Woodworking Talk banner

1 - 6 of 6 Posts

·
Jack of too many trades..
Joined
·
171 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Hello All,
I'm gearing up to start a new cabinetry project, which will include my first attempt to built true frame-and-panel top cabinets. I'm a bit concerned about the strength and joinery in the carcass panels and the strength of the wood itself after the the cabinets are built, hung, and have a lot of weight in them. While I use a matched set of rail and stile cutters, and both quality glues and pocket joiner, these are not mortise and tenon joints and I worry about the stress pulling the joints apart, or worse - the wood itself failing.



I was hoping to get some recommendations concerning the best wood species to use for paint-grade construction. It would need to be wood that I could get from either local home improvement places, or a specialty store like Rockler or Woodcraft for something less than and arm and a leg.



If you're unsure what I mean but true frame-and-panel, I'm talking about building cabinets whose carcasses are made from panels similar to the way we make cabinets doors these days. It is historical style from a time before plywood was widely available. I think you still see it commonly in nicer pieces of furniture. The design is also lighter-weight than plywood but just as strong if done correctly.



I have done frame-and-panel carcasses for lower cabinets several times, but I've always gone with plywood for the uppers because the concerns about strength and structure. This has always led to my upper and lower cabinets looking subtly different.





Here's some relevant considerations that influence the material and design choices...

To maximize space, I build my top cabinets as large single units. Essentially, I build a single large box instead of multiple 12", 24", and 30" units. My old upper cabinets were built in-place as a single unit, but I've now successfully experimented with two-part upper cabinets and this is what I've done for my first-draft plywood upper cabinets.



I paint my cabinets so that they look to be period-appropriate from the early 20th century "Sanitary Movement". I don't need to invest in fine-figured hardwoods, but I do need the wood itself to not fail in an upper cabinet application. I'm feeling that for top cabinets I probably need to up my game beyond clear pine to at least poplar, but that's a somewhat "cheap" excuse for a hardwood. Ultimately, I don't want the frame wood splitting under the weight of the dishes, glass doors, etc.



For reference, these are my cabinets from my old home.




On these lower cabinets,I used easily-available clear 3/4" pine and 1/4" plywood to make the carcass frames, and 1" pine stock cut from stair treads to make the face frames and doors, and 3/4" birch ply for the bottoms. I have a couple sets of matched rail and stile router bits, and I both glue and use pocket screws to assemble the finished carcass. They sat on the floor so they were not subject to downward pull.



Those old upper cabinets were made from 3/4 birch plywood with poplar face frames of 3/4" stock. I used 3/4" red oak stock for the the glass-panel doors which features mortise and tenon lower joints and saddle joints on the top, reinforces with 18ga, pins. That cabinet unit was also built in-place using 3/4 "L" cut plywood for the shelves. After I had some sagging issues, I also anchored them the to ceiling to pull everything back into square.





Here is the elevation of the cabinets for the new kitchen.




As you can see, the top cabinets are going to be close to 4' tall (no wasted space). Because of the narrow width, I am planning to make single tall cabinet doors instead of the separate top cabinet doors. The ceiling here is 5" shorter than the old place, so separate doors just wasn't coming out right in proportion.


This is the plan for this part of the kitchen - a basic "C" shape layout. As you can see, I've got two upper corner cabinets to build.









So... bottom line. If I want to do frame and panel construction for the upper cabinet carcasses, what wood species should I be going with? I'm using matched router bits for the frame and panel, I'll probably used beadlock loose tenons for additional strength, plus I'll glue and pocket screw it all together.



I'd like to develop and master this aspect of cabinetry and furniture.. but I also need to not destroy all my wife's dishes on the process.

I may just stick with plywood and try to dress it more, but any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
26,210 Posts
There is any number of woods you could use. I would just check the availability and prices in your area. A good paint grade wood that is usually cheap is poplar. You might also use soft maple. Hard maple would paint just as well but is usually very heavy. Alder paints very well but often has a lot of knots. Pine could be used but is difficult to kill the sap bleeding through the paint at the knots. It's also a bit soft so it dents easily.

In a kitchen I would refrain from using any MDF. It's literally a sheet of paper, the same paper they make grocery sacks out of. You already know what paper does when you get it wet. I normally use birch plywood for the cabinet boxes and make the faceframes and doors out of poplar.
 

·
Jack of too many trades..
Joined
·
171 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Oh.. I absolutely detest MDF. No worries there.



Appreciate the suggestions. I was seriously considering investing in poplar this time as it's pretty common, and I can get 5/4 slabs of it from one of the few proper lumberyards in the area. I was worried that it might not hold up structurally as it's a kinda-sorta hardwood. I have had good luck using it for face-frames
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
26,210 Posts
Poplar has been used in furniture for paint grade and as a secondary wood in walnut furniture for centuries. A lot of times they would use walnut veneer for the top and make the rest of the parts out of poplar. It would stain to match the walnut pretty good.
 

·
Jack of too many trades..
Joined
·
171 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Maybe I've gotten too hung up on poplar being "technically" a hardwood and the softest category of hardwood widely sold. I have heard that it can also be finished to resemble cherry.


I really just want to avoid the sort of brittle, easy to splinter and split problems I see when I use clear pine. I've seen that stuff fail in the wood around careful joiner and tight glue joints. I was imagining that top cabinets under all that load and shear force would risk the wood splitting and splintering apart along the grain and then whole cabinet would come crashing down - unless I picked the right wood.



I have a lot of poplar stock kicking around, so I'll give it a try and report back. Thanks again for the advice!
 
1 - 6 of 6 Posts
Top