Cabinet Back Construction

Cabinetmakers share views on the appropriate thickness for cabinet backs and nailer strips. October 22, 2005

I've been looking through some different houses under construction and have found upper cabinets that only have 1/4 ply on the back with no hanger strips. Is the 1/4 plywood enough to hold upper cabinets up? I donít think I would be comfortable putting them up that way.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Thereís no way I would trust a 1/4" back alone. I use 3/4" nailers behind my 1/4" backs.

From contributor B:
I do the same. How do you know there is not a 3/4" nailer behind the 1/4" back?

From contributor C:
On uppers we typically use 1/2" and find it cleaner and faster than 1/4", plus a 3/4" nailer. If the price of 1/2" is double that of 1/4" (i.e. mahogany, cherry, some prefinished) we choose to glue a 1/4" nailer behind the 1/4" back.

From contributor D:
You probably can't see the 3/4" nailer that is mounted on the cabinets. They probably mount the 1/4" back on the cabinet first and then mount the nailer behind it. I do it the opposite way. I mount the backs on the cabinets first and then mount my 3/4" nailer inside the cabinet at the top. This way I don't lose 3/4" of depth in my upper cabinets. Some cabinet makers don't like to see the nailer inside the cabinet, but I figure youíre still going to see the screw heads inside the cabinet anyways. I just finish my nailers to match the insides of the uppers.

From the original questioner:
I know there is no nailer as the 1/4 is flush to the wall, unless it was recessed into the wall, but I donít think so.

From contributor E:
I have seen cabinets with just a 1/4" back and no 3/4" rail. I wouldn't recommend it, as eventually they will pull away. I have seen three sets of cabinets recently built like this and the cabinets are literally falling off of the wall.

From the original questioner:
Iíve always hated recessing the back. I think I will start putting my nailer on the inside but make it out of matching hardwood and put a decorative edge on the bottom. Is that too involved - should I just use the plywood?

From contributor D:
You should still recess your 1/4" backs in the casework. If you are using 3/4" plywood for your casework, dado a 1/2" wide by 1/4" deep dado and fit your 1/4" plywood snug in that opening. This will ensure a flush fit and square your casework up. If your using 1/2" plywood, dado a 3/8" by 1/4" deep dado.

From contributor F:
I make my upper cabinets to accept the Blum hanging brackets. Then I fix the steel strip to the wall, lift the cabinet up and the hooks on the back of the brackets grip the steel rail. Then I can use the adjustment screws in the brackets to get the cabinet hanging level and exactly line up with its adjacent cabinets

From contributor G:
I plant the backs on the box, and all ends exposed are finished ends. 1/4" plywood back could be screwed to the wall at very top and be OK for a long time. If I use a 1/4" back, I put the hanging strip on the inside of box because I plant on the back. After install I stick a veneer strip over the hanging strip to cover screws, gun nails, or staples - whatever I felt like using that day. It's all covered by the veneer strip that is brad nailed over the hanging rail, and I like it because I can use any type of wood for the hanging strip and if a screw misses the stud it's not a problem because itís covered up. 1/2" backs are planted on with finished ends, and sometimes I remove a strip of drywall and replace with 1/2" plywood.

From contributor H:
My wall cabinets are 3/4 melamine sides, tops and bottom, with a 1/2" applied back, no hanging strips. I've yet to have one fail. I simply staple the 1/2" back to the sides and top and bottom.

From contributor A:
We build frameless with 1/4" backs and a 3/4" nailer but since we use Camar suspension blocks, our backs really don't matter as the cabinet hangs from side panels. I do a large amount of service work for Pulte Homes and have had to take many cabs off of the wall (or off of the base cab when it fell off of the wall) and rebuild them because their vendor (Merrilat and others) build upper cabs with 1/2" sides, 1/4" backs and 1/4" nailers.

It is a ridiculous concept. The shocking thing to me is seeing these junk cabs in almost 100% of all new homes in Vegas - clear up through the multi-million dollar homes! Their concept includes 1/2" melamine drawers with two staples holding the sides on. I also repair a lot of drawers with fronts breaking off because of this construction. By the way, I see no problem with melamine and believe it to be a great product when used properly. We have used it for many years with few problems.