, and have them secured by the back of the cabinets being screwed in.

This would be a lot easier for me to secure the top, so that I can put the top on, secure it down, and then put the shelves in. However I'm still debating exactly how I want to secure it, so that I can make it easier to disassemble and move it.
If the boxes have the cross "stretchers" glued in and fastened, they are together. The shelves can slide in and out. You can finish the inside, the shelves, and back separately. When dry...install the shelves, and secure the back. Then screw down the ultimate top from the undersides of the "stretchers".






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post #19 of 19 Old 12-03-2013, 11:23 PM Thread Starter
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If the boxes have the cross "stretchers" glued in and fastened, they are together. The shelves can slide in and out. You can finish the inside, the shelves, and back separately. When dry...install the shelves, and secure the back. Then screw down the ultimate top from the undersides of the "stretchers".






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Fantastic. Thanks! That's what I was thinking, but didn't know for sure. Something that also occurred to me was the bottom of the cabinets. I'm not sure if I should extend the sides to the floor like my current design, or if I should make the sides even with the bottom of the cabinet and build something like a torsion box as a base for the to sit on.
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